Tag Archives: DuPont

never let a good Ukrainian crisis go to waste…

On Thursday [April 17th] Democracy Now! welcomed back Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at New York University and Princeton University, to discuss the deepening crisis in Ukraine. Cohen, a specialist on Russia and the Soviet Union, is the author of numerous books on the subject including his latest Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. He was asked “Are we seeing the beginning of a new Cold War?” and “what exactly is happening right now in Ukraine?” Cohen’s response began as follows:

Those are big questions. We are not at the beginning of the Cold War, a new one; we are well into it—which alerts us to the fact, just watching what you showed up there, that hot war is imaginable now, for the first time in my lifetime, my adult lifetime, since the Cuban missile crisis, hot war with Russia. It’s unlikely, but it’s conceivable. And if it’s conceivable, something has to be done about it.

You did two things on your introduction which were very important. Almost alone among American media, you actually allowed Putin to speak for himself. He’s being filtered through the interpretation of the mass media here, allegedly, what he said, and it’s not representative. The second thing is, let us look just what’s happening at this moment, or at least yesterday. The political head of NATO just announced a major escalation of NATO forces in Europe. He did a Churchillian riff: “We will increase our power in the air, in the sea, on the land.” Meanwhile, as negotiations today begin in Geneva, we’re demanding that Russians de-escalate. And yet, we, NATO, are escalating as these negotiations begin.

So, if you were to say what is going on in Ukraine today—and, unfortunately, the focus is entirely on eastern Ukraine. We don’t have any Western media—in eastern Ukraine. We don’t have any Western—any Western media in western Ukraine, the other half of the country. We’re not clear what’s going on there. But clearly, things are getting worse and worse. Each side has a story that totally conflicts with the other side’s story. There seems to be no middle ground. And if there’s no middle ground in the public discourse, in the Russian media or the American media, it’s not clear what middle ground they can find in these negotiations, though personally, I think—and people will say, “Oh, Cohen’s a Putin apologist”—but it seemed to me that the proposals the Russians made a month ago for resolving the conflict are at least a good starting point. But it’s not clear the United States is going to accept them.

I will come back to some of Cohen’s further points in a moment, but first I’d like to just try to understand why, as Cohen points out, there is such a lack of media coverage across Ukraine and in particular in the western half of the country.

Below is a video (I can’t find a still frame) recorded in mid-March featuring a statement by Vitali Klitschko as he warned of an impending catastrophe in Crimea should it vote to join Russia in the recent referendum. Klitschko has since been sidelined, of course, but what strikes me as odd is that he was standing in front of a board much like the kind of sponsorship boards we see behind interviews of Premier League footballers. Similar except that the ex-sportsman here was backed by just one logo. You can see that it reads “Ukraine Crisis Media Center”:

Now if you type “Ukraine Crisis Media Center” into the Google image search you will find many other Ukrainian political figures giving statements in front of that same logo board. So just who are the “Ukraine Crisis Media Center”?

Well, they have a website and you can search for details there, but in fact you will find very few and none at all about their own sponsors. Instead, what you will read is this:

Ukrainian Crisis Media Center is launched to provide the international community with objective information about events in Ukraine and threats to national security, particularly in the military, political, economic, energy and humanitarian spheres. During this crisis period, the Center on a 24/7 basis will provide support to all the media who cover events in Ukraine.

Having failed to find further information on their website, I decided to email the organisation [on Thursday April 3rd] and asked the following:

I cannot find any information on your site about where financial support for the media center comes from. Without information on who is backing the venture how can we be sure that your coverage is wholly impartial?

I have not received a reply.

In the meantime, I also searched the web for insight from other places – and came across a glowing report published in Kyiv Post which began as follows:

Much like the EuroMaidan Revolution itself, the Ukraine Crisis Media Center sprang to life with speed, spontaneity, creativity, competence – and a strong sense of mission.

Although the center has been open only since March 4, its third floor headquarters in the Hotel Ukraine on 4 Institutska St. is already a required daily stop for dozens of Ukrainian and foreign journalists.

Continuing:

The group came together at Razumkov Center in Kyiv on March 2.

Nataliya Popovych, the president of Kyiv’s PRP Group, an affiliate of the global Webber Shandwick company, is among the founders.

Popovych said that the Kremlin is fast on its feet in spreading lies about Ukraine, whose government is often slow to respond to allegations and counter untruths.

Well, here’s one of the details I was searching for – so who is Nataliya Popovych?

Nataliya started career in Leo Burnett, one of the leading advertising agencies in the world, and continued in Romyr & Associates, Canadian government and public relations firm. After getting Master degree and probation in USA, Nataliya has become a head of PRP Ukraine, a Weber Shandwick Affiliate Company in Ukraine, and in a year became the President of PRP Group, Weber Shandwick partner on CIS markets.

And PRP? You probably won’t be surprised to learn that they are a PR company:

PRP is more than an integrated solutions agency. It is a creative concept. It is a strategy. It is the management of reputations in a new era. It is the ability to communicate and create goodwill. It is integrated solutions which engage audiences into the lives of companies and brands.

That’s taken from their current LinkedIn profile and the profile of Nataliya Popovych is from PR Congress.

But back to the article in the Kyiv Post:

She [Nataliya Popovych] considers Ukrainians to be loving, peaceful and tolerant people and, while she didn’t consider herself a follower of iconic and controversial nationalist hero Stepan Bandera (1909-1959), she is now “proud to be called a Banderite.”1

And for those who don’t know who Stepan Bandera was, then here are a few extracts taken from a detailed and rather generous biography written by Professor of History at Yale University, Timothy Snyder, and published by The New York Review of Books around the time Viktor Yushchenko (President after the “Orange Revolution”) was voted out of office in 2010:

The incoming Ukrainian president will have to turn some attention to history, because the outgoing one has just made a hero of a long-dead Ukrainian fascist. By conferring the highest state honor of “Hero of Ukraine” upon Stepan Bandera (1909-1959) on January 22, Viktor Yushchenko provoked protests from the chief rabbi of Ukraine, the president of Poland, and many of his own citizens. It is no wonder. Bandera aimed to make of Ukraine a one-party fascist dictatorship without national minorities. During World War II, his followers killed many Poles and Jews. Why would President Yushchenko, the leader of the democratic Orange Revolution, wish to rehabilitate such a figure? Bandera, who spent years in Polish and Nazi confinement, and died at the hands of the Soviet KGB, is for some Ukrainians a symbol of the struggle for independence during the twentieth century. […]

Consistent as the rehabilitation of Bandera might be with the ideological competition of the mid-twentieth century, it makes little ethical sense today. Yushchenko, who praised the recent Kiev court verdict condemning Stalin for genocide, regards as a hero a man whose political program called for ethnic purity and whose followers took part in the ethnic cleansing of Poles and, in some cases, in the Holocaust. Bandera opposed Stalin, but that does not mean that the two men were entirely different. In their struggle for Ukraine, we see the triumph of the principle, common to fascists and communists, that political transformation sanctifies violence. It was precisely this legacy that east European revolutionaries seemed to have overcome in the past thirty years, from the Solidarity movement in Poland of 1980 through the Ukrainian presidential elections of 2005. It was then, during the Orange Revolution, that peaceful demonstrations for free and fair elections brought Yushchenko the presidency. In embracing Bandera as he leaves office, Yushchenko has cast a shadow over his own political legacy.2

All of which helps to explain something else that has been puzzling me… why every other story about what’s happening in Ukraine is entitled “Ukraine Crisis: something or other” – the reason being that “Ukraine Crisis” is more or less the brand name that Nataliya Popovych and other “Ukrainian nationalists” have adopted — a list of the founders of the “Ukraine Crisis Media Center” is available at the end of the same Kyiv Post article.3

So what is this new political brand promoting?

*

The “war on terror” is dead, long live the new cold war!

Returning to Stephen Cohen, here is what he had to say about the rise of this new cold war:

As a historian, I would say that this conflict began 300 years ago, but we can’t do that. As a contemporary observer, it certainly began in November 2013 when the European Union issued an ultimatum, really, to the then-president, elected president, of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, that “Sign an agreement with us, but you can’t have one with Russia, too.” In my mind, that precipitated this crisis, because why give a country that has been profoundly divided for centuries, and certainly in recent decades, an ultimatum—an elected president: “Choose, and divide your country further”? So when we say today Putin initiated this chaos, this danger of war, this confrontation, the answer is, no, that narrative is wrong from the beginning. It was triggered by the European Union’s unwise ultimatum.

Now flash forward to just one month ago, about the time I was with you before. Remember that the European foreign ministers—three of them, I think—went to Kiev and negotiated with Yanukovych, who was still the president, an agreement. Now, the Russians were present at the negotiation, but they didn’t sign it. But they signed off on it. They said, “OK.” What did that agreement call for? Yanukovych would remain president until December—not May, when elections are now scheduled, but December of this year. Then there would be a presidential election. He could run in them, or not. Meanwhile, there would be a kind of government of national accord trying to pull the government together. And, importantly, Russia would chip in, in trying to save the Ukrainian economy. But there would also be parliamentary elections. That made a lot of sense. And it lasted six hours.

The next day, the street, which was now a mob—let’s—it was no longer peaceful protesters as it had been in November. It now becomes something else, controlled by very ultra-nationalist forces; overthrew Yanukovych, who fled to Russia; burned up the agreement. So who initiated the next stage of the crisis? It wasn’t Russia. They wanted that agreement of February, a month ago, to hold. And they’re still saying, “Why don’t we go back to it?” You can’t go back to it, though there is a report this morning that Yanukovych, who is in exile in Russia, may fly to eastern Ukraine today or tomorrow, which will be a whole new dimension.

But the point of it is, is that Putin didn’t want—and this is reality, this is not pro-Putin or pro-Washington, this is just a fact—Putin did not want this crisis. He didn’t initiate it. But with Putin, once you get something like that, you get Mr. Pushback. And that’s what you’re now seeing. And the reality is, as even the Americans admit, he holds all the good options. We have none. That’s not good policymaking, is it?

Click here to read a full transcript or watch the latest interview with Stephen Cohen on the Democracy Now! website.

*

The United States spent over a decade hunting down Osama Bin Laden at financial a cost running into multiple trillions and a human cost of more than a million lives, yet since his demise the jihadist cause that Bin Laden once spearheaded is stronger than ever. Forces of al-Qaeda and other near identical jihadist factions now hold control of a large region of Iraq and Syria that exceeds the area of Britain, whilst other Islamist gangs run amok throughout Libya. Thus, after a decade of dirty wars executed by means of “shock and awe” air strikes, the perpetual overhead threat of drones and the knock at the door that ends with secret rendition to faraway torture sites, the “war on terror” has been lost. “Terror” reigns supreme as the victor: terror from all sides that is.

But then, it is hard to imagine any foreign policy that could have manufactured and spread terrorism more effectively than the policies enacted during this decade-long “war on terror”. Blowback? Up to a point. But, we must not forget that all of the many al-Qaeda factions that have gained so much territory could never have done so without our help. Whether indirectly, with the establishment of the power vacuum in Iraq, or more purposefully, with Nato bombers opening the way for the Islamist insurgency in Libya. But mostly, the gains of al-Qaeda are thanks to the very generous funding of one of America and Britain’s closest allies, that bastion of freedom and democracy, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Bin Laden, and the nation known to have the closest ties to those accused of the 9/11 attacks. Attacks that provided the very springboard from which the “war on terror” was launched all those years ago. These are the facts and none can be refuted, so make of them what you will – if it was a plot for a film it would seem ludicrously far-fetched.

Of course, the “war on terror” lost a great deal of its public appeal with the bludgeoning of Iraq, and so under Obama we’ve had “humanitarian interventions”. But this new gloss has also flaked away, with the majority of people in the West absolutely sick of war. That said, the wars go on regardless – wreaking havoc but still satisfying the insatiable thirst for blood demanded by our military-industrial-financial complex.

None of these wars have had anything to do with stamping out terrorism or, surely more laughably, the West’s desire to bring “freedom and democracy”. The United States’ covert backing of al-Qaeda is nothing new and neither is the West’s more brazen support of al-Qaeda’s primary sponsor Saudi Arabia? If the wars were about either terrorism or “freedom and democracy”, then the Saudi regime would surely have topped the charts of “the axis of evil”.

In truth, the game never changed. And sadly it is a game (at least to those currently holding power) – as Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of America’s leading geopolitical strategists, makes clear not least with the title of his notorious book on Eurasian geostrategy, “The Grand Chessboard”. In it he wrote:

In brief, for the United States, Eurasian geostrategy involves the purposeful management of geostrategically dynamic states and the careful handling of geopolitically catalytic states, in keeping with the twin interests of America in the short-term: preservation of its unique global power and in the long-run transformation of it into increasingly institutionalized global cooperation. To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.4

This neo-imperialist game is much the same as the older imperialist game, in which only the strategies have been updated. It is about control of territory, of energy resources, of financial systems, and it has (and always did) amount to a series of proxy wars against the competing interests of competing powers. Traditionally Russia have been the great adversary, but now there is China too. So the Cold War that officially concluded with the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989… ended only in name. With the Ukrainian crisis (or should that be “Ukraine Crisis”) the chill that remained has become considerably icier. Treacherously so. But our military-industrial-financial complex needs perpetual war just to keep the racket going, or, when that ceases to be an option (as it now has), to maintain the illusion of an imminent threat against us. Bin Laden is dead, so a new Cold War is just the ticket. On top of which, as Brzezinski also explained in his book:

“Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.”

Here’s Stephen Cohen again:

The real debate going on in NATO—the real debate, because this is a distraction—is what Rasmussen said in your earlier clip—he’s the political head of NATO—that we’re building up, as we talk, our forces in eastern Europe. Now, understand what’s going on here. When we took in—”we” meaning the United States and NATO—all these countries in eastern Europe into NATO, we did not—we agreed with the Russians we would not put forward military installations there. We built some infrastructure—air strips, there’s some barracks, stuff like that. But we didn’t station troops that could march toward Russia there. Now what NATO is saying, it is time to do that. Now, Russia already felt encircled by NATO member states on its borders. The Baltics are on its borders. If we move the forces, NATO forces, including American troops, to—toward Russia’s borders, where will we be then? I mean, it’s obviously going to militarize the situation, and therefore raise the danger of war.

And I think it’s important to emphasize, though I regret saying this, Russia will not back off. This is existential. Too much has happened. Putin—and it’s not just Putin. We seem to think Putin runs the whole of the universe. He has a political class. That political class has opinions. Public support is running overwhelmingly in favor of Russian policy. Putin will compromise at these negotiations, but he will not back off if confronted militarily. He will not.

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A trade war opens the way for new trade deals

The new cold war isn’t only a military escalation, it also potentially marks the beginning of a new trade war. But due to reliance on Russia imports (especially when it comes to energy) EU sanctions on Russia will be difficult, and so one way forward could involve loosening trade restrictions between the EU and the US.

The following passages are taken from a press release by the European Council following the recent EU-US Summit in Brussels. It begins:

Recent events in Ukraine have confirmed that strong cooperation between the European Union and the United States on peace and security is of critical importance.

Continuing under the next heading “Economy and global challenges” as follows:

Reinforcing economic growth and job creation remains central on both sides of the Atlantic. The EU and the United States have taken important steps to stabilise financial conditions and overcome the crisis. The EU remains committed to building a deep and genuine economic and monetary union, including a banking union. […]

The EU and US leaders renewed their commitment to a strong Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). this should go beyond a free trade agreement and reaffirm Europe and the United States’ shared values of democracy, individual freedom, the rule of law and human rights, and a common commitment to open societies and economies. [bold highlights maintained from original source]

And what is TTIP? Here are additional notes at the end of the same press release:

The EU and US have decided to take their economic relationship to a higher level by agreeing to launch negotiations on a comprehensive trade and investment agreement. It aims to remove trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the US.

In fact, I have already touched on the subject of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as well as its sister treaty the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) . Both of these “free-trade agreements” appear to have alternative and conflicting names and acronyms and in the case of TTIP it is also known as the Transatlantic Free Trade Area, abbreviated as TAFTA, which is how it appeared in that earlier post. Why trade agreements need to have multiple names becomes more apparent when you realise what this commitment to “freeing up regulations” will mean. Here are a few extracts from a detailed analysis published by Der Spiegel International and entitled “Corporation Carte Blanche: Will US-EU Trade Become Too Free?”:

Lori Wallach had but 10 minutes to speak when she stepped up to podium inside Room 405 at George Washington University, located not too far away from the White House. Her audience was made up of delegates currently negotiating the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.

They had already spent hours listening to presentations by every possible lobbying group — duty bound to hear myriad opinions. But when Wallach, a trade expert for the consumer protection group Public Citizen, took the stage, people suddenly started paying attention. The 49-year-old Harvard lawyer, after all, is a key figure in international trade debates.

“The planned deal will transfer power from elected governments and civil society to private corporations,” she said, warning that the project presents a threat of entirely new dimensions. [bold emphasis added]

How will TTIP help to transfer even more power out of democratic control and into the hands of the major corporations? Well, let us count the ways:

After the third round of negotiations, an unusually broad alliance of anti-globalization groups, NGOs, environmental and consumer protection groups, civil rights groups and organized labor is joining forces to campaign against TTIP.

These critics have numerous concerns about the treaty – including their collective fear that the convergence of standards will destroy important gains made over the years in health and nutrition policy, environmental protection and employee rights. They argue the treaty will make it easier for corporations to turn profits at the public’s expense in areas like water supply, health or education. It would also clear the path for controversial technologies like fracking or for undesired food products like growth hormone-treated meat to make their way to Europe. Broadly worded copyrights would also restrict access to culture, education and science. They also believe it could open the door to comprehensive surveillance.5

Click here to read the full article in Der Spiegel.

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Fracking for freedom (and digging for victory)

I have already highlighted at the end of an earlier and rather more extended post how energy giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil have been getting ready to move their operations to Ukraine with the intention of exploring both conventional and “unconventional” resources (otherwise known as “fracking”). On Saturday’s Keiser Report, Max Keiser spoke to freelance journalist JP Sottile of Newsvandal.com, who also occasionally writes for the Guardian, about not only how Big Oil, but also Big Agra, have their eyes fixed on Ukraine. Sottile names the people and corporations hoping to take advantage of Ukraine’s exceptional fertile lands. Here are some excerpts of what he had to say [from about 13 mins in]:

“One of the bones of contention with Russia, Europe, and its transit point Ukraine, is Russia’s domination of the natural gas market in Europe. So I thought it was very interesting when the deal was announced that Chevron was involved in developing shale gas in Ukraine. Now that would have been with the previous government of Yanukovych – and I believe that that led to a lot of the pressure coming out of Moscow for Yanukovych to reject the economic deal between Ukraine and Europe, and that then of course led to a cascading number of events, which led to the deposing of Yanukovych and the ‘crisis in Ukraine’ as it is now called.”

Beyond the oil and gas, Sottile has also looked closely into the interests of agricultural giants Cargill and Monsanto, who are keen to exploit Ukraine’s riches closer to the surface:

US-Ukraine Business Council is an investor in the US-Ukraine Foundation where Ms [Victoria] Nuland was speaking on December 13th [about how the US had already spent $5 billion helping Ukraine realise its “European aspirations”] and also on December 13th, that was the day that Cargill invested in a Black Sea port to help open the Russian market to its agriculture. Well, Cargill is also heavily invested in Ukraine in a company called Ukrlandfarming. The just bought a two hundred thousand dollar stake in Ukrlandfarming. In fact they bought that stake – or it was announced – on the very day, January 12th of this year, that fifty thousand Ukrainians flooded Kiev to protest the government of Yanukovych.

They are all connected through Freedom House – a guy there who worked with Ms Nuland, who is Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, she had a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, a guy named David Kramer. David Kramer serves on – he’s actually head of Freedom House – Freedom House is one of the organisations that the United States uses to stoke democracy movements around the world. It is actually responsible, along with the National Endowment for Democracy, for funding many of the opposition forces there in Ukraine. And David Kramer also serves on the US-Ukraine Business Council. If you go the US-Ukraine Business Council – which is a very interesting organisation – on the executive board of the US-Ukraine Business Council you’ll find Cargill, Monsanto, John Deere, CNH International (which is a farming equipment and tractor-making company), Eli Lilly and DuPont Pioneer – DuPont Pioneer being the genetically modified organisms and agricultural wing of DuPont. And they all serve together under the guidance of a guy named Morgan Williams. Morgan Williams is CEO and President of US-Ukraine Business Council, and he has been a fixer for Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, [and] other big agricultural companies in Ukraine for the last fifteen to twenty years.

There is an expression from my part of the world that goes: “where there’s muck, there’s brass”. Well, as Sottile’s investigations reveal, there’s loads of muck in Ukraine and not just in oil and gas deposits. Perhaps, as he suspects, the bigger prize is the land itself. Either way, the vultures are already circling. Except that they are more predatory than the much maligned vulture. Rather than waiting for a crisis to happen they have been directly involved in fomenting one, and now, as their “Ukraine Crisis” escalates, they won’t be planning to let it to go to waste.

Click here to read more about this in JP Sottile’s article entitled “Ukraine, Chevron, Condi Rice and Shale Gas… join the dots” published by The Ecologist magazine on March 18th.

1 From an article entitled “Crisis Media Center springs into action” written by Brian Bonner, published by Kyiv Post on March 14, 2014. https://www.kyivpost.com/guide/about-kyiv/crisis-media-center-springs-into-action-339299.html 

2 From an article entitled “A Fascist Hero in Democratic Kiev” written by Timothy Snyder, published by The New York Review of Books on February 24, 2010. http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2010/feb/24/a-fascist-hero-in-democratic-kiev/

3Founders of Ukraine Crisis Media Center include:

Valeriy Chaly, Razumkov Centre, deputy foreign minister of Ukraine (2009-2010)
Ivanna Klympush-Tsyntsadze, Yalta European Strategy, director
Nataliya Popovych, PRP, president
Natalia Olbert-Sinko, PRP in Ukraine, executive director
Yaryna Klyuchkovska, independent communications consultant
Gennadiy Kurochka, CFC, founder and managing partner
Vasyl Myroshnychenko, CFC, partner
Alina Frolova, R.A.M. 360, CEO
Volodymyr Degtyaryov, NewsFront PR agency, director
Ivetta Delikatnaya, AGL, director of development
Maxim Savanevskyi, PlusOne DA, managing partner
Andriy Zagorodskiy, Newsplot, director

From the same article entitled “Crisis Media Center springs into action” written by Brian Bonner, published by Kyiv Post on March 14, 2014. https://www.kyivpost.com/guide/about-kyiv/crisis-media-center-springs-into-action-339299.html 

4 Extract from The Grand Chessboard, Chapter 2 “The Eurasian Chessboard”, p. 40, written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, published in 1997. It is available at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Zbigniew_Brzezinski 

5 From an article entitled “Corporation Carte Blanche: Will US-EU Trade Become Too Free?” written by Michaela Schiessl, published by Der Spiegel International on January 23, 2014. http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/criticism-grows-over-investor-protections-in-transatlantic-trade-deal-a-945107.html

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Max Keiser, neo-liberalism, Ukraine

time for an open debate about the ‘green technologies’

Let’s imagine you have a virus on your computer. You didn’t know you had it until someone phoned you up out of the blue. However, it turns out that this isn’t a prelude to the usual scam: – no, on this occasion your computer really has contracted a virus. The person on the other end of the phone going on to explain how they have ample evidence to prove their case because, after all, they created the virus in question. Adding that they have phoned you to demand legitimate compensation. Compensation…?

Well, after all, you have stolen their proprietary software, haven’t you? Software that they had personally spent years developing in order to make computers run faster and more efficiently, or so they say. Obviously you protest your innocence. You didn’t ask for their software and in any case you haven’t noticed any improvement. In fact, you feel like the victim, since your computer had been rather less reliable and more sluggish, if anything. But it’s to no avail. They are intent on suing for patent infringement, and that’s that. Such a case would never stand up in court, of course…

Unless…, unless the product in question belonged perhaps to a huge multinational corporation. An organisation that has highly paid legal teams, and armed with the political clout to change patent laws altogether. And say it wasn’t software that was being spread this way, but something altogether more fundamental to your existence. The viral code having been embedded not in computers, but in the food supply, and the question becoming why you didn’t sign a licence needed to grow their invasive but patented crops.

Now obviously the seed from these patented crops might have accidentally drifted into many unlicensed fields. Whilst, on top of this, there is nothing to prevent the patented varieties from pollinating other crops, thereby reproducing further patented hybrids in turn. So if this corporation were to have its own teams of inspectors with powers to search, then it would be more than profitable to send them off to scout the whole land looking for patent violations. How could the farmers prove their innocence? With the patented crops now growing all across their land, they are caught red-handed.

Such an aggressive modus operandi sounds like a product itself of an overly fertile and altogether deranged imagination, yet sadly the scenario I have sketched is literally the product of an increasingly deranged world:

Percy Schmeiser, a canola breeder and grower in Bruno, Saskatchewan, first discovered Roundup-resistant canola in his crops in 1997.[4] He had used Roundup herbicide to clear weeds around power poles and in ditches adjacent to a public road running beside one of his fields, and noticed that some of the canola which had been sprayed had survived. […]

At the time, Roundup Ready canola was in use by several farmers in the area. Schmeiser claimed that he did not plant the initial Roundup Ready canola in 1997, and that his field of custom-bred canola had been accidentally contaminated. While the origin of the plants on Schmeiser’s farm in 1997 remains unclear, the trial judge found that with respect to the 1998 crop, “none of the suggested sources [proposed by Schmeiser] could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality” ultimately present in Schmeiser’s 1998 crop.[5]

This is taken directly from the wikipedia entry (with original references retained) about a Canadian court case between Monsanto (who else!) and a canola (or rapeseed) farmer called Percy Schmeiser. The same article continues:

In 1998, Monsanto learned that Schmeiser was growing a Roundup-resistant crop and approached him to sign a license agreement to their patents and to pay a license fee. Schmeiser refused, maintaining that the 1997 contamination was accidental and that he owned the seed he harvested, and he could use the harvested seed as he wished because it was his physical property. Monsanto then sued Schmeiser for patent infringement. Patents being in federal jurisdiction, the case went to federal court.

In 2009, Percy Schmeiser featured in a documentary film based around the case and entitled David Versus Monsanto:

Note that I will come back to review some of the later verdicts in the long-running Monsanto v. Schmeiser case at the end of the article.

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The issues surrounding the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are many and complex, but it is perfectly clear that new developments in genetics, like those in nuclear physics more than half a century ago, have automatically opened the door to some quite extraordinary possibilities. Possibilities that will most assuredly impact our future no less dramatically than the advent of atomic reactors and the hydrogen bomb impacted our very recent past – and still continue to affect us today.

The need for a proper debate is long overdue but, hardly surprisingly, the huge bio-tech corporations prefer to keep the debate closed down. Monsanto, for instance, who say that it is perfectly safe to release their GMOs directly into our environment, are also in the habit of claiming that their herbicide Roundup is so harmless you can drink it!1 But then why on earth would anyone (or at least anyone not in their pocket) trust such self-interested and deliberately compromised low risk assessments? The quick answer being that the precautionary principle has once again been overridden by money and influence.

This great debate about the use of genetic modification needs to be both open and public: a forum for discussion amongst leading experts (and especially those not associated with the powerful bio-tech firms); scientists from other fields, who though ignorant on specifics, might bring a detached expertise by virtue of familiarity with scientific procedures; alongside representatives from other interested parties such as ‘consumers’ (that’s the rest of us by the way – we all consume, and though I hate the word too, it at least offers a little better perspective on our role without the current system, since this is how the system itself defines us).

It also needs to be fully inclusive, welcoming all intelligent opinion, whether concordant or dissenting. No reasoned objections from any quarters being summarily dismissed as unscientific or anti-scientific, as is so often the case, because we must never leave it for technicians alone to decide on issues that so directly affect our common future. Relying on highly specialised experts alone – even when those experts are fully independent (as they so rarely are these days) – being as unwise as it is anti-democratic.

Genetic manipulation is already upon us. It is already helping in the prevention and treatment of diseases, and in the production of medicines such as insulin (although even here serious questions are arising with regards to the potentially harmful side-effects of using a genetically modified product). More controversial again is the development of pest- and drought-resistant strains of crops (such as the Roundup Ready canola that contaminated Schmeiser’s fields), developments that are claimed by their producers to have alleviated a great deal of human suffering already, but which seem to have brought misery of new kinds – I will come back to this later.

And then we come to the development of Genetic Use Restriction Technology (Gurt), better known as ‘suicide’ or ‘Terminator’ (to use the industry term) seeds, which are promoted by the industry as a ‘biosafety’ solution. Engineered sterility being a clever way of preventing their own genetically modified plants from causing unwanted genetic contamination – which we might think of as a new form of pollution. The argument goes that if modified genes (whether pharmaceutical, herbicide resistance or ‘Terminator’ genes) from a ‘Terminator’ crop get transferred to related plants via cross-pollination, the seed produced from such pollination will be sterile. End of problem.

But this is merely an excuse, of course, and if used in this way, the new technology will ultimately prevent over a billion of the poorest people in the world from continuing in their age-old practice of saving seeds for resowing, which will, as a consequence, make these same farmers totally dependent on a few multinational bio-tech companies. An excellent means for monopolising the world’s food, and a satisfactory solution only for the owners of companies like Monsanto.2

In any case, do we really wish to allow patents on specific genes, opening the door to the corporate ownership of the building blocks to life itself? The world renowned physicist and futurist visionary Freeman Dyson draws a direct comparison to earlier forms of slavery:

“The institution of slavery was based on the legal right of slave-owners to buy and sell their property in a free market. Only in the nineteenth century did the abolitionist movement, with Quakers and other religious believers in the lead, succeed in establishing the principle that the free market does not extend to human bodies. The human body is God’s temple and not a commercial commodity. And now in the twenty-first century, for the sake of equity and human brotherhood, we must maintain the principle that the free market does not extend to human genes.”3

Nor, I would quickly add, should it extend to the ownership of genes of other higher species of animal or plant life. Moreover, I personally have no wish whatsoever for apples, tomatoes, potatoes (or even tobacco) that provides the RDA of all my nutritional needs, or any other supposed improvement on the original designs – preferring to trust to apples, tomatoes and potatoes that evolved alongside my own human digestive system. Which is not merely a preference, but a human right. Since we all have the right not to eat GMO just as we have the right to be vegan (not that I’m a vegan, by the way).

Beyond this, we also need to consider the many perfectly serious and inescapable ethical issues that arise once you are tinkering with the primary source code of life itself. Take cloning as an interesting example.

Identical twins are essentially clones, having both developed from the same fertilised egg, and thus sharing the same DNA. But then nature sometimes goes one step further again:

A form of virgin birth has been found in wild vertebrates for the first time.

Researchers in the US caught pregnant females from two snake species and genetically analysed the litters.

That proved the North American pit vipers reproduced without a male, a phenomenon called facultative parthenogenesis that has previously been found only in captive species.4

Taken from a BBC article I accidentally came across only yesterday.

I have since learned that parthenogenesis (reproduction without fertilisation or “virgin birth”) is surprisingly common throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. Birds do it, bees do it… and even mammals have been induced to do it. So cloning is not inherently unnatural, and if carried out successfully (as it frequently is in nature), it may one day be no more harmful nor fraught with latent dangers to be a cloned individual than an individual produced by other forms of artificial reproduction. Furthermore, since we already know what human twins are like, then we already know what human clones will be like. Yet many ethical questions still hang.

Should anyone be allowed to clone themselves? Or more generally, who chooses which of us are to be cloned? Do we just leave it to the market to decide? And why would we ever want a world populated by identical (or rather, approximately identical – since no two twins are truly identical and there are sound biological reasons for believing clones will never be perfectly reproduced either) human beings? Such ethical questions are forced by the new biotechnologies. And there are many further reasons for why ordinary, intelligent public opinion needs to be included in the debate.

Here is Freeman Dyson again, summarising his own cautious optimism as we enter the age of the new ‘green technologies’:

“I see two tremendous goods coming from biotechnology in the next century, first the alleviation of human misery through progress in medicine, and second the transformation of the global economy through green technology spreading wealth more equitably around the world. The two great evils to be avoided are the use of biological weapons and the corruption of human nature by buying and selling genes. I see no scientific reason why we should not achieve the good and avoid the evil.

The obstacles to achieving the good are political rather than technical. Unfortunately a large number of people in many countries are strongly opposed to green technology, for reasons having little to do with the real dangers. It is important to treat the opponents with respect, to pay attention to their fears, to go gently into the new world of green technology so that neither human dignity nor religious conviction is violated. If we can go gently, we have a good chance of achieving within a hundred years the goals of ecological sustainability and social justice that green technology brings within our reach.”5

Dyson is being too optimistic no doubt. Many of the dangers of genetic modification are only now coming to light; more than a decade after Dyson uttered these words as part of his acceptance speech for the award of the Templeton Prize in 2000.

Meanwhile, last month, Greenpeace issued the following press release. It contains the summary of an open letter sent by nearly a hundred Indian scientists to the Supreme Court of India:

An official report submitted by the technical Expert committee set up by the Supreme Court of India comprising of India’s leading experts in molecular biology, toxicology and biodiversity – unanimously recommends a 10-year moratorium on all field trials of GM Bt [insecticide producing due to genes from Bacillus thuringiensis] food crops, due to serious safety concerns. The committee has also recommended a moratorium on field trials of herbicide tolerant crops until independent assessment of impact and suitability, and a ban on field trials of GM crops for which India is center of origin and diversity.

The report’s recommendations are expected put a stop to all field releases of GM food crops in India, including the controversial Bt eggplant, whose commercial release was put under an indefinite moratorium there last February 2010. Contrarily, the same Bt eggplant is currently being evaluated for approval in the Philippines.

“This official unanimous declaration on the risks of GMOs, by India’s leading biotech scientists is the latest nail on the coffin for GMOs around the world,” said Daniel M. Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “It is yet another proof that GMOs are bad for the health, bad for the environment, bad for farmers and bad for the economy.”

Click here to read the full Greenpeace press release.

For though it would be foolish to fail to recognise the enormous potential benefits of some of the new ‘green technologies’, underestimating the hazards is sheer recklessness. And this is really where my own opinion differs significantly from enthusiasts like Dyson. This science is just so brilliantly new, and so staggeringly complex. The dangers are very real and our concerns entirely justified: whether these are concerns over safety, over the political implications, or anxieties of a more purely ethical kind.

But allow me to finish for once on a more positive note. Against all the odds and at considerable cost, financially and in terms of personal trauma, Percy Schmeiser, with the support of his wife Louise, eventually succeeded in their long-running legal battle against Monsanto. Beginning with the Federal Court judgement in March 2001:

Justice Andrew McKay upheld the validity of Monsanto’s patented gene which it inserts into canola varieties to make them resistant to their herbicide Round Up.

McKay dismissed Schmeiser’s challenge to the patent based on the claim Monsanto could not control how the gene was dispersed through the countryside.

In a key part of the ruling, the judge agreed a farmer can generally own the seeds or plants grown on his land if they blow in or are carried there by pollen — but the judge says this is not true in the case of genetically modified seed.

It was that part of the ruling that most upsets Percy Schmeiser. The implications are wide ranging and Schmeiser has launched an appeal that was heard on May 15 & 16, 2002 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The Federal Court of Appeal subsequently rejected Schmeiser’s appeal. Schmeiser then asked for leave from Canada’s Supreme Court to hear the case. Leave was granted in May 2003 and the case was heard on January 20, 2004.

The Supreme Court issued their decision in May 2004 and one can view the decision as a draw. The Court determined that Monsanto’s patent is valid, but Schmeiser is not forced to pay Monsanto anything as he did not profit from the presence of Roundup Ready canola in his fields. This issue started with Monsanto demanding Schmeiser pay the $15/acre technology fee and in the end, Schmeiser did not have to pay. The Schmeiser family and supporters are pleased with this decision, however disappointed that the other areas of appeal were not overturned.

And then, seven years on:

In an out of court settlement finalized on March 19, 2008, Percy Schmeiser has settled his lawsuit with Monsanto. Monsanto has agreed to pay all the clean-up costs of the Roundup Ready canola that contaminated Schmeiser’s fields. Also part of the agreement was that there was no gag-order on the settlement and that Monsanto could be sued again if further contamination occurred. Schmeiser believes this precedent setting agreement ensures that farmers will be entitled to reimbursement when their fields become contaminated with unwanted Roundup Ready canola or any other unwanted GMO plants.

On this occasion then, David didn’t kill Goliath, and in spite of huge personal effort and sacrifice. But he has undoubtedly helped to rein him in a bit, and Percy Schmeiser is just one of many Davids battling against the same Goliath. Collective actions that are also helping to open up the long overdue debate about the ‘green technologies’ and the future of life on our planet.

Both extracts above are quoted from Percy Schmeiser’s own website where you can find out more about his continuing fight against Big Agro.

*

Update:

A more recent Bloomberg article from November 28th reveals how another agro-giant DuPont is now employing the same strategy used by Monsanto:

DuPont Co. (DD), the world’s second- biggest seed company, is sending dozens of former police officers across North America to prevent a practice generations of farmers once took for granted.

The provider of the best-selling genetically modified soybean seed is looking for evidence of farmers illegally saving them from harvests for replanting next season, which is not allowed under sales contracts. The Wilmington, Delaware-based company is inspecting Canadian fields and will begin in the U.S. next year, said Randy Schlatter, a DuPont senior manager.

DuPont is protecting its sales of Roundup Ready soybeans, so called because they tolerate being sprayed by Monsanto Co. (MON)’s Roundup herbicide. For years enforcement was done by Monsanto, which created Roundup Ready and dominates the $13.3 billion biotech seed industry, though it’s moving on to a new line of seeds now that patents are expiring. That leaves DuPont to play the bad guy, enforcing alternative patents so cheaper “illegal beans” don’t get planted.

Click here to read the full article written by Jack Kaskey and entitled “DuPont Sends in Former Cops to Enforce Seed Patents”.

1 In 1996, the New York Times reported that: “Dennis C. Vacco, the Attorney General of New York, ordered the company to pull ads that said Roundup was “safer than table salt” and “practically nontoxic” to mammals, birds and fish. The company withdrew the spots, but also said that the phrase in question was permissible under E.P.A. guidelines.”[237]

Extract taken from wikipedia with original reference retained. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto#False_advertising

2 For further arguments against “Terminator Technology”, I recommend the following website: http://www.banterminator.org/content/view/full/233

3 From Freeman Dyson’s acceptance speech for the award of the Templeton Prize, delivered on May 16, 2000 at the Washington National Cathedral.

4 From an article entitled “Virgin births discovered in wild snakes” written by Jeremy Coles, published by BBC nature on September 12, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/19555550

5 Also taken from Freeman Dyson’s acceptance speech for the award of the Templeton Prize.

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