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Genetically Modified Children: Monsanto, Bayer and Tobacco


Special To Topanga Journal

The most striking imagery in the documentary Genetically Modified Children, by filmmakers Juliette Igier and Stephanie Lebrun, is the children suffering from incurable diseases purported to be from GMOs. This is by design, since it pulls on the emotional strings of anyone viewing. Yet, the heart of the film is something any of us can relate to: economic desperation.

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

The film opens with the story of Ricardo Rivera, regional head of an electrical company in Argentina. He’s noticed that many of the farmers on his route can’t pay their bills, and discovers that it’s because they have sick children at home to care for. “We are all contaminated,” Rivera says, talking about the pesticides that have been used for decades in the region’s tobacco fields.

“We are all contaminated,” Rivera says, talking about the pesticides that have been used for decades in the region’s tobacco fields.

Lucas Texeira in the film Genetically Modified Children

While the story of the tobacco farmer children is the core of the documentary, to me, the most striking moment was that felt by a fully-grown, healthy tobacco farmer.

Midway through, the filmmakers introduce us to a cooperative where farmers sell their annual crop. There, each tobacco bale is evaluated by the color of its leaves, its size, and its texture. But as the norms of what tobacco is considered “the best” have changed over the years, so have the payments. “Now, only the use of chemical products insure good results,” says the narrator.

One farmer has brought his year’s haul in for sale, but his crop wasn’t grown using the same pesticides that the larger farms around use. In comparison, it looks dark and flimsy. Thirty seconds of evaluation later, the farmer finds out how much his year of labor is worth. He looks at his receipt, and walks away disheartened. “He has just earned $1,000 Euros for a year’s work,” explains the narrator.

The farmer shakes his head and gets into his truck, nothing left to do.

This scene is at the core of why the argument around GMOs has to change.

GMOs are a tough conversation for the liberal set. On the one hand, claims of rigorous scientific testing, stating that GMOs are safe; according to the New York Times, “about 90 percent of scientists believe G.M.O.s are safe,” in addition to endorsements by “the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the World Health Organization.” For a mindset that prides itself in Science with a capital S—particularly now, as fact has also become a political battleground, most dumbly exemplified in the climate change conversation—it makes sense that many liberals are not only fine with GMOs, but get downright angry if you suggest otherwise.

Where this sentiment gets sticky is with the rise of corporate conglomerates like Monsanto and Bayer. Due to the strength of current intellectual property laws, GMO-producing multinational corporations—the so-called “Big 6” are the aforementioned two, plus BASF, Dupont, Dow Chemical Company, and Syngenta—have been allowed to dictate the lives of the world’s farmers. Frankly, that’s what their products are intended to do.

Simply examine the mechanisms of Monsanto’s Roundup brand. In 1970, a chemist discovered glyphosate, a herbicide that kills weeds, but also kills the crops around them. You can see how this would be problematic to cash crop farmers. But, in 1996, that all changed. Monsanto announced its first line of Roundup Ready products, genetically engineered to resist glyphosate. Suddenly, farmers not only had an herbicide to kill weeds, but plants that wouldn’t be killed by the herbicide. Perfect corporate synergy. Since, Monsanto and friends have developed an army of seeds and plants that work in the same way, creating a vertical monopoly that forces farmers to buy both the herbicides and the seeds, or else.

Leaving aside the potential health impacts of such seed monoculture, consider the implications of these products. As time’s ticking clock marches forever forward, and capitalism’s innovation factory searches for more, better, stronger versions of perfectly fine methods from the past, so does the necessity to utilize such innovations to stay one step ahead of the competition. In the capitalistic race to the bottom, farmers have no choice but to use the herbicides, and then also the seeds that are resistant to them, or risk financial ruin.

This decision, despite the World Health Organization announcing that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015. This decision, despite their children living painful, short lives while suffering from harrowing, incurable diseases. If farmers are financially dependent on GMO crops to sustain themselves, they’ll continue taking the risk. What other choice do they have?

The film ends with two lines spoken by the narrator: “According to the World Health Organization, 3 million people are poisoned by pesticides every year. Agri-chemicals are worth $40 billion dollars a year to the multinationals that produce them.”

It’s a cost-benefit analysis made between people and corporations. And as long as anti-GMO liberals continue to focus on the scientific and emotional arguments—as opposed to the one provided by examine the pure economic incentive that the farmers are reliant on—they’ll forever be stuck on the sidelines, watching the world poison itself for the benefit of the few CEOs.

ON THE WEB:

http://cinemalibrestudio.com/genetically-modified-children/


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The UnAmerican Struggle: 2016’s Shot Heard Round The World

rickpaulas@gmail.com

by Rick Paulas, Special To Malibu Arts Journal

Like a huge chunk of America, director Ric Osuna was shook to his core on the night of November 8th, 2016.  

In the previous months, he’d witnessed the rise of a presidential candidate whose race-baiting and hateful scapegoating gave license to emboldened white supremacists, and on that night, he saw that candidate win the most powerful office in the country. While most of us were still walking around blurry-eyed and confused like the day after a particularly long night out, Osuna was getting to work.

The final result, The UnAmerican Struggle, is an analysis and documentation of the hardships that immigrants, Latinos, Muslims, women, black and transgender people are experiencing under the Trump presidency. We spoke to Osuna about its creation, and what he hopes to come from it.


Q&A with director Ric Osuna on The UnAmerican Struggle 

 

MAJ: Why did you make this documentary?

Ric Osuna: I am Mexican-American, and I am very proud of my heritage. I am proud of the unwavering loyalty and contribution Latinos have provided America. My dad proudly served his country in Vietnam. Despite the scars it left, he raised his children to be very patriotic. I am glad he was not around to see Donald Trump’s attack on Mexicans—his opening salvo in a presidential campaign that scarred our nation.

MAJ: Your film details America’s long history of xenophobic actions like slavery, the KKK, Japanese internment during WWII, Muslim hate actions after 9/11, and the prison population explosion under Clinton. Yet you begin the film by saying in 2016 you thought the country had turned a corner in equality and civil rights. Do you still think that?

Osuna: I think [this hate] was simmering and Trump tapped into existing fears. He scapegoated people who were different. Sadly, like most people, I truly believed we had turned a corner and that the election of President Obama signified an end to America’s dark past. Trump’s actions as a candidate, and now policies as President, have reversed decades of progress in this country. That is why it is so important that every American who values diversity, tolerance and inclusion now get involved, from making their communities a welcoming place to speaking out against agendas of hate and intolerance. We are now living through a second Civil Rights movement.

MAJ: If so many Americans were able to overlook Trump’s xenophobia and sexism to vote for him, how do you think we get back on the right track?

Osuna:
Americans must get involved, starting at the local level. Fostering communities that promote tolerance and inclusion should be priority one. We need to change the way we refer to people, and change the way we view diversity. We have a long road ahead of us, and a lot of work to undo the damage that Trump has caused by his words and actions. It is time we unequivocally support the ideal that all people are equal regardless of race, gender identity, or religion. Despite our differences, bigotry and injustice will not spread when Americans clearly unite their voices and stand together. Bigotry is an un-American concept that directly poisons the values championed throughout our nation’s history. It is for all Americans to fully come into the struggle to combat it.

 

MAJ: Who should watch this?

Osuna: I’d say the audience is just about anyone that has an interest in diversity, especially those in hearing a perspective that might challenge their belief system. I hope the film inspires people to help with the struggle ahead to ensure all people are treated equally and diversity remains a valued tenet in America. Politics aside, I also hope those people who voted for Trump can take an honest look at their candidate to better understand the struggle diverse people now face – a direct result of them giving Trump a mandate. Bigotry is, once again, flourishing. We need everyone to come into the struggle to preserve American values of civil rights, inclusion and tolerance.

 

On The Web:

UnAmerican Struggle on Cinema Libre Studio

1366 Films

Trumping Democracy: Buying And Selling Your Profile

Special To Topanga Journal

Trump was elected because of racist backlash to Obama’s presidency. Trump was elected because of sexist backlash to Hillary’s candidacy. Or because of Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders siphoning leftist voters. Or because of non-voters. Or the media. Or Russia. Or because your dumbass Aunt won’t stop watching Fox News.

When an election with over 235 million eligible voters is determined by the slim margin of 80,000 cast over three states, the reason can be almost anything. In Thomas Huchon’s documentary Trumping Democracy, the reason is fake news and Facebook.

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

“What if the election of the 45th President of the United States was not a fair fight?” asks Huchon in the opening, a suggestive question that will no doubt get its progressively-minded audience nodding in agreement. The presidency, after all, was stolen. That’s the only logical consideration one can have after every political analyst claiming a Hillary landslide, that there was no way the most unlikeable candidate could defeat “the most experienced candidate in history.” Something underhanded must have happened for this event to occur.

 

It’s this presentation of Trump as an anomaly in American political history where the documentary begins, and where it’s at its weakest.

 

George W. Bush bumbled his way into a million dead Iraqis, Bill Clinton’s legacy is stained dresses and packed prisons, and Ronald Reagan is nothing if not a more-polished precursor to Trump. Even Huchon’s argument that mainstream media was duped by fake news—highlighted by an interview with The Atlantic’s Rosie Gray—fails to mention the growing distrust Americans have felt toward mainstream publications since they trumpeted the White House WMD lie in the lead up to the Iraq War. It’s as if eight years of No Drama Obama erased every mishap that’d gone before.

 

This narrow scope in the service of the doc’s thesis is a shame, because the film gets intriguing in its second half, as it details with how insidious the world of data collection has become. Trumping Democracy is at its best when it breaks down the operations of Cambridge Analytica. This is a data firm that buys information from credit card companies, banks, and social media giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook to develop—and then sell—consumer profiles for some 230 million American adults.

 

“It’s legal, but nobody brags about it,” ominously narrates Huchon.

 

While it’s the sort of targeted marketing that’s been the norm since businesses have fought for consumer dollars, it’s now been amplified to its logical extreme as technology has crept into every aspect of our lives. The difference that emerged in 2016 was two-fold: Data collection and algorithm processing has been perfected to the point where it can predict user behavior better than someone’s spouse—an interview with Stanford psychometric professor Michal Kosinski is as riveting as it is harrowing—and that, for the first time in America, that technology was able to be used in a general election.

 

But it’s here, again, that Huchon’s doc swerves back into shrug territory.

 

We’ve long known that Facebook and Google collect, then sell, our data. We’ve also known that businesses target persuasive ads at us. For Huchon’s thesis of fake news being responsible for Trump to work, he needs the hands of an illegitimate outside actor at the controls. For many, that has been Putin and Russia. But for Huchon, it’s Robert Mercer, billionaire computer scientist, and one of the principal funders of both Brexit and Trump’s campaign.

 

Painted by Huchon, Mercer is an odd bird with a penchant for gun-collecting and a hatred of the media spotlight. He’s the 21st century version of Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood, a staunch capitalist who wants enough money to get away from everyone else, then some more money too. Plainview gets that money through oil, Mercer through tech.

It’s legal, but nobody brags about it,” ominously narrates Huchon. 

While Mercer’s biography intrigues, it never quite pinpoints why this is much different from any big money spender who foot the bill for the Clinton campaign. To be fair, Huchon briefly tabs at the ghastly 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United as to why Mercer has been allowed such purchase power, but quickly moves past this. This narrow lens highlights the lingering ideological problems left by Trumping Democracy.

Mercer backed Brexit and Trump, okay, but why? Why have Facebook, Twitter, and Google been allowed to collect and sell user data? Why do shabbily-dressed freelance writers spend their time writing “fake news” posts? Why is the business model of Cambridge America allowed to exist? And why, after claims of being the most tech savvy and data driven campaign in history, was the Clinton campaign able to be beaten by a bumbling reality TV show host, a billionaire recluse, and Facebook likes?

This is the danger when you focus on the 80,000 votes, not the 62.9 million votes before. Or the 2016 election, without considering the campaigns, elections, and policies that came before. If you think this single presidency was stolen, you don’t see that the rules of the game were changed a long time ago.

ON THE WEB:
Trumping Democracy Film

http://cinemalibrestudio.com/trumpingdemocracy/index.html

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