April 2008


Recently, Brett left a comment under my Which Majority? post that makes a good point.  The discussion was about global warming / global climate change and Brett said,

Advocates of global warming claim that skeptics are all paid off by the oil industry but we never hear what kind of money is being exchanged for supporting the global warming cause. Money will always confuse the issue and it is sad that we will never get a straight answer from the supposedly objective scientific community.

He is correct in saying that we don’t typically hear anything about potential conflicts of interest concerning scientists who believe we should act now to try to reverse global warming.  How many of these scientists are being paid off by the solar, wind, and ethanol energy industries?  How many are being paid to throw the research on compact fluorescent bulbs?

We could spend our time quibbling over all the conflicts of interest that happen on both sides of the debate, but this ignores the larger issue – the planet is showing evidence of warming.  Whether that warming is a natural cycle or produced by humans or some combination of both misses the point.  If the planet is warming, we are going to have to adapt and the only thing we can control is our own behavior.  There is no available temperature switch we can easily throw on Mother Nature in order to rebuild the polar icecaps.

Further, Mother Nature doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about whether we stay on this planet or not.  If we’re driven off by drought or excessive storms or disease or hunger, all the better for her to rebuild her natural resources.  The only ones who care whether we are here or not are human beings.

Setting global warming aside for the moment, we have some practical issues that we immediately need to address.  We are in the middle of an energy crisis with the cost of oil getting so high that consumers are deciding to find other less costly ways to get around.  Globally, a food shortage has developed, partially due to the hoarding of food stuffs for use in energy production.  We are also facing fresh water shortages in certain areas of the globe.  All of these are signs of our excessive consumption (and/or global climate change, if you choose to believe that it’s happening).  While these shortages may be good economically for those who control the resources, they aren’t good in the long run as far as creating a stable base of consumers.   If populations are killed off due to food and water shortages, industry will have lost a potential customer base, which means that the economy is going to contract, rather than continue to grow.  It’s an unsustainable system no matter how you slice it – unsustainable for homo sapiens, that is.

So then, we can continue on as we have been and not make any changes in our behavior until we definitively prove the cause of global climate change and find ourselves in straits more dire than we are currently experiencing, or we can figure out how we’re going to adapt by finding solutions that are well-considered  and sustainable for all sectors of society.  What would you rather do?

When homo sapiens is gone, fish will once again rule the world!!

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

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Following is a post from Fish Wrap correspondent Black Molly. – P.F.A.P.

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The Spring 2008 issue of Initiative Quarterly, a magazine produced by the Initiative Foundation, has recently been released. The Initiative Foundation, for those of you who don’t know, attempts to assist the fourteen counties it serves in central Minnesota with economic development, leadership training, natural resources projects, and children, youth, and family issues. The Initiative Foundation meets a portion of its mission through loans and grants and works to grow the funds it manages in order to expand upon its programs. The Initiative Foundation is one of six Minnesota Initiative Foundations in the state, all of which were started by The McKnight Foundation in the 1980s. In fact, the Initiative Foundation used to be called the Central Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

For each quarterly magazine, the Initiative Foundation picks a topic of focus. This quarter’s topic is stated on the cover: “Ready or Not? Minnesota’s Future Workforce.” While the magazine does indeed focus on the up and coming Generation Y or Millennials who will soon be entering the workforce, what’s curious about one story, “Workforce Interrupted” by Dawn Zimmerman, is how it spotlights the entry of the Millennials into the workforce as a replacement for aging Baby Boomers, who will soon be leaving the workforce in droves. As I read the article, I sensed there was something missing within the Boomer-Millennial polarity that was being presented. What was missing was Generation X. It was almost as though Millennials were expected to take over for the departing Boomers with nary an Xer in sight.

I have a particular bias toward Gen X because I can be counted among this cohort. I also tend to be sensitive about generational discussions because I typically see that Gen X gets the short end of the stick when it comes to coverage.

The Boomers are huge because, well, they’re huge in numbers. They seem to have been the first named generation and they got the name because of the massive population boom after World War II. The boom lasted from 1946 until 1964 and, thus, those born within these years are considered to be Boomers. Sometimes the Boomers are split into two groups, the Baby Boom Generation (1942-1953) and Generation Jones (1954-1965). (Generational dating is obviously not an exact science because you’ll see some overlap in dates between the generations.)

Gen Xers, who are generally considered to be those born between 1965 and c. 1982, were first called the “baby bust” generation because of the drop in births in 1965. This was five years after the introduction of the birth control pill, which, according to the FDA, was being used by about 5 million women in 1965.

The years associated with the Millennials haven’t been precisely pinned down, with dates ranging from 1978 to 1984, c. 1980 to 1994, or perhaps 1988 to 2008. There’s another named generation, only it was named after the fact, by Tom Brokaw, no less. It’s the Greatest Generation and is supposed to include those who came of age during the Depression and World War II.

That last point is key. While generational discussions can be irritating because they pigeonhole us and don’t describe the individual very well, part of what defines a generational cohort for sociologists and marketers, other than population numbers, is the kaleidoscope of cultural events occurring during our formative years. The thought is that those of us who grow up through the same critical moments together develop a particular view of the world. For the Boomers, it was the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Feminist Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement. You can also count the Summer of Love and Woodstock among the Boomers’ cultural influences.

I’ve said before that what seems to have defined Gen X is the ill-defined threat. We had the Cold War, with its constant threat of nuclear holocaust. (Remember the movie “The Day After”?) We had the Shuttle Disaster, the start of the AIDS epidemic, and a president who was almost assassinated. We lived through a ton of divorces and moms entering the workforce. We became latch-key kids. We had reduce, reuse, recycle and the first major energy crisis. (Gas lines, anyone?)

Gen X women grew up knowing we’d have to work. Staying home wasn’t the option it had been for older generations. We were told that we had to put our careers ahead of having children, and many of us did. We watched as major companies threw responsibility out the window when it came to their employees and laid them off right before they were due to retire, thus avoiding having to pay pensions. We were promised good jobs if we went to college, but when we graduated, no good jobs were to be found. Due to these economic forces, we lost the concept of loyalty to a corporation. We became free agents, changing jobs that didn’t suit our lifestyles, retraining when necessary for completely different careers than we’d first been educated for. We were called slackers and cynical, yet we became independent and entrepreneurial out of necessity. (It’s pretty hard to be entrepreneurial if you are a slacker.)

Call me irritable, but when I see a magazine article that seems to hint that Millennials are a direct replacement for the Boomers (i.e. they get to jump right into the high-level jobs being vacated by the Boomers), the cynic in me makes an appearance and starts thinking that the Gen Xers are getting kicked in the teeth again. If employment attrition works as it traditionally has in the past, the ones who should be directly replacing the Boomers are the Gen Xers, who hopefully have been in the workforce long enough by now to have acquired useful experience and some of those soft skills this issue of Initiative Quarterly is encouraging the Millennials to learn.

I don’t think the article’s author really intended to slight Gen Xers. Her focus, after all, was elsewhere. But, when we’re looking at “a workforce exodus about the size of Minneapolis” as the Boomers retire, I don’t think we can afford to discount an entire group of people when we look for solutions. Rather than ignore the Xers, why not take advantage of their continual training and wide range of employment experiences? As the Boomers retire, some Xers may be ready for another career change, maybe into one of the areas for which employee shortages are predicted. How about having Xers and Boomers collaborate on giving Millennials some pointers on the employment experience?

While it may be easy to put us into generational boxes with cute names, we have to be careful about the judgments we make about each of those generations, especially in relation to the economy and our livelihoods. No matter what our age, we all want to be taken seriously in the workforce and know that our labor matters.

Your Fish Wrap Correspondent,

Black Molly

A Family Fighting for Answers

The residents of Little Falls, Minnesota, should be given more credit for their sense of road design than whoever designed the mess that’s called an intersection on Highway 27 on the east end of town. For those of you familiar with Little Falls, you’ll know this as the intersection where you turn to go to Wal-Mart. When a divider was put into the road along the stretch leading up to this intersection, and new traffic lights to boot, residents were wondering how we were going to manage turn-arounds from LeMieur Street, the street leading from KFC, Taco John’s, Moll Ford, MacDonald’s and etc., etc. You see, there’s no opening in the divider to let cars take a left from LeMieur Street in order to go west back into town.

The road designer’s solution was that cars should make a right from LeMieur Street, go to the traffic light and then take a U-turn. Yes, a U-turn. Any idiot could see that this was going to cause a conflict with people taking a right turn from 18th Street (the street Wal-Mart is on) onto Highway 27 because Minnesota state law allows for drivers to take a right turn on a red light.

What seemed so obvious to city residents has now become obvious to MnDOT. According to an article in the Morrison County Record (April 13, 2008, issue), the suggested solution to all of this turning confusion is to install a lighted sign that will show when drivers are allowed to turn and when they are not. Why someone didn’t think of this in the first place, I have no idea. Maybe someone should have consulted with a few residents.  (But what do we know?)

Shaking my scaly head,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Wired magazine’s online news service published an AP article a few days ago about the federal government’s appointment of a new working group that will investigate the safety of childhood vaccinations. Critics of immunizations (this fish being one of those critics) have long wondered how safe mandatory vaccines are and have noticed permanent health issues in young children following compulsory vaccination. Some believe that the rise in autism cases is linked to vaccines and the article discusses a theory that will be investigated through the working group. Perhaps the most important aspect of the immunization working group is that it is supposed to gather public input about vaccinations that can be incorporated into research priorities for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It remains to be seen whether the public’s input will be taken seriously, although it has been the public outcry concerning potential immunization damage that has prompted the government to start the working group.

I, for one, would very much like to see a saner method for delivering vaccinations, which, according to the article, isn’t up for discussion. Who decided it would be a wise idea to deliberately introduce 25 pathogenic substances into infants from age zero to eighteen months – a time when a human being’s immune system is still being formed? This doesn’t make any sense to me, especially in light of the fact that most babies aren’t likely to come down with all of the diseases they are being immunized for within that time frame. While the CDC and health professionals prefer the blanket approach, perhaps it’s time we take a look at creating individualized immunization plans for people, wait until infants are older before vaccinating, and not give multiple shots at one time. Yeah, yeah, it won’t be easy, but then living with a vaccination injury for life isn’t easy, either.

You can find full schedules of immunizations by age at this CDC website.

With a tender fin,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Correction: It’s not 25 separate pathogenic substances, but 25 instances of immunization between zero and eighteen months. Some of those immunization events include multiple doses of the same vaccine.

—— Portsmouth Woman Dies from what doctors believe could be the human form of mad cow disease, autopsy to confirm.

—>Portsmouth woman may have the human form of mad cow disease.

On 3/25/2008, the Morrison County Record printed an article written by columnist Peter Graham in Farming and Your Freedom with the headline Can Iraq Rebuild its Ag Economy? 

In his article Graham refers to a story published in the High Plains/Midwest Journal and writes, “it will take millions to put them back on their feet and help them become productive again. It will also take enlightened government policy-on the part of the Iraq and the U.S. governments.”

The operative words being enlightened government policy.

 Unfortunately, in his 400 day stint as administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) (the American body that ruled the “new Iraq” in the early days of the U.S. invasion) Paul Bremer issued a series of directives known as the “100 Orders”. These orders established the blueprint for the new Iraq.  Among the items contained in the 100 Orders relevant to Graham’s original question is Order # 81, officially titled: Amendments to Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law.*** (Enacted by Bremer on April 26, 2004.)

Order 81 is a legal tweak establishing strong intellectual property protections on seed and plant products that a company like Monsanto (producers of genetically modified (GM) seeds and other patented agricultural goods) required prior to moving into new markets like Iraq.  

In a nutshell, Order 81  mirrors the business conditions created years earlier in India, conditions leading Monsanto to highly profitable success within that region while simultaneously unleashing a pandemic proportioned onslaught of suicides among Indian farmers, the subject of the PBS documentary The Dying Fields.  

While the U.S. stopped short of mandating Iraqi farmers to purchase from corporations like Monsanto, basic laws of nature coupled with Order 81 could quickly and easily leave American agribusiness claiming rights on Iraqi farm fields regardless of where they obtain their seed supply.

Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer found himself tangled with Monsanto in a lawsuit after a few rogue GM seeds blew from a truck passing by his land. Monsanto didn’t care how the Roundup® Ready plants got there, as far as the company was concerned, Schmeiser was in possession of an agricultural product whose intellectual property belonged to them and they didn’t care how it happened. Monsanto sued Scheimer for $400,000.00 .  

 

In 2005 the Centre for Food Safety(CFS) reported that Monsanto had a 10 million dollar budget and a staff of 75 devoted to investigating and prosecuting farmers. Monsanto admits to aggressively investigating farmers it suspects and according to the CFS report, evidence suggests that the number of farmers investigated reachs into the thousands.

Prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq it was illegal to patent seeds. Now, under U.S. decree all that is necessary to obtain a patent is to be the first to “describe” or “characterize” the plants.*

While technically, Iraqi farmers are not being stopped from saving and sharing seed from their traditional crops as they have always done, there is now nothing stopping Monsanto, Cargill, Dow, Bayer and other multinationals from “describing” or “characterizing” Iraq’s traditional seeds. Once this is done Iraqi farmer will be prohibited from saving and sharing the very seeds that have been cultivated and passed down in their country for generations and they will be forced  to buy them from who ever owns the patent.   Also, Iraqi farmers can be sued by companies like Monsanto if they discover their non-GMO crops polluted by GMO crops planted in their vicinity like Percy Schmeiser did.

It is important to note that prior to Abu Graib’s infamous tabloid debut that the city was once host to Iraq’s seed bank. In 1996, Iraqi botanists packed up 200 kinds of seed and sent them to Syria for safekeeping. When the Iraq war began the Abu Graib seed bank was looted, all that remains of Iraq’s long, rich agricultural heritage are the seeds held by its farmer and those shipped to Syria.

While it would be nice to think that the intentions of the U.S. government are honorable, the broader U.S. plan appears to be geared more towards incorporating Iraqi agriculture into the massive web of U.S. agribusiness, leaving Iraq to grow a few high-yield cash crops for export instead of growing basic crops to feed the Iraqi people. Subsequently, under the U.S. policy the state-run food companies (who had traditionally provided a food basket to every Iraqi household rich or poor), will be privatized under the policy, farm subsidies will be eliminated and the traditional Iraqi food baskets assured to every household, will only be provided to the poorest of Iraq’s people.

While Graham’s article insinuates that the U.S. is working to ensure that Iraq regains its capacity to feeds its own people, exporting high-yield cash crops has not proven to be a successful mean of reaching this objective.

Graham ends his column with, “Root suggested that we make our research available to Iraqi farmers and where practicable send experts over to help. He believes, though, that there may be more value in bringing the Iraqis to America to be trained and then to be sent back to revitalize their agriculture and begin feeding their own people. Who wants to see an Extension specialist blindfolded and awaiting execution for helping farmers to farm?” 

If Graham is truly that naïve it is perhaps time he retire his column. It took nothing more than a cursory glance at the sources used by the High Plains Midwest Journal to see that the universities commenting on Iraq were departments notorious for being heavily financed by the multinational corporations who stand to profit from Order 81.

In the end maybe extension specialist will find themselves blindfolded and awaiting execution in Iraq because the 100,000 Indian’s who committed suicide between 1993 and 2003, some of whom died in their fields after ingesting their last bottle of Roundup, failed to capture any real attention.

*The Hague Regulations requires that an occupying power “re-establish and insure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.” The imposition of major structural economic reforms is viewed by legal scholars around the world as a violation of international law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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