Thursday, September 06, 2007

Cosmic Crimes

I¹ve been thinking a lot lately about crimes for which there is no parallel,
and thereby no adequate punishment. How do you punish someone for genocide?
What is the punishment to fit the crime of the Holocaust?

But in truth, the punishment was really only an afterthought. What I¹m
stewing over is the cosmic nature of our current crimes themselves. I¹ll
address only three: the crime of governments that refuse to properly address
global warming; the crime of George W. Bush in invading a country, Iraq,
which had done nothing to the U.S.; and the crime of U.S. agribusiness in
not just poisoning the soil, but also in imposing its several other
practices which assault the very basis of life.

Let¹s look at agribusiness first. Since roughly the end of World War II,
chemical companies have promoted industrial-scale farming with horrific
consequences for the food supply, and for the topsoil upon which all life
depends. Huge machinery that requires special breeds of vegetables (like
tomatoes with hard skins and delayed ripening schedules) that can survive
the assault of automatic picking machines is only the beginning. Allied
with these monsters are the pesticides that have been piled in increasing
tonnages onto crops to combat the ever-evolving bugs and molds and fungi
that feed upon them (about 400 gallons of gasoline per year per citizen--17%
of our national energy use‹goes to agriculture, with more than 1/4 of all
farming energy going into synthetic fertilizers [see Barbara Kingsolver,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, p. 5]) The problem is that these poisons are
lethal not just to the bugs, but to us as well. And though the chemical
companies and our FDA have assured us that these poisons are benign, the
truth is that our rivers, our groundwater, our oceans, and our soil are all
becoming more and more lethal to life. The worst part may be the latest
chapter in this war. Now, seed companies like Monsanto and DuPont have
produced genetically modified varieties of crops whose chief advantage
inheres in a gene that makes them "Roundup-ready." Corn, soybeans and canola
with the new gene implanted can withstand what would otherwise be lethal
doses of the pesticide Roundup. Mostly hybrids, these plants do not
reproduce from their own seed. And so dependent upon pesticides have farmers
become that most cannot survive without buying new GM seed each year from
Monsanto (those who try to use seed from Monsanto crops are sued).

Manipulating life in this way, making seed a patented commodity rather
than the basic mechanism of life itself (six companies now control 98% of
all seeds), is a cosmic crime. Alarmingly, it is matched in the farm-animal
world as well. Farm animals no longer reproduce on their own. Artificial
insemination does the job. As Barbara Kingsolver points out in Animal,
Vegetable, Miracle, the ability to reproduce has been bred out of most farm
animals, particularly fowl. So, when she tried to get even her
heritage-breed turkey hens to lay eggs, and then sit on them to incubate
them, the hens were mystified and had no idea what to do. "Normal" turkeys,
of course, never even get the chance to breed; for one thing, they¹re so
top-heavy from big-breast genes that they can hardly stand up. Kingsolver
sums it up this way:

"The longer I think about a food industry organized around an animal that
cannot reproduce itself without technical assistance, the more I mistrust
it." (p. 322)

To my mind, this is putting it mildly. The corporate way of breeding farm
animals‹the cruelty involved in raising chickens, cattle, and other animals,
the arrogance involved in seizing animal reproduction and molding it to the
lust for profit‹amounts to a cosmic crime. In a real way, this arrogance
regarding the most fundamental acts of any form of life, eating and
reproducing, leads inevitably to all other cosmic crimes.

The next crime is easily stated. The nation of Iraq had nothing whatever
to do with the assault on the Twin Towers on 9/11. No Iraqis were among the
hijackers. No link between the hijackers and Iraq has ever been found. And
yet, the Bush administration consistently tries to link Iraq with this event
in order to justify its war of aggression. Attacking a defenseless nation is
an international crime, but it¹s not quite cosmic. What makes the fiasco in
Iraq cosmic in its criminality are the catastrophic impacts upon the Iraqi
people. Even before the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Iraq was a nation
reeling from a dozen years of brutal sanctions that even Madelyn Albright,
the U.S. Secretary of State under Clinton, admitted had resulted in the
deaths of upwards of 500,000 Iraqi children. These child deaths directly
followed the embargo on hospital equipment and all other materials that
would allow Iraq to repair its infrastructure devastated by American bombing
in 1992. Water treatment plants could not be repaired. The result, in a
country that prior to 1992 had boasted of the highest standard of living and
education levels in all the Middle East, was a reversion to Stone-Age
conditions. Then in 2003 the U.S. invaded again. The death toll since then
has been estimated at upwards of 600,000 Iraqis, with over 2 million Iraqis
fleeing their country and another 2 to 3 million displaced within the
country. This in a population of only 26 million. To call this anything but
a war crime is pure propaganda. Add to it the devastation that will follow
forever from the uranium-tipped munitions our forces have spread throughout
that sorry country, not to mention the destruction of a wealth of art and
artifacts testifying to the very birth of civilization, and you have a
cosmic crime. It should be borne in mind, incidentally, that the United
States is the only nation ever to drop a nuclear weapon on civilians, its
sanctimonious hectoring of nations like Iran and Iraq for even considering
the development of such weapons notwithstanding. U.S. hypocrisy is itself

Cosmic crime number three: global warming. It has taken me a long time
to view Al Gore¹s An Inconvenient Truth. Even after all that has been
written and said about it, however, its effect is still shattering. While
the whole world and each one of us shares responsibility for the carbon
released into the atmosphere, the criminality enters only when a nation not
only refuses to do anything about it, but works night and day to confuse the
public by ridiculing and undermining the scientific evidence. What more
needs to be said? The Bush Administration chiefly, but every single member
of the U.S. Congress which collectively colluded in refusing to sign the
Kyoto Treaty as well, is guilty of a cosmic crime. This is not simply a
crime against an individual committed by a criminal looking to feed a drug
habit. This is not "mere" murder, or even the murder of 3,000 innocent
civilians in the 9/11 attack. This is the murder of an entire planet, of
that planet¹s life-support system. The data visually attested to by Gore¹s
film was shocking, infuriating, conclusive. The planet¹s ice is melting. The
water upon which billions depend is in jeopardy. The climate upon which life
itself depends is changing, has changed in clearly measurable ways. To
fiddle while the planet burns is a crime. It is the ultimate cosmic crime.

And yet. We tolerate an administration which concerns itself more with
the sex habits of teenagers than with the melting of the planet. We tolerate
an administration which the record shows has consistently lied about this
issue, has consistently suppressed and distorted the information upon which
the public depends to make a decision. We tolerate world leaders who refuse
to address the greatest challenge to life humans have ever faced. The cosmic
crime is theirs. But, in the end, it is also ours. For we sit in our
comfortable living rooms allowing ourselves to be "entertained" by cosmic
crap on our flat-screen TVs, our ever more powerful
music-and-video-downloading computers, our Ipod-delivered "personal" music,
rather than attend to the crisis threatening our very existence as a

How else to describe such crimes other than to say they are cosmic, they
are terminal, and as such may be the last ones we will ever be allowed to

Lawrence DiStasi

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