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Friday, October 02, 2009

Pittsburgh's State of Siege

Suppressiing Dissent With High-Priced Cop Toys

James S. Henry
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You didn't hear much about it from any major US news organizations, but there was a very disturbing case of gratuitous police-led violence and intimidation at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh on September 23rd-25th, 2009. Perhaps the only consolation is that it allowed those of us who were there to get a close look at some of the disturbing "brave new world:  technologies for anti-democratic crowd control. These were initially developed by the US military to fight terrorists on the high seas and abroad, in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq, but are now coming home to roost.  Indeed, ironically enough, this is one of the few remaining global growth industries where the US is still the undisputed world leader, as we'll see below.


Police2 One local newspaper account described  the events at the Pittsburgh G20  as a "clash" between the police, protesters, and college students. 

Indeed, a handful of storefronts were reportedly broken on Thursday September 24 by a  few unknown vandals. 

However, based on our own visit to the summit,  interviews with several students and other eye witnesses,  and a careful review of the significant amount of video footage that is available online, the only real "clash"  that occurred in Pittsburgh on September 23-25, 2009, was between lawless policing and the Bill of Rights. 

The most aggressive large-scale policing abuses occurred from 9 pm to 11:30 pm on Friday September 25th near Schenley Park, in the middle of the University of Pittsburgh campus. This was miles away from the downtown area where the G20 had met, and, in any case, it was hours after the G20 had ended.

This particular case of aggressive policing -- "Hammer and Anvil," as the operation was described on police scanners -- was clearly not just a matter of a few "bad apples." 

Rather, it appears to have been part of a willful, highly-organized, one-sided, rather  high-tech experiment or training exercise in very aggressive crowd control by nothing less than a really scary uniformed mob.

New York police sometimes describe their firemen counterparts, tongue in cheek, as "robbers with boots." In this case we have no hesitation at all in describing this uniformed mob in Pittsburgh as "assailants with badges."

Their actions resulted in the unlawful suppression of the civil rights of  hundreds of otherwise-peaceful students who were just "hanging out with their friends on a Friday night in Oakland," or attending a free jazz/blues concert in Schenley Park. 

Essentially they got trapped in a cyclone of conflicting and inconsistent police directives to "leave the area." The result was nearly 200 arrests, gassings, beatings, and the deployment of dogs and rubber bullets against dozens of innocent people.

In addition to the students,  this aggressive policing also assaulted the civil rights of a small number of relatively-peaceful protesters and quite a few ordinary Pittsburgh residents, most of whom were as innocent as bystanders can possibly be these days. 

Why did this occur?  In addition to whatever top-down "experiment" or training action was being conducted there appears to have been an extraordinary amojnt of pent-up police frustration and anger.  For example, one student overheard a policeman piling out of a rented Budget van near Schenley Park around 9:50 PM Friday.

The officer was heard to exclaim, "Time to kick some ass!"

This is disturbing, but perhaps not all that surprising. After all, thousands of police had  basically stood around for days in  riot gear, sweltering in the "Indian Summer" heat, dealing with  the tensions associated with potential terrorist attacks as well as all the hassles of managing large-scale protest marches, even if peaceful.There was also the inevitable tensions of social class and culture among police, Guardsman, and college students.

On the other hand, precisely because such tensions are so predictable, those in direct command or higher political office, and, indeed University officials, should have acted forcefully to corral them.

JOIN THE CLUB


ArrestedstudentposedwithpoliceAll this means that Pittsburgh  has unfortunately now joined the growing list of  cities around the world that have experienced such serious conflicts -- mainly in connection with  economic summits or national political conventions.

The list of summit frays includes this summer's G-8 in Italylast Spring's G20 in London,  the September '08 RNC in Minneapolis,  the '04 RNC in New York City, Miami's Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit (11/03),  Quebec (4/01),  Naples (3/01), Montreal (10/00),  Prague 9/00), Washington D.C. (4/00),  the  November '99 WTO "Battle in Seattle," the J18 in London (6/99), Madrid (10/1994), and Berlin (9/88).

President Obama had  originally selected Pittsburgh for the G20 because he hoped to showcase its recovery  since the 1980s, especially in the last  few years, under a Democratic Mayor, in a Democratic state that he barely carried in the 2008 Presidential contest. 

In seeking to explain such events, therefore, it alway helps to keep a firm eye on the question -- whose interests did really  this serve?

In retrospect, the failure of these leaders to control the police at the G20 has created a serious blemish on the city's reputation for good government. It may have also to some extent undermined Obama’s relations with college students and other activists  who worked so hard for his election in this key state. And it certainly did not help the reputation of the Democratic Party in Pittsburgh or Pensylvania at large.

TIANANMEN FLASHBACKS

To journalists like me who happened to have been in Beijing in May 1989, during the buildup to the June 4th massacre in Tiananmen Square,  Pittsburgh also bears an interesting resemblance. The analogy may sound a little strained, but bear with me.  

(1)  As in Beijing, there was a very large deputized police force from all over the country.  These included  over 1000 police "volunteers" (out of 4000 total police and 2500 National Guardsmen) who were ported in just for the G20.

According to the conventional wisdom, not being from the same community is likely to reduce your inhibitions when it comes to macing and kicking the crap out of unarmed, defenseless young people.

The guest policeman also included several hundred police who were under the command of Miami Police 2076 Chief John F. Timoney,  pioneer of the infamous "Miami model" for suppressing protest that was first deployed at the Miami Free Trade Area of the Americas Conference in November 2003. (Here’s the Miami model checklist, most of which was repeated in Pittsburgh.)

As one writer has observed, Timoney, who  also served as Police Chief in Philadelphia,   "(L)iterally transformed the city into a police state war zone with tanks, blockades and “non-lethal” (but severely damaging) artillery."

It is unclear to what extent he played a similar role behind-the-scenes in Pittsburgh this year, but there certainly is a strong sulfurous odor.     Scaredstudents

(2) As in Beijing, In Pittsburgh there were no identifying badges on officers' uniforms, and they also refused to provide any identifying personal information in response to questions. Several photographers also complained about receiving threats and actual damage to their cameras.

(3) As in Beijing, there was simply no  direct contest between the power of the security forces once they mobilized, and those of the unarmed students.   The only kind of victory that the students could possibly have one in both cases was a moral one -- by essentially sacrificing their bodies and their rights to a tidal wave of repression.

Indeed, the "clash" theory of these events looks even odder once we take into account the  fact that on Friday night in Pittsburgh, for example, unarmed students and protesters faced  hundreds of police in full riot gear,  armed for bear with equipped  muzzled attack dogs, gas, smoke canisters, rubber bullets, bean-bag shotguns, pepper pellets, long-range pepper spray,  at least four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters (courtesty of New York Governor Patterson and his National Guard's 3-142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion unit),  plus several brand new "acoustic cannons" (see below). There were also probably dozens of undercover agents provocateurs -- at least three of whom were actually "outed" by the students. 

The police were also actively monitoring student communications on web sites like Twitter.

 From this angle, a key difference with Bejing  in 1989 was that the Chinese authorities felt genuinely  threatened by the growth of student power and the democracy movement, and feared being ousted,from power.  and  were therefore able to justify their brutality as part of a zero-sum game. In the case of Pittsburgh, whatever police violence occurred was entirely gratuitous.

Police6 (4) As in Beijing, the Pittsburgh police  really liked deploying loud, repetitive warnings, broadcast from sound-trucks -- like the following,  broadcast  repeatedly last Thursday and Friday: 

"I hereby declare this to be an unlawful assembly. I order all those assembled to immediately disburse. You must leave the immediate vicinity. If you remain in this immediate vicinity, you will be in violation of the Pennsylvania crimes code, no matter what your purpose is. You must leave. If you do not disburse, you may be arrested and/or subject to other police action. Other police action may include actual physical removal, the use of riot control agents, and/or less lethal munitions, which could risk of injury to those who remain."

The fact is that this warning was itself completely unlawful.  Putting on the NYCLU lawyer's hat for a moment, absent a "clear and present danger" to the public peace, these threats violated the First Amendment's explicit recognition of right to "peacefully assemble.” 

In effect, the fact is that the police and National Guard in Pittsburgh  temporarily seized control over public streets, parks, and other public spaces, and exercised it arbitrarily.  By the time the victims of these outrageous civil rights infringements have their day in court, the damage will have been long since done.

(5) As in Beijing, the police and military decided  to launch their biggest raid late at nightafter the summit had ended most major mediaPolice11 had gone home, and the courts had closed for the weekend.

Of course, there were no tanks, no real bullets, and no fatalities in Pittsburgh. Unlike the April '09 G20 and the Genoa G8 protests, no civilians died as a direct result of police actions. But the Pittsburgh students who were on the receiving end of all this unprovoked police brutality -- like one who was shot four times in the back and legs with rubber bullets, and another who was gassed and shot in the face -- may be forgiven for wondering just how close they came to emulating their peers in Europe.

GLOBAL  COP TOYS

Police behavior at all these global summits has evolved over time into a rather high-tech affair that would make Iranian crowd control experts turn  bright green with envy. 

5c6c33b0-9c3f-49e6-8ca5-d5aea8751de5_300 For example,  last week's G20 featured one of the largest US deployments ever against civilian demonstrators of  "LRADS," or acoustic cannons

These sophisticated  "phase array" device s emit a targeted 30-degree beam of 100+decibel  sound that is effective up to several hundred yards, and is potentially very harmful to the human ear. 

LRAD2Manufactured by San Diego's tiny American Technology Corporation (NASDQ: ATCO), the $37,500 so-call "500X" version of the sound cannon that was used in Pittsburg was developed at the behest of the US military, reportedly in response to the USS Cole incident in 2000,  to help the Navy repel hostile forces at sea.

The Pittsburgh units  were apparently  purchased by  local sheriffs' departments across the country with the help of recent grants from the US Department of Homeland Security. Officially the grants have been justtified in the name of improving communications with the public, by permitting clearer voice channels (!), but that's a cover story -- the true purpose is crowd control. ( Roll tape: LRAD-500X_SDCo_Sheriff1).

Other recent ATCO customers include the US Army (for "force protection" in Iraq  and Afghanistan), and  the US Navy and the navies of Japan and Singapore, for communicating with potentially-hostile vessels at sea. 

In 2008 ATCO flogged its wares at the biannual China Police Forum, Asia's largest mart for police security equipment. Obviously China would make a terrific reference customer, since it is one of the global front-runners in the brutal suppression of mass dissent.

ATCO also has a 2007 contract with the US Marine Corps' "Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program" to develop new, even more powerful weapons, euphemistically branded  "acoustic hailing devices." Saakashvili

Police3 Until recently the most widely-publicized use of LRADS had been against Somali pirates. The devices have also been deployed against "insurgents" by the US military in Fallujah,  by the increasingly-unpopular, anything-but-democratic regime of Mikhail Saakashvili in the Republic of Georgia, and by New York City at the RNC in 2005.

Just two weeks before the Pittsburgh G20,  they turned up  in San Diego, where the Sheriff's Department provoked controversy by stationing them near a Congressional town hall forum -- just in case.

This growing  use of LRADs for domestic crowd control in theSomalis_called_pirates_while_the_West_du US is worrisome, not only because it is a potent anti-civil liberties weapon, because -- just like tasers,  rubber bullets, OC gas, and other so-called "non-lethal but actually just "less lethal" weapons" -- they can cause serious injuries to ears, and perhaps even provoke strokes. 

TECHNOLOGY BLOWBACK

For all the homeland security technology buffs in the audience, you may rest assured that LRADs are hardly the  only Military potential "less-lethal" free speech-and-assembly killers in the pipeline. 

In the last decade the non-lethal weapons arena has exploded, and the US appears to be  far ahead, assisted by ample  R&D grants and purchase contracts from organizations like the Department of Justice's "National Institute of Justice," DHS's multi-billion dollar Homeland Security Grant Program, the U.S Coast Guard, and the Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, and DOD's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) Program

The industry has also been aided by key contractors like ATCO, spearheaded by legendary engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur "Woody" Norris;  and Penn State's Advanced Research Lab -- home of the Institute for Emerging Defense Technologies.   NIJ also works closely with police organizations like PERF, and international organizations like the UK's Home Office Scientific Development Branch.

In the first instance, the development of such non-lethal technologies is usually justified by their potential for providing an alternative to heavier weaponry, thereby reducing civilian casualties in combat situations.

The fact that the US military now has at least 750 military bases around the world, and has also recently  been playing an important "military policing" role in countries like Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, underscored DOD's rationale for these technologies.

The problem is that just as in the case of the LRAD,  once developed, it is very difficult to wall such technologies out of the US, or restrict them to "pro-civilian/pro-democratic" uses, like providing clearer amplification for outdoor announcements.  

Even aside from their technical merits, the competitive nature of the global law enforcement equipment industry  virtually insures that every tin-horn US sheriff, as well as every Chinese party boss in Urumqi, will soon have access to these very latest tools in the arsenal for suppressing dissent.  

The ultimate irony, of course, is that the first generation of all  these powerful new free speech suppressors have all been developed,  not by authoritarian China, Iran, Burma or North Korea, but by US,  ostensibly still the leader of the "Free World." 

TOYS IN THE PIPELINE

So what's in store for those who are on the front lines of popular dissent?  We assume that some of the juiciest details are classified. But even a cursory review of public sources reveals that the following new crowd-control technologies may soon be coming to an economic summit near you.  (See this recent UK review for more details.). 

"Area Denial Systems." This is a powerful new "directed-energy" device that generates a precise, targeted beam of "millimeter waves," producing an "intolerable heating sensation on an adversary's skin." 

Under development by the US military since at least the late 1980s, this class of "non-lethal" weapons is now close to field deployment. Its key advantage over LRADs is that it has about ten times the range. Raytheon is already supplying its "Silent Guardian" version of the system to the US Army.

The next step required to bring this product to the police market will be to make it smaller and more mobile. According to this week's New Scientist, a new highly-portable, battery-powered version of the system, called the "Thermal Laser," will soon become available -- though it has yet to show that demonstrate conclusively that it is within the bounds of the UN Binding Protocol on Laser Weapons.
Apple-1984

New Riot-Control Chemicals and Delivery Systems.

Subject to the dicey question of whether these new "calmative," drug-like agents are outside the boundaries of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (to which the US and 187 other countries are signatories), these would not irritate their targets, unlike pepper spray or tear gas, but calm them down.

In the words of one DOD/JNLWD research director:  "We need something...like anesthetic agents, that would put everyone to sleep or in a good mood..." Or as the former Marine Corps commander of the program said," "I would like a magic dust that would put everyone in a building to sleep.." Among the delivery mechanisms considered: drinking water, aerosol spray, or rubber bullet. (Apparently the old-fashioned, tried-and-true "light up, inhale, and pass on" method is not a candidate.) The College of Medicine at Penn State's ARL, locGluegunated 135 miles east of Pittsburgh, has been especially active in advocating the advantages of such new chemical weapons.
Unfortunately for it, DOD apparently believes that the CWC and its current regulations prohibit it from funding the developing such magic dust directly, so it is working through DOJ and DOE to do so.

Glue Guns. If all else fails, UK's Home Office reports that another approach to "less- lethal" crowd control weaponry is also making progress -- a gigantic glue gun that sprays at least some 30 feet, bemingling its target audience in one huge adhesive dissident-ball.

Apparently still unsolved is the question of precisely what becomes of all those who are stuck together, or how the police avoid becoming entangled with them. But undoubtedly millions of pounds  are being devoted to solving these issues even as we speak.

SUMMARY

I went to Pittsburgh last week on behalf of  Tax Justice Network, a global NGO that is concerned about the harmful impacts that tax havens and dodgy behavior by First World banks, MNCs, lawyers, and accountants are having, especially on developing countries. I was under no illusion that the reforms we   were rather politely advocating would quickly be adopted, but at least we'd  say our piece,  if anyone cared to listen.

I came away with the depressing sense that the G20 summit, like its many predecessors,  was never intended  to be a listening post for independent, outside opinions. But even worse, it had actually become, in practice, an excuse for the criminalization of dissent in capital cities all over the globe, even in those that are nominally the most free,  by way of the vast new security measures that it requires and subsidizes,and the repressive tactics that it legitimized. 

In this day and age, of course,  we are told that almost any amount of security is too little.  And this heightened sense of insecurity  is certainly not aided by having the world's top 20 leaders regularly shuffling from pitstop to pitstop,  trying to conduct the world’s business from a traveling roadshow.

But I was struck by just how unnecessary,  senseless, and counterproductive almost all of the repressive policing tactics deployed in Pittsburgh really were -- how they ran roughshod over many of our  most precious freedoms, freedoms  that we are supposedly trying to protect.   And to what a degree whatever “terrorists” there are out there have already won, by  succeeding in creating a society that is really is often ruled by fear instead of justice, by force instead of discourse.

Rather than, say,  simply allowing the overwhelmingly non-violent demonstrators and students at that peaceful Friday night blues concert  to have their say, instead some 200 people were arrested and scores were gassed, clubbed, rubber-bulleted, and imprinted with galling memories that will last a lifetime. The City of Pittsburgh and its residents will certainly be fighting criminal cases and civil rights law suits for years to come.  I supposed we are meant to be consoled by the fact that, as the New York Times chose to emphasize this week, things are much more repressive in Guinea.

So perhaps it is time to establish a permanent location for all these global summits. Perhaps one of the Caribbean tax havens, like Antigua or St. Kitts, would do -- journalists always like the sun, and after TJN gets done with them, these havens are going to need to find a new calling anyway!  

***


   









 




October 2, 2009 at 08:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

MOTH MADNESS!
The Latest Crazy Scheme in the Hapless "War on Drugs"
James S. Henry and Jeremy Bigwood

Drug_war1In the midst of the faltering war in Iraq, the war on terror, and the Bush Adminstration’s war on Social Security, Americans may perhaps be forgiven for having forgotten that their government is still waging a "global war on drugs" that costs at least $30-$40 billion per year, and also causes a great deal of other political, social, and environmental damage at home and abroad.

Indeed, just this week, the UN announced that the latest results in this global drug war have not been encouraging -- with a $320 billion worldwide market, 15 million new drug users, and 200 million  total drug users -- more than ever.

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PAY-OFF?

Cocainepriceschart_3As indicated in the adjacent chart, after more than three decades of this hallowed effort, drug enforcers have failed to produce any increase whatsoever in the real retail street price of illegal drugs.

War20on20drugs2_1Retail cocaine prices, for example, are much lower than when the drug war started. Similar charts could be also drawn for opium, marijuana, and the bevy of other new "designer drugs" that have been introduced in the last decades – a rational economic response to prohibition.

Of course, hard-core defenders of the anti-drug campaign may argue - just as Prohibitionist moralizers did about booze prices in the 1920s - that retail drug prices would be even lower, except for the war on drugs.

But it seems more likely that supply-side interdiction has failed to have any consistent impact, partly because of improvements in drug dealer productivity – as many economists on all sides of the political specrum have predicted.

4201sa4_3The collapse in retail drug prices is also consistent with the embarrassing fact that opium production has recently exploded in US-occupied Afghanistan.

PabloescobarThe decrease in prices is also exactly what one would expect from a successful "decartelization" program, like the one that the US Government pursued with such fervor against Pablo Escobar, "Gacha" Orejuela-Rodriguez, and Manuel Noriega.

In the 1980s and 1990s that effort employed quite a few "drug busters," and provided endless material for TV and film scripts. But at the end of the day, it basically just helped to increase supply.

PlanesprayingNow, after five years of saturating Colombia with chemical herbicides, the US government and their allies in Colombia have also failed to reduce the number of hectares under coca cultivation.

NewcocaIndeed, the total area under cultivation in Colombia at the end of 2004 was slightly greater than at yearend 2003. Coca cultivation in Peru and Bolivia, have also recently been expanding. All this is consistent with a the "balloon" model, in which destroying coca in one place only increases the incentives to plant elsewhere.

CocagrowingIt also appears likely that – like every other profit-motivated farmer on the planet – coca farmers, as well as cocaine laboratories and distributors, are not sitting still, but are working hard to improve per-hectare productivity.

This means they don’t require nearly as many hectares to produce a given amount of coca as they used to. In calculating its estimates of "potential output," the US DEA assumes a constant 4.26 kilos of potential cocaine output per hectare of coca cultivation; UN "drug experts" assume a constant 3.56.

157kilosEven if we give the DEA the benefit of the doubt, however, it estimates that in 2004, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia produced enough coca to make more than 640,000 kilos of pure cocaine. While this is 28 percent lower than the average potential output in 1996-2001, it is still enough coca to produce more than 2.5 billion grams per year of retail street-cut cocaine.

Gg052a At today’s New York City street price for an "eight-ball" – $150 for an eighth of an ounce, or $43 a gram – even if just 20 percent of this potential output made it through, that’s a $22 billion annual market. Those who are waiting for supply-side interdiction to "win the war on drugs" will have to wait a long time.

Indeed, if one operative definition of insanity is toShootft "do the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result," by this definition, US drug enforcement policy is barking bonkers, 'round the bloody twist, and bouncing off the walls.

SOCIAL COSTS

Whatever the "benefits" of this policy, it is clear by now that it has had huge social and political costs, especially for our neighbors south of the border.

Peru12After two decades of "drug wars," Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, as well as major distribution centers like Mexico and urban Brazil, are rife with violence, civil unrest, and drug-financed corruption.

Colombia, in particular, has the world’s highest homicide rate, and large parts of the country have descended into a drug–fueled civil war -- a significant militarization of the drug wars, courtesy in part of the US Government.  There is also mounting evidence that coca eradication has caused serious environmental damage, displaced poor campesinos and destroyed valuable legal crops.

26fedprisFinally, here at home, punitive drug laws have also been a raging disaster -- except perhaps for the moralizing, knuckle-dragging politicians and religious leaders who support them.  They contribute to a great deal of violence and property crime. They have distracted law enforcement from more important tasks like protecting homeland security. And they’ve created the world’s largest prison population, with more than 2.1 million current US prison inmates, and another 4.8 million prisoners on parole or probation,  fifty-five percent of whom have been convicted on drug charges.

Since a majority of all these past and present convicts are black males, and  many of them  have been stripped of their rights to vote by virtue of felony drug convictions, here at last we may have finally discovered at one "rational reason" for US drug laws -- at least among this plutocracy's "demoratically elected" conservative representatives.

BRING ON THE MOTHS!

200pxacherontia_atroposThe "theater of the absurd" just described provides a suitable context for the latest half-crazed proposal from drug war enthusiasts.

Desperate to find some magic bullet that will somehow provide a supply-side solution, Colombian authorities have recently proposed the wholesale release of a special breed of moths, Eloria noyesi – known locally as "Malumbia" – that is supposed to feed only on coca leaves.

SilenceThe notion is that if enough of these moths can be distributed widely enough at the larval – caterpillar – stage, they may gorge on enough coca to undermine coca production once and for all.

Other recent press reports by CNN and AP have already called attention to this proposal. But SubmergingMarkets has done more homework. We've determined that this is not the first time that this moth plan has been proposed. We've also determined that it was previously considered and rejected for very good reasons. 

Indeed, during early 1990s, the US Government actually proposed a similar experiment using "biological control agents."

According to a Senior International Coordinator at the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Eric Rosenquist, the program was not implemented because of the potential negative side-effects on local agriculture.

In particular, the "malumbia" moth is a relative of the "gypsy moth," which is a non-specific consumer. There is no guarantee that the moth would only eat the coca plants, and may in fact consume other legal crops.

The other problem with this "bio control agent" is that the increase in the moth population might produce a dramatic increase in the population of the moths’ natural predators – parasitic wasps.

Wasps062701 After eating all of the moths, the wasps might then attack beneficial pollinators like honey bees.

Both scenarios would be unmitigated disasters for local farmers. Not only are bees invaluable for honey production, but they also play a vital role in pollinating valuable crops like flowers and coffee.

Uncle20sams20war20on20drugs_1So, at the end of the day, according to this leading US government expert, increasing the moth population might just destroy several of the most viable – and legal – local alternatives to producing illegal drugs!

NEW, IMPROVED COCA MUNCHERS

P20003378g23001_1The most recent reincarnation of this mad scheme comes from two Colombian scientists. Dr. Alberto Gómez Mejía, is President of the "Network of Botanical Gardens of Colombia," and the "Network of Botanical Gardens of Latin America." His colleague, Dr. Gonzalo Andrade, an entomologist, directs the "Bogotá Institute of Sciences." Their proposal calls for the Colombian Government to fund the gathering, propagation, and distribution of coca-munching moths by way of the Colombian Drug Czar’s office.

In a recent telephone interview, Dr. Gomez provided more details about the idea.

"This is an old idea that was first proposed by Professors at the National University fifteen or more years ago. We revisited this idea to provide an alternative to the present push by the Government to fumigate our national parks with chemical herbicides. You capture the original breeding moths in coca fields – both males and females. They’re placed in a cage and fed on coca. As soon as the first moth’s eggs hatch, we drop these small caterpillars, or the pupae (chrysalises) that they produce, over target coca fields."

48ab1d0cd3a20eAsked if the proposal might actually require the government to cultivate some coca to raise enough moths, he admitted that it might. Depending on the number of moths raised and their per-capital coca consumption, therefore, this could put Dr. Gomez & Co. into a big-time coca growing business – strictly for moth breeding, of course.

Dr. Ricardo Vargas, Director of Andean Action, a local NGO that monitors the drug war, is much less sanguine about the moth concept. He says that while the "Malumbia" moths may be native, there's nothing at all natural about releasing them by the millions in concentrated areas. Despite assurances that the moths will only attack coca, he wonders what they will eat next.

As he says, the moth idea is "just another silver bullet approach." And that "with a plan like this, the chance for ecological mischief is very high."

BiowarfareDr. Gomez, disagrees with the notion that the moths could be dangerous – much less the very latest innovation in bio-warfare.

This moth scheme is hardly the most adventurous kind of biological drug warfare ever proposed. In 2000, the US government terminated a plan to use a killer fungus, Fusarium oxysporum, to eradicate coca. The Andean Community of Nations feared that the fungus might mutatate and have unpredictable side-effects.

Plancolombia This historical record suggests that the moth initiative may be motivated by more than just selfless science. With US agencies under increasing pressure to show results – any results! – from Plan Colombia, and coca farmers showing their innovation and resilience, scientists are taking advantage of this desperation in an attempt to win grant money.

Meanwhile, the guerilla war between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government continues, with the US spending more than $3 billion since 2000 in military aid, including training up to 13,000 Colombian Army troops.

In their time, of course, Colombians entrepreneurs have had a long, successful history of successfully breeding coffee, cattle, bananas, flowers, rice, cotton, sugar, and cacao, as well as coca, opium, and marijuana. It is only fair that they be given a shot at breeding world-class coca-munching moths!

On the other hand, this being Colombia, we should not ignore the possibility that some savvy coca growers and their wealthy supporters in the downstream sectors of the drug trade might respond by funding bio-terror experiments of their own – perhaps of the moth-munching wasp variety.

Down that path, we fear, lies a bee-less, flowerless world filled with coked-up moths, overstuffed wasps, guerilla entomologists, and drug gangs that have long since moved on to focus on even more addictive man-made illegal substances - ones that, like Ecstasy and Crystal Meth, can be produced in basement labs and have no natural predators.

72dpiwarondrugscannonBut hey! At least we will still be fighting "the drug war!"

(c) SubmergingMarkets.Com, 2005

June 23, 2005 at 01:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

SO-CALLED "NATURAL" DISASTERS
III. The Aftershocks to Our Religious Beliefs
James S. Henry

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Unhappy mortals! Dark and mourning earth!

Affrighted gathering of human kind!

Eternal lingering of useless pain!

-- Voltaire, Poem on the Lisbon Disaster, 1755

(T)housands of pilgrims to a Marian shrine (on India's coast) were washed away as they attended mass….(A) divinity student.. said she watched one man shout: ‘There is nothing! There is nothing! Where is God? What is God?’

-- Chicago Tribune, 12/31/04

_40669211_cuddalore_ap_1

The powerful Sumatra quake and tsunami not only moved whole islands, caused the Earth to wobble, and took more than 220,000 lives.

They also shook our world views to the core, and placed a tremendous PR burden on the more than 100 competing members of the global “non-profit” religion industry.

This is partly because of the sheer scale of the disaster. But it is also because this was surely one of the most ecumenical "natural" catastrophes in history.

While at least half the victims are Muslim, there are also substantial numbers from most of the world's other major religions, including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Jains, and Sikhs, as well as many non-believers.

This has posed an interesting explanatory challenge to all these different religious perspectives at once, and has allowed us to compare their responses. When we do so, as discussed below, we find that many of them have been unhelpful, anti-humanitarian, and even downright loony.

Indeed, the aftershocks that the tsunami has caused to religious mythology, especially to the curious views held by true believers, fundamentalists and extremists of all persuasions, may be among its few benefits.

Meanwhile, of course, the crisis has also permitted those of us who are perhaps a little less certain about Divine Will to join together in what has become an unprecedented, salutary transnational effort to help some of the world's least well off.

We truly hope that the Gods are watching -- They may learn something.

A Wave of Skepticism?

On the one hand, many of the world's faithful are now questioning their religious beliefs – a logical reaction that parallels the wave of skepticism that swept across Europe after the devastating Lisbon tsunami of 1755.

According to these new skeptics,   recent events in South Asia have demonstrated that our modern gods may not be quite as powerful, helpful, or attentive as we had hoped.

As a former head of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum put it, we may be dealing with a real "nebbish" here.

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Certainly the notion of “praying for the victims,” as one Protestant minister blithely suggested that we do at a memorial service that I attended this week, seems a little odd in this situation.

After all, if Poseidon were willing or able to help the innocent victims of this disaster, presumably He would have done so several weeks ago.

The fact is that we may just have to rely upon each other. That leaves precious little extra time and energy to pay homage to diffident bystanders, no matter how immortal.  

Sending Us a Message?

On the other hand, some true believers are stubbornly digging in.

Under the gun to explain how the mass suffering produced by the tsunami is consistent with the existence of Supernatural Powers that deserve our respect, they have reverted to variations on the age-old theme of "blaming the victim."

As these fundamentalists would have it, Poseidon (or Allah or God or Shiva or karma or...) is just “angry” with some or all of us, and is trying to send a message.

According to this anti-empathetic view, the millions of people who have suffered from this tsunami -- and presumably all other disaster victims from the Genesis Flood on down -- richly deserved what they got, or were sacrificed to teach the rest of us "lessons."

The precise messages sent and the lessons to be learned are a bit murky, but there is no shortage of proposed alternatives:

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For example, Godhatessweden.org, a website owned by the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, has suggested that the suffering of “filthy, faggot Swedes” in the tsunami disaster was punishment from God for Sweden's tolerance toward homosexuality.

This particular church has also sponsored another website that features a rather tasteless proposed design for a monument to tsunami victims. Alfawzan

Meanwhile, Sheik Fawzan Al-Fawzan, who is Imam of Prince Mitaeb Mosque in Riyadh, a professor at Imam Mohamed Bin Saud Islamic University, and a member of Saudi Arabia's Senior Council of Clerics, its highest religious body, sugggested in a recent interview on Saudi television that the tsunami was "sent by God" to punish South Asian countries for immoral sexual activity, and for letting gay people into their countries

The illustrious Sheik has also argued that "slavery is part of Islam," and that those who deny this are "infidels" who deserve to be beheaded.

One leading American fundamentalist commentator, Bill Koenig, has suggested that a disproportionate number of Christians miraculously survived the tsunami, compared with their Muslim or Hindu brethren. (Presumably Bill does know that there were more Muslims and Hindus than Christians in the region to begin with...)

Todd Strandberg, the founder of Raptureready.org, suggested that the tsunami was a clear sign of the beginning of the "end times" when Jesus returns to Earth to punish our sins. (Presumably 1755 was just a false start...)

Similarly, a Salvation Army officer in Sri Lanka commented that it was indeed very odd that "All of our officers (clergy) survived.... God spared their lives."(...Although he admitted that some of them also had SA flotation devices....)

Another proto-Christian website argues that disasters like the recent tsunami and the Flood in Genesis don't make God a "mass murderer" because "there is no such thing as an innocent human." (....and unless you are absolutely innocent, or can swim really well, you deserve to drown......)

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Korean "scientists" have demonstrated conclusively that Noah's ark was strong enough to have withstood a tsunami and floods even larger than the Sumatran one -- like those produced by the Genesis Flood. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who recently described himself as "the Messiah" at an event held in his honor at the US Congress, is evidently planning to enter the shipping industry.

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Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, the President of its High Rabbinical Court, also saw fit to blame the tsunami victims, asserting that God was punishing people who failed to fulfill the seven "Noahide commandments," those that G_d supposedly gave to Adam and Noah. (He also promised to tell folks around the planet what the "Noahide commandments" are.)

Pandit Harikrishna Shastri, a Hindu priest at New Delhi's Birla temple, claims that the tsunami was caused by a "huge amount of pent-up man-made evil on earth" and by the positions of the planets. (He did not resolve the perplexing question of whether we should deal first with the stockpile of evil or the planets' positions.)

To Buddhist Ananda Guruge, a former Sri Lankan ambassador who teaches at California's Buddhist-affiliated University of the West, "Buddhism makes people responsible for their own fate," and the region's "bad collective karma" explains the disaster. (He did not clarify whether regions that have never experienced destructive tsunamis necessarily have terrific collective karma.)

To Ruth Barrett, a Wiccan high priestess who heads a Wisconsin temple dedicated to the goddess Diana, the disaster was simply a chiropractic problem. It was caused by "Mother Nature stretching — she had a kink in her back and stretched."

Interestingly, the religious extremists who advocatethese hard-shelled positions take a different view when the victims of a disaster are closer to home -- in New York, Oklahoma City, or Jerusalem. But not all -- recall the Reverend Jerry Falwell's conclusion that that 9/11 was also part of God's vengeance for gay rights and abortion. Laun

The secular humanists in the audience also have to ask: Were the sixty thousand children who have died in this tsunami disaster so far, and the 400,000+ other children who have lost their parents really old enough to understand, much less deserve, such punishment? Precisely what lessons are we supposed to draw from their capricious fates, other than that we have to prepare more carefully for such disasters,   and make sure that Jehovah enrolls in an anger management course?

These extreme fundamentalist interpretations also remind us of J.L. Mackie's conundrum“If God is Good, he’s not God. But if God is God, He's not Good." In other words, if it just so happens that an arbitrary, vindictive, brutal Satan now rules the world, does that necessarily mean that we are obligated to worship Him?

As the 19th century poet John Todhunter put it:

On his cross still hangs the Saviour
Bears our sins in dreadful sum
Eighteen centuries and three quarters
Yet his kingdom is not come.

"It is finished!" Was it finished
When thy path of pain was trod?
Thou didst bear the sins of mortals,
Who shall bear the sins of God?

No Cell Phones in Hell?

From the standpoint of “sending us a message,” surely Poseidon must also understand that many of us have cell phones and email. Personally, I have preset my spam filter to let all messages from Absolute Deities pass right on through. 

Indeed, it turns out that there were thousands of cell phones and Internet addresses even in Banda Aceh, Indonesia and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, as well as India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

For that matter -- a point that should be of particular interest to the dozens of seismologists and tsunami experts around the globe who received almost instantaneous warnings of the December 26 undersea earthquake's severity, but now say they  "just didn't know who to call" -- there are also online telephone directories for all these places – including Banda Aceh, Sri Lanka,numbers of Phuket, Thailand, and TamilNadu, on the southeast coast of India.

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Starting from scratch, it recently took two SubmergingMarkets journalists just 15 minutes to locate hundreds of long-distance numbers and Internet addresses for dozens of hospitals, schools, hotels, lawyers, doctors, local businesses, and government offices on the frontlines of the tsunami – not to mention US Embassies, consulates, and military bases.

Evidently all these phone numbers and Internet connections just happened to be busyprecisely when the earthquake struck. That must have prevented all the international experts from getting through.

Perhaps Poseidon was trying to send us a message after all!   

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© James S. Henry, Submerging Markets™, January 05

January 12, 2005 at 03:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack