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In bill H. R. 875 Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, Congresswoman Rosa Delauro introduces a possible threat to any attempt to subsist independently of the agribusiness giants who have made it their business to feed us. This video also explains H. R. 875’s threat to organic farming and Delauro’s connection (through her husband) to agribusiness giant Monsanto:

Monsanto, as reported in here in Vanity Fair, has waged a war against small farmers that would be bolstered by H.R. 875’s potential criminalization of small, independent farmers. Below an excerpt of the much longer article explaining Monsantos’s hostility toward farmers and the threat the pesticide-giant poses to organic farming, seed storage and our ability to avoid GMF:

“Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics–ruthless legal battles against small farmers–is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.”

Donald Barlett and James Steele go on to say later in their excellent artilce Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear?:

“For centuries—millennia—farmers have saved seeds from season to season: they planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, then reclaimed and cleaned the seeds over the winter for re-planting the next spring. Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head.

Monsanto developed G.M. seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. Monsanto then patented the seeds. For nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented. “It’s not like describing a widget,” says Joseph Mendelson III, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety, which has tracked Monsanto’s activities in rural America for years.

Indeed not. But in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover “a live human-made microorganism.” In this case, the organism wasn’t even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto.

This radical departure from age-old practice has created turmoil in farm country. Some farmers don’t fully understand that they aren’t supposed to save Monsanto’s seeds for next year’s planting. Others do, but ignore the stipulation rather than throw away a perfectly usable product. Still others say that they don’t use Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds, but seeds have been blown into their fields by wind or deposited by birds. It’s certainly easy for G.M. seeds to get mixed in with traditional varieties when seeds are cleaned by commercial dealers for re-planting. The seeds look identical; only a laboratory analysis can show the difference. Even if a farmer doesn’t buy G.M. seeds and doesn’t want them on his land, it’s a safe bet he’ll get a visit from Monsanto’s seed police if crops grown from G.M. seeds are discovered in his fields.

Most Americans know Monsanto because of what it sells to put on our lawns— the ubiquitous weed killer Roundup. What they may not know is that the company now profoundly influences—and one day may virtually control—what we put on our tables. For most of its history Monsanto was a chemical giant, producing some of the most toxic substances ever created, residues from which have left us with some of the most polluted sites on earth. Yet in a little more than a decade, the company has sought to shed its polluted past and morph into something much different and more far-reaching—an “agricultural company” dedicated to making the world “a better place for future generations.””

jellyfish_1247566c2Their environmentally devastating potential for reproduction (whatever is more than exponential) alluded to in this  article from January in the telegraph.uk.com sounds like a job for Spongebob and Patrick.

“The Turritopsis Nutricula is able to revert back to a juvenile form once it mates after becoming sexually mature.

Marine biologists say the jellyfish numbers are rocketing because they need not die.

Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: “We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion.”

The jellyfish are originally from the Caribbean but have spread all over the world.

Turritopsis Nutricula is technically known as a hydrozoan and is the only known animal that is capable of reverting completely to its younger self.

It does this through the cell development process of transdifferentiation.

Scientists believe the cycle can repeat indefinitely, rendering it potentially immortal.

While most members of the jellyfish family usually die after propagating, the Turritopsis nutricula has developed the unique ability to return to a polyp state.

Having stumbled upon the font of eternal youth, this tiny creature which is just 5mm long is the focus of many intricate studies by marine biologists and geneticists to see exactly how it manages to literally reverse its aging process.”

Wow, is this evolution right before ours eyes? And if so, who am I to call one species’ great leap forward environmental devastation?

Today Change the World

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chebama

Today is the day! Thank you, all of you who stand in line, record your vote and persist in your citizenship duties! Today many fellow citizens will overcome obtacles, miss work and spend the day in lines that wrap around city blocks in order to uphold their end of the social compact. Thank you for you patience, thank you for your sore feet and tired backs. Thank you for your children waiting with you for long hours. Thank you for resisting the efforts to cheapen our franchise and suppress our political power. Thank you for taking responsibility for our nation’s character and direction. This is our chance, our moment. We can make it happen. Today.

So never mind the global credit crisis and how it portends the decline of the American Empire. The world may be out of money thanks to crooked mortgage companies, but no worries. The US (or whatever consortium of transnational corporations) will maintain its hegemonic position thanks to this:

It would seem that people throughout history have thought they were living at the end of time…so that would seem like good evidence that it’s never true. Hysterical, self-important societies foster millenarianistic delusions. So thinking you are witnessing the last of human endeavors is totally irrational, and so far never correct. Except maybe now, because the shit is coming down.

Your Life is a Lie

So how does it feel? I comply, daily. I reify. I reproduce the relationships of power and domination with every move I make within this state-sanctioned routine I call my life.

I consent, and furthermore, I benefit. If the global system was a huge pyramid (scheme), I would be positioned with other over-educated people who have access to both personal credit and a social safety-net, with many humans below me. If I (and presumably you, reader) exist somewhere above the middle, where the pyramid starts to visibly narrow and no one has to worry about a next meal or a warm, safe place to sleep, what provides the base of this structure?

Could it be the children who walk over rubble and crave water? Or the oil profits made out of countries like Ecuador, where the swamps bleed crude oil and the beautiful countryside is devastated and carcinogenic after being raped by Exxon? Or even the structural certainty that the people at the bottom of the pyramid are so desperate that men scramble to scavenge rotting chickens culled after they were exposed to bird flue?

No one wants to believe their access to a big screen TV is predicated on the misery of women and children in Congolese refugee camps or the despair pervading Gaza, but I argue that it absolutely is. Forgive me (and thank you) those of you who are reading this but who have not always lived with the assurance of material security -I do not speak for you. Everyone else, friends and peers (and particularly us white, middle-class Americans), your life is a lie.

I guess first we have to agree to the premise that the US is an empire that arose from and was maintained through the marginalization, impoverishment, dependency, envy, admiration and, to some degree or another, subjugation of the third world. From the genocide and land expropriation integral to US relations with the original North American inhabitants, to Jefferson’s Empire for Liberty and the illegitimate Louisiana Purchase (If I were Spain I would totally sue France for the recovery of the illegally alienated lands) and the violent and dishonorable seizure of half of Mexico, evidence of the imperial history of the US is gaining traction with many academics.

Countering the narrative of American Exceptionalism, or at least Benign American Inevitability is not easy, however. Sure slavery was bad and the early Americans were mean to the Indians, but all of that was a long time ago and now we have affirmative action, casinos and high profile black heroes (Obama, I love you, but our nation is not yet post-racial). Thus we are redeemed. I mean if the alternatives are so great then how come everyone wants to come here and be me?

1898 marks the start of the episode of US imperialism, according to official history, as if before that the US was a non-expansionistic republic and after a beacon for democracy. Don’t be fooled. The empire upon which our excesses, luxuries, comforts and maybe even subsistence depend, runs on deprivation like a 4X4 runs on gas – and had for the century before we liberated the Cubans from their own independence movement and slaughtered and water-boarded our way to victory over the Philippine nationalist insurgency. But because our nineteenth-century continental empire was built on the backs of Africans, in the blood of Indians and at the expense of Mexicans it’s bad manners to acknowledge past crimes. That’s the kind of imperialism gentlemen agree to forget.

Delusions of Anglo-Saxon racial supremacy justified the spread of the republic. Racism saved the republic by providing a rationale for the land seizure that was necessary for the material abundance that fueled the US. The American narrative combined constructions of whiteness with popular misunderstandings of Darwin’s theory of evolution and became a movement that inspired both images of American identity and German fascists of the intra-war period. Hmmm weird crossover. The spread of the yeoman farmer across the land of the free, fulfilling the inevitable providence of Manifest Destiny somehow connected to a racial ideology that justified lynching, ethnic cleansing, and the Holocaust? (I know, Godwin’s law)

Perhaps the continuity of the American imperial project, from Jefferson to Monroe, from Jackson to Polk, and from McKinley to Roosevelt was briefly interrupted by the Great Depression and FDR’s Good Neighbor policy (and then only if you ignore the US intervention in Mexican politics, economy and culture), but quickly resumed after WWII. Domestic and international organizations funded by the participants of the social compact (taxpayers) used self-conscious and at times slapstick methods to assert cultural, economic and political hegemony. The American empire extended through Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. What a heady time of US empire: coups in Guatemala and Iran; civil war in Vietnam; assassination in the Congo; and cultural indoctrination in West Germany

As Africa and Asia underwent the contortions of decolonization, the US imperial project remained veiled behind the Cold War bipolar (dis)order. A world with opposing sides, divided so neatly along religious, economic and philosophical lines is easier to understand. Godlessness v God, Corruption v Integrity, Stagnation v Vitality, Destitution v Wealth, East v West, Evil v Good. With organizing principles like that a little empire-building can seem unimportant to imperial subjects (Americans) and even benign to willing participants (Americans).

From other perspectives, the 50s, 60s and 70s were all about the US brutally suppressing the occupied zones – whether directly through warfare, dictatorships, assassinations, coup d’etats, and death-squads, or less obviously through market forces, structural violence and cultural hegemony.

The Carter administration was a brief and incomplete hiatus from the most blatant of machinations, but where government stood down, private industry stepped up. Once Carter left power the leaders of expansionist corporations became cabinet members in the next administration. The men who privatized water in Bolivia led the Thatcher-Reagan neo-liberal revolution. Synchronicity in political and economic interests works best. For empire anyway.

International organizations had begun to develop the third world in earnest in the 1960s, working in lockstep with US foreign and corporate interests. Corrupt, opportunistic, or blackmailed (whatever), the political leaders of third-world countries entered into agreements with global financial organizations – loans to develop infrastructure and exploit natural resources. Their immediate economic potential regularly over-estimated, however, nation after nation became hopelessly overextended and indebted. Now hobbled by foreign debt and destructive trade agreements, emergent third-world countries became candidates for the type of privatization, austerity, neoliberal reforms, impoverishment, land expropriation, famine, civil war, and debt-relief programs we have seen over the last few decades.

Now “softened up” emergent countries like India and Argentina have dropped their protective tariffs, stopped subsidizing their farmers and businessmen, and political leaders all over the world have privatized previously guaranteed necessities like water. Social services (education, public health services) are curtailed while natural resources are exploited without restraint. This beautiful system has produced modern day success stories for capitalism like Ecuador – poisoned, poisonous, and locked in financial agreements with the IMF that has 95% of the nation’s oil profits going to foreign speculators as cancer rates sky-rocket as a consequence of environmental decimation.

Clinton didn’t exactly dismantle the empire, and this examination does not exonerate Democrats, but lately Republican administrations have been giant empire-building daisy chains. The current Bush administration stroked those in their circle so relentlessly that up to a million of the world’s civilians have died in Iraq, creating obscene profits for those with interest in arming enemies, starting wars, inciting warfare, suppressing warfare, supporting warfare, practicing warfare, and reconstructing after warfare.

The blood and pain of the women and children (dismembered in Afghanistan, broken in Iraq, uprooted in Colombia, orphaned in Guatemala) doesn’t deter the spread of US Empire, but instead serves as an industrial-grade lubricant. The more graphic and gratuitous the horror the more invisible it is to the American people. That many consequences to our privileges are unimaginable. It is difficult to empathize with humanity on a large scale, and besides, discussing that magnitude of carnage is un-American. Even the deaths of American troops are subsumed by the heroic narrative and inevitability of sacrifice during warfare, while those questioning the legitimacy of our wars are treated as unhelpful and sophomoric.

Well the course of empire pulls all in its wake, and the current direction of our American Empire bodes ill for planet earth and our species. If the world is wracked by environmental destruction, energy crises, food scarcity and terrorism, it is at least partly (mostly) as a consequence of or in reaction to the rise of the hegemon (us/Us)? So what are we? An imperial warrior state, consolidating capital and extracting wealth in service to a partisan and greedy God (Mammon? Baal?) The most aggressive example of a potentailly lethal human-based virus attacking the life systems of Planet Earth? Animals entangled in webs of significance we ourselves have spun? Masters of our fate, both individual and collective? Each one a revolution of personal agency waiting too long for a spark?

The blood won’t wash off of my hands, but then I’m kind of morbid. And I tend to think its all about me, therefore when I see the devastation wrought by my nation’s pursuit of domination, wealth, and impunity at the expense of so many fellow humans (innocents and criminals) I mark my complicity as a factor in the war crimes. I benefit from the death, famine, and atrocities that prop up the pyramid, and my consent props up the empire. I comply, I reify. My life is a lie.

Democracy Now! has updated the story. Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Koudduos and Nicole Salazar have been released, but face pending criminal charges for attempting to fulfill their duties as members of the fourth estate and citizens of a fragile republic.

Amy Goodman was arrested this evening outside the Republican National Convention. See the video of her arrest.

 She received a call informing her of the arrest of two Democracy Now!journalists while she was on the floor of the RNC.

Goodman went to the scene of the arrest and became concerned after seeing Salazar in custody with a  bloody nose. After attempting to intervene, Goodman was arrested by several police officers

How long will we lay supine as our constitutional rights are crushed under their boots? The police state requires our consent, or at least our negligence.

This video is several months old and hard to watch – but reminiscent of the behavior of soldiers in fascist dictatorships in the Southern Cone during the 70s and 80s.

olympia2So in the last 15 years the relationship between femininity and sexuality (never straight-forward) has become increasingly problematic. While I was busy watching cartoons and playing with action figures with my kids, the role of women and girls within the narrative of twenty-first-century American identity became publicly sexualized in a way that makes me feel old.

I tend to think of girls in terms of daughters, and having missed most of the 90s (busy with Tom & Jerry – I love animated violence as much as my sons), I never knew Steven Tyler had made a video with his daughter, Liv. Somehow I’d never even heard the song, but I watched Crazy with my friends on Youtube a while back. Wow! He had his 16-year-old daughter work the pole to the lame music of his old, pervy-looking friends? On MTV? Who thought this was a good idea?

More recently, I read a story in the Huffington Post on Britney Spears. No longer hovering on the brink of a complete break-down, she is getting in shape and on the come-back. Britney’s father guides the now slimmer and more photogenic popstar through her apparent recovery. But his description of her, and all of us daughters, struck me as sad and odd. In commenting on the new-found closeness with Britney, he said that “like all daughters, she is very manipulative and cunning.” Really? You mean she’s not just all fucked up because you and the rest of her family promoted an unreal and exaggeratedly sexualized image of her body instead of insisting she develop her consciousness beyond childlike narcissism? Anyway, my goal here is not to join the chorus of Britney analysts, since Matt Stone and Trey Parker have said all perfectly and completely, but instead to explore where we women fit in the here and now, and how this generation of daughters can understand their identities.

What do we expect all the daughters to become? Of course fathers who feature their daughters pole-dancing in their music videos, or work from the assumption that all girls (however damaged and/or ill-prepared) cunningly deceive, are merely convenient caricatures of a popular culture that devours daughters.

But what really are the options? I propose that our girls face an impossible and irreconcilable triangle of choices. Simultaneous and contradictory constructions of femininity bombard girls and women with unachievable and paradoxical standards of beauty, sexuality, success, validation and power. When you boil it all down (and omit crone, sorry Grandma) we have three overlapping, yet ill-fitting options for our daughters: virgin, mother, and whore.

The paradox is immediately clear. A woman cannot simultaneously be a virgin, a mother and a whore. But the idea that a successful woman must be at least two out of the three is pervasive in modern society. Ubiquitous advertising images reflect the widespread cultural emphasis on physical perfection and sexiness in the way we view and judge our girls and ourselves. At the same time, purity and virginity are celebrated in churches, schoolrooms, and in charity programs all over the country. This juxtaposition of expectations and instincts – purity and sexiness – has been explored in depth in literature and movies, but usually through a lens of masculine lust.

In a format that lays Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus, Bratz dolls, S & M Barbie and pole-dancing exercise videos alongside of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Burkas, Hijabs, and the lucrative, if doomed, Abstinence-Only sex-ed and international AIDS programs, the relationship between purity and sexiness seems hopelessly contradictory. Daughters navigate a treacherous path. They are expected to be virgins, but suspected (and encouraged?) to be cunning, manipulative and, ultimately, whorish – if not by a stage-father, than by a society awash in celebratory images of sexy daughters.

The virgin-whore construction is only one angle of the impossible triangle. Both the other dual relationships involve women’s roles as mother. I should have saved “ubiquitous” for mothers because everyone has/had one to blame. Mothers prop up the republic, birth and raise the next generation in the midst of hardship, and serve as the conscious of the people in times of extreme repression.

Many little girls (presumably little virgins and future whores) expect to grow up and become mothers. A steady percentage of women in the US remain childless, but those who do usually have a well-worn explanation ready for conversations. It’s the social norm. Maternal iconography attests to the timeless narrative of the cosmic womb and the depth of meaning attached to feminine fertility.

How do mothers fit with virgins and whores? Why force motherhood into this uncomfortable triangle with obviously contradictory feminine characteristics like chastity and promiscuity?

Well, people do like the mothers of their saviors and kings to be virgins. Mary and Isis were both virgins, as were the mothers of Buddha, Mithras, and Montezuma I. This seems like a Jungian example of collective human mythology to me, unless all the women were hermaphrodites who had both male and female reproductive organs. Either way, the virgin-mother is a popular construction that reflects ways we find meaning in our lives. Mothers are great, but the really important ones should be sexually pure. Kings and Messiahs come from unsullied vaginas.

Of course in real life, virgins can’t have babies unless they have sex first and just lie about it. And this is where the paradox again becomes messy. If our daughters are forced to live on the narrow border between virgin and whore that is presented to them in our society, than wouldn’t motherhood (or some version of it) be a potential outcome? Sex is often reproductive, if accidentally so, and for whatever reason reproduction takes a toll on women. Having babies, using birth control, and getting abortions (while hilarious when Sarah Silverman does it) has a spectrum of personal, physical, emotional and economic consequences. From the pill to planned parenthood, reproductive choices are part of almost every woman’s life. Few forms of birth control are ideal, as they are invasive, alter hormone levels, or put too great a burden on the female partner.

Abortion divides our society over false positions, pitting unreal “do you want fries with that abortion” attitudes against judgmental pro-lifers who, although riddled with their own metastasizing sin, throw the first stones. Abortion, and the surrounding debates, also reveals the confusion over whom and what a mother should be in modern times. Are we free to be what we want to be? Do we have agency over our bodies and ourselves? Or are we responsible for the safety and character of the next generation? Both? What would we do with the million or so extra babies that would be born if they weren’t aborted anyway? Are we really that into them? And who is lining up to assure women that motherhood is a preferable option? Does Sarah Palin really loves babies once they have exited the womb, or just her own self-righteous power to control the intimate and at times tragic decicions of others?

For ordinary women, those not giving birth to kings and gods, motherhood has always been a risky endeavor. Even today, motherhood puts one at a disadvantage. Refugee camps teem with women and their children, not men and their families. Social justice and reproductive rights are limited and denied throughout the world, and as a result women become less economically secure and mothers become increasingly vulnerable. Here in the US, mothers have WIC, Head Start, foodstamps, public schools and school lunches. In many western European countries, motherhood is treated like a public good, and rewarded monetarily. Mothers in third-world countries often have no safety-nets, and even those who aren’t feeding their starving children dirt-cakes in Haiti, or fleeing Soviet invasion in Georgia, live with material uncertainty.

A mother’s right to material security is often associated with her virtue. A mother-whore shames the family, the community, the nation. The patriarchy is threatened by nothing if not uncertainty over who may have fertilized the eggs. The welfare queen condemned in Reagan’s speech, the crack whore on COPS with nine children, the baby mama humiliated on Jerry Springer, and the adulteress stoned to death by the righteous – they all got what they had coming. That far corner of the triangle makes neighbors gossip, children cringe, and men unite. The mother-whore has no political, moral, economic or social capital. Within the patriarchal structure that we all accept to one degree or another, women who are judged to be mother-whores can be laid low, neglected, and forced into poverty and cycles of violence.

So what will become of a generation of virgin-whores who grow up to be mothers? Has femininity been so redefined in the twenty-first century that seventeen and eighteen-year-olds can Go Wild every spring break, little girls can get stripper dolls for Christmas, and porn can be dirty and commonplace?

Maybe humans are in the midst of a radical redefinition of gender norms and expectations. Maybe when our daughters return from their service in Iraq and Afghanistan they will have only stories of egalitarianism, security and empowerment. Maybe motherhood is on the brink of legitimacy as a civic contribution. Perhaps the world our daughters must engage will encourage them to choose from a variety of feminine models – Sarah Silverman’s singing vagina, my beautiful lesbian cousins, pundits, adventurers, vagabonds or minstrels.

But I fear the opposite. I fear that we have forced our daughters into a double (or even triple) bind, no-win situation. Allowed to enjoy neither chastity nor free love, inured to a culture that celebrates their degradation, and chasing the unachievable, our daughters may end up looking like anonymous Spears girls – not cunning and manipulative (if only!) but dumpy and disappointed virgin-mother-whores who society has permission to screw, humiliate, and abandon.

In danger of being tricked into bartering their innocence and sexuality for the impossible modern female ideal, our daughters must be inoculated against destructive behavior and harmful expectations en masses. Sort of like Gardasil, but instead requiring a complete cultural revolution, a robust examination of power and gender relationships, and a global commitment to both social justice and a moral, sustainable economy. Until then, I guess I would keep them ugly – thick glasses, baggy clothes, no braces or acne medicine (or nose and/or boob jobs – what the FUCK were you thinking mothers?) I would also go for girls-only private schools. But then luckily, I only have sons.

© Feather Crawford Freed 2008

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