mm198: GM foods — Wrongheaded opposition is starving the developing world

November 18, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Prospect magazine of the UK has a compelling piece, from the European viewpoint on genetically modified food and its wrongheaded opposition.

prospectuk

The real GM food scandal

by Dick Taverne

GM foods are safe, healthy and essential if we ever want to achieve decent living standards for the world’s growing population. Misplaced moralising about them in the west is costing millions of lives in poor countries

Dick Taverne is the author of The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism (OUP)

Seven years ago, Time magazine featured the Swiss biologist Ingo Potrykus on its cover. As the principal creator of genetically modified rice—or “golden rice”—he was hailed as potentially one of mankind’s great benefactors. Golden rice was to be the start of a new green revolution to improve the lives of millions of the poorest people in the world. It would help remedy vitamin A deficiency, the cause of 1-2m deaths a year, and could save up to 500,000 children a year from going blind. It was the flagship of plant biotechnology. No other scientific development in agriculture in recent times held out greater promise.

Seven years later, the most optimistic forecast is that it will take another five or six years before golden rice is grown commercially. The realisation of Potrykus’s dream keeps receding. The promised benefits from other GM crops that should reduce hunger and disease have been equally elusive. GM crops should now be growing in areas where no crops can grow: drought-resistant crops in arid soil and salt-resistant crops in soil of high salinity. Plant-based oral vaccines should now be saving millions of deaths from diarrhoea and hepatitis B; they can be ingested in orange juice, bananas or tomatoes, avoiding the need for injection and for trained staff to administer them and refrigeration to store them.

Your correspondent has long been more aware of this complex issue than the average blogger on the street. Some years ago, MUDGE logged a five-year stint at a science-based organization whose parent was one of the foremost corporate proponents of this world-changing technology. Indeed, I probably would be there still, had not the forces of creative destruction, i.e., capitalism, broken up that good old gang of mine through “merger” and acquisition.

Proximity to the technology, and a modicum of intellectual curiosity resulted in slightly more than superficial awareness of the issue and its controversies. And the controversy has been noisy enough to make one believe that distribution of such technology has been suppressed. But,

Seldom has public perception been more out of line with the facts. The public in Britain and Europe seems unaware of the astonishing success of GM crops in the rest of the world. No new agricultural technology in recent times has spread faster and more widely. Only a decade after their commercial introduction, GM crops are now cultivated in 22 countries on over 100m hectares (an area more than four times the size of Britain) by over 10m farmers, of whom 9m are resource-poor farmers in developing countries, mainly India and China. Most of these small-scale farmers grow pest-resistant GM cotton. In India alone, production tripled last year to over 3.6m hectares. This cotton benefits farmers because it reduces the need for insecticides, thereby increasing their income and also improving their health. It is true that the promised development of staple GM food crops for the developing world has been delayed, but this is not because of technical flaws. It is principally because GM crops, unlike conventional crops, must overcome costly, time-consuming and unnecessary regulatory obstacles before they can be licensed.

And the demonizing of GM technology has no foundation in science.

The fact is that there is not a shred of any evidence of risk to human health from GM crops. Every academy of science, representing the views of the world’s leading experts—the Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Brazilian, French and American academies as well as the Royal Society, which has published four separate reports on the issue—has confirmed this. Independent inquiries have found that the risk from GM crops is no greater than that from conventionally grown crops that do not have to undergo such testing. In 2001, the research directorate of the EU commission released a summary of 81 scientific studies financed by the EU itself—not by private industry—conducted over a 15-year period, to determine whether GM products were unsafe or insufficiently tested: none found evidence of harm to humans or to the environment.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

‘The real GM food scandal’, Prospect Magazine issue 140 November 2007 – Printer Friendly Article

In the analysis considered here, the thesis is proposed that the large agribusinesses planted the seeds, as it were, of their own difficulties promoting this technology due to their own public-relations (rather than science) based caution.

And MUDGE remembers distinctly the emotional and distracting case of the supposed endangerment of monarch butterflies due to GM corn.

And what has always grabbed this non-scientist observer is that, throughout the history of agriculture (which encompasses the development of modern humankind) farmers have cross-bred and otherwise genetically modified their crops. What modern technology offers the process is predictability and repeatability.

So, as we hope you’ve taken the trouble to read to the end, the author expresses some hope that people are finally coming to their senses regarding the issue of GM crops.

There can be little doubt that GM crops will be accepted worldwide in time, even in Europe. But in delaying cultivation, the anti-GM lobbies have exacted a heavy price. Their opposition has undermined agrobusiness in Europe and has driven abroad much research into plant biotechnology—an area in which Britain formerly excelled. Over-regulation may well cause the costs of the technology to remain higher than they need be. Above all, delay has caused the needless loss of millions of lives in the developing world. These lobbies and their friends in the organic movement have much to answer for.

So, once again, seemingly well-informed people are proven to be misinformed. Hardly shocking anymore, but very, very disturbing.

Africans and others in the developing world are starving, people! GM crops can be engineered to use less pesticide, less fertilizer, less water (the last great resource battleground), to get more, and better, food into the empty stomachs of the world.

Wake up and pay attention, you enemies of science!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm195: Edison gets the glory — Tesla won the war

November 15, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Every schoolchild, at least of MUDGE‘s generation, knew the name of Thomas Edison, America’s genius inventor. Not nearly so well known today is the reputation of Nikola Tesla, whose alternating current technology offered stiff competition to Edison’s direct current at the time when the nascent electric utilities were battling for the privilege of revolutionizing civilization.

That first battle ground, New York City, finally just yesterday, November 14 2007, after 125 years of service, converted the last direct current electricity service to alternating current.

Can you imagine any industrial artifact built today still being around in the year 2132, 125 years from now? We just don’t think that way any more. Ask the survivors and grieving families of those lost when the I-35 bridge at Minneapolis collapsed this past summer, at the youthful age of 40.

Back to New York:

By Jennifer 8. Lee

Consolidated EdisonCon Edison’s original power plant on Pearl Street. (Illustration: Consolidated Edison)

Today, Con Edison will end 125 years of direct current electricity service that began when Thomas Edison opened his Pearl Street power station on Sept. 4, 1882. Con Ed will now only provide alternating current, in a final, vestigial triumph by Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, Mr. Edison’s rivals who were the main proponents of alternating current in the AC/DC debates of the turn of the 20th century.

New York, more than most of our old Atlantic coastline cities, is this mesmerizing blend of the state of the art and trendy, and the downright obsolete. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that direct current is still in use in pockets of the city — not economically viable to install new today (or even 80 years ago!), but installations like the one retired yesterday weren’t broken, so weren’t fixed.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Off Goes the Power Current Started by Thomas Edison – City Room – Metro – New York Times Blog

The really fascinating part of the story, beyond the implications noted above of industrial artifacts usefully lasting 95 years beyond a conservative depreciation schedule, is the mention of Tesla. The story actually links to this Wikipedia article, worthy of one’s attention.

What was it about the 19th Century that spawned so many giants? That by itself is the subject of a Ph.D. dissertation, so you’re not likely to find the answer in this space! But Nikola Tesla was undoubtedly one of those giants, a scientist and inventor who

… contributed in varying degrees to the establishment of robotics, remote control, radar and computer science, and to the expansion of ballistics, nuclear physics, and theoretical physics. In 1943, the Supreme Court of the United States credited him as being the inventor of the radio.

What an amazing man, setting a very high bar for future men of science, practical inventors and eccentric personalities.

I hope that future school children will learn his name — perhaps the new electric car named, one guesses, to commemorate his amazing contributions to the science and engineering of electricity, will help.

teslaroadster

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm194: Friedman: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

November 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s apparently petroleum week here at L-HC. The previous post tackled the subject of researchers innovating to produce practical biomass (as opposed to the wrong-headed impractical but politically potent corn) ethanol as a petroleum substitute. Now, a look at U.S. oil policy itself.

It’s just downright amazing how much smarter Thomas L. Friedman has become since the NYTimes no longer charges to read him on line. 😉

Today, he tells some truths, and challenges the presidential candidates to do the same, regarding our treasonable dependence on OPEC petroleum.

thomaslfriedman

In the wake of 9/11, some of us pleaded for a “patriot tax” on gasoline of $1 or more a gallon to diminish the transfers of wealth we were making to the very countries who were indirectly financing the ideologies of intolerance that were killing Americans and in order to spur innovation in energy efficiency by U.S. manufacturers.

But no, George Bush and Dick Cheney had a better idea. And the Democrats went along for the ride. They were all going to let the market work and not let our government shape that market — like OPEC does.

So, we all understand by now why George III and his evil puppeteer took the horrible course they’ve chosen, and taken us along for this devastating six-year and counting ride.

But Friedman has a legitimate point: why have the “loyal opposition” not pushed for a tax at the pump?

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda – New York Times

One has to love the proposed debate Friedman sketches for us.

His tax finances people who hate us. Mine would offset some of our payroll taxes, pay down our deficit, strengthen our dollar, stimulate energy efficiency and shore up Social Security. It’s called win-win-win-win-win for America. My opponent’s strategy is sit back, let the market work and watch America lose-lose-lose-lose-lose.” If you can’t win that debate, you don’t belong in politics.

And one has to admit that none of the serious candidates (i.e., candidates one can take seriously — sorry Dennis!) possess the steel to conduct such a debate. Not in Iowa, where present policy is just fine by the corn farmers. Not in New Hampshire where taxes are probably synonymous with Satan.

President Bush squandered a historic opportunity to put America on a radically different energy course after 9/11. But considering how few Democrats or Republicans are ready to tell the people the truth on this issue, maybe we have the president we deserve. I refuse to believe that, but I’m starting to doubt myself.

The war, $100/barrel oil — it’s all so wrong. January 20, 2009 can’t come soon enough, but if our petroleum policy stays hostage to the oil guys, the domestic automobile manufacturers and the corn farmers, all of whom are perfectly satisfied with the status quo, we’ll remain in desperate straits.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm191: Veterans’ Day Observed

November 11, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

image

Will not let the weekend go by without pausing to remember the veterans of our military.

We can start by remembering that this federal holiday, now spottily observed and placed on a Monday for retail purposes, was established shortly after World War I, honoring the official end of that war, the Armistice, symbolically timed for the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

Armistice Day eventually became Veterans Day, after the War to End All Wars failed to do so, accumulating many millions more veterans in the process.

Both MUDGE‘s father and father-in-law, now deceased, were proud veterans of the Army during World War II, who never wore their war service on their sleeves. Indeed, it was tantamount to pulling wisdom teeth to extricate even the smallest reminiscence of their experiences. After all, they each were just one of many millions of patriots who did what needed doing.

And we mention Norman Mailer, whose recent death was announced this week. His magnificent depiction of the war, The Naked and the Dead, written so soon afterward while his own experiences were so fresh, served eloquently stood in for so many stories in a way that continues to inspire us.

Our older son, and his new wife, are themselves both distinguished veterans of the U.S. Navy, having served with courage and intelligence protecting their country in more recent times. Indeed, our new daughter-in-law comes from an Air Force family (her Dad, sister and brother-in-law), and we’re grateful for their service.

To them, to the memory of our fathers, and to all of our veterans, living and dead, we extend our heartfelt, inadequate gratitude.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

The photograph above harvested from PictureSandbox by way of Flickr. The apparent owner is “bcmom” and the use of the photo is covered by a Creative Commons license.


mm186: War with Iran: Inevitable?

November 6, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The potential catastrophe of Iran just keeps scaling up. William Arkin, the Washington Post‘s excellent commentator on military affairs updated us Nov. 2 in his Early Warning blog:

arkinearlywarning

The presidential campaigns can’t get enough of talk about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Bush administration’s eagerness to go to war. Thirty U.S. senators, including Hillary Clinton, sent a letter to President Bush yesterday, reminding him that “no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action in Iran.” Meanwhile, Barack Obama submitted a Senate resolution, also emphasizing that congress must explicitly authorize military action, and that, in regards to Iran, it hasn’t done that so far.

Let me say now, based on my discussions with Pentagon insiders and observers and more than 30 years following the military: We are not going to war with Iran. At least we are not going to start a war now or any time soon. At least not intentionally [emphasis MUDGE].

Can’t help but land hard on that sentence. How much tragedy has the present administration caused, both intentionally and not, over the past nearly seven years?

Way too much, and one can’t help believing that for all of the hidden agendas, the sweetheart procurement deals on a $trillion scale, and the subversion of the workings of government to religious extremism (we’re still talking the U.S. here, folks, we haven’t started in on Iran!), much of the ongoing catastrophe has been the result of inattention and a view of the geopolitical world seemingly so narrow as to be detectable only with an electron microscope.

So, Iran. Maker’s of world class mischief in Syria and Lebanon, interfering almost overtly in Iraq, chief exporter of Islamofascism and terrorism to the western world, and working hard to launch a nuke into Tel Aviv.

It’s symmetry: Now we’re talking about subversion of the Iranian government to religious extremism, a process that the U.S. made inevitable during nearly 30 years of lavish support of the corrupt Shah they illegally put in place. The U.S. has many decades of petrodiplomacy to answer for.

Arkin’s take on the election rhetoric is that the candidates’ words and deeds on the subject of Iran are only making Iran more nervous about U.S. intentions, and that can’t help anything.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Keep It Down – Early Warning

Mr. Arkin, everyone is supposed to quiet down so that we don’t provoke Iran into doing sooner what they seem to have every intention of doing eventually?

Everyone is supposed to quiet down so that the cooler military heads (compared to the raving maniacs of the administration) can remain coolly overwhelmed by the two official wars that the administration has tasked them with?

It’s a great idea but I just don’t see the candidates of either party letting such a juicy rhetorical target go by, with 440 days of 24-hour campaigning still to be filled.

It’s a great idea, but I just don’t know that Iran will wait for a new, somewhat more diplomatic and worldly U.S. administration.

And I have to reluctantly venture the fear that I don’t know whether Israel can afford to wait.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm183: Abolish the Air Force

November 2, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

From the “If it’s the weekend, it must be military” department, we bring you this fascinating analysis from The American Prospect.

Was sent this earlier today by MUDGE‘s ex-Navy son, who was interested, as is his parent, not due to his parochial leanings toward the maritime forces, but rather due to his interest in history, especially military history.

And the thesis here is based, not only on the present straitened circumstances in which the U.S. Air Force finds itself, fighting in conflicts using techniques in which it has little interest, and causing as a result inexcusable amounts of what is delicately called collateral damage.

No, the analysis expertly recounts the troubled history of the Air Force, built from the first on a flawed premise: the value of strategic bombing.

americanprospect

Abolish the Air Force

What it does on its own — strategic bombing — isn’t suited to modern warfare. What it does well — its tactical support missions — could be better managed by the Army and Navy. It’s time to break up the Air Force.

Robert Farley | November 1, 2007

In August of this year, reports emerged that British Army officers in Afghanistan had requested an end to American airstrikes in Helmand Province because the strikes were killing too many civilians there. In Iraq, the Lancet Study of Iraqi civilian casualties of the war suggested that airstrikes have been responsible for roughly 13 percent of those casualties, or somewhere in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 deaths.

This watershed comes at a particularly important time, as the Air Force observed its 60th anniversary this past September.

But it’s time to revisit the 1947 decision to separate the Air Force from the Army. While everyone agrees that the United States military requires air capability, it’s less obvious that we need a bureaucratic entity called the United States Air Force. The independent Air Force privileges airpower to a degree unsupported by the historical record. This bureaucratic structure has proven to be a continual problem in war fighting, in procurement, and in estimates of the costs of armed conflict. Indeed, it would be wrong to say that the USAF is an idea whose time has passed. Rather, it’s a mistake that never should have been made.

As a child of the 50s and 60s MUDGE cut his teeth on Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, which ought to be required reading for all (and which I believe helped make draft dodgers out of huge swathes of the sons of the Greatest Generation, whose Air Force Heller eviscerates).

So I’ve long been suspicious of the value of strategic bombing, which was designed to undermine the enemy’s ability to prosecute war by crippling its industrial base, and as the years have passed, and my reading of history has expanded well beyond the comic novel, my suspicions have become sureties.

Before we continue, I need to stop.

What is written here is meant to cast no aspersions on the competence, courage and loyalty of the personnel in the cockpits and the equally dedicated people who support them on the ground. Indeed the official nephew of Mr. and Mrs. MUDGE is completing his senior year at a major university as a high performing member of Air Force ROTC and we couldn’t be prouder.

This is about the generals and the politicians who coddle them. Strategic and not tactical. I love you gals and guys in the trenches, and the shiny (or anti-reflective stealthy as the case may be) warbirds you fly and you keep in the air. This is only about those who direct you from the air conditioned D.C. offices. Those guys.

Okay, back to the story.

During the first years of the U.S. involvement in the European theater of World War II, strategic bombing was the only way for the U.S. to take the fight to Germany, but was a terribly costly way, and did not provide the overwhelming blow that its then Army Air Force proponents promised.

But, strategic bombing is what the Air Force was selling, and just after the successful end of the war Congress bought it.

Strategic bombing performed by the now independent Air Force did lots of work, but failed to win the wars against North Korea, or North Vietnam.

Arguably, airpower did succeed on its own in bringing victory in the 1999 Kosovo War. For 78 days, the NATO alliance bombed Serbian military and infrastructure targets in order to force Serbia’s withdrawal from the province of Kosovo. After increasingly serious threats of a ground invasion and the end of Russian support, Serbia succumbed to the NATO occupation of Kosovo. Even acknowledging the decisiveness of the airstrikes, however, the ability of a small country to stand against the world’s most powerful military alliance for almost three months does not speak well of the coercive capacity of modern airpower.

And now, strategic bombing seems to have an uncertain place in the type of asymmetric warfare the U.S. is fighting today.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Abolish the Air Force | The American Prospect

There has been something “off” about the Air Force, especially in recent years. The scandals at the Air Force Academy, which as one of the comments to the American Prospect story reminds us, is increasingly fundamentalist Christian in its orientation (anyone recall separation of church and state?) and where sexual harassment (an unfortunate and nasty feature at all of the military academies) has been particularly ugly.

Another aside: During the years the official son of Mr. and Mrs. MUDGE was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, we were proud members of the local parents organization, so we were in a better position than most to understand the very much harder than hard road that women midshipmen and cadets face at all of the Academies. And now one of those stalwart women, who went on to distinguished service in Japan, the Gulf and Washington, D.C., is now our lovely daughter-in-law. Are we lucky!

A third aside: I remember distinctly learning from a Naval Academy recruiter at one of those parents association meetings in the early 1990s that at the time, due to the post Cold War drawdowns of forces, there were actually more flight berths on offer to graduates of the Naval Academy (remember, all those floating airports, the Navy’s carriers) than for the Air Force.

Off.

Finally, as covered in several posts here recently, the air is increasingly filling with remotely piloted aircraft, the UAVs and UCAVs, most of them flown by enlisted personnel at consoles thousands of miles away. Not exactly Eddie Rickenbacker or Chuck Yeager, is it?

predatora

Did you catch the heart of the argument?

If strategic bombing won independence for the Air Force, yet strategic bombing cannot win wars, it’s unclear why the Air Force should retain its independence.

Indeed.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Note!: the link to Amazon.com used above is for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. Deal with it.

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mm173: Legalize all drugs!

October 19, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Earlier this week, the failed U.S. war on drugs was discussed in this space.

Turns out that a high ranking provincial law enforcement officer in Britain believes that the UK’s version is just as pointless as its U.S. cousin’s.

theindependent

By Jonathan Brown and David Langton

Published: 15 October 2007

One of Britain’s most senior police officers is to call for all drugs – including heroin and cocaine – to be legalised and urges the Government to declare an end to the “failed” war on illegal narcotics.

Richard Brunstrom, the Chief Constable of North Wales, advocates an end to UK drug policy based on “prohibition”. His comments come as the Home Office this week ends the process of gathering expert advice looking at the next 10 years of strategy.

In his radical analysis, which he will present to the North Wales Police Authority today, Mr Brunstrom points out that illegal drugs are now cheaper and more plentiful than ever before.

The number of users has soared while drug-related crime is rising with narcotics now supporting a worldwide business empire second only in value to oil. “If policy on drugs is in future to be pragmatic not moralistic, driven by ethics not dogma, then the current prohibitionist stance will have to be swept away as both unworkable and immoral, to be replaced with an evidence-based unified system (specifically including tobacco and alcohol) aimed at minimisation of harms to society,” he will say.

The war on drugs benefits the prison-industrial complex, but not society.

Statistics are useful in this context. In Scotland, for example,

… he notes that figures from the Chief Medical Officer have found that, in Scotland, 13,000 people died from tobacco-related use in 2004 while 2,052 died as a result of alcohol. Illegal drugs, meanwhile, accounted for 356 deaths. The maximum penalty for possessing a class A drug is 14 years in prison while supplying it carries a life term.

The main way that illegal drugs kill is due to the crimes committed in dealing them, or supporting the habit. Decriminalize drugs, and the profit and crime will go away.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Legalise all drugs: chief constable demands end to ‘immoral laws’ – Independent Online Edition > UK Politics

So here’s a sensible man, neck deep in the problem but still able to see further than most, who says,

* Mr Brunstrom says: “If policy on drugs is in the future to be pragmatic not moralistic, driven by ethics not dogma, then the current prohibitionist stance will have to be swept away as both unworkable and immoral. Such a strategy leads inevitably to the legalisation and regulation of all drugs.”

“Not moralistic” is the key phrase. The U.S. does moralistic all too well, and it buys us nothing but unwinnable wars and the growing disapprobation of a growing percentage of the thinking world.

So, risking repetition, let me invoke our previous judgement. Here’s MUDGE‘s prescription for our drug problem, as endorsed, I would like to think, by the mayor of San Francisco as well as the Chief Constable of North Wales.

Set a price for heroin and cocaine and the like that includes a tax to fund drug abuse treatment programs — I’m guessing the “street” price will still, tax and all, come in at far less than the price available from the Colombian-supplied junkie down that alley.

But, keep a few law enforcement agents around, to throw the book at the creeps who persist in selling to children.

Make medical marijuana freely available at a fair price by prescription, again at the state stores where legal identification can be assured.

Just as organized crime found new things to do in 1933, if you take criminality out of the drug supply industry, drug related crime will dry up just as promptly. Fear not for the poor farmers in Bolivia, Peru and Afghanistan with their poppy fields. They will remain in business, paid though by the U.S. government rather than by criminal cartels.

Of course, there’s always a down side. This program would leave thousands of judges, bailiffs, court clerks, prosecutors, defense attorneys, sheriffs’ deputies, wardens and guards out of work.

Probably an acceptable price for the reduction, even elimination, of the casually violent drive-by shootings that kill innocent 10 year olds.

Use some of that obsolete war on drugs budget to retrain the judges, bailiffs, clerks, lawyers, deputies, and guards.

Teach them web page development and Java. Create something useful.

Maybe we can once again compete with Bengaluru.

Another pointless war we can end. Why not now?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm168: We’re fighting more than one pointless war!

October 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The U.S. has always been this very strange dichotomy: a Puritanical streak a mile wide, uneasily coexisting with gaudy decadence.

We prohibited alcohol consumption by Constitutional amendment in 1920. The result: organized crime in this country became an ingrained institution, and every solid citizen knew a bootlegger. The Great Experiment ended with repeal of prohibition in 1933.

Oddly, organized crime is still with us, having survived to evolve toward other more lucrative (i.e., still illegal) venues. Such as gambling, sex, even tobacco.

And drugs.

Gambling had always been an underground phenomenon, save for a couple of pockets (Nevada and Atlantic City). Then, 35 years ago, state sponsored lotteries began to appear on the scene, leading to the next step, the oddly constrained riverboat and tribal casinos that now populate so many parts of the nation.

Gambling, always a pernicious and destructive habit, is now state sanctioned, making it possible for working stiffs and stiffettes who couldn’t raise busfare to an Indian casino to blow half their weekly pay on a one in 12million shot at obscene wealth at their corner mini-mart.

Commercial sex, fully consummated in the form of legal brothels only in several counties of Nevada, has long been available in teaser form (“look but don’t touch — and would you like to buy a ‘private dance’ in the back?”) in nearly every city, of whatever size.

Many of these strip clubs, “gentlemen’s clubs” and the like are run by, you guessed it, organized crime, also still a force in the pornography field, although the liberating effect of the internet has democratized both supply and demand of that particular form of entertainment.

Tobacco is a late addition to the list of proscribed vices, as more municipalities and states (who have long since attempted to control tobacco sales to minors with spotty success) have begun to restrict the ability of citizens to indulge in smoking in public spaces, and have often raised taxes on cigarette purchases so outlandishly that organized crime has been pleased to step into tobacco sales, providing low-priced supplies using stolen or imported stock.

So the U.S. goes both ways: Puritanical (sex, tobacco) and decadence (alcohol, gambling).

And then there are drugs. The Puritans have a firm grasp on this issue, and the law and order establishment has made the enforcement of drug prohibition a very big business indeed.

As rusty manufacturers blow away (to China, mostly), and agribusiness mechanizes and hires cheap immigrant labor for the parts that resist mechanization, rural, mainly white, America has seen the building and staffing of prisons as economic manna.

And what crimes have made prisons such a growth industry? Drug crimes.

MUDGE is prepared argue that there are two classes of drug related crime. The organized crime variety, the one with Glocks and AK47s — those criminals belong in prison — throw away the key.

The other class of “criminals” are the consumers of “recreational chemicals,” whose presence in the criminal justice system has bloated it out of all proportion.

The war on drugs has been the tooth of the drug enforcement tiger, attracting big dollars, big legal establishments and big prison systems, and finds very little distinction between supplier, dealer, and user. The war on drugs’ motto: Put them all away!

Let’s hear what San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom had to say about this issue last week:

cbs5

(CBS 5 / KCBS) SAN FRANCISCO San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proclaimed the nation’s war on drugs a total failure and insisted the crime rate would go down if the government spent money on treatment as opposed to jailing people with drug problems.

“If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70% in this country overnight, end this war on drugs,” he told reporters at City Hall on Thursday. “You want to get serious, seriously serious about crime and violence end this war on drugs.”

The mayor maintained local jails are overcrowded with people incarcerated for drug offenses, taking up room that could be used to hold more violent criminal offenders. He said violent criminals with lengthy felony records are being turned loose, too often.

Unlike alcohol use, unlike even commercial sex, tolerated in all but nine-counties-of-Nevada-form in most localities, we’ve let the Puritans continue to set the agenda on drugs.

The result: flourishing organized crime, brutal and deadly; burgeoning courts with backed up dockets; prisons often overcrowded despite the building boom; and users who rather than getting treatment for their addictive behavior are instead matriculated in crime school — jail.

The war on drugs makes no distinction between “recreational chemicals” and the increasing scientifically documented uses for marijuana for medical purposes.

Of course, Puritans (read: Republicans) don’t have a lot of use for science, unless it’s ridiculous pseudo-science like so-called “creation science.”

And so cancer patients and their doctors have also become criminals. What a waste!

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

cbs5.com – SF Mayor Gavin Newsom: War On Drugs Is A Failure

Now, MUDGE is not recommending total legalization. After all, alcohol was legalized 74 years ago, and while the impact on criminals was dramatic, the impact on addictive individuals, their families, and those unlucky enough to share the highways with them has remained dire. An impact, however, that, except for DUIs, the medical establishment has been deemed most appropriate to handle.

But, when Prohibition ended, so also did the lucrative line of business for criminals.

Several states, mainly in the East, still to this day restrict alcohol sales to state run facilities.

Okay, that sounds like a useful template. Open up state controlled substance stores. Demand six forms of identification if necessary to keep children far away.

Thus, let’s see what happens to drug crimes when to use drugs doesn’t require one to be a criminal.

Prohibition turned an entire nation into criminals, and changed the face of criminal activity in this country. Prohibition finally became unsustainable because the nation came to its senses realizing that even otherwise exemplary citizens had to behave like criminals and break the law to enjoy a drink.

Set a price for heroin and cocaine and the like that includes a tax to fund drug abuse treatment programs — I’m guessing the “street” price will still, tax and all, come in at far less than the price available from the Colombian-supplied junkie down that alley.

But, keep a few law enforcement agents around, to throw the book at the creeps who persist in selling to children.

Make medical marijuana freely available at a fair price by prescription, again at the state stores where legal identification can be assured.

Just as organized crime found new things to do in 1933, if you take criminality out of the drug supply industry, drug related crime will dry up just as promptly. Fear not for the poor farmers in Bolivia, Peru and Afghanistan with their poppy fields. They will remain in business, paid though by the U.S. government rather than by criminal cartels.

Of course, there’s always a down side. This program would leave thousands of judges, bailiffs, court clerks, prosecutors, defense attorneys, sheriffs’ deputies, wardens and guards out of work.

Probably an acceptable price for the reduction, even elimination, of the casually violent drive-by shootings that kill innocent 10 year olds.

Use some of that obsolete war on drugs budget to retrain the judges, bailiffs, clerks, lawyers, deputies, and guards.

Teach them web page development and Java. Create something useful.

Maybe we can once again compete with Bengaluru.

Another pointless war we can end. Why not now?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm151: Monks’ Protest Is Challenging Burmese Junta

September 24, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

As we’ve noted lately (here and indirectly, here), fewer and fewer corners of the planet are immune from that pesky virus: information.

Even North Korea has been .0015% more reasonable of late, and the bright lights of media exposure can claim at least a bit of credit (a persistently starving population gets a lot more, of course).

So, Myanmar, as repressive a tyranny as can be found (sorry guys, we’re not going to forget about you just because you changed your name; a Burma by any other name…) is once again experiencing civil unrest, and due to the pervasiveness of both MSM and alternative media, this time they can’t hide it or minimize it or freely crush it.

The photo that accompanied the NYTimes story is ample evidence of this, in and of itself.

myanmar

By SETH MYDANS

BANGKOK, Monday, Sept. 24 — The largest street protests in two decades against Myanmar’s military rulers gained momentum Sunday as thousands of onlookers cheered huge columns of Buddhist monks and shouted support for the detained pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Winding for a sixth day through rainy streets, the protest swelled to 10,000 monks in the main city of Yangon, formerly Rangoon, according to witnesses and other accounts relayed from the closed country, including some clandestinely shot videos.

It came one day after a group of several hundred monks paid respects to Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi at the gate of her home, the first time she has been seen in public in more than four years.

And here’s the nub of the argument:

Myanmar’s military government has sealed off the country to foreign journalists but information about the protests has been increasingly flowing out through wire service reports, exile groups in Thailand with contacts inside Myanmar, and through the photographs, videos and audio files, carried rapidly by technologies, including the Internet, that the government has failed to squelch.

“… photographs, videos and audio files, carried rapidly by technologies, including the Internet…”

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Monks’ Protest Is Challenging Burmese Junta – New York Times

There’s that pesky Internet again, screwing up the generals’ private party.

Our best, maybe only, hope for an end to tyranny:

  • the retro Myanmar variety (and our Chinese, North Korean (and Cuban) friends would fit in this bucket);
  • the more au courant Middle Eastern style as found in places like Syria and Iran;
  • and even such New Age (and retro) tyrannies as practiced by Putin and his ex(?)-KGB brethren throughout Russia and its former empire;

… is the pervasiveness of information, as exemplified by the liberator of Eastern Europe, CNN, and maybe the liberator of the rest of the shackled world, the Internet.

And, let’s give credit: perhaps the (admittedly looking more spurious) Congressional revolution of 2006 wouldn’t have happened at all without the blogosphere.

Not the infinitesimal nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© that we ruefully acknowledge as this weblog’s permanent fate, but certainly the heavy hitters like Daily Kos blogroll2 that help keep the kettle aboil, always a good state for the democratic process.

Small “d” democracy at work around the globe, powered by electrons.

Ben Franklin, Alessandro Volta, Nikola Tesla and all: the free (and hopefully soon to be freer) world owes you a monumental debt.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm136: China – Two interesting aspects

September 10, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

China is always in the news. Two stories from the past few days illuminate why in some interesting ways.

First, from the LA Times, a look at how we have become victim’s of our unlimited appetite for everyday low prices.

latimes

Analysts expect prices in the U.S. to creep up as safety standards are reevaluated. Buyers and retailers may share the impact.

By Don Lee and Abigail Goldman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
September 9, 2007

SHANGHAI — Get ready for a new Chinese export: higher prices.

For years, American consumers have enjoyed falling prices for goods made in China thanks to relentless cost cutting by retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.

But the spate of product recalls in recent months — Mattel announced another last week — has exposed deep fault lines in Chinese manufacturing. Manufacturers and analysts say some of the quality breakdowns are a result of financially strapped factories substituting materials or taking other shortcuts to cover higher operating costs.

Now, retailers that had largely dismissed Chinese suppliers’ complaints about the soaring cost of wages, energy and raw materials are preparing to pay manufacturers more to ensure better quality. By doing so, they hope to prevent recalls that hurt their bottom lines and reputations. But those added costs — on a host of items that include toys and frozen fish — mean either lower profits for retailers or higher prices for consumers.

“For American consumers, this big China sale over the last 20 years is over,” said Andy Xie, former Asia economist for Morgan Stanley, who works independently in Shanghai. “China’s cost is going up. They need to get used to it.”

The low hanging fruit of lowest prices for decent quality has run into a rising standard of living in China, and the results have been ugly.

The bulk of the world’s toys are made in southeastern China, where wages have shot up in the last couple of years amid greater competition for workers and increases in minimum wages and living costs. Booming demand has pushed up commodity prices. The appreciation of the Chinese yuan, up 9% against the dollar in the last two years, also has hurt some factories, as they are paid in dollars.

Follow the link to the rest of the story, reported from Shanghai.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Los Angeles Times: Fixing Chinese goods will be costly

So, what with rising wages, increases in commodity prices, the unexpected new costs of safety inspections, prices for toys, tilapia, luggage, and an entire big box store full of consumer necessities (and not so) will go up.

So, now let’s turn to the other side of the consumer equation, courtesy of the always perceptive Daniel Gross of Slate.

slate

Pundits bemoan our trade deficit with China. But those container ships aren’t heading home empty.

By Daniel Gross
Posted Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007, at 7:59 AM ET

Economists make a big deal out of all the junk we import from China: tainted pet food, lead-laced toys, and enough cheap plastic tchotchkes to load up a landfill the size of Montana. And American industries are clearly being drenched by the rising tide of Chinese imports, which totaled $288 billion in 2006. But as imports from China loudly rise, American exports to China are quietly rising at an even more rapid pace. Would it surprise you to learn that a lot of those exports are … junk?

In an act of macroeconomic karma, materials thrown out by Americans—broken-down auto bodies, old screws and nails, paper—accounted for $6.7 billion in exports to China in 2006, second only to aerospace products. Junkyards may conjure up images of Fred Sanford’s ratty collection of castoffs. But these days, scrap dealers are part of a $65 billion industry that employs 50,000 people, who together constitute a significant arc of a virtuous circle. The demand of China’s factory bosses for junk—which they recycle to make all the junk Americans buy from China—creates jobs, tamps down the growth of the trade deficit, and might help save the planet.

Exports to China second only to aerospace products? Junk?

And this is a good story for all of you greens out there (MUDGE is always happy to assist his environmentally sensitive fellow citizens. Feel free to use yesterday’s post to wrap fish.):

The booming China trade isn’t simply good news for shareholders of Metal Management, whose stock is up 67 percent in the past year. It’s good news for tree-huggers. Every scrap of scrap put on a slow boat to China is one less scrap that winds up in a landfill or an incinerator. Asia’s insatiable demand for scrap has boosted prices, thus encouraging companies to suck more reusable junk out of garbage piles.

An interesting twist, eh? The imbalance is less so. That’s always good news.

Take a look:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The junk we send to China. – By Daniel Gross – Slate Magazine

A couple of things about this story are intriguing.

1) The story refers to corrugated paper, a key element of MUDGE‘s once family business. $130 ton for scrap corrugated boxes (the brown shipping containers everything wears to market) is an astounding price.

2) The idea of sending scrap overseas resonates in a slightly unpleasant way with us ancient curmudgeons. MUDGE was born after WWII (believe it or not!), but the lessons of that conflict were fresh.

In the years before Pearl Harbor projected the U.S. belatedly into a conflict that had started up in Asia in the early Thirties, scrap iron and steel in massive quantities made its way across the Pacific to, wait for it, Japan.

It was a bitter realization that many of those junked Model T’s and scrapped steam heating radiators were sent back to our combatants as Japanese aircraft and ships and bombs.

Is it too paranoid to make an association with cheerfully sending our scrap to a rapidly arming and increasingly assertive about its global destiny China?

So, two interesting China stories, one from each container port.

And did you catch the punch line from the LA Times piece?

Meanwhile, Skyway is gearing up to open a factory this fall in Vietnam, where wages are lower.

“I think the consumer will not accept the full impact of price increases from China,” Wilhoit said. “We’re going to have to do things differently, like Vietnam, to get the same quality stuff on the shelf and make money.”

The mind boggles.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE