Harry Truman supposedly said “the buck stops here.” If he got legislation he disagreed with, he’d brandish, like Ronald Reagan famously did after him, his ready veto pen. George W. Bush was famous for signing bills with a signing statement attached, saying, in effect: if parts of this bill are offensive to me, which they are, I will not be zealous in carrying out those parts of the law. I suspect Obama has followed his predecessor in the use of this practice, like he has with most of Bush’s other programs: using drones to remotely execute guilty and innocent alike, maintaining a concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay (although he closed it by executive order on his first day in office), punishing whistle blowers, making the world safe for massively profitable corporations (who are not always required to pay tax), maintaining the opaque governmental practices of his secretive predecessor.
I mention all this because Sekhnet was recently outraged to learn about what critics are calling The Monsanto Protection Act. Anonymously inserted into a budget bill the president signed last week, this Act makes it illegal for anyone to sue Monsanto for anything, except under extremely restricted conditions. It is as outrageous as Mr. Cheney’s secret Energy Task Force explicitly exempting Natural Gas exploration and extraction from environmental regulation. Just because a botched hydro-fracking job recently caused a 5.2 Richter Scale earthquake in Oklahoma doesn’t mean the hugely profitable industry should have to divulge all of its trade secrets. Besides, Halliburton is involved in digging the miles deep wells.
“Obama signed it,” I told her, “he has a huge team of very smart people who drink a lot of coffee and read every word of every law he signs. He’s a skilled lawyer, a smart man and a canny politician. I assure you, he intended to sign the Monsanto Protection Act. The only question is “why’?”
Sekhnet was outraged that the legislator who’d written the outrageous Monsanto Protection Act had done so anonymously. “Isn’t this a democracy where we have the right to know who this duly elected lawmaker is?” I coughed and cleared my throat and we talked about other, more pleasant things.
I have an old friend who is a litigator in the federal courts. He specializes in environmental cases and has argued against well-paid lawyers for some of the most toxic (and lucrative) products and practices ever devised. He flies to the federal court in San Francisco armed with months of research and legal arguments and does battle with companies like Monsanto over things like whether their patented, genetically engineered seeds are doing irreversible damage to the environment.
In another world, these arguments, once settled by science, would not be so fiercely fought. After all, it is not that difficult to prove that a certain practice causes harm. But in the plushly appointed federal courts that is not the end of the argument, only the beginning. Lawyers are paid millions to make these arguments as muddy as possible, to defend the rights of massively wealthy polluters by every means necessary. These cases tend to drag on for years, often with no clear result.
My friend reports that his well-paid adversaries are civil, seemingly decent people he interacts with outside of court once in a while during these long trials and the endless motion practice. They are highly intelligent and not overtly unfriendly, for the most part. I suspect that they also respect my friend as a fierce and worthy adversary. I found the same thing with my adversaries in my own wretched law practice, not that they necessarily respected me, but they were for the most part pretty decent people it was easy enough to get on with. It very rarely got personal.
So much less personal, I suppose, when the parties are the earth itself and one of the wealthiest “persons” on the planet, a mega-corporation called Monsanto. My friend has battled their good–natured lawyers for years, and in the process I’ve become aware of and learned about some of the issues involved.
Did you know, for example, that Monsanto, manufacturer of Agent Orange, does a lot of business in India? In the old days farmers got seeds from their harvest. Nowadays, Monsanto sells the farmers seeds every season, since their patented seeds are programmed to need an annual license. They sold millions of dollars worth of seeds to Indians for a disease and pest resistant cotton. The only thing they forgot to mention to the Indian farmers was that this genetically modified seed needs much more water than traditional cotton seed, several times more than the region can provide. Thousands of bankrupted Indian farmers, perhaps a quarter of a million, committed suicide when they bet their homes on a crop that failed. One could say that Monsanto caused these many thousands of deaths (which few here have even heard about), but that would be the hysterical opinion of someone who hates our freedom. The Wall Street Journal, for one, disputes this rash and judgmental view.
Monsanto is also aggressive about suing organic farmers who have wind-blown Monsanto seeds from nearby industrial farms sprout like weeds among their traditional, natural crops. Presumably, Monsanto will still be able to sue anyone violating its patents, certain things are absolute and cannot be abridged under American law. As far as my friend litigating against his friends from the Monsanto law team, probably not any time soon.
There are other arguably respectable businesses who continue to pollute on a massive, earth-threatening scale. My friend will never be at a loss for cases against other corporations who work around environmental concerns with a thousand skilled eyes on maximizing profits and minimizing liability. But Monsanto, who my friend calls Ron Santo, (after the Cubs Hall of Fame third baseman), has, like its slugging rhymed almost-namesake, knocked the ball out of the yard with the Monsanto Protection Act, exempting it from virtually all court oversight for its deeds and misdeeds.
Barack Obama is in his second term. He’s not running again. One would presume he no longer has any need to kiss corporate ass to raise campaign money or for any other reason. One would presume wrong, apparently.