Don Fitz

Pope Francis: The World's Most Powerful Advocate for Climate Stability

Pope Francis' Encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” recognizes the increasing damage being done to the planet and biodiversity by climate change. Few realize how strong his beliefs are and the power of persuasion he has. Here are 10 ways he could use his power. (Note: Numbers in brackets indicate the section in the Encyclical where the quotation appears.)

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St. Louis Mayor's Race Underscores Pitfalls of Plurality Elections

On March 7, Lyda Krewson won the Democratic Party nomination for mayor of St. Louis City with only 32.0% of the vote. Krewson is white. Six black candidates split over two-thirds of the votes.

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Attack on St. Louis Homeless Sneaks Under a Dark Cloud

The sub-freezing temperature was dropping. As the snow began to fall, many felt their hands were too cold to hold signs during the December 17 action. Two dozen had answered the Green Party call to picket the mayor of St. Louis for his efforts to close down New Life Evangelistic Center, the city's homeless “shelter-of-last-resort.” They knew things would be much worse for those forced to sleep in the cold if the shelter were shut down. The action was one in a series of efforts to draw attention to the city government's continual onslaught against those with no place to go.

The roots of homelessness go much deeper than cold blooded insensitivity of Republicans. It reflects a bi-partisan attack on the poorest of the poor. Efforts to shut down New Life are spearheaded by Francis Slay, the Democratic Party mayor who has championed charter schools over public ones, stymied efforts to create a meaningful Civilian Oversight Board for police violence, and always finds millions upon millions of dollars for sports stadiums while funding for homeless shelters are never adequate.

In 1976 Rev. Larry Rice began New Life in a part of downtown St. Louis where real estate was cheap. He expanded the number of homeless he could house to over 200 per night and became somewhat of a folk legend. But in recent years, buildings near New Life gentrified.  Even though the shelter was there first and newcomers were quite aware of who their neighbors would be, many of them acted as if the loft owners had assured them that they could get rid of the unwanted.

As rents went up, property values around New Life soared. To realize their investments, downtown landowners sought out friendly politicians.

Mayor Slay became their knight in shining armor as he intensified efforts to drive the homeless from the streets of downtown. In May 2015 the mayor's political machine revoked the shelter's occupancy permit.  Fighting back, attorney's for New Life were able to keep it open. Then, on November 9, 2016, the St. Louis Building Commission sent Rice a cease-and-desist order giving him 30 days to shut down.

Homeless shelters are one chapter in a long story of depriving people of a place to live. Being shoved off of land when its value goes up is a recurring theme in the history of this hemisphere. For centuries, indigenous peoples have suffered the “extraction curse” when their homes are discovered to be located atop gold, silver, tin, lead or adjacent to a potential hydroelectric dam.

This was not lost on several St. Louisans who recently returned from opposing the Dakota Access Pipleline (DAPL). Corporate executives are eager to sacrifice sacred lands and clean water so they can transport fossil fuel across the US for sale to distant countries. The Mississippi Standing Action Group joined the Green Party picket because of the painful similarity between devaluing native peoples and demonizing the homeless.

As temperatures plummeted, the mayor's campaign of harassment against New Life swung into full gear. “It's obscene for Francis Slay to interfere with people trying to bring donations in the cold of winter,” observes Green Party spokeswoman Barbara Chicherio. “Slay has ordered parking meters to be removed from the entire block in front of New Life.  I have witnessed police telling people that they can no longer stop their cars to bring food and blankets inside. They have even used taxpayer money to put up signs in front of New Life telling people to take their donations somewhere else.”

While the legal offensive has been the most visible, multiple Democratic Party politicians have joined in painting negative images of New Life.  Slay has been the most successful at pulling corporate media under his umbrella.  Stories of good work done by New Life have almost disappeared from TV and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as they are replaced by reports confirming what the Democratic Party mayor wants the public to believe. The newspeak includes charges that New Life 

1. must be shut down because it does not comply with codes for building permits;
2. is responsible for a wave of K-2 (synthetic marijuana) overdoses; and,
3. can easily be eliminated because other shelters are able to handle all of the area homeless.

Each of these allegations is a bit problematic. As the New Life attorney notes, building codes and ordinances “are so vague and ambiguous that it is impossible to comply.”  The Board of Public Services, which revoked New Life's occupancy permit had no jurisdiction because New Life is not a hotel as it claimed. Additionally, the city told New Life that it had to obtain signatures of approval by those living nearby in order to stay open, which was highly discriminatory. When the city opened the $2.5 million Biddle House in August 2016, it met with opposition from neighbors. But it is a model program of the city and was not required to obtain signatures from neighbors as was New Life.

The charge that New Life is somehow responsible for K-2 overdoses is the most recent in a string of accusations that the shelter is responsible for drinking, fighting and public urination.  Though these activities occur throughout downtown St. Louis, corporate politicians spend zero time demanding the closure of bars and sports stadiums. The idea that public urination could be greatly reduced if there were public bathrooms seems to have never occurred to them.

As the mayor's charges against New Life became more shrill, the press sensationalized K-2 overdoses. TV and print media painted lurid pictures that “people started to drop,” they were “staggering, nearly passed out on their feet,” and some “slipped into zombie-like states of near catatonia.” Report after report gave exclusive attention to overdoses in front of New Life, as if the 67 year old Rice was the devil himself, enticing people to come to the shelter so he could drug them into oblivion.

What the press failed to mention was that the 158 emergency calls during the first week of November were made from all over downtown St. Louis and were not restricted to those milling around in front of New Life.  Reports also failed to note that city police refused to respond to 911 calls made by New Life that dealers were distributing K-2 near the shelter, raising the question of whether some local politicians were themselves behind the overdoses.

Many homeless shelters in St. Louis are doing great work. City hall claims that this means that New Life will not be missed if it disappears. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch parroted this line in its November 10, 2016 editorial proclaiming “the homeless no longer need access to the New Life Evangelistic Center to meet their needs.” A core problem is that the multiple shelters the Post refers to focus on specific groups of homeless people in order to receive grants. Anyone who does not fit into the category for a given shelter cannot get into it.

This is called a “Continuum of Care” model that I came to know well during my 25 years working as a Research Psychologist for the Community Placement Program of St. Louis State Hospital. The Continuum of Care approach was designed to provide housing for the severely mentally ill. When I first heard it being used, mental health workers spoke of people “falling through the cracks,” which meant they did not find a place to live because they did not fit into any of the various housing criteria. By the time I left in 2006, mental health workers referred to patients “falling through the chasms” because the number of mentally ill with no place to stay had become enormous. Many ended up at New Life.

Despite claims that other shelters can absorb those going to New Life, the reality for those who suddenly find themselves without a home is quite different.  When people call another shelter, they are likely to find …

that shelter has restrictions (such as only women with children) which exclude them; or
that shelter has a waiting period before they can get a bed; or
they need a diagnosis before being allowed in; or
they can only leave a phone number for an agency which never calls them back; or
the shelter decided that the cold is “excessive” only when it is 15 degrees or lower; or
they are told that the only shelter which can meet their emergency needs is New Life.

New Life is the St. Louis “shelter-of-last-resort” because it provides places to stay for those who cannot get a Continuum of Care bed. It can do this because it is funded 100% by donations and does not rely on writing grants that specify what type of homeless it will accept.

In April 2017 St. Louis will have an election to replace the outgoing Francis Slay.  Democratic Party Alderperson Lyda Krewson is the favorite of the downtown investors to become the new mayor. She promises to shut her eyes tightly to the plight of those falling into the chasm of homelessness. When addressing downtown loft dwellers about New Life in early November, she insisted that the city should shut it down and “put a lock on the place.”

In contrast, Green Party mayoral candidate Johnathan McFarland believes that “New Life must be kept open because it is the only shelter in St. Louis which takes in homeless people in truly desperate situations. It is obviously needed because so many people come there.”

While Trump and the Republicans are more blatant in their rhetoric, the slick wordsmithing of Democratic Party politicians like Francis Slay and Lyda Krewson have equally brutal effects. As capitalism sinks into a feeding frenzy to extract profits from every acre of native land and urban real estate, it uses whatever politician it finds most useful. In St. Louis and Standing Rock, its focus is on those who have the least power to resist.

The crystal ball of homelessness in the US reveals a dark cloud. US urban patterns are distinct:  Its inner cities have been poverty centers while the more well-to-do populate suburbs.  In most other parts of the world, the poor live in suburbs, far away from the services they need for survival, and the well-off populate the urban core. But increasing numbers of the financially secure are moving into downtown areas and the pocketbooks of financial investors whisper that it's time to drive out the poor.

Efforts to remove the impoverished and homeless from downtown areas will continue as surely as will efforts to destroy safety nets and environmental gains of the last century. Protecting the homeless is a core part of defending social security, medicare, medicaid, public schools, child labor laws, parks and indigenous lands.

A shorter version of this article appeared in Green Social Thought.org

How Resource Extraction in Latin America Poses Serious Environmental, Economic and Health Questions

Are songs of praise to electric cars leaving out a critical stanza? Lithium batteries are essential for electric cars, which corporations push as an “environmentally friendly” method of transportation. When progressives give an approving nod to electric cars, they reveal a serious lack of understanding of environmental cooptation.

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A Rat Runs Around Monsanto During Anti-GMO Protest

The company must be feeling international heat if it has half a dozen local cops chase a rat across the front lawn of Monsanto World Headquarters (MWH). Jan. 28, 2014 was the day of the stockholders meeting at MWH. Inside, Dave Murphy held Adam Eidinger’s proxy vote so that he could introduce a resolution requiring the company to endorse the labeling of food with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

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Inside the Psyche of the 1% -- Many Actually Believe Their Ideology of Greed Makes for a Better World

Do the rich and super-rich tend to be psychopaths, devoid of guilt or shame? Are the 1% lacking in compassion? Does their endless accumulation of possessions actually bring them little to no happiness? To each of these, the answer is “yes”—but a very qualified “yes” with lots of subtleties. Even more important is what these issues suggest for building a society which does not ravage the last remnants of wilderness and rush headlong into a climate change tipping point.

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Genetic Engineering and Environmental Racism

As drought plagued southern Africa in the summer of 2002, biotech companies lost no time in exploiting hunger for profit. The US offered to "help" by donating food from GMO (genetically modified organism) crops. But African scientists knew there was a catch. They had seen demonstrations showing that Europe wanted no part of the technology. They knew that GMOs were associated with health and environmental dangers. Worst of all, the Percy Schmeiser case suggested that if GMO seed was planted in Africa, the next generation of GMO plants could result in farmers owing "technology fees" to biomaster Monsanto.

Countries throughout Africa denounced the food-for-control ploy of the US. US spokespersons brayed that African leaders were letting their people starve. After massive US bullying, most African countries agreed to accept GM corn if it was milled (ground so that seeds could not be planted). Zambia refused GM food of any kind. The conflict scored a tremendous moral victory in exposing the cynical complicity of the US government in fronting for corporate greed.

Opposition to GMOs coheres in 1998

For decades, biologists have known that a gene can be removed from a cell, modified, and reinserted into the same cell or a different cell from another species or even the other kingdom (plant and animal). As the technology developed rapidly, during the 1980s and 1990s, scientists warned that the process was inherently risky. Its critics spelled out in detail the range of health, environmental and social problems that genetic "engineering" could bring.

In 1998, many of those critics came together for "The First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation: Genetic Engineering." The Gathering was in St. Louis, the home town of Monsanto. Monsanto is the world's most aggressive proponent of GMOs. The company's spokespeople claim that genetic engineering is necessary to feed the world's growing population.

At the 1998 Gathering, researchers explained how shooting a gene into an inexact location in a foreign species produces unpredictable results. Farm advocates spoke of how genetic engineering produces lower yield, not the higher yield promised by Monsanto. Health experts warned that genenetic engineering is used to allow greater quantities of herbicides, which affects the health of farm workers. Genetically engineered foods produce toxic reactions as well as food allergies, which are most serious in children.

Those at the event learned how genes can escape from domestic crops to their wild relatives, giving weeds immunity to herbicides. Genetically engineered microorganisms can unpredictably kill crops and genetically engineered plants can harm wildlife.

The Gathering attracted many newcomers to movement politics who were shocked to hear from Jane Akre and Steve Wilson how Fox News in Florida bent to pressure from Monsanto, suppressed their story on rBGH milk and ultimately dismissed the reporters.

Vandana Shiva pulled the diverse knowledge together, explaining the way genetic engineering is used by corporations to monopolize the seed supply and raise the cost of farming so that agribusiness can consolidate its control worldwide.

Increasing danger, exploding opposition

Since the 1998 Gathering, threats from the biotech industry have increased profoundly while opposition to it has exploded. The international movement for labeling genetically engineered food gained tremendous world-wide support as it exposed corporations who were terrified that telling consumers that their food was genetically engineered would be putting a skull and crossbones on it. Opponents have pulled up so many test fields of GMO crops that companies and governments have taken to hiding their locations.

Biotech proponents have frenetically sought to silence criticism as they shriek that corporate-funded research is the only road to scientific truth. When he began his investigations, Arpad Pusztai of the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland was neither for nor against genetic engineering. But when results of his own studies showed that rats fed genetically engineered potatoes had damaged internal organs, he felt compelled in 1998 to warn the public. He was involuntarily retired from his position and condemned in a report by the British Royal Society.

In 2001, the journal Nature published findings of University of California researcher Ignacio Chapela showing that genetically contaminated corn cross-pollinated with native Mexican species hundreds of miles away. For the first time in its heretofore distinguished history Nature bowed so low to corporate greed that it printed a retraction of Chapela's article (based on methodological disagreements which did not challenge the finding of cross-pollination).

About the same time, the world became aware of the plight of Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser. Monsanto's corporate police had trespassed on Schmeiser's fields to steal canola plants for testing. Monsanto sued Schmeiser for patent violations when genetic testing showed the presence of Roundup Ready Canola DNA. The court ruled in Monsanto's favor, declaring irrelevant Schmeiser's testimony that he never used the Monsanto product and that wind-blown pollen had contaminated his fields.

Hunger in 2002

These events set the stage for countries of southern Africa telling the US "No GMOs" in summer 2002. One of the most eloquent spokespersons on the dangers of GMOs to Africa has been Ethiopia's Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, a winner of a Right Livelihood Award in 2000. Egziabher believes that, even though global warming is making droughts more frequent, Ethiopia is able to feed itself by storing surplus food during bumper harvests.

Hunger is due to the country's being too poor to ship stored food from one location to another. International food aid agencies could assist impoverished African countries by cash donations that would help develop their transportation systems as well as strengthen local farms. In contrast, the US concept of food aid is to create dependency in Africa by dumping US GMO food that Europe won't touch.

Egziabher also fears that economic dependency on GMO food from the US is fraught with health, environmental and patent dangers.

One of the main GMO crops is corn. Donated GMO food could become the entire diet of starving people, as opposed to only a portion of food eaten by those in other parts of the world. This means that any long-term effects of allergenicity, cancer, or birth defects (which have not been adequately studied), could be multiplied for victims of famine.

What would happen if African farmers saved GM seed and replanted it? GM pollen is known to kill butterflies, which are important pollinators for African crops. GM crops have lower yield, since they are designed for farmers who can afford large amounts of pesticides. Many animals refuse to eat stems and leaves of GM corn. If pigs eat GM food, their reproductive capacity can be reduced.

Despite the treatment of Chapela by Nature, African scientists know that wind can spread GM pollen across the continent. If that contaminates enough African crops, Europe would not buy them, leaving desperate farmers crushed.

African governments also know of the Percy Schmeiser case. If fields are contaminated by GM pollen and the next generation of corn tests positive for GM, farmers would become patents violators and owe technology fees to Monsanto and other biomasters. Massive impoverishment could cause the transfer of land throughout Africa.

Returning to St. Louis, May, 2003

The 1998 Biodevastation Gathering sparked subsequent events in Seattle, New Delhi, Boston, San Diego and Toronto. The anti-genetic engineering movement has won the hearts and minds of Europe and India and support from governments in southern Africa. In the US, there is a strong alliance between anti-GE activists, family farm organizations, and the anti-globalization movement. Now is the time for the anti-GE movement to reach out to social justice, peace and environmental movements.

On May 16-18, 2003, the Biodevastation series will return to St. Louis for the gathering on "Genetic Engineering: A Technology of Corporate Control." The Gateway Greens are working with the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis to make this the cutting edge event defining links between environmental racism and biotechnology industries. Subtitled "A Forum on Environmental Racism, World Agriculture and Biowarfare," the gathering is organized around five main themes: "The International Threat to Farms and Farmers," "Corporate Greed and Environmental Racism," "Biowarfare," "Globalization and Food Imperialism," and "Crop Contamination and the Future of Indigenous Agriculture." Each theme will have a panel and associated workshops, including a workshop for coordinating future actions.

As genetic engineering drives the price of farming too high for the poor, it pushes them off their land, destroys ecosystems existing in harmony with the land, transforms its victims into "terrorists" if they resist, and leaves them to discover the unknown effects of eating genetically contaminated food when their bodies have been poisoned with countless agricultural chemicals. Biodevastation 7 will be the first time a gathering focuses on how genetic engineering is used to crush people of color. Even more important, it will develop more coordinated resistance between the expanding numbers of people who realize the danger of the technology.

Upcoming actions across the U.S.

May 18 -- 20 An anti-globalization convergence will coincide with the World Agricultural Forum (WAF), scheduled for May 18-20 in downtown St. Louis. Every two years, the WAF brings together the biotech industry, Western scientists and US Officials who try to coerce government leaders of the global South into accepting corporate control of food and fiber through the sale of GMOs. MoRAGE (Missouri Resistance Against Genetic Engineering) is calling for action at this year's WAF.

Farmers from all over North America will attend Biodevastation 7 and actions at the WAF. Some will go to the WAF site on May 18 to demand that their concerns be heard. MoRAGE will have speakers with alternatives to the globalization of agriculture in downtown St. Louis.

Get more information on WAF actions at WorldAgForum.com or call 314-771-8576.

May 19 - June 19. A fun and educational Caravan Across the Cornbelt will bicycle from St. Louis to Washington DC where the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) will hold its annual convention in June. The Caravan will be a month-long bicycle spectacle covering over 1000 miles, featuring puppet shows, presentations, speak-outs, clown acts, and music. All concerned citizens, clowns, puppeteers, bike riders, messengers, farmers, and eaters of food are invited to bring a bicycle and join the ride! Contact caravan@ifairtrade.net.

June 20 - 22, Washington, DC and Sacramento, California. People will gather in Washington in response to the annual convention of BIO. Contact larcher@foe.org. At the same time, trade ministers from all around the world will be meeting in Sacramento CA at the invitation of US Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman. This WTO-level meeting is designed to promote the biotech agenda in preparation for this fall's WTO ministerial meeting in Cancún, Mexico. Contact wto@biodev.org. Don Fitz is the editor of Synthesis/Regeneration.

Get more information on Biodevastation 7 at BioDev.org or 314-353-8176.

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