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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A friend sent this article to me in an email. I think it is worth adding to the blog. I'd like to get your feedback on the author's ideas. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Why? Do you feel it is time to change our constitution to allow for a supreme ruler rather than three equal branches of government? Do you think there may be an even more hidden agenda being masked by this more obvious material? Some people have suggested that Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Bush and other in the administration are members of a religious sect which believes they should assist in bringing about the Armageddon or Last Days scenario of the book of Revelations describes taken literally.

Here is the article the original of which can be found at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060109/schell

The Hidden State Steps Forward
Jonathan Schell

When the New York Times revealed that George W. Bush had ordered the
National Security Agency to wiretap the foreign calls of American citizens
without seeking court permission, as is indisputably required by the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed by Congress in 1978,
he faced a decision. Would he deny the practice, or would he admit it? He
admitted it. But instead of expressing regret, he took full ownership of
the deed, stating that his order had been entirely justified, that he had
in fact renewed it thirty times, that he would continue to renew it
and--going even more boldly on the offensive--that those who had made his
law-breaking known had committed a "shameful act." As justification, he
offered two arguments, one derisory, the other deeply alarming. The
derisory one was that Congress, by authorizing him to use force after
September 11, had authorized him to suspend FISA, although that law is
unmentioned in the resolution. Thus has Bush informed the members of a
supposedly co-equal branch of government of what, unbeknownst to
themselves, they were thinking when they cast their vote. The alarming
argument is that as Commander in Chief he possesses "inherent" authority to
suspend laws in wartime. But if he can suspend FISA at his whim and in
secret, then what law can he not suspend? What need is there, for example,
to pass or not pass the Patriot Act if any or all of its provisions can be
secretly exceeded by the President?

Bush's choice marks a watershed in the evolution of his Administration.
Previously when it was caught engaging in disgraceful, illegal or merely
mistaken or incompetent behavior, he would simply deny it. "We have found
the weapons of mass destruction!" "We do not torture!" However, further
developments in the torture matter revealed a shift. Even as he denied the
existence of torture, he and his officials began to defend his right to
order it. His Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, refused at his
confirmation hearings to state that the torture called waterboarding, in
which someone is brought to the edge of drowning, was prohibited. Then when
Senator John McCain sponsored a bill prohibiting cruel, inhuman and
degrading treatment of prisoners, Bush threatened to veto the legislation
to which it was attached. It was only in the face of majority votes in both
houses against such treatment that he retreated from his claim.

But in the wiretapping matter, he has so far exhibited no such vacillation.
Secret law-breaking has been supplanted by brazen law-breaking. The
difference is critical. If abuses of power are kept secret, there is still
the possibility that, when exposed, they will be stopped. But if they are
exposed and still permitted to continue, then every remedy has failed, and
the abuse is permanently ratified. In this case, what will be ratified is a
presidency that has risen above the law.

The danger is not abstract or merely symbolic. Bush's abuses of
presidential power are the most extensive in American history. He has
launched an aggressive war ("war of choice," in today's euphemism) on false
grounds. He has presided over a system of torture and sought to legitimize
it by specious definitions of the word. He has asserted a wholesale right
to lock up American citizens and others indefinitely without any legal
showing or the right to see a lawyer or anyone else. He has kidnapped
people in foreign countries and sent them to other countries, where they
were tortured. In rationalizing these and other acts, his officials have
laid claim to the unlimited, uncheckable and unreviewable powers he has
asserted in the wiretapping case. He has tried to drop a thick shroud of
secrecy over these and other actions.

There is a name for a system of government that wages aggressive war,
deceives its citizens, violates their rights, abuses power and breaks the
law, rejects judicial and legislative checks on itself, claims power
without limit, tortures prisoners and acts in secret. It is dictatorship.

The Administration of George W. Bush is not a dictatorship, but it does
manifest the characteristics of one in embryonic form. Until recently,
these were developing and growing in the twilight world of secrecy. Even
within the executive branch itself, Bush seemed to govern outside the
normally constituted channels of the Cabinet and to rely on what Secretary
of State Colin Powell's chief of staff has called a "cabal." Former
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill reported the same thing. Cabinet meetings
were for show. Real decisions were made elsewhere, out of sight. Another
White House official, John DiIulio, has commented that there was "a
complete lack of a policy apparatus" in the White House. "What you've got
is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm." As
in many Communist states, a highly centralized party, in this case the
Republican Party, was beginning to forge a parallel apparatus at the heart
of government, a semi-hidden state-within-a-state, by which the real
decisions were made.

With Bush's defense of his wiretapping, the hidden state has stepped into
the open. The deeper challenge Bush has thrown down, therefore, is whether
the country wants to embrace the new form of government he is creating by
executive fiat or to continue with the old constitutional form. He is now
in effect saying, "Yes, I am above the law--I am the law, which is nothing
more than what I and my hired lawyers say it is--and if you don't like it,
I dare you to do something about it."

Members of Congress have no choice but to accept the challenge. They did so
once before, when Richard Nixon, who said, "When the President does it,
that means it's not illegal," posed a similar threat to the Constitution.
The only possible answer is to inform Bush forthwith that if he continues
in his defiance, he will be impeached.

If Congress accepts his usurpation of its legislative power, they will be
no Congress and might as well stop meeting. Either the President must
uphold the laws of the United States, which are Congress's laws, or he must
leave office.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

GM crops created superweed, say scientists

Modified rape crosses with wild plant to create tough pesticide-resistant strain

Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Monday July 25, 2005
The Guardian

Modified genes from crops in a GM crop trial have transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant "superweed", the Guardian can reveal.
The cross-fertilisation between GM oilseed rape, a brassica, and a distantly related plant, charlock, had been discounted as virtually impossible by scientists with the environment department. It was found during a follow up to the government's three-year trials of GM crops which ended two years ago.
The new form of charlock was growing among many others in a field which had been used to grow GM rape. When scientists treated it with lethal herbicide it showed no ill-effects.

Unlike the results of the original trials, which were the subject of large-scale press briefings from scientists, the discovery of hybrid plants that could cause a serious problem to farmers has not been announced.
The scientists also collected seeds from other weeds in the oilseed rape field and grew them in the laboratory. They found that two - both wild turnips - were herbicide resistant.
The five scientists from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the government research station at Winfrith in Dorset, placed their findings on the department's website last week.
A reviewer of the paper has appended to its front page: "The frequency of such an event [the cross-fertilisation of charlock] in the field is likely to be very low, as highlighted by the fact it has never been detected in numerous previous assessments."
However, he adds: "This unusual occurrence merits further study in order to adequately assess any potential risk of gene transfer."
Brian Johnson, an ecological geneticist and member of the government's specialist scientific group which assessed the farm trials, has no doubt of the significance. "You only need one event in several million. As soon as it has taken place the new plant has a huge selective advantage. That plant will multiply rapidly."
Dr Johnson, who is head of the biotechnology advisory unit and head of the land management technologies group at English Nature, the government nature advisers, said: "Unlike the researchers I am not surprised by this. If you apply herbicide to plants which is lethal, eventually a resistant survivor will turn up."
The glufosinate-ammonium herbicide used in this case put "huge selective pressure likely to cause rapid evolution of resistance".
To assess the potential of herbicide-resistant weeds as a danger to crops, a French researcher placed a single triazine-resistant weed, known as fat hen, in maize fields where atrazine was being used to control weeds. After four years the plants had multiplied to an average of 103,000 plants, Dr Johnson said.
What is not clear in the English case is whether the charlock was fertile. Scientists collected eight seeds from the plant but they failed to germinate them and concluded the plant was "not viable".
But Dr Johnson points out that the plant was very large and produced many flowers.
He said: "There is every reason to suppose that the GM trait could be in the plant's pollen and thus be carried to other charlock in the neighbourhood, spreading the GM genes in that way. This is after all how the cross-fertilisation between the rape and charlock must have occurred in the first place."
Since charlock seeds can remain in the soil for 20 to 30 years before they germinate, once GM plants have produced seeds it would be almost impossible to eliminate them.
Although the government has never conceded that gene transfer was a problem, it was fear of this that led the French and Greek governments to seek to ban GM rape.
Emily Diamond, a Friends of the Earth GM researcher, said: "I was shocked when I saw this paper. This is what we were reassured could not happen - and yet now it has happened the finding has been hidden away. This is exactly what the French and Greeks were afraid of when they opposed the introduction of GM rape."
The findings will now have to be assessed by the government's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (Acre). The question is whether it is safe to release GM crops into the UK environment when there are wild relatives that might become superweeds and pose a serious threat to farm productivity. This has already occurred in Canada.
The discovery that herbicide-resistant genes have transferred to farm weeds from GM crops is the second blow to the hopes of bio-tech companies to introduce their crops into Britain. Following farm scale trials there was already scientific evidence that herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape and GM sugar beet were bad for biodiversity because the herbicide used to kill the weeds around the crops wiped out more wildlife than with conventionally grown crops. Now this new research, a follow-up on the original trials, shows that a second undesirable potential result is a race of superweeds.
The findings mirror the Canadian experience with GM crops, which has seen farmers and the environment plagued with severe problems.
Farmers the world over are always troubled by what they call "volunteers" - crop plants which grow from seeds spilled from the previous harvest, of which oilseed rape is probably the greatest offender, Anyone familiar with the British countryside, or even the verges of motorways, will recognise thousands of oilseed rape plants growing uninvited amid crops of wheat or barley, and in great swaths by the roadside where the "small greasy ballbearings" of seeds have spilled from lorries.
Farmers in Canada soon found that these volunteers were resistant to at least one herbicide, and became impossible to kill with two or three applications of different weedkillers after a succession of various GM crops were grown.
The new plants were dubbed superweeds because they proved resistant to three herbicides while the crops they were growing among had been genetically engineered to be resistant to only one.
To stop their farm crops being overwhelmed with superweeds, farmers had to resort to using older, much stronger varieties of "dirty" herbicide long since outlawed as seriously damaging to biodiversity.
Q&A: What the discovery means for UK farmers

What's the GM situation in the UK?

No GM crops are currently grown commercially in the UK. Companies who wish to introduce them face a series of licensing hurdles in Britain and Europe and interest has waned in recent years amid public opposition.

Other firms have dropped applications in the wake of the government field scale trials that showed growing two GM varieties - oilseed rape and sugar beet - was bad for biodiversity.

The EU has approved several GM varieties and the UK government insists that applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Where are GM crops grown?

Extensively in the wide open spaces of the US, Canada and Argentina. In Europe, Portugal, France and Germany have all dabbled with GM insect-resistant maize. Spain plants about 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of it each year for animal feed.

What is a superweed?

Many GM crop varieties are given genes that allow them to resist a specific herbicide, which farmers can then apply to kill the weeds while allowing the GM crop to thrive.

Environmental campaigners have long feared that if pollen from the GM crop fertilised a related weed, it could transfer the resistance and create a superweed. This "gene transfer" is what appears to have happened at the field scale trial site. It raises the prospect of farmers who grow some GM crops being forced to use stronger herbicides on their fields to deal with the upstart weeds.

Is it a big problem?

Not yet. Farmers in the UK do not grow GM crops commercially. If they did, then the scale of possible superweed contamination depends on two things: whether the hybrid superweed can reproduce (many hybrids are sterile) and, if it could, how well its offspring could compete with other plants. Herbicide-resistant weeds could potentially grow very well in agricultural fields where the relevant herbicide is applied. Most experts say superweeds would be unlikely to sweep across the UK countryside as, without the herbicide being used to kill their competitors, their GM status offers no advantage.

Some GM crops, such as maize, have no wild relatives in the UK, making gene transfer and the creation of a superweed from them impossible.

Is it a surprise?

On one level no, gene flow and hybridisation are as old as plants themselves. Short of creating sterile male plants, it's simply impossible to stop crops releasing pollen to fertilise related neighbours. But government scientists had thought that GM oilseed rape and charlock were too distantly related for it to occur.

The dangers of hybridisation where it does happen are well documented - experts from the Dorset centre behind the latest research published a high-profile paper in 2003 in the US journal Science showing widespread gene flow from non-GM oilseed rape to wild flowers.

Have superweeds surfaced elsewhere?

Farmers in Canada and Argentina growing GM soya beans have large problems with herbicide-resistant weeds, though these have arisen through natural selection and not gene flow through hybridisation. Experiments in Germany have shown sugar beets genetically modified to resist one herbicide accidentally acquired the genes to resist another - so called "gene stacking", which has also been observed in oilseed rape grown in Canada.

· David Adam

Special reports
GM food debate
Special report: what's wrong with our food?

03.06.2003: GM crops

May 2003 investigation
Food: the way we eat now

Useful links
Agriculture & environment biotechnology commission (government advisory body)
Agricultural Biotechnology Council

Official reports
Royal Society report on GM plants (pdf)
Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology report on GM food labelling (pdf)
It has been a while since my last post. I visited the United States (Florida and North Carolina) for various family events and concerns. I was gone a month and, of course, when I returned I was pooped! For a while I just rested - read good books, did lazy birding, and began trying to learn my new Power Mac. Then I couldn't get my DSL modem configured properly for the Mac since there is only one other Mac user who has the NetMod modem in all of the Southern Zone! When dealing with bureaucracies, one has to be patient. Almost a month after my first frantic call to ICE, the right technico with one CD containing the Mac driver arrived at my gate! Even then it took most of the day for him to figure out how to do the configuration. Every Mac OS is a little different, apparently. THEN I had to start getting caught up on the huge backlog of work.

Meanwhile, my great young friend and helper, Martin Leon, had a bad accident in which he cut right through the tendon in one finger of his right hand. That required surgery and he's been in terrible pain while recovering. The doctor's say another month before the wrapping holding his right hand and forearm rigid can be removed and probably a year or more before he is fully recovered.

And, naturally, November and December are the busiest months and the most expensive! Just trying to get my photos processed and uploaded to the various stock photo sites I use, moving information from two PC's to the Mac, and planning for a possible building of two or three cabinas for birders and other nature tourists to this area, have taken much too much time.

My next post will be something I found in today's science news regarding GM crops and problems they are introducing. We get all the "good" news about GM crops, but the "bad" news (the dangers that are now cropping up) are hidden away. Most people never get a chance to read it.

It's good to be home again in Costa Rica.

About Me

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I live on the Pacific slopes of the Talamanca mountain range in southern Costa Rica. My adult children live in the United States. I have a Masters Degree in Gerontology but have worked as a migrant laborer, chicken egg collector, radio broadcaster, secretary, social worker, research director, bureaucrat, writer, editor, political organizer, publicist, telephone operator, and more. My hobby of photography has garnered some awards.

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