21 July 2010

High Fructose Corn Syrup

I heard about some advertisements that claim that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is the same as sugar and not bad for you. These ads are produced by Sweet Surprise a website maintained by the Corn Refiners Association. Unfortunately the "facts: that the CRA cites come from studies that were funded by food corporations that produce products high in HFCS. CBS News points out that the "studies" were funded by the likes of Pepsico. Sounds like asking cellphone companies to study whether cellphones cause brain cancer. Of course they don't! How silly.

One study, conducted by Princeton University found that HFCS was worse than refined sugar, but the study has been criticized for suggesting that sugar might be good for you! This CNN article quotes "food industry veterans" who say it's a false dichotomy both are bad for you. Some people question the Princeton study, but here, the lead researcher defends it well, and in fact the primary complaints seem to center on the one is better than the other debate. Again, false dichotomy.
I realize this is a little old news-ish, but I was thinking about it today.

11 July 2010

A Response to Robert C. Bonner

In the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Robert C. Bonner, former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A., 1990-’93), Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (2001-’05) and presently Senior Principal of the Sentinel HS Group proposes that the problem of drug cartel violence in Mexico can be solved only with the help of the United States. He compares the current situation in Mexico to that of Colombia in the early 1980’s and suggests that a similar program of U.S. assistance can destroy Mexican cartels as it did in Colombia. Unfortunately Bonner’s argument obfuscates the underlying U.S. corporate interests and is further tinged with an implicit racist cultural imperialism.

Opening his argument with an historical example, Bonner explains the polarity between the Colombian State on the one side, and the Cartels (also), and the Colombian Marxist revolutionary movement FARC on the other. He contends that the Cartels regularly supported the revolutionaries, but neglects to explain the reasons why both were aligned against the State. His assumption it would seem, is that the State (or a particular idealized form of State) was unequivocally “good” and the others “bad.” But by failing to explore this, Bonner leaves his argument without critical or moral foundation. Bonner points out that the Colombian cartels were successfully destroyed with US support in the form of military training, weapons, and intelligence sharing as well as the restructuring of Colombia’s legal system, and then goes on to assert that cartels “no longer pose a threat to Colombian national security.” Calling the destruction of the cartels a “success” despite the fact that they were simply replaced by smaller organizations as Bonner admits, and despite the fact that FARC continues to operate, which he does not mention, suggests that Bonner has a profoundly different definition of success. Colombian national security in his terms is clearly a euphemism for something important to the U.S. His “success” is measured in the militarization and restructuring of the Columbian state in a form acceptable to U.S. interests. What Bonner calls a success is the replacement of a Colombian State that was controlled, by bribery or otherwise, by Columbians, with a State that fit a normative U.S. model. Bonner frankly admits that the objective in Colombia was “not to prevent drugs from being smuggled into the United States or prevent their being consumed,” yet he fails to offer any reason for U.S. involvement other than Colombia’s subsequent beneficial friendliness. Friendliness to who?

The thrust of Bonner’s article The New Cocaine Cowboys is that the U.S. should engage in the same kind of “assistance” to Mexico as it provided to Colombia. Bonner’s entire argument is steeped in the assumption that Mexican institutions are endemically corrupt and only the exemplary purity of U.S. “assistance” can clean them up. By comparing Mexico to the “success” of Colombia, Bonner further implies that Latin American countries as a class are incapable of effectively governing themselves. This is the old “culture of lawlessness” argument rehashed by blaming other people for the U.S. demand for narcotics. The U.S. has used this same cultural degeneracy argument in many forms (drugs, sex, labor, economy) for almost two-hundred years to justify political/military intervention in Latin America. His assertion in the second paragraph of The New Cocaine Cowboys that “Mexico could become a First World country someday” gives him away by ignoring the origin of that classification. First World countries in Cold War ideology were those aligned (nee answerable) to the U.S. led capitalist West. Thus his argument is that someday, Mexico could be obedient enough.

What Bonner proposes is that the U.S. should once again financially encourage extensive reformation and centralization of the Mexican police system including the “development, training and professionalization of Mexico’s law enforcement officers,” all acceptable to and measurable by U.S. standards. Mexico he claims “needs to create a Mexican equivalent of the FBI,” and institute extradition and imprisonment to the U.S. for cartel kingpins. These should be the same as, “equivalent to” or “parallel” to U.S. organizations or the successful U.S. strategy in Colombia he explains. Furthermore he asserts that binational coordination should be established for “intelligence sharing and communication” and to “target, coordinate and oversee the rapid implementation of… strategy.”

Yet Bonner once again fails to explain why this internationalized police apparatus, a hardened, streamlined Mexican State in concert with the U.S., is important to either nation, or to which sectors of each nation. He alludes to the danger of public disapproval and government legitimacy in Mexico, but 30 years on, by his admission these conditions persist in his exemplar, Colombia. (He also points out that Mexican cartel violence is largely directed only at other cartels and police, not civilians.) What he proposes is a national Mexican police force designed according to U.S. standards and needs, and which coordinates and meshes with U.S. law enforcement organizations. If his new incarnation of Operation Condor is not for the elimination of drug trafficking or to ensure public harmony, what is the need? The reason is because U.S. foreign investment needs a Mexican State that is friendly to its free-market interests. If Mexicans are not kept in line, cannot be a part of the Neo-Liberal power structure. Cartels represent a powerful and armed independent economy that subverts Neo-Liberal model, therefore it must be stopped. it must be for the creation of a unified binational militarized State for the security of corporate interests. Governments that answer to cartels or dispossessed citizens who join them; generally to anybody other than global Capital, must be brought into line.

What Bonner completely neglects to address is the cause of the violence that he gives as reason for building a North American Police State Agreement (call it a NAPSA.) To be sure, he suggests in an aside, the U.S. and Mexico should try and curb drug use, but the underlying cause for cartel violence is never mentioned. A militarized U.S. border exclusion apparatus, and U.S. driven narcotics black market make it extremely high risk, and hence, potentially very lucrative to traffic drugs across the border. Furthermore with few real options for work and certainly fewer that offer access to the conspicuous consumption virulently pummeled into the imagination of the world by U.S. corporate advertising, young Mexican men effectively have few other choices (many of the women along the border work in maquiladoras). However, these possibilities are never mentioned in Bonner's article, in fact he never addresses actual causes for cartel violence.

My intention in writing this was not to advocate the legalization, or decriminalization of narcotics, but to point out that Bonner’s essay is misleading and misinformed. His motives should be clear in the fact that he never addresses any actual cause or solutions for his so called problem; he simply calls a thing a “problem” and proposes a “solution,” but the economy (people’s livelihoods) and militarization (politicized coercive force) are not disconnected and free floating events, they are intimate and inseparable, they have reasons, causes and outcomes. Bonner’s failure to address these, indeed his entire essay, reeks of corporatist malice.

10 July 2010

Some Friends Are Special

I dreamed last night that you asked me for forgiveness and despite everything in my guts that told me no, I said "OK," and I gave you a hug and we were friends again, and I tried to help you deal with your shit.

I woke up just a moment or two later terribly happy, but suddenly aware that it was only a dream, and I quickly realized that you weren't my friend anymore, and I was downtrodden. I tried to strengthen my resolve by telling myself that if I could dream it, I could do it right? If I could forgive you in a dream I could really do it for real.

08 July 2010


One of the problems with the Northwest, and civil society at large to some extent, is it's insistence on politeness. I am an advocate of respect, but there comes a point when the Millsian conception of "liberty" crosses the line of social responsibility.

I am guilty of it myself, but it has to come to an end, we cannot progress as a cooperative society unless we communicate with each other.

I realize that it seems like a pretty petty example, but it is a VERY apt example that illustrates the concept of acquiescence as approval. When people with giant SUV-strollers block the sidewalk/path/aisle, or when people park on the sidewalk forcing you to walk into the street, you have to say something. I'm not advocating the verbal abuse/assault or insult of anyone, quite the contrary. People are probably going to snap back at you, if you even witness their reaction. But be nice about it anyway, and hopefully in the future they will consider what affect their choices have on other people; beginning with the specific incident you point out, but potentially others as well.

02 July 2010

ROK as Straw Man

I've read in numerous history books of dubious quality about the U.S. war in Vietnam, including photo anthologies, memoirs and the like which refer to the troops from the Republic of Korea (ROK) who served as part of the "coalition" troops between '65 and '72. In every single instance that they are mentioned, the ROK troops are described as both exceptionally effective and exceedingly cruel and amoral in their methods.

It occurred to me last night as I spotted one such reference in one of my books that this description serves to legitimize US tactical ineffectiveness by portraying it as restrained, rational and moral.
Essentially this excuses US failure as long as we maintained our dignity and sense of justice. Furthermore, by systematizing ROK cruelty and amorality, it isolates instances of such behavior committed by the US (such as My Lai 4) as the actions of individuals, rather than an organized program.

Hence it both excuses US failures by reconfiguring them as the result of an ethical and virtuous belief system, and dismisses US war crimes as temporary and isolated incidents of moral rupture.