Mother Jones Daily: Briefing

Hiding the Bad News
Potatoes for the People?

Hiding the Bad News

Some may wonder: if the Bush administration is so confident of its handling of the US economy in 2002, why then has it discreetly done away with a federal program that tracks employment statistics?

David Lazarus reports in the San Francisco Chronicle that the administration has killed a program run by the Labor Department which compiled statistics on mass layoffs by companies state-by-state. The data supplied “an easy-to-understand overview of which industries are in the greatest distress and which workers are bearing the brunt of the turmoil.” Lazarus contends that the program was curtailed because of White House fears that economic realities don’t corroborate claims that “prosperity is right around the corner.” The first George Bush had similarly axed the program in 1992, also during charges that he had mismanaged the economy; President Clinton later revived the program. The recent termination was hidden in a pro-forma press-release and little publicized.

According to the final report last month, US companies layed off some 240,028 workers in November of 2002; and, in the first 11 months of 2002, nearly two million workers lost their jobs.

Potatoes for the People?

A dispute over a souped-up potato has pushed India into the frontlines of the genetically-modified food wars, Charles Arthur writes in The Independent. Dubbed the “protato” because it has one-third more protein than its unenhanced cousins, this experimental super-potato is being touted by the Indian government as a partial solution to India’s — and the world’s — hunger crisis.

The protato’s proponents take pains to distinguish it from the US-produced “frankenfoods” that have bitterly divided manufacturers and environmentalists in the West. The locally-developed technology, they say, is intended to improve the diets of India’s poorest citizens, not merely to give pharmaceutical companies a stranglehold over the developing world’s agricultural production. “The requirements of developing countries are very different from those of rich countries. I think it would be morally indefensible to oppose [GM potatoes],” an Indian researcher said. Environmental groups like Greenpeace, however, aren’t persuaded.

“The cause of hunger isn’t lack of food. It’s lack of cash and of access to the food. Creating these GM crops is something to make them look attractive when actually the utility of eating them is very, very low. It’s very difficult to see how this on its own will change the face of poverty.”


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