martes, julio 31, 2007

Double Standard on Contaminated Chinese and U.S. Consumer Products -- by Samuel S. Epstein and Ronnie Cummins

Organic Consumers Association, July 30, 2007

CHICAGO, July 30 (AScribe Newswire) -- Following is commentary by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., and Ronnie Cummins. Epstein is Professor Emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition. Cummins is National Director of the Organic Consumers Association (Finland, Minnesota).

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The dangers of cheap Chinese exports of contaminated consumer products have received extensive media coverage, besides the formation of a Cabinet-level Product Safety Panel. These exports include personal care products, such as toothpaste contaminated with the anti-freeze diethylene glycol, honey contaminated with dangerous antibiotics, and food contaminated with banned drugs, pesticides and carcinogens. In contrast, Congress and the media remain silent on the export of dangerous U.S. consumer products, as well as their decades-old domestic sale.

U.S. personal care and cosmetic products contain a wide range of avoidable toxic ingredients, notably multiple carcinogens, hormones and allergens, which remain unregulated by the FDA. These products include leading brands of toothpaste with carcinogenic ingredients. In sharp contrast, the 30-member state European Union has developed a Cosmetic Directive, which bans the manufacture and import of products suspected of causing harm to human health. Highlighting the FDA's indifference is the State of California's 2005 Safe Cosmetic Act requiring cosmetic companies to disclose information on toxic ingredients.

Of major concern is U.S. milk from cows injected with Monsanto's genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to increase milk production. According to Monsanto, about one third of dairy cows in the nation are in herds where the hormone is used. This milk contains abnormally high levels of a natural growth factor known as IGF-1. As documented in over 30 scientific publications, detailed in our May 2007 Citizen Petition to the FDA, increased levels of IGF-1 in milk increase risks of breast cancer by up to seven-fold and increases the risk of colon and prostate cancers. Not surprisingly, the import of U.S. rBGH dairy products has been banned by Canada, 29 European nations, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. Also, in June 1999, the United Nations Food Safety Agency, representing 101 nations worldwide, voted unanimously to reject a safety standard for rBGH milk. Nevertheless, there are no FDA restrictions on its continued sale in the U.S., nor any requirement for warning labels.

U.S. beef is heavily contaminated with natural or synthetic sex hormones. When U.S. beef cattle enter feedlots, pellets of these hormones are implanted under the ear skin, a process repeated at the midpoint of their 100-day pre-slaughter fattening period. These hormones increase carcass weight, adding about $80 profit per animal. Not surprisingly, but contrary to the claims of the FDA and USDA, residues of these hormones in meat are up to 20-fold higher than normal. Increased levels of sex hormones are linked to the escalating incidence of reproductive cancers in the U.S. since 1975, 36 percent for post-menopausal breast cancer, 50 percent for testicular cancer, and 88 percent for prostate cancer. Based on these concerns, Europe banned imports of U.S. beef in 1989, and Japan followed up with its own ban in 2003. Before the ban, Japan was the most lucrative overseas market for American beef, importing more than $1.5 billion worth in 2003.

These concerns are not new. As evidenced in a series of General Accounting Office investigations and Congressional hearings, FDA registration and residue-tolerance programs and USDA inspections are in near total disarray, aggravated by brazen denials and cover-ups. A January 1986 report, "Human Food Safety and the Regulation of Animal Drugs," unanimously approved by the House Committee on Government Operations, concluded that "the FDA has consistently disregarded its responsibility -- has repeatedly put what it perceives are interests of veterinarians and the livestock industry ahead of its legal obligation to protect consumers -- jeopardizing the health and safety of consumers of meat, milk and poultry."

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CONTACTS: Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.; 312-996-2297;

Ronnie Cummins, 218-226-4164,

NOTE TO EDITORS: This commentary is available for free and immediate use and quotation, in whole or in part. If used, please contact Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., as a courtesy to the contributor.

lunes, julio 30, 2007

Taken from the TED Blog:

Ed Burtynsky's beautifully monstrous "Manufactured landscapes"

If you are planning (you should) to go see Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary "Manufactured landscapes", which opened last week in theaters across the US after spending a year mesmerizing film festivals audiences and will soon arrive in Europe, make sure you get there in time, for nothing describes the scale and essence of today's globalized industry more tellingly than the opening scene: a seven-minutes tracking shot of the floor of a boundless Chinese factory, row after row after row of disciplined workers and efficient repetition that Stanley Kubrick could have filmed.

"Manufactured landscapes" is based on the work of photographer -- and 2005 TED Prize winner (watch his speech) -- Ed Burtynsky, whose camera has captured stunning images of man-transformed landscapes around the world.

Burtynsky is not much interested in micro: his focus is on vastness, on the scale of the environmental scars and transformations brought forth by industry, energy production and transportation. The documentary (trailer) is a hybrid: it's a meditation that makes very little use of words, leaving it to images and situational sounds and noises to tell the story, and at the same time a convincing illustration of the monstrosity of today's global trade. Although Baichwal shows images from Canada, California and Bangladesh -- and makes generous use of Burtynsky's TEDPrize speech -- the movie's main character is China, the "manufacture to the world": there, Burtynsky, followed by Baichwal's cameras, has shot factories, huge container ports, quarries, the Three Gorges Dam, electronics graveyards, the rapid urbanization of Shanghai. (Another great movie, recently, has shown some of this within a fictional frame: Gianni Amelio's "The Missing Star").

Burtynsky's work (see his books) can be unsettling. He extracts beautiful, sometimes poetic images from outrageous alterations and destructions of the environment. He calls himself an artist -- not a reporter -- and refrains from judging what he photographs or from politicizing it, wanting, as he said at TED, to "make people think harder about our planet's future" without suggesting them a direction. As the film goes I find myself thinking of painters: Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian, Salvador Dalì because, respectively, Burtynsky's photos of a computer components dump, the stacks of containers in the port of Tianjin, and the lunar shipbreaking beach of Chittagong (Bangladesh) oddly remind of their artworks.

Ml_burtynsky_poster The photographer has a rationale for aestheticizing this devastation: that's a way to gain access. Most of what Burtynsky photographs is on private land: "My work is mostly negotiation, with some photography thrown in", he said half-jokingly at the premiere in San Francisco. There is a scene in the movie where he is shown with his assistants and an interpreter trying to talk Chinese officials into opening the gates to a neverending coal yard, and the key sentence is "we will make it beautiful". Asked how he convinced factory managers to gather all their thousands of employees on a street for the picture that makes the poster of the movie (see image), Burtynsky explained that what Westerners see as a robotization of workers, the Chinese proudly consider an organizational and industrial achievement.

This discrepancy echoes throughout the documentary. It powerfully reminds us that "stuff" doesn't just happen, that it comes from somewhere, although we tend to forget or ignore it (thought of the impact of the extraction industry lately?) And it illustrates how, as we transform nature, we redefine who we are and our relationship to the planet.


Rulers and Ruled in the US Empire: Bankers, Zionists, Militants by James Petras

Rulers and Ruled in the US Empire:
Bankers, Zionists, Militants
by James Petras

This book provides a comprehensive guide to the systemic dimensions of the US empire. Petras elaborates the changes within the US ruling class, as its manufacturing sector declines and gives way to the ascendancy of finance capital, illustrated by its dominance of both the US economy, and the parameters for political debate on the US role in the world economy (globalization, trade liberalization). Petras addresses the fallacy of discussions on the imminent collapse of capitalism when what is occurring in reality is the collapse of workers’ rights. He elaborates the contradictions in current immigration/trade liberalization policies, and how these work toward forcing the displacement of peoples, and furthering the underdevelopment of third world countries. He reveals the dark heart of modern empire, in the emergence and proliferation of holocaust-scale carnage.and further outlines how the world capitalist system is laced together in an intricate hierarchy where the US pulls most of the strings, even outside its ostensible area of dominance. The role of corruption in securing world markets is addressed, as are the reasons for the spectacular global growth in new billionaires.

The role of the Zionist Lobby in America is examined as it relates to the catastrophic wars in Iraq and Lebanon, and the threat of a further attack on Iran. A mounting schism within the US ruling elite between its pro-Zionist sector concerned with advancing the interests of Israel, and the traditional ruling elite concerned with protecting US imperial interests worldwide is addressed in relation to the Iraq Study Group’s failed effort to introduce changes in current US Middle East policy.

Finance capital and its political representatives in the US government depend on the support of client regimes in other countries, which include those considered relatively ‘center left’, to sustain the US empire. However, in pursuit of freedom, justice, national independence and peace, powerful social movements and in some circumstances armed national resistance forces have emerged to challenge American dominance.

Petras sheds light on the actual status of contemporary resistance to US hegemony within China, Latin America, and the Middle East.


James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York. He is the author of 62 books published in 29 languages, and over 560 articles in professional journals, including the American Sociological Review, British Journal of Sociology, Social Research, and Journal of Peasant Studies. He has published over 2000 articles in nonprofessional journals such as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Nation, Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, New Left Review, Partisan Review, TempsModerne, Le Monde Diplomatique, and his commentary is widely carried on the internet. His publishers have included Random House, John Wiley, Westview, Routledge, Macmillan, Verso, Zed Books and Pluto Books. He is winner of the Career of Distinguished Service Award from the American Sociological Association's Marxist Sociology Section, the Robert Kenny Award for Best Book, 2002, and the Best Dissertation, Western Political Science Association in 1968. His most recent titles include Unmasking Globalization: Imperialism of the Twenty-First Century (2001); co-author The Dynamics of Social Change in Latin America (2000), System in Crisis (2003), co-author Social Movements and State Power (2003), co-author Empire With Imperialism (2005), co-author)Multinationals on Trial (2006), and The Power of Israel in the United States (2006)


domingo, julio 29, 2007

NASA spokespeople have acknowledged in the last few days that astronauts have been drunk while flying on space shuttle missions. That should be reassuring to everyone.

It was also reported this past week that a NASA employee had intentionally sabotaged equipment for an up-coming shuttle mission.

All this comes at a time when NASA and the Department of Energy are talking about expanding plans to launch nuclear powered payloads into space for their Moon and Mars missions that will ultimately be used to establish permanent mining colonies on these planetary bodies.

NASA tells us not to worry - all of their missions carrying nuclear power into space are safe. Forget sabotaged equipment and drunken astronauts.

All is well at NASA.

Should we continue to pour our precious tax dollars down the dysfunctional NASA rat hole?
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011
(207) 443-9502 (Blog) (MySpace profile)


sábado, julio 28, 2007

Rule three of offsets: No geo-engineering

Joseph Romm

27 Jul 2007

geo-big.jpg I know you've all been eagerly waiting for this (don't worry, I don't have many more rules). I got sidetracked by last week's offset hearing.

Offset projects should deliver climate benefits with high confidence -- that's a key reason trees make lousy offsets, especially non-urban, non-tropical trees. An even more dubious source of offsets is geo-engineering, which is "the intentional large scale manipulation of the global environment" (PDF) to counteract the effects of global warming.

As John Holdren, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, noted in 2006 (PDF), "The 'geo-engineering' approaches considered so far appear to be afflicted with some combination of high costs, low leverage, and a high likelihood of serious side effects."

The only reason for this rule is that a company, Planktos, wants to sell offset credits for carbon that is supposedly sequestered when iron is seeded in the ocean to create algae blooms. Seriously. (This is the same company that is selling trees as offsets to the Vatican.)

This is such a dubious idea that 18 leading experts from 13 countries, who comprise the Scientific Steering Committee of the Surface Ocean-Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) -- a lead-in group studying the ocean-atmosphere system -- went to the trouble of issuing a "Position Statement on Large-Scale Ocean Fertilisation" last month:

Large-scale fertilisation of the ocean is being actively promoted by various commercial organisations as a strategy to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels. However, the current scientific evidence indicates that this will not significantly increase carbon transfer into the deep ocean or lower atmospheric CO2. Furthermore, there may be negative impacts of iron fertilization including dissolved oxygen depletion, altered trace gas emissions that affect climate and air quality, changes in biodiversity, and decreased productivity in other oceanic regions. It is then critical and essential that robust and independent scientific verification is undertaken before large-scale fertilisation is considered. Given our present lack of knowledge, the judgement of the SOLAS SSC is that ocean fertilisation will be ineffective and potentially deleterious, and should not be used as a strategy for offsetting CO2 emissions.


In 2001, ocean scientists Sallie Chisholm, Paul Falkowski, and John Cullen wrote an article in Science, "Dis-Crediting Ocean Fertilization" (sub. req'd). They point out the leakage problem:

Despite the claims of the proponents, carbon sequestration from ocean fertilization is not easily verified. Besides measuring carbon flux profiles and comparing them with a control basin, one would have to determine what fraction of the natural stores of N [nitrogen] and P [phosphorus] used up in the fertilized patch would no longer be available for phytoplankton growth in downstream ocean regions. This would require complex numerical models of large-scale ocean physics and biogeochemistry, the predictions of which cannot be validated through small perturbations such as patch fertilizations.

They also note that while "no single application" of small-scale fertilizations subsidized by carbon credits "would cause sustained ecosystem damage":

But if it is profitable for one, it would be profitable for many, and the cumulative effects of many such implementations would result in large-scale consequences -- a classic "tragedy of the commons."

One simple way to avert this potential tragedy is to remove the profit incentive for manipulation of the ocean commons. We suggest that ocean fertilization, in the open seas or territorial waters, should never become eligible for carbon credits.

Double ouch.

We may some day need to pursue geo-engineering, but (1) only after we have exhausted every plausible mitigation strategy, and (2) only after we have done rigorous, small-scale experiments to prove its safety and effectiveness. But geo-engineering projects should certainly not be sold to the public any time soon as carbon offsets.

This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

For story: Rule three of offsets: No geo-engineering

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miércoles, julio 25, 2007


Green consumerism will not save the biosphere

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 24th July 2007


Green consumerism is becoming a pox on the planet. If it merely swapped the damaging goods we buy for less damaging ones, I would champion it. But two parallel markets are developing: one for unethical products and one for ethical products, and the expansion of the second does little to hinder the growth of the first. I am now drowning in a tide of ecojunk. Over the past six months, our coatpegs have become clogged with organic cotton bags, which – filled with packets of ginseng tea and jojoba oil bath salts – are now the obligatory gift at every environmental event. I have several lifetimes’ supply of ballpoint pens made with recycled paper and about half a dozen miniature solar chargers for gadgets I don’t possess.

Last week the Telegraph told its readers not to abandon the fight to save the planet. “There is still hope, and the middle classes, with their composters and eco-gadgets, will be leading the way.”(3) It made some helpful suggestions, such as a “hydrogen-powered model racing car”, which, for £74.99, comes with a solar panel, an electrolyser and a fuel cell(4). God knows what rare metals and energy-intensive processes were used to manufacture it. In the name of environmental consciousness, we have simply created new opportunities for surplus capital.

Ethical shopping is in danger of becoming another signifier of social status. I have met people who have bought solar panels and mini-wind turbines before they have insulated their lofts: partly because they love gadgets, but partly, I suspect, because everyone can then see how conscientious (and how rich) they are. We are often told that buying such products encourages us to think more widely about environmental challenges, but it is just as likely to be depoliticising. Green consumerism is another form of atomisation – a substitute for collective action. No political challenge can be met by shopping.

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New from GRAIN
27 June 2007

No to the agrofuels craze!

GRAIN has just published a special issue of Seedling which focuses on biofuels, or as we like to call them, agrofuels - over 30,000 words of in-depth analysis from around the world.

In the process of gathering material from colleagues and social movements around the world, we have discovered that the stampede into agrofuels is causing enormous environmental and social damage, much more than we realised earlier. Precious ecosystems are being destroyed and hundreds of thousands of indigenous and peasant communities are being thrown off their land.

Worse lies ahead: the Indian government is committed to planting 14 million hectares of land with jatropha (an exotic bush from which biodiesel can be manufactured), the Inter-American Development Bank says that Brazil has 120 million hectares available for biofuels, and lobbyists in Europe are speaking of almost 400 million hectares being available for biofuels in 15 African countries. We are talking about expropriation on an unprecedented scale.

Worse lies ahead: the Indian government is committed to planting 14 million hectares of land with jatropha (an exotic bush from which biodiesel can be manufactured), the Inter-American Development Bank says that Brazil has 120 million hectares available for biofuels, and lobbyists in Europe are speaking of almost 400 million hectares being available for biofuels in 15 African countries. We are talking about expropriation on an unprecedented scale.

We believe that the prefix bio, which comes from the Greek word for ‘life’, is entirely inappropriate for such anti-life devastation. So, following the lead of non-governmental organisations and social movements in Latin America, we do not talk about biofuels and green energy. Agrofuels is a much better term, we believe, to express what is really happening: agribusiness producing fuel from plants as another commodity to in a wasteful, destructive and unjust global economy.

In a special issue of Seedling, launched today, we zoom in on the situation in different parts of the world: Latin America, Asia and Africa. We analyse what is happening and talk to the people involved. The conclusion is pretty much the same across the board: the push for agrofuels amounts to nothing less than the re-introduction and re-enforcement of the old colonial plantation economy, redesigned to function under the rules of the modern neoliberal, globalised world. Indigenous farming systems, local communities and the biodiversity they manage have to give way to provide for the increased fuel needs of the modern world.

One of the main justifications for the large-scale cultivation of agrofuels is the need to combat climate change, but the figures make a mockery of this claim. According to the US government, global energy consumption is set to increase 71 per cent from 2003 to 2030, and most of that will come from burning more oil, coal and natural gas. By the end of this period, all renewable energy (including agrofuels) will only make up 9 per cent of global energy consumption. It is a dangerous self-delusion to argue that agrofuels can play a significant role in combating global warming.

As is spelt out in this special edition, the wide-scale cultivation of agrofuels will actually make things worse in many parts of the world, notably South-east Asia and the Amazon basin where the drying of peat lands and the felling of tropical forest will release far more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than will be saved by using agrofuels.

One of the main causes of global warming is agro-industrial farming itself, and the global food system associated with it. Although it is scarcely ever mentioned, farming is responsible for 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Within farming, the largest single cause is the use of chemical fertilisers, which introduce a huge amount of nitrogen into the soil, and nitrous oxide into the air. Changing land use (mainly deforestation and thus linked to the expansion of crop monoculture) is responsible for another 18 per cent. And a large part of global transport, which is responsible for a further 14 per cent of emissions, stems from the way in which the agro-industrial complex moves large quantities of food from one continent to anther.

It is abundantly clear that we can only halt climate change by challenging the absurdity and the waste of the globalised food system as organised by the transnational corporations. Far from contributing to the solution, biofuels will only make a bad situation worse. GRAIN believes it is time to declare unambiguously ‘No to the agrofuels craze!’

GRAIN's special issue of Seedling with over 30,000 words of in-depth analysis from around the world, plus other resources on agrofuels are available from this page:

Download the entire Seedling issue in PDF format, or you can download individual articles below. (Note: Articles are only currently available in PDF format - we hope to have HTML versions of these articles in mid-July).


An introductory article that, among other things, looks at the mind-boggling numbers that are being bandied around: the Indian government is talking of planting 14 million hectares of land with jatropha; the Inter-American Development Bank says that Brazil has 120 million hectares that could be cultivated with agrofuel crops; and an agrofuel lobby is speaking of 379 million hectares being available in 15 African countries.

A detailed look at the way agrofuels is restructuring agribusiness, with the emergence of new powerful corporate alliances across the globe. Agrofuels are deepening the alliances between transnational capital and local landed elites, with profound consequences for struggles over land and local food production.

Foreign diplomats and businessmen are pouring in to secure reliable supply chains of agrofuels. Not only the old colonial powers but new emerging countries, particularly Brazil and China, are scouring the region for investment deals. There is talk of Southern Africa becoming ‘the Middle East of agrofuels’. A report from Uganda where popular movements have forced the government to suspend two big agrofuel projects.

In no other region in the world is the absurdity of the frenzied rush into agrofuels more blatant than in South-east Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. With funding under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, peat lands are being destroyed (with the emission of billions of tonnes of carbon) to plant palms to produce oil for biodiesel. A report from Indonesia where the population is protesting over the surge in cooking oil prices because so much palm oil is being exported.

A mosaic of interviews with leaders of social and popular movements, who analyse what is happening on their countries and describe their strategies for confronting agrofuels. A look at the emergence of large-scale biodiesel production in Latin America (particularly in the Amazon, where soya cultivation for the production of soya oil for biodiesel is intensifying forest destruction).

The volume of recent articles, papers and other materials on agrofuels can be overwhelming. Below we list some that we found particularly useful when preparing this Seedling.

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martes, julio 24, 2007

El TLCAN y la muerte del campo mexicano

22-7-07, Editorial de La Jornada

Las desafortunadas declaraciones de Blanca G. Villarello, funcionaria de la Secretaría de Agricultura (Sagarpa), en el sentido de que son "sicológicas" las preocupaciones vertidas por representantes del sector agropecuario por la apertura total de los mercados de México y Estados Unidos en 2008, en el contexto del Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte (TLCAN), han indignado a una parte importante de los productores del país, que ya anunciaron movilizaciones en todo el territorio para detener dicha apertura y demostrar el perjuicio que ha ocasionado al campo mexicano el acuerdo comercial.

Distintos dirigentes campesinos señalaron que "para la Sagarpa el TLCAN no significa ningún problema porque está fuera de la realidad. En este primer semestre el valor de las importaciones agroalimentarias se incrementó en 50 por ciento y los productores mexicanos son 2 millones menos que al inicio del acuerdo. La polarización social en el campo es creciente; la migración de la población rural llega a 300 mil personas por año en condiciones inhumanas; más de un mexicano muere cada día al tratar de cruzar a Estados Unidos, y esa realidad no la quiere reconocer la Sagarpa porque su único interés es servir a las corporaciones del sector agroalimentario".

El panorama del sector en tiempos del TLCAN es, ciertamente, desolador. Un buen ejemplo es el caso del maíz. De acuerdo con datos de diversas fuentes, este grano representa más de 60 por ciento de la producción agrícola nacional en términos de volumen y valor y ocupa alrededor de 62 por ciento de la superficie cultivada. Entre 2.5 y 3 millones de productores participan en su cultivo; unos 18 millones de personas dependen del maíz para su sustento. Al iniciarse el TLCAN, en 1994, el gobierno acordó el ingreso de 2.5 millones de toneladas métricas de maíz libre de aranceles. Estas importaciones se ampliarían a un interés compuesto de 3 por ciento anual hasta llegar a la liberalización total del mercado, en 2008. Sin embargo, desde el principio la cuota de importación fue rebasada. Así, millones de toneladas de este grano ingresaron al país sin cubrir arancel alguno y sin que el gobierno diera una explicación al respecto. Entre 1993 y 1999, las importaciones de maíz crecieron 3 mil por ciento al pasar de 152 mil toneladas a 5.4 millones de toneladas; en ese periodo se adquirieron en total 29 millones, de las cuales 12.9 millones estuvieron por encima de las cuotas de importación.

Esto generó una grave crisis entre los productores nacionales. Varios analistas han coincidido en señalar que la política agrícola y comercial desde la presidencia de Carlos Salinas de Gortari en 1994 hasta la de Felipe Calderón -el ingreso de maíz y otros productos importados a precios dumping- ha obligado a los productores mexicanos a abandonar sus cultivos. Con esta política se enfrentó a los maiceros mexicanos, abandonados en la práctica por los ineficientes programas gubernamentales de apoyo, con los maiceros estadunidenses, uno de los sectores agrícolas con mayores subsidios en el mundo. De acuerdo con diversas organizaciones campesinas, los subsidios en Estados Unidos representan hasta 30 por ciento de los costos de producción, mientras en México a lo mucho llegan a 9 por ciento.

El estudio ¿Cuánta liberalización aguanta la agricultura? Impacto del TLC en la agricultura mexicana, elaborado para la Comisión de Agricultura de la Cámara de Diputados, señala que, al liberar de arancel las importaciones de maíz y de otros productos, como el frijol, el gobierno mexicano regaló 2 mil 140 millones de dólares a las trasnacionales importadoras y productoras de nuevos granos. El impacto ha sido también drástico sobre otros cultivos: a partir del TLC, la producción de trigo se redujo en casi un tercio y la superficie cultivada cayó 43 por ciento; la soya, que llegó a ocupar 500 mil hectáreas, ahora sólo es sembrada en 88 mil.

La apertura total podría significar el fin del campo mexicano. El propio Banco Mundial ha advertido que el sector agropecuario nacional no está en condiciones de competir en el mercado que se generará a raíz de la liberación de aranceles, debido a que a lo largo de 20 años ha sido objeto de políticas sin resultados positivos.

¿Qué se puede decir ante los datos anteriores? Sin más, ante las evidencias, urge modificar la política agropecuaria del país, así como impulsar una revisión a fondo del TLCAN, para proteger, levantar y fortalecer al campo mexicano.

fuente: La Jornada


Welcome to Richistan, USA

The American Dream of riches for all is turning into a nightmare of inequality. But a backlash is brewing, reports Paul Harris in New York

Sunday July 22, 2007
The Observer


America's super-rich have returned to the days of the Roaring Twenties. As the rest of the country struggles to get by, a huge bubble of multi-millionaires lives almost in a parallel world. The rich now live in their own world of private education, private health care and gated mansions. They have their own schools and their own banks. They even travel apart - creating a booming industry of private jets and yachts. Their world now has a name, thanks to a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Frank which has dubbed it 'Richistan'. There every dream can come true. But for the American Dream itself - which promises everyone can join the elite - the emergence of Richistan is a mixed blessing. 'We in America are heading towards 'developing nation' levels of inequality. We would become like Brazil. What does that say about us? What does that say about America?' Frank said.

In 1985 there were just 13 US billionaires. Now there are more than 1,000. In 2005 the US saw 227,000 new millionaires being created. One survey showed that the wealth of all US millionaires was $30 trillion, more than the GDPs of China, Japan, Brazil, Russia and the EU combined.

The rich have now created their own economy for their needs, at a time when the average worker's wage rises will merely match inflation and where 36 million people live below the poverty line. In Richistan sums of money are rendered almost meaningless because of their size. It also has other names. There is the 'Platinum Triangle' used to describe the slice of Beverly Hills where many houses go for above $10m. Then there is the Jewel Coast, used to describe the strip of Madison Avenue in Manhattan where boutique jewellery stories have sprung up to cater for the new riches' needs. Or it exists in the MetCircle society, a Manhattan club open only to those whose net worth is at least $100m.


lunes, julio 23, 2007

Whole Market Foods?

Why the FTC is right to block Whole Foods' buyout of Wild Oats

By Tom Philpott
19 Jul 2007
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John Mackey
John Mackey.
Photo: Whole Foods Market
In a high-profile exchange with Michael Pollan last summer, Whole Foods Market CEO and founder John Mackey took an avuncular approach to farmers' markets that might take business from his company.

"Whole Foods Market is committed to supporting local farmers' markets across the United States (and also in Canada and the U.K.)," he wrote.

Elsewhere, the executive has displayed a zeal to crush competition that might make his counterparts at Microsoft blush. Last spring, Mackey sent a blunt email to the Whole Foods board, explaining his intention to buy Wild Oats -- Whole Foods' only direct nationwide competitor -- for a price well above what many analysts thought Wild Oats was worth.

By taking over Wild Oats, he argued, Whole Foods would not merely be snapping up 110 fully functioning natural-foods stores across the nation. Grabbing Wild Oats would also buy Whole Foods the power to "avoid nasty price wars" in several markets, as well as "eliminate forever" the threat of a major nationwide competitor in the natural-foods space.

The Federal Trade Commission somehow got its paws on Mackey's provocative email, and is using it as the basis for a rare foray into enforcing antitrust law in the food industry. In early June, the commission sued to block Whole Foods' $565 million bid for Wild Oats, claiming the combined entity would act as a monopoly in many regional markets.

In a brief [PDF] released last week, the FTC subtly revealed that Mackey had made other, even more provocative statements about Wild Oats before the deal went down this spring. It turns out that Mackey, the CEO of a company valued at some $5.6 billion, had for six years been secretly posting on a popular internet message board, clashing with anyone who dared criticize Whole Foods or praise Wild Oats. Using the handle "Rahodeb" -- his wife's name scrambled -- Mackey regularly crossed swords with people calling themselves things like "Hog152" and "Dadajuiceboy."

Is Whole Foods an 800 pound gorilla?
As far back as 2002, "Rahodeb" was openly pining for Wild Oats' elimination, declaring that, "With the demise of Wild Oats, Whole Foods Market has no national competitors in their niche. This will accelerate their growth." By spring 2006, Mackey's alter ego could taste blood. "The end game is now under way" for Wild Oats, Rahodeb insisted: "Whole Foods is systematically destroying their viability as a business -- market by market, city by city."

Admittedly, it's hard to look away from the spectacle of a major CEO's descent into anonymous chat-room shilling. But what really interests me here is the FTC's bold decision to challenge a merger within the food industry -- after decades of standing idly by as fewer and fewer companies grabbed hold of more and more of the market.

Mackey vs. Mackey

The FTC's case against the merger can be summed up as follows: A combined Whole Foods/Wild Oats would be the only nationwide supermarket specializing in premium-priced organic groceries, with an emphasis on perishable goods (fresh produce, meat, and dairy products).

The commission acknowledges that conventional supermarkets are rushing into organics, but counters that these chains cater to a group of shoppers distinct from the Whole Foods/Wild Oats set. Core "natural foods" shoppers, the FTC argues, don't venture into Wal-Mart seeking organic milk or broccoli. They flock to Whole Foods for the experience, and they're willing to pay extra for it. Thus if Whole Foods "devoured" (the FTC's word) its only national competitor, the combined entity would be free to gouge natural-foods shoppers without fear of competition.

Mackey has openly ridiculed this claim on his blog on the Whole Foods website. In an extraordinary 14,000-word treatise (very few CEOs would comment so voluminously on a pending antitrust case), Mackey claims that assimilating Wild Oats would actually do very little to reduce the competition his company faces.

"Most of our products that we sell in our stores can now be found in every large supermarket store in every market we compete," he wrote. "Excellent supermarket companies ... have very good perishable departments that compete very favorably with our own stores and they also have very large selections of natural and organic products. Competition with Whole Foods has never been greater than it is right now and Wild Oats is only a relatively small part of that greater competition."

And Whole Foods faces fierce competition from other sources as well, Mackey went on: "Trader Joe's has very rapidly expanded by more than doubling its store base in the past five years and has entered into numerous new markets to directly compete against us."

Mackey's logic makes good sense on the surface. Sam Fromartz, author of Organic, Inc. and a seasoned Whole Foods observer, essentially echoed it on his Chews Wise blog; other business-press commentators weighed in with similar support.

However, the FTC wields a powerful weapon to bolster its case: Mackey's own pronouncements from before the Wild Oats buyout. Over and over again in its 40-plus page brief, the commission trots out Mackey himself to make the case that Whole Foods operates in a different universe from its would-be rivals among conventional supermarkets. While the FTC document doesn't specify sources for the Mackey quotes, I talked to a press rep from the commission, and he told me they come from Mackey's chat-room forays and blog, as well as internal company documents.

In one instance, the FTC quotes Mackey as claiming that, "Safeway and other conventional retailers will keep doing their thing -- trying to be all things to all people. They can't really effectively focus on Whole Foods Core Customers without abandoning 90 percent of their own customers." At another point, the FTC has Mackey boasting of Whole Foods' "authenticity, integrity, and the power of their brand with their customers. This creates strong loyalty from their customer base -- something Safeway doesn't have and likely never will have."

Nor did pre-merger Mackey seem particularly impressed with the challenges mounted by specialty-foods retailer Trader Joe's on the high end or Wal-Mart from the low end. According to the FTC, Mackey wrote in 2006 that "Wal-Mart doesn't sell high-quality perishables and neither does Trader Joe's ... That is why Whole Foods coexists so well with [Trader Joe's] and it is also why Wal-Mart isn't going to hurt Whole Foods."

Given such pronouncements -- and the FTC has gathered several, from Mackey as well as other Whole Foods execs -- the agency will likely succeed in blocking the merger. In fact, the smart money is already lining up against the deal. "We believe the FTC case against the merger appears solid and are now leaning more toward the FTC prevailing in its injunction," a stock analyst for Bear Stearns recently wrote in a note to the Wall Street powerhouse's clients.

One Buyer Doesn't Fit All

So the FTC has moved decisively to protect the sort of consumers who adore Whole Foods and disdain conventional supermarkets. Wow. In this laissez-faire age, it's remarkable when a federal agency effectively challenges any sort of corporate merger.

But in my view, the agency could have mounted a broader challenge to the merger -- one that looked not only at the interests of people who buy from Whole Foods, but also entities that sell to it, including farms.

As Barry C. Lynn showed in a luminous essay published in Harper's last year, federal authorities since the Reagan era have narrowly defined antitrust law as an instrument for protecting consumers from price gouging.

In this conception of antitrust, the government steps in only when a company, unimpeded by competitors, gains enough market power to dictate prices to consumers. And the burden is on the government to show that the company is actually using its power abusively -- that is, charging higher prices than it would under competitive circumstances.

But these days, few dominant corporations dare attempt to gouge consumers. Rather, they use their market heft to boost profitability by squeezing their suppliers -- the firms they buy products from. Known as monopsony, this form of market power involves a dominant buyer dictating terms to sellers. In a market characterized by perfect monopsony, a seller can either accept the price the buyer is willing to pay, or exit the business.

According to Lynn, U.S. antitrust theory from the 1890s to the Reagan era included robust protection from monopsony. But in recent years, he writes, "it has become a truism that antitrust law is designed to protect only the consumer." As a result, he argues, huge firms have arisen whose very business model hinges on exercising monopsony power, which they use with impunity.

Lynn's example par excellence is Wal-Mart -- a company for which Mackey, under his Rahodeb guise, once expressed effusive admiration. Lynn shows that Wal-Mart uses its vast market heft to extract all manner of concessions from suppliers, including discounts unavailable to Wal-Mart's competitors. Wal-Mart and like-minded firms use monopsony power to "dictate downward the wages and profits of the millions of people and smaller firms who make and grow what they sell."

The effects are clear, Lynn continues: "We see them in the collapsing profit margins of the firms caught in Wal-Mart's system. We see them in the fact that of Wal-Mart's top 10 suppliers in 1994, four have sought bankruptcy protection."

How does monopsony apply to Whole Foods and its attempt to buy out its only direct nationwide competitor? If Mackey is correct that conventional supermarkets can never effectively compete with Whole Foods in its core fresh offerings like meat, produce, and dairy, then Whole Foods and its lone remaining competitor will become increasingly powerful buyers of those goods from organic farmers seeking to serve local and regional markets. To protect those farmers from a single buyer wielding untoward power, the Whole Foods/Wild Oats merger should be halted.

I'd like to see the FTC use that logic to block Mackey's zeal to dominate the natural-foods market -- and then apply it to other sectors of the incredibly consolidated, monopsony-dependent food industry.

Got a question about where your last supper came from?
Fork it over.
Grist contributing writer Tom Philpott farms and cooks at Maverick Farms, a sustainable-agriculture nonprofit and small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


Impeach Now

Or Face the End of Constitutional Democracy


Unless Congress immediately impeaches Bush and Cheney, a year from now the US could be a dictatorial police state at war with Iran.

Bush has put in place all the necessary measures for dictatorship in the form of "executive orders" that are triggered whenever Bush declares a national emergency. Recent statements by Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, former Republican senator Rick Santorum and others suggest that Americans might expect a series of staged, or false flag, "terrorist" events in the near future.

Many attentive people believe that the reason the Bush administration will not bow to expert advice and public opinion and begin withdrawing US troops from Iraq is that the administration intends to rescue its unpopular position with false flag operations that can be used to expand the war to Iran.

Too much is going wrong for the Bush administration: the failure of its Middle East wars, Republican senators jumping ship, Turkish troops massed on northern Iraq's border poised for an invasion to deal with Kurds, and a majority of Americans favoring the impeachment of Cheney and a near-majority favoring Bush's impeachment. The Bush administration desperately needs dramatic events to scare the American people and the Congress back in line with the militarist-police state that Bush and Cheney have fostered.

William Norman Grigg recently wrote that the GOP is "praying for a terrorist strike" to save the party from electoral wipeout in 2008.
Chertoff, Cheney, the neocon nazis, and Mossad would have no qualms about saving the bacon for the Republicans, who have enabled Bush to start two unjustified wars, with Iran waiting in the wings to be attacked in a third war.

The Bush administration has tried unsuccessfully to resurrect the terrorist fear factor by infiltrating some blowhard groups and encouraging them to talk about staging "terrorist" events. The talk, encouraged by federal agents, resulted in "terrorist" arrests hyped by the media, but even the captive media was unable to scare people with such transparent sting operations.

If the Bush administration wants to continue its wars in the Middle East and to entrench the "unitary executive" at home, it will have to conduct some false flag operations that will both frighten and anger the American people and make them accept Bush's declaration of "national emergency" and the return of the draft. Alternatively, the administration could simply allow any real terrorist plot to proceed without hindrance.

A series of staged or permitted attacks would be spun by the captive media as a vindication of the neoconsevatives' Islamophobic policy, the intention of which is to destroy all Middle Eastern governments that are not American puppet states. Success would give the US control over oil, but the main purpose is to eliminate any resistance to Israel's complete absorption of Palestine into Greater Israel.

Think about it. If another 9/11-type "security failure" were not in the works, why would Homeland Security czar Chertoff go to the trouble of convincing the Chicago Tribune that Americans have become complacent about terrorist threats and that he has "a gut feeling" that America will soon be hit hard?

Why would Republican warmonger Rick Santorum say on the Hugh Hewitt radio show that "between now and November, a lot of things are going to happen, and I believe that by this time next year, the American public's (sic) going to have a very different view of this war."

Throughout its existence the US government has staged incidents that the government then used in behalf of purposes that it could not otherwise have pursued. According to a number of writers, false flag operations have been routinely used by the Israeli state. During the Czarist era in Russia, the secret police would set off bombs in order to arrest those the secret police regarded as troublesome. Hitler was a dramatic orchestrator of false flag operations. False flag operations are a commonplace tool of governments.

Ask yourself: Would a government that has lied us into two wars and is working to lie us into an attack on Iran shrink from staging "terrorist" attacks in order to remove opposition to its agenda?

Only a diehard minority believes in the honesty and integrity of the Bush-Cheney administration and in the truthfulness of the corporate media.

Hitler, who never achieved majority support in a German election, used the Reichstag fire to fan hysteria and push through the Enabling Act, which made him dictator. Determined tyrants never require majority support in order to overthrow constitutional orders.

The American constitutional system is near to being overthrown. Are coming "terrorist" events of which Chertoff warns and Santorum promises the means for overthrowing our constitutional democracy?

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at:

22 de junio 2007

Es alentador que un diario de amplia circulación como
el Vocero le dedique un editorial a un renglón de
nuestra economía tan maltratado y abandonado como el

Sobre el tema de los subsidios agrícolas veo necesario
decir unas cosas. El editorial da la impresión errónea
de que los subsidios del gobierno a la actividad
agrícola boricua son una anomalía y que van a
contrapelo de las tendencias mundiales. Nada más lejos
de la verdad.

Según el Overseas Development Institute, más de 20%
del valor de la producción mundial de algodón viene de
subsidios, mayormente de Estados Unidos, China y la
Unión Europea. En la temporada de siembra 2001-2002,
Estados Unidos subsidió su producción algodonera (que
constituye 40% de la producción mundial) con $2,300

Con sus subsidios masivos, Estados Unidos puede
producir en exceso y vender esa producción en mercados
internacionales bien por debajo del costo. Nos dice el
profesor Peter Rosset en su excelente libro "Food is
Different" que en el año 2002, EEUU vendió:

Trigo a 43% debajo del costo
Soya a 25% debajo del costo
Maíz a 13% debajo del costo
Arroz a 35% debajo del costo
Algodón a 61% debajo del costo

La pregunta obvia es, ¿Cómo vamos a hablar de libre
competencia y libres mercados cuando los agricultores
estadounidenses hacen trampa con estos subsidios?
También, ¿Cómo pueden los agricultores puertorriqueños
o suramericanos- de los africanos ni hablar- competir
cuando sus mercados locales están inundados de
productos importados que se venden debajo del costo de
producción? Es por esto que los países pobres han
denunciado esta práctica injusta en los foros
internacionales repetidas veces.

Con esto no quiero decir que los subsidios de por sí
sean malos. Los hay malos y los hay buenos. Son malos
cuando causan sobreproducción y bajan los precios
internacionales a niveles catastróficos, cuando
provocan prácticas ecológicamente insustentables, y
arruinan al pequeño productor. Pero se pueden utilizar
subsidios para proteger la biodiversidad, combatir la
erosión de manera sustentable, controlar plagas sin
usar venenos agrotóxicos, y asegurar mercados locales
para la producción local.

También debo comentar sobre las palabras del
editorialista al efecto de que cosas como la
globalización son realidades que hay que aceptar. No
es con actitudes conformistas y sumisas que vamos a
echar adelante como nación. Mejor sigamos el ejemplo
solidario y combativo de la Vía Campesina, movimiento
mundial de pequeños y medianos agricultores de 56
países dedicado a promover las relaciones económicas
de igualdad y de justicia social, la preservación de
la tierra, la soberanía alimentaria, la producción
agrícola sostenible y una igualdad basada en la
producción a pequeña y mediana escala. Los
agricultores militantes de la Vía Campesina entienden
muy bien que para perseguir estos objetivos es
necesario rechazar la supuesta inevitabilidad de lo
que llamamos globalización.

Dicho esto, reitero mi satisfacción al ver que a la
agricultura se le está prestando atención en las
páginas editoriales de la prensa del país.

Carmelo Ruiz Marrero
Director, Proyecto de Bioseguridad de Puerto Rico

> Rumbo a la nueva agricultura
> Editorial - El Vocero
> 19 de junio de 2007
> La agricultura como industria ha enfrentado en las
> últimas décadas una serie
> de contratiempos relacionados con la efectividad de
> ésta como promotora de
> actividad económica, un reto necesario de cumplir
> para seguir subsistiendo.
> El pasar de los años ha convertido a las empresas
> agrícolas en unas muy
> dependientes de los subsidios que ofrece el
> gobierno, gran parte de éstos
> provenientes de fondos asignados en cada presupuesto
> anualmente. De hecho,
> para diciembre del 2006, cerca del 70 por ciento de
> los agricultores
> recibían subsidios por parte del gobierno. Esto lo
> que significa es que para
> poder continuar con sus actividades, necesitan de
> este apoyo económico, o de
> lo contrario tendrían que suspender la operación de
> sus fincas.
> Esta realidad lo que nos presenta es cómo en este
> renglón es nuevamente el
> gobierno el que recibe la mayor parte de la carga,
> pues sin su apoyo, la
> agricultura sería una actividad en peligro de
> extinción. La globalización,
> los altos costos de producción, la falta de mano de
> obra que quiera trabajar
> la tierra y la competencia que suponen otros
> mercados, en donde se pueden
> conseguir los mismos productos a precios mucho más
> atractivos, son
> realidades que hay que aceptar para trabajar un plan
> que presente
> alternativas reales para la agricultura
> puertorriqueña.
> Existen ciertamente estas alternativas, muchas de
> las cuales enfocan los
> esfuerzos en cultivos cuya demanda ha aumentado en
> los últimos años y que se
> alejan de los productos que tradicionalmente se han
> cosechado en el país.
> Estamos seguros que si el Departamento de
> Agricultura se lo propone y se
> adopta una actitud dinámica y proactiva, logrará
> encontrar las vías
> correctas para encaminar esta industria, de forma
> tal que siga siendo una
> alternativa de sustento para las miles de familias
> que de ella dependen,
> muchas de las cuales aún confían en seguir viviendo
> en la zona rural del
> país.

Etiquetas: ,

sábado, julio 21, 2007

¿Matar la agricultura?

Ramón Vera Herrera

Del Renacimiento, por lo menos, cuando se prefiguraron las bases del capitalismo actual, viene la insistencia de privilegiar la producción de grandes volúmenes de alimentos con lógica empresarial y matar la agricultura con sus saberes y prácticas, la vía campesina, porque ésta genera libertad, visión crítica y la posibilidad de luchar contra los sistemas que aprovechan incluso las crisis para sojuzgar y lucrar

Primero fue el despojo de grandes extensiones de los territorios ancestrales de los pueblos. Después, muchos que sembraban cultivos propios fueron expulsados del campo por producir sólo para la comunidad sin entrar al mercado. El capitalismo-ciudad saqueó esos territorios y sumó obreros en las fábricas.

Con la Revolución Verde, gobiernos y empresas engancharon a los campesinos a comprar semillas híbridas, que primero rindieron más pero después apenas, con muchos fertilizantes y plaguicidas químicos. Los suelos se erosionaron y se volvieron drogadictos. Al mismo tiempo se le quitaron subsidios al campo.

Comenzó la guerra por el control de las semillas. Como los campesinos las atesoran desde hace milenios, y las comunidades las mantienen, mejoran, comparten y redistribuyen diversificando su fortaleza, las empresas produjeron semillas de diseño, patentadas, minando la fortaleza diversa de las semillas locales. Se impusieron formas de cultivo y consumo muy homogéneas que promueven la dependencia total de las industrias. Hoy, los transgénicos (que desfiguran las semillas), la Tecnología Terminator (que sólo se cosecha una vez y sus semillas son estériles), y la tecnología Zombie (cuyas semillas serán estériles si no se les aplica un químico que vende la compañía, para recuperarle sus funciones reproductoras), entrañan el control total de las compañías diseñadoras, productoras y patentadoras de semillas.

El capitalismo quiere matar la agricultura por ejercer un control estrictamente mercantil sobre la producción de los alimentos y quienes los producen, mientras vuelve a vaciar territorios, expulsa lo que considera estorbos y aumenta los ejércitos de obreros precarizados. Es reacomodo empresarial del espacio y control sin miramientos del esfuerzo humano.

Matar la agricultura se ha vuelto una cruzada. En África, las grandes compañías y famosos hombres de negocios, como Bill Gates y Rockefeller, emprenden la Revolución Verde 2.0 y la promocionan como la gran salvación para el hambre del continente con paquetes tecnológicos que lo último que buscan es la autonomía de los campesinos. Además de sustituir la labor de por sí sesgada de las ONG por el actuar de grandes empresas, su pose altruista no borra la guerra más terrible de la actualidad --los invisibles 4 millones de muertos en ocho años en la República Democrática del Congo--, con el fin de apoderarse de metales como el coltán, utilizado en componentes electrónicos de computadoras y teléfonos celulares, más el oro y los diamantes de siempre.

En India, van 150 mil suicidios de campesinos que se embarcaron en los mismos paquetes tecnológicos de la Revolución Verde 2.0: el esquema de transgénicos, agroquímicos y agiotismo bancario los orillan a ingerir el pesticida y salir del paso.

Según la FAO, "un porcentaje cada vez mayor de los ingresos de las familias campesinas procede de actividades no agrícolas, como el comercio, los servicios y las remesas enviadas por los migrantes. Sin embargo, la agricultura continúa siendo el principal medio de subsistencia para 90% de las familias rurales pobres". Lo escandaloso es que a la FAO le parezca grave que todavía vivan de la agricultura. En su visión deberían haber desaparecido: "los pobres encuentran dificultades para escapar de su situación" , concluye.

En este contexto, el Fondo de Población de Naciones Unidas afirma que en 2008, por primera vez en la historia, más de la mitad de la población mundial, 3 300 millones de personas, vivirán en áreas urbanas. Se calcula que serán 5 mil millones hacia 2030. Entre 2000 y 2030, la población urbana se duplicará en África y Asia.

Según la agencia, este crecimiento surgirá en ciudades medias y pequeñas, por lo que hay que "fortalecer sus potencialidades para crecer y alertar a gobiernos, sociedad civil y comunidad internacional a contribuir creando un cambio sustancial en las condiciones sociales y ambientales de vida".

¿Suena previsor? Es por lo menos sospechoso que el Fondo intente que aceptemos "el derecho de los pobres a vivir en las ciudades" y abandonemos "el intento de desalentar la migración y de evitar el crecimiento urbano".

Si tal es el diagnóstico de la ONU, es urgente cuestionar públicamente las perspectivas y supuestos que nos orillan a aceptar como irremediable algo que el capitalismo, con toda su voracidad, está provocando: el impulso migratorio es efecto directo del saqueo, el abandono y la devastación de los territorios rurales y del modo de vida campesino a manos de las transnacionales. Eso no lo podemos olvidar. Pero Thoraya A. Obaid, directora ejecutiva del Fondo de Población, nos regaña: "Debemos abandonar ese esquema mental que resiste la urbanización y actuar ahora para emprender un esfuerzo global concertado que ayude a las ciudades a desatar su potencial, uno que dispare crecimiento económico y resuelva los problemas sociales".

Lo urgente es iniciar un amplio debate sobre los efectos que la devastación del campo produce en las ciudades y cómo a su vez el crecimiento urbano creará problemas de sustentabilidad irremontables para campo y ciudad. Y claro, las cifras son alarmantes: "Entre 2000 y 2030, la población urbana de Asia crecerá de 1 360 millones de personas a 2 540 millones, y la de África crecerá de 294 millones a 742 millones. En América Latina y el Caribe pasarán de 394 millones a 609 millones".

Eso es probable, como lo es el "millón de personas que llega a vivir semanalmente a las ciudades" en África y Asia, según cálculos del Fondo de Población. Pero hay que entender, para cualquier acción futura, que dichas cifras no ocurren de la nada. Son el síntoma más evidente de la muerte programada que el capital pretende asestarle al campesinado y a todas sus estrategias de sobrevivencia, creatividad y dignidad humana. La señora Obaid nos dice alegre o cínica: "los dirigentes deben ser pro-activos y con una mirada de gran alcance explotar plenamente las oportunidades que ofrece la urbanización". Tal vez debamos insistir en que abandonarnos a la urbanización es aceptar el suicidio planetario que ningún planificador parece querer ver.

Mientras tanto, más de 1 400 millones de personas, en las familias y comunidades de todo el mundo, buscan guardar su semilla cosechada para volverla a sembrar en el siguiente ciclo.

Fuente: Suplemento Ojarasca 123 - Julio 2007

viernes, julio 20, 2007

From Food First's latest newsletter:

On-line Microcredit
A Double-Edged sword

Microcredit operations have been given a publicity boost as of late. Beginning with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Award to Bangladesh ’s Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and one of the first bankers to recognize the potential of small loans to local business ventures, microfinance became a household word. Now, with the recent popularity of online lending sites such as Kiva ( and NamasteDirect (, even suburban housewives can lend a hand to global poverty alleviation and foster a sense of self-sufficiency in the Global South.

One recent lender on’s online fund manager, Ara Chakrabarti, was motivated to lend directly because, he says, “all it takes is someone to front the capital needed for even the smallest business ventures to become successful.” Spurred by a recent PBS Frontline documentary detailing the success of microcredit operations and praising Kiva for its mission to match individual donors with loan recipients on a personal basis, he decided to join the online network to “teach people how to take a small investment, grow their business and eventually become self-sufficient.”

To some, microcredit sounds like a miraculous panacea to world development. The availability of online lending sites abound, represented by such sites as Nobel winner Yunus’s Grameen Foundation ( and Global Giving ( Amidst the popularity and political conversions (Sen. Hilary Clinton speaks frequently about the power of microcredit to “transform lives and revolutionize societies”), a growing number of concerns have been raised about the sustainability of such operations; especially with respect to long-lasting poverty alleviation targeting the world’s poorest.

Microcredit’s critics argue that besides the myriad of problems relating to exorbitant interest rates and hoax financing schemes (in 2002 Kenyan government officials conducted a series of bank foreclosures on the basis of deposit-taking scams), there is a graver issue with the “gospel of small lending.” Economic journalist Gina Neff has been quoted in The Nation saying that “after eight years of borrowing, 55% of Grameen households still aren't able to meet their basic nutritional needs—so many women are using their loans to buy food rather than invest in business.” This brings into question the social mobility of loan recipients, especially the poorest of the poor. Scholars argue that microcredit is more often used by business-owners as a form of disposable income—allowing access to a lump sum of money previously unavailable, rather than being reinvested into the business.

Development expert, Thomas Dichter, has noted “[microcredit clients] are living in economic environments that do not provide them with opportunities, that do not offer them the protections and encouragements of a system of institutions that functions even remotely well,” and are thus only temporarily helped by capital investment. As is so often the case, those who would really benefit from microlending are not in a position to utilize these resources, at least not until the dominant structures of inequality are broken down, and that can only be accomplished through capital-intensive, government-driven development.”