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Forum Post: Noam Chomsky | The Prospects for Survival

Posted 4 years ago on April 1, 2014, 2:49 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Noam Chomsky | The Prospects for Survival

Tuesday, 01 April 2014 10:23
By Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed


Also See: Noam Chomsky | Security and State Power

This is Part II of an article adapted from a lecture by Noam Chomsky on Feb. 28, sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif.

The previous article explored how security is a high priority for government planners: security, that is, for state power and its primary constituency, concentrated private power - all of which entails that official policy must be protected from public scrutiny.

In these terms, government actions fall in place as quite rational, including the rationality of collective suicide. Even instant destruction by nuclear weapons has never ranked high among the concerns of state authorities.

To cite an example from the late Cold War: In November 1983 the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization launched a military exercise designed to probe Russian air defenses, simulating air and naval attacks and even a nuclear alert.

These actions were undertaken at a very tense moment. Pershing II strategic missiles were being deployed in Europe. President Reagan, fresh from the "Evil Empire" speech, had announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed "Star Wars," which the Russians understood to be effectively a first-strike weapon - a standard interpretation of missile defense on all sides.

Naturally these actions caused great alarm in Russia, which, unlike the U.S., was quite vulnerable and had repeatedly been invaded.

Newly released archives reveal that the danger was even more severe than historians had previously assumed. The NATO exercise "almost became a prelude to a preventative (Russian) nuclear strike," according to an account last year by Dmitry Adamsky in the Journal of Strategic Studies .

Nor was this the only close call. In September 1983, Russia's early-warning systems registered an incoming missile strike from the United States and sent the highest-level alert. The Soviet military protocol was to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own.

The Soviet officer on duty, Stanislav Petrov, intuiting a false alarm, decided not to report the warnings to his superiors. Thanks to his dereliction of duty, we're alive to talk about the incident.

Security of the population was no more a high priority for Reagan planners than for their predecessors. Such heedlessness continues to the present, even putting aside the numerous near-catastrophic accidents, reviewed in a chilling new book, "Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety," by Eric Schlosser.

It's hard to contest the conclusion of the last commander of the Strategic Air Command, Gen . Lee Butler, that humanity has so far survived the nuclear age "by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion."

The government's regular, easy acceptance of threats to survival is almost too extraordinary to capture in words.

In 1995, well after the Soviet Union had collapsed, the U.S. Strategic Command, or Stratcom, which is in charge of nuclear weapons, published a study, "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence."

A central conclusion is that the U.S. must maintain the right of a nuclear first strike, even against non-nuclear states. Furthermore, nuclear weapons must always be available, because they "cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict."

Thus nuclear weapons are always used, just as you use a gun if you aim it but don't fire when robbing a store - a point that Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, has repeatedly stressed.

Stratcom goes on to advise that "planners should not be too rational about determining ... what an adversary values," all of which must be targeted. "[I]t hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed. . That the U.S. may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries."

It is "beneficial [for ...our strategic posture] that some elements may appear to be potentially'out of control'" - and thus posing a constant threat of nuclear attack.

Not much in this document pertains to the obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to make "good faith" efforts to eliminate the nuclear-weapon scourge from the earth. What resounds, rather, is an adaptation of Hilaire Belloc's famous 1898 couplet about the Maxim gun:

Whatever happens we have got,

The Atom Bomb and they have not.

Plans for the future are hardly promising. In December the Congressional Budget Office reported that the U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost $355 billion over the next decade. In January the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimated that the U.S. would spend $1 trillion on the nuclear arsenal in the next 30 years.

And of course the United States is not alone in the arms race. As Butler observed, it is a near miracle that we have escaped destruction so far. The longer we tempt fate, the less likely it is that we can hope for divine intervention to perpetuate the miracle.

In the case of nuclear weapons, at least we know in principle how to overcome the threat of apocalypse: Eliminate them.

But another dire peril casts its shadow over any contemplation of the future - environmental disaster. It's not clear that there even is an escape, though the longer we delay, the more severe the threat becomes - and not in the distant future. The commitment of governments to the security of their populations is therefore clearly exhibited by how they address this issue.

Today the United States is crowing about "100 years of energy independence" as the country becomes "the Saudi Arabia of the next century" - very likely the final century of human civilization if current policies persist.

One might even take a speech of President Obama's two years ago in the oil town of Cushing, Okla., to be an eloquent death-knell for the species.

He proclaimed with pride, to ample applause, that "Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That's important to know. Over the last three years, I've directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We're opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We've quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We've added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some."

The applause also reveals something about government commitment to security. Industry profits are sure to be secured as "producing more oil and gas here at home" will continue to be "a critical part" of energy strategy, as the president promised.

The corporate sector is carrying out major propaganda campaigns to convince the public that climate change, if happening at all, does not result from human activity. These efforts are aimed at overcoming the excessive rationality of the public, which continues to be concerned about the threats that scientists overwhelmingly regard as near-certain and ominous.

To put it bluntly, in the moral calculus of today's capitalism, a bigger bonus tomorrow outweighs the fate of one's grandchildren.

What are the prospects for survival then? They are not bright. But the achievements of those who have struggled for centuries for greater freedom and justice leave a legacy that can be taken up and carried forward - and must be, and soon, if hopes for decent survival are to be sustained. And nothing can tell us more eloquently what kind of creatures we are.

© 2014 Noam Chomsky Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate



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[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

The Transformative Potential of the Right to Food

Monday, 14 April 2014 09:50
By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Truthout | News Analysis


Transitioning from an industrial model of agriculture to a system benefiting small-scale producers - a step governments must support - will not only alleviate worldwide hunger and poverty, but will reduce carbon emissions, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food concludes in a new report.

Middle-class Americans take it for granted that whatever hardships we face in life, we can always count on food appearing on the table. Supermarkets feature well-stocked shelves, restaurants bustle with business, and the choice of cuisines available to us would even dazzle Old World aristocrats.

But the great majority of the world’s peoples don’t enjoy such blessings. For them, the task of feeding their families is a challenge they face anew each day. Chronic hunger and malnutrition afflict close to 850 million people; another billion subsist on substandard diets; and billions more spend a huge portion of their income, even as much as half, on their humble meals of rice, wheat or corn.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to food as integral to a satisfactory standard of living, affirming "the right of every individual, alone or in community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations."

Yet too often this right is neglected or trampled upon. To remedy this situation, in 2000 the UN Commission on Human Rights established the post of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. Since 2008, this position has been held by Olivier De Schutter, who has spent the past six years seeking ways to ensure that the right to food is fully realized. His final report, issued in March, documents his conclusions and recommendations. Though written in the cool, impersonal language of the policy expert, the report conveys a truly bold message with transformative implications for the future of the global food system.

De Schutter sees the major obstacle to the achievement of global food security to be the dominant paradigm of industrial agriculture, which favors giant agricultural corporations over small-scale producers and sanctions profits rather than the eradication of hunger as the driving force behind food production. Just two pages into the report he bluntly asserts: "Measured against the requirement that they should contribute to the realization of the right to food, the food systems we have inherited from the 20th century have failed."

While agricultural productivity has certainly increased and helped to reduce extreme hunger over the past half-century, he points out that glaring inequalities in the distribution of food persist, with women and children at a comparative disadvantage. Apart from those who lack a sufficient intake of calories, 2 billion people, especially in the developing world, suffer from "hidden hunger," a lack of critical micronutrients such as iodine, vitamin A and iron, all essential to optimal health.

Over 165 million children worldwide are stunted, unable to reach their full physical and cognitive potential. But even in the more affluent parts of the world, the diets promoted by modern food systems, rich in fats, salt and carbohydrates, have sharply increased obesity and set off epidemics of diabetes, heart disease and gastrointestinal cancer.

The report explicitly links these problems to the dominance of the industrial model of agriculture, which negatively impacts not only personal health but also communal well-being through its imperial reach and destabilization of the environment. Its commitment to monoculture has led to loss of agro-biodiversity and soil erosion, while its overuse of chemical inputs pollutes fresh water and leads to the emergence of resistant super-pests. However, the report states, "the most potentially devastating impacts of industrial modes of agricultural production stem from their contribution to increased greenhouse gas emissions."

Heavily reliant on carbon-powered machinery, the modern food system contributes to 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions at field level; but when all facets of industrial agriculture are taken into account, the figure doubles to 30 to 32 percent.

Climate change and agricultural productivity lock together in a mutually detrimental relationship. Not only does agriculture intensify climate change, but disruptive weather events driven by a warmer climate, such as droughts and floods, turn fertile lands barren and destroy harvests. Beneath the threshold of perception, the slow heating up of the planet causes gradual declines in crop fecundity. Thus it is predicted that over the coming decades, yields of key staple crops such as wheat and corn could fall by as much as 27 percent.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Demand for Meat

Another concern the special rapporteur focuses on is the unsustainable demand for meat, which is expected to rise to 470 million tons in 2050, an increase of about 200 million tons over 2005–2007 levels. Already a third of the world’s cereals are being used as animal feed, diverting critically needed grain and beans away from poor people so that those in the richer countries (including the emerging upper classes in the newly industrialized nations) can enjoy their steaks, pork sausages and burgers. By 2050, it’s expected that half the world’s cereals will be used as animal feed.

Meat consumption not only upsets the scales of food justice but also exacerbates global warming. A study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, cited by De Schutter, estimates that the livestock sector accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a larger share even than transport. When deforestation and the loss of grasslands to grazing are taken into account, "livestock is found to be responsible for 51 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions." This provides a further argument for reducing meat consumption even in the affluent West.

Finally, among the negative impacts of industrial agriculture, De Schutter mentions its role in concentrating the benefits of food production in the hands of large farms, landholders and giant food corporations at the expense of small-scale producers. These giant farms are often so profitable because of the massive subsidies they receive from their governments.

The subsidies enable them to dump their surplus at low prices into the poorer countries of Asia and Africa, thereby undercutting local farmers and driving them into poverty. Unable to sustain themselves by producing for local consumption, many farmers in developing countries are forced to work on large agricultural estates that specialize in the cultivation of export items for the North. Others abandon the land altogether and migrate to the cities in search of work, thus intensifying urban sprawl.

When the prices of imported foods spike, as has happened several times in the past few years, the poor find they cannot afford the foods they need. This has led to food riots in these countries and set the stage for social and political instability.

The remedy that De Schutter prescribes for the ills in the global food system is a bold one. To resolve with a single stroke the interwoven problems of hunger, climate change and endemic poverty, he advocates a transition away from the dominant industrial agricultural model to "agroecological modes of production." Agroecology encompasses a range of techniques that align agricultural production with natural processes, maximizing resource efficiency while reducing the use of external inputs. Its methods include intercropping, agroforestry, drip irrigation and the recycling of manure and food scraps into fertilizers.

Agroecology lowers fossil fuel use, and, by applying natural fertilizers, avoids the chemical pollution of land and water. It reduces the cost of farming, alleviates rural poverty and, by keeping farmers on their farms, helps to stem urban migration and the resultant growth of megacities. Surprisingly, its yields in productivity have been found to equal and even surpass those of industrial farms.

The obligation to ensure that everyone obtains nutritious food in sufficient quantities to sustain health and well-being has both moral and pragmatic implications. In its moral dimension it raises once again the big question: Whom should the world’s interdependent economic system be designed to benefit? Should it serve the powerful transnational corporations - in this case, the giant agricultural conglomerates and the global food chains, along with their allies in the fossil fuel, chemical and shipping industries - or should it benefit the ordinary people of the world, many of whom daily stare down the abyss of poverty and hunger?

Economies do not function autonomously. They are molded by laws, rules, and policies, both national and international. Over the past 30 years, under the reign of neoliberal ideology, the global economy has been drastically reshaped to serve the interests of those in the seats of power. It channels more and more wealth into the hands of the few - the corporate and financial titans - who use their wealth to bend government policies to their advantage, without regard for the impact these will have on the vast numbers of people who do not share their privileged position.

Decisive Moral Stance

To promote the realization of the right to food, the report takes a decisive moral stance on behalf of the world’s great majority of workers and farmers. DeSchutter situates the international food system at the crossroads, as it were, of the struggle for global social justice. He contends that ensuring the right to food requires that the old productivist model give way to "a new paradigm focused on well-being, resilience and sustainability." While he does not quite place the blame for global hunger, poverty and climate disruption on corporate capitalism, his analysis clearly implies that a network of policies governed by a different set of values - more democratic, communitarian, decentralized and respectful of human values - is needed to offset the perilous concentration of wealth and power that has resulted from corporate domination of the food system. This is surprising at a time when so many official policy statements issued by international experts reflect the dominant consensus of neoliberalism, with its bias toward corporate hegemony.

As a matter of pragmatic policy, his report calls for changes at the local, national and international level that will meet "the imperative of achieving food security and ensuring adequate nutrition" for everyone. He sees the key to fully realizing the right to food the idea of "food sovereignty" - the freedom of communities to choose which food systems to depend on and how to shape those food systems to maximize the well-being of their members. This aligns his own position with that of the international peasant organization Via Campesina and other peasant movements around the world, which seek to withstand the pressure to yield to the authority of big agribusiness.

To facilitate this transformation, he assigns a role to governments, which he says should provide "strong support to small-scale food producers, based on the provision of public goods for training, storage and connection to markets, and on the dissemination of agroecological modes of production." Governments can also help to develop trade policies that support such efforts and at the same time "reduce the competition between the luxury tastes of some and the basic needs of the others."

Yet De Schutter should not be seen as taking sides in any exclusive way, for in the final analysis his recommendations are likely to prove beneficial to everyone. Given industrial-scale agriculture’s harmful impact on the environment - its high level of carbon emissions, its pollution of water and air, its degradation of the soil, its drain on water resources and disruption of ecosystems - the adoption of a new agricultural paradigm may turn out to be the most prudent way to avoid massive calamities to which all would be vulnerable. By hastening the transition to agroecological models of production, as the report proposes, we can simultaneously tackle the problems of food justice, nutritional health, ecological sustainability and poverty alleviation, and thereby help create a world that works for everyone.

To read the full report (28 pages), go here.


Copyright, Truthout.


[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Banking Union Time Bomb: Eurocrats Authorize Bailouts and Bail-Ins

Monday, 31 March 2014 13:31
By Ellen Brown, Web of Debt Blog | News Analysis

“As things stand, the banks are the permanent government of the country, whichever party is in power.”

– Lord Skidelsky, House of Lords, UK Parliament, 31 March 2011)