Recycled Minds Reflections on 2008

In the reflections on recycled minds 2007, we noticed a thread of hope and change that linked our posts together, even when the topics seemed disparate. What we sensed then has perhaps run in its course in 2008. Change became a political ballad and optimism fell by the wayside as food and economic crises converged.

And yet, even still, hope and change permeate the articles and information we have shared this year.

One of the most prevalent topics at recycled minds is indigenous cultures. This issue came to the forefront of popular news, very briefly, when photographs surfaced of a “lost” tribe in the Brazilian Amazon. Yet many more stories made our headlines this year, from indigenous journalism, to the movements in Bolivia, to the Minga Popular in Colombia, and others. We even found a bit on the Zapatistas, a group we've been blogging about for a few years now.

Just as prevalent this year was a focus on food, ranging from the worldwide food crisis to urban gardening, school gardens, and other food production strategies that Michael Pollan has brought to public awareness. Sustainable agriculture in Paraguay countered the unsettling stories about Monsanto, Wal-mart and other corporate giants. And articles delving into the meaning of food reminded us that consumption comes in many forms.

Articles about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the FARC in Colombia, profiting off the poor in Latin America, Hurricane Ike in Cuba appeared as testimonies to the unrest and suffering in the world, even as the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights passed in December. In solidarity with those trying to make a difference out there, our 20 posts in Activism offered a number of unique ideas on ways to counter the many injustices and problems that we mentioned this year. 

More randomly, our friends made the pages of Recycled Minds with videos about a trip to Antarctica, and some music about unicorns. We also noted the passing of the legend who discovered one of the most influential substances in human history. We introduced our Recycled Minds Library on Scribd, which has a number of very popular documents. Finally, our 10,000th visit came in July this year while this post was up, and we've since been visited nearly 4,500 more times.  

This year has seen our popularity grow significantly, and we hope to continue this trend in 2009 with interesting news, ideas, and places from around the web and the world. 

Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

Until next year…

The Last-Minute Bush Maneuvers

Interested in some of the last-minute moves of the outgoing President Bush? He's making more than any other U.S. president in history. Check out this 4-minute video from the American News Project

Record Hunger Rates Predicted for 2009

From the Independent UK, the UN is predicting that over 1 billion people will go hungry around the globe in the coming year. Despite record agricultural harvests, the most people in human history will experience the pangs of hunger, largely for economic reasons. 

Decades of progress in reducing hunger are being abruptly reversed, dealing a devastating blow to a pledge by world leaders eight years ago to cut it in half by 2015.
Rich countries have failed to provide promised money to boost agriculture in the Third World; the financial crisis is starving developing countries of credit and driving their people into greater poverty, and food aid to the starving is expected to begin drying up next month. 

William S. Burroughs- A Junky's Christmas

Our friends over at Coventry posted this the other day, but for those of you who don't read them or otherwise blog surf, we figured we would post it here too. Each segment of this classic story, here read by Burroughs himself, is about 9 minutes, and it is a wonderful Christmas story after all - perfect for the season. Enjoy: 


Re-animating Food & Humanity

In the spirit of the season -- the Winter Solstice -- we thought it would be appropriate to post an article about a common tradition of this time of the year: eating food together.

From Resurgence comes "Food for the Soul" by Thomas Moore. In this article, Moore talks about food's capacity for meaning and fostering community:
Perhaps the greatest challenge in this time of rapid technological advance and the shrinking of the globe is to create a world community. But that important task can’t be done in the abstract. Food can play a role. Food as community, not as a commodity. Whatever power allows lunch to foster friendship, wedding cake a marriage, and bread and wine a religion could make a community of the world’s population. But we need first to restore soul to food.
Continue Reading>>>

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Learning from South American Social Movements

The editor of Upside Down World, Benjamin Dangl, recently suggested ways the U.S. could pull through its economic crisis by looking at certain social movements in South America. Comparing the Chicago factory occupation with Argentina worker coops, he pointed out other protests that led to significant change, and from which Americans might take inspiration.
As the economic crisis in the US worsens, and the need to pressure the Obama administration looms, movements in the US could seek such commonality with movements in South America. Of the countless examples of recent social movement victories in South America, here are a few that could suggest potential blueprints for social change in the US.
Continue Reading>>>

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"ZAZ" - Zapatista Autonomous Zones

An interesting piece in the IRC Americas website - a just-translated article from 2004 that details some of the experiences of the Zapatista resistance movement in developing their caracoles. The grassroots movement is still operating, although with somewhat less media coverage as of late. This piece, translated for the 15-year anniversary of the movement, details some of the health, educational, economic, and governing projects that had been started at that point, and offers an interesting glimpse of the movement as it unfolds on the ground. Some excerpts from the article

This place, now called "Madre de los caracoles del mar de nuestros sueños" (the literal translation from Spanish is "Mother of the Sea Snails of our Dreams") is famous in the world of resistance because in 1996 one of the founding acts of the anti-globalization struggle took place here—the First Continental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism. Most recently, the biggest achievement in health has been the inauguration of an operating room....

Health is one of the areas where the most progress has been made here in Zapatista territory. This jungle area on the Guatemalan border is not without its problems, both internal and external, but preventive medicine campaigns are multiplying....
There is a new building nearly ready in La Realidad. It is an herbalist lab and center for preserving foods, and it forms part of a health project that is the pride of this zone. The project has meant the empowerment of more than 300 women herbalists, bone healers, and midwives.

The site has another interesting article on the misuse of U.S. taxpayer money that is being sent to Mexico under the rubric of the War on Drugs. 

Also, check out this unique organization: Schools for Chiapas.

Socialism's Comeback

With all the buzz generated by speculation about the Obama administration's left-leaning plans, the idea of U.S.-brand corporate capitalism being supplanted by socialist-like policies is tantalizing. How realistic it is remains to be seen. Neil Clark's article, Socialism's Comeback, talks about socialism's rise in Europe, despite claims to the contrary.

At the beginning of the century, the chances of socialism making a return looked close to zero. Yet now, all around Europe, the red flag is flying again. ...

Make no mistake, socialism - pure, unadulterated socialism, an ideology that was taken for dead by liberal capitalists - is making a strong comeback. Across the continent, there is a definite trend in which long-established parties of the centre left that bought in to globalisation and neoliberalism are seeing their electoral dominance challenged by unequivocally socialist parties which have not.

Continue Reading>>>

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Dreaming of Chocolate

Treehugger posted this interesting article about Shaman Chocolates, a shaman-run chocolate company whose entire profits go to the Huichol Indians of the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Secunda [company founder] had a dream, a vision. He dreamed that people were eating chocolate, and it was filling them with love. Secunda then decided that chocolate would be the way to preserve the Huichol culture and aid them economically.

"The Huichol know that gifts of chocolate help people develop and strengthen a mutual love with the earth and with each other," said Secunda.

Continue Reading>>>

A People's Narrative: The Minga Popular

A recent article by Mario A. Murillo on Toward Freedom celebrates the historic rallies of the Minga Popular and their meetings with government officials in Bogota last week.
It's been a busy series of days in Bogotá as the MINGA Popular continues to expand and flourish. From the streets in the center of the city, to the Plaza del Ché at the National University where an international forum was held on Saturday, from the media centers of the indigenous movement to the dozens of meetings taking place around the city where "Mingueros" are discussing the five point agenda with all the sectors that are interested to listen, the enthusiasm and energy of the popular movement can be felt.
Toward the end of the article, Murillo discusses the role of the media and their coverage of the movement, and how the "people's narrative" is being broadcast, despite the obstacles.
The massive presence of independent media at all these events - video cameras documenting the marches and rallies, photographers clicking away at the dramatic militance of the protesters, community radio producers gathering natural sound, speeches, and interviews for their respective outlets - are presenting a comprehensive alternative narrative - the people's narrative - that undoubtedly is having an impact on how the Minga is playing out with public opinion. It has resulted in tremendous solidarity from abroad, and unprecedented collaboration and participation from ordinary people here in Colombia since the Minga began.

Despite the false accusations of the government, despite the racist underpinnings of the media coverage, and the almost deliberate mis-information that has accompanied it, the people have come out in small towns and large cities to welcome the mingueros, and join with them in solidarity.
Continue Reading>>>

Indigenous Media

As globalization continues to grow its tentacles into more and more remote communities, many issues - both good and bad - are given life. One outgrowth of the increase in access to global communication systems, largely through the internet, is the growing number of indigenous people reporting on news and issues that their often remote, or otherwise marginalized communities, are facing. An interesting article from the IPS brings to light some of the hurdles that many indigenous activists, journalists, and public figures face to get their messages to a global audience. From the article

Indigenous journalism would seem to be in a stage similar to what environmentalism experienced a few decades ago: born of necessity and protest, it is caught in a constant state of tension between activism and professionalism.
The problem is that "we are sources and media at the same time," said Silsa Arias, head of communications for the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC), in last week’s discussion in La Paz on how to carry out the work of production, research, writing and editing at a workshop titled "Journalistic Minga: Developing Indigenous Reporting in Latin America".
Arias, a member of the Kankuamo community, is a leader of the indigenous movement in her country. But she also studied journalism, and is responsible for the news reports that appear on the ONIC web site and their on-line radio station Dachibedea (Our Voice).
Her concern was echoed by other participants in the Nov. 25-26 workshop sponsored by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and organised by the Inter Press Service (IPS) global news agency.
Taking part in the workshop were indigenous people from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru and Venezuela who have taken on the task of informing, educating or protesting, through community radio stations, alternative or local media outlets, and social movements.

Marijuana Shamanism Part 2

A 2,700 year old body was recently discovered by a team of archaeologists working in northwestern China. Significant to this find was the accompanying 1.7 pounds of marijuana found with the corpse. Researchers have theorized that the individual was likely a shaman of the ancient Gushi culture of the region. The find represents the oldest "stash" of the plant ever found, and also perhaps the oldest evidence that marijuana was used ritually for healing in our past. From the article:
The cache of cannabis is about 2,700 years old and was clearly "cultivated for psychoactive purposes," rather than as fibre for clothing or as food, says a research paper in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

The 789 grams of dried cannabis was buried alongside a light-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian man, likely a shaman of the Gushi culture, near Turpan in northwestern China.

The 18 researchers, most of them based in China, subjected the cannabis to a battery of tests, including carbon dating and genetic analysis. Scientists also tried to germinate 100 of the seeds found in the cache, without success.

The marijuana was found to have a relatively high content of THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis, but the sample was too old to determine a precise percentage.

Researchers also could not determine whether the cannabis was smoked or ingested, as there were no pipes or other clues in the tomb of the shaman, who was about 45 years old.
This apparent ritual usage of the extremely popular plant has largely been lost with the passage of time. However, such usage remains a vestige of the human psyche, as many people engaging in the illegal use seek such traditions to incorporate into their lives and use of the plant. 


I was Born a Unicorn...

Here's something a bit amusing to round out our days of thanks-giving. Created by an anthropologist friend and her school teacher husband, it will certainly make you chuckle. Take time to read the quotes, as they are from actual anti-unicorn message boards. Who would have thought? 



Music courtesy of the Unicorns.

Fighting Terrorism with Facebook

The US State Department announced plans on Monday to promote online youth groups as a new and powerful way to fight crime, political oppression and terrorism.

Drawing inspiration from a movement against FARC rebels in Colombia, the State Department is joining forces with Facebook, Google, MTV, Howcast and others in New York City next week to get the "ball rolling."

Continue Reading>>>

Source: The Raw Story

Food, Finance & Climate

Vandana Shiva's article on ZSpace, "Food, Finance & Climate: Triple Crisis, A Three-Fold Opportunity," explores the interconnectedness of the financial, food and climate crises and of their solutions.
The financial crisis, the food crisis, the climate crisis have common roots, an economy based on debt - debt to nature, debt of farmers, debt of citizens. It is an economy ruled by fictions - the fiction of a corporation as a legal person, the fiction of derivatives and futures and collateral debt obligations, the fiction that corporations like Monsanto "invent" seed which is their "intellectual property", the fiction that soil fertility comes from fertilizer factories and the fiction that food as a commodity can nourish and feed people.
Continue Reading>>>

Virginity Pacts: Saving the Amazon Rainforest

Returning to Resurgence Magazine once again, this time to the latest issue, which focused on food, we find this uplifting news about the Amazon, reported by Paul Kingsnorth:

SAVING THE AMAZON – the world’s largest rainforest – from destruction is a crucial challenge for humanity. It is a challenge that so far we have not risen to; an area the size of Belgium is still disappearing every year, as farmers, ranchers and loggers push ever further into what was once virgin forest.

So two recent pieces of good news from the forest should be celebrated as, in both cases, those responsible for the forest’s destruction have agreed to suspend their activities. Firstly, an ongoing moratorium on the purchase of soybeans from rainforest lands deforested after 2006 has been so successful that it has been extended until 2009. Soya farming is a growing cause of Amazon deforestation, and the moratorium, agreed to by the Brazilian Vegetable Oils Industry Association (which accounts for 94% of Brazil’s soya production), has been successful in preventing more rainforest land from falling to soya farmers.

At the same time another agreement with industry – this time with the loggers – looks set to help the forest too. The Amazon State of Pará, which is the source of 45% of Brazilian Amazon’s sawed timber and is notorious for high rates of illegal logging, has agreed with Brazil’s environment ministry and representatives of the logging industry to ban trade in illegal timber and timber from deforestation. Greenpeace Brazil says the new pact “will benefit local communities and promote legal and sustainable logging activities”. If both agreements work, there may yet be hope for the future of the Brazilian Amazon.
More articles>>>

Of Plants and Words: Biological and Linguistic Diversity

In their September/October issue, Resurgence Magazine focused on "Indigenous Intelligence: Diverse Solutions for the 21st Century." One article focused on biological and linguistic diversity: "A Word of Difference," by Maurice Calder. Calder asks whether the extinction of languages (an estimated 90% in 100 years) matters outside academic circles. "The answers to this question are complex and, in today’s world, become intermeshed with the political development of society, particularly since the rise of the nation-state;" writes Calder. "It is no accident that there are fewer languages spoken today in Europe, the place where the nation-state originated, than for example in just one African country: Nigeria."
GENERALLY SPEAKING, IT is noticeable how much in common there is between biological and linguistic diversity: the number of varieties are concentrated in similar places, and more ominously the activities of a few species or languages can have negative consequences. Just as, for example, the cane toad introduced into Australia is inexorably spreading and wiping out local fauna, and monocultures of Eurasian origin such as wheat, barley and cattle are replacing a profusion of local species, so languages such as English, Spanish and Chinese are expanding at the expense of local dialects and languages. The disappearance of hundreds of species of fish, birds and other forms of life along with their names and related knowledge of their habitat and behaviour represents a huge loss to science at precisely the time when we need most urgently to manage local ecosystems more effectively.
Continue Reading>>>

Peruvian Shamans on the U.S. Elections

A very interesting video was posted by the BBC a few days before the U.S. presidential elections. It shows a group of shamans on the beach in Lima, Peru holding a ritual involving large pictures of Obama and McCain, along with a number of other ritual objects. A reported 9 out of 11 of the shamans participating were in favor of Obama winning the election. Yet more evidence that magic still works...

World Meeting of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity

From The New York Times comes a report of Venezuela's 8th Annual "World Meeting of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity," which was held in Caracas in October. Perhaps biased in its reporting (note the author's tone here: "Mr. Gajurel joined some 200 other leftist thinkers from around the world who convened here for a few days in October to discuss transitions toward socialism, even as many people in advanced Western countries were losing sleep over the spreading financial crisis of global capitalism."), the article nevertheless gives a glimpse of this meeting of the minds:

"In hotel corridors where oilmen in business suits once hatched deals over glasses of whiskey, delegates in Birkenstocks and guayaberas discussed Marx and Antonio Gramsci, the leftist Italian writer. Such meetings have become a staple of life in Caracas, with Mr. Chávez’s government flush, at least for now, with petrodollars that can be used to attract sympathetic members of the chattering classes the world over.

Officials here have organized international encounters for philosophers, women’s rights advocates, the government spokesmen of nonaligned countries, poets and, in September, specialists in body painting." Continue reading >>>

Battles of the Forgotten War on Drugs


From the Christian Science Monitor comes a nice article detailing some of the changes occurring in Latin American policy regarding the U.S. War on Drugs. 

Bolivia has given US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers three months to leave the country – claiming that agents were stirring up political strife in the deeply divided nation.
This fall, Ecuadorians voted yes to a new Constitution that calls for the closure by next year of one of the most important US operations in its war against drugs.
And for the fourth year in a row, Venezuela was singled out by President Bush – as was Bolivia for the first time – for having "failed demonstrably" in antidrug cooperation.
The US has long had a presence in Latin America to stem the northward drug flow; Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia are the world's largest cocaine producers. The US still boasts strong partnerships with many countries, such as Colombia and Mexico. But in others, particularly those led by leftists who have risen in collective condemnation of Washington, leaders are increasingly severing ties.
Their push for more self-determination could represent an opportunity to improve a strategy seen by many as a failure, says Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network in Bolivia. 
Continue Reading >>>

The Marijuana Wars

We here at Recycled Minds made a deliberate decision to avoid posting or sharing things about the presidential election in the U.S. - why you may ask? It was our way of protesting politics as usual - as incredible amounts of money were spent on election campaigns, and candidate's rhetoric evolved into the typical pandering to certain demographics until the ultimate message became garbled and unclear. After watching Obama's victory speech, it became clear that he has returned to his original message of change, and that this election could prove to be one of the most important in the history of the country. 
With that, we would like to share a different victory of sorts: one that coincided with that of Obama's - some major wins for marijuana reform laws. The Drug War mongers are back on their heels, and lets hope that continues on - to their complete fall into the abyss. Some coverage of the victories was posted on Alternet and the Drug War Chronicle. These share the news and explain why it remains so important to change these laws.  

From Alternet: 

On Tuesday, largely under the radar of the pundits and political chattering classes, voters dealt what may be a fatal blow to America's longest-running and least-discussed war -- the war on marijuana.

Michigan voters made their state the 13th to allow the medical use of marijuana by a whopping 63 percent to 37 percent, the largest margin ever for a medical marijuana initiative. And by 65 percent to 35 percent, Massachusetts voters decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, replacing arrests, legal fees, court appearances, the possibility of jail and a lifelong criminal record with a $100 fine, much like a traffic ticket, that can be paid through the mail.

What makes these results so amazing is that they followed the most intensive anti-marijuana campaign by federal officials since the days of "Reefer Madness." Marijuana arrests have been setting all-time records year after year, reaching the point where one American is arrested on marijuana charges every 36 seconds. More Americans are arrested each year for marijuana possession -- not sales or trafficking, just possession -- than for all violent crimes combined.

Shamanism in the Popular Imagination

Breaking from recycled minds tradition for a moment here, I am posting a headlining article on Yahoo! news from this morning. Reason being: assuming that Yahoo! caters to popular news readers, what is behind the popular attraction of shamanism? Why did this article, which announces the discovery of the "earliest known shaman grave site," make headlines?

LONDON (Reuters) – An ancient grave unearthed in modern-day Israel containing 50 tortoise shells, a human foot and body parts from numerous animals is likely one of the earliest known shaman burial sites, researchers said on Monday. Read More >>

The New Feudalism - part II


After seeing the last post here at recycled minds, I was pleasantly surprised to see this line of thought expressed somewhere in the media. The U.S. lifestyle based on a never-ending cycle of the consumption of goods that are designed to be dysfunctional or obsolete not long after purchase is bad enough. When you tie in the credit debt that people have been enticed to take on in order to participate in this lifestyle, there enters in a certain level of unpredictability. We have now witnessed one possible outcome - the failure of numerous financial institutions and an impending recession and maybe depression. This cycle also serves to keep people tied to their debt, unable and unwilling to risk the loss of these products - products that have now extended to automobiles, homes, and even the weekly grocery bill for some. It serves to render the populace mute and ineffective - unable to participate in protest or actions of change. All of this leaves out the rest of the world that happens to be feeling the effects of our bumbling economy; it leaves out the rest of the world that has felt the effects of the creation of that economy. 
To keep this from getting any longer, and to sort of tie these thoughts together, I would like to share a piece by anthropologist John Sherry Jr. from his article, The Ethnographer's Apprentice: Trying Consumer Culture from the Outside In. 
Economists generally contend that economic development occasions some undesirable side effects, but they accept the enlightenment mantra that material progress breeds moral progress. A short laundry list of grievances would include the following indictments. Contemporary capitalisms are hegemonic in nature, and promote cultural homogenization; this massive reduction of diversity is considered both morally reprehensible and evolutionarily maladaptive. Globalization constitutes the enrichment of the core and the immiseration of the periphery. Ethnocide is waged via systematic cultural dislocation, and the spread of iatrogenic diseases integral to development. Ecocide is perpetuated through pollution and climate change. Materialism elevates acquisitiveness to a cultural syndrome, and the continued democratization of luxury promotes the endless escalation of insatiable want. Spectacle fosters distraction and complacency, encouraging a compliant citizenry. Consumer debt arises through and reinforces dysfunctional socialization and promotes a kind of indentured servitude. And so forth...
The article was printed in the Journal of Business Ethics, volume 80, 2008, wherein citations for parts of the above quote may be found. 

At least we still have beer.

More Debt, Less Resistance: The New Feudalism

"That debt is bondage is a profound moral truth. But it is an important shaper of political and economic consciousness as well. The more you are in debt, the less likely you are to rock the boat. Take on your employer? Go on strike? Risk your job by trying to start a union? What, and miss a credit card payment? Don't you get it? I'm maxed out. Risk getting my car getting reposed? You've got to be kidding."

Read More of "Union Card or Master Card -- How a Nation of Workers Became a Nation of Debtors" by Frank Joyce

Source: Alternet

"Now we have made history": Bolivia's New Constitution

Source: Upside Down World

After months of street battles and political meetings, a new draft of the Bolivian constitution was ratified by Congress on October 21. A national referendum on whether or not to make the document official is scheduled for January 25, 2009.

"Now we have made history," President Evo Morales told supporters in La Paz. "This process of change cannot be turned back...neoliberalism will never return to Bolivia."

Read More >>

Exposing Cracks in the Food Industry

SAN FRANCISCO — In the end, it all comes down to eggs.

On Nov. 4, California voters will be asked to decide on Proposition 2, an animal rights ballot measure that would grant the farm animals in California the opportunity to spread their hooves and claws, rather than being confined to restrictive cages, as many chickens, sows and veal cattle now are.

But because veal and pork are not major industries in California, the battle over Proposition 2 is focused almost exclusively on the state’s henhouses, which opponents say will be hard hit by higher production costs if the measure passes.

“This is a well-intended initiative for animals with some very negative unintended consequences for people,” said Julie Buckner, a spokeswoman for Californians for Safe Food, the leading anti-Proposition 2 group. “It’s going to wipe out the California egg farmers, and it’s going to raise the food costs for consumers. And this is at a time when our economy is hurting.”

Read More >>

Source: NY Times

The War on Drugs... or the War on Youth?

An article in alternet.org came out last week exposing yet another reason why the War on Drugs in the U.S. is so problematic. Besides the disproportionate number of people of color who end up in jail on drug charges, the incredible amount of military and financial aid given to countries like Mexico and Colombia in the name of the so-called war, not to mention the violence committed against people in this country and around the world, there is yet another result of this faulty endeavor: 74% of all people arrested on marijuana charges in the U.S. are under the age of 30. 
Young people, in many cases those under 18 years of age, disproportionately bear the brunt of marijuana law enforcement.
Demographically speaking, the above statement is a "no-brainer." Yet this is hardly a fact that we as a reform community like to admit or emphasize. Instead, you'll hear reformers argue that the war on pot is a war on patients -- and at some level, it is. Or you'll hear advocates proclaim that marijuana enforcement disproportionately impacts African-Americans and Hispanics -- and to some degree, it does. Attend enough of these conferences and you'll inevitably hear that our movement needs better representation from women and minorities, both of whom face unique hardships because of the drug war, and that criticism is appropriate too. But, one thing you'll most likely never hear is that our movement needs greater involvement from teenagers and young adults.
But we should -- because for the young people in the audience, the war on pot smokers is really a war on you.
According to a 2005 study commissioned by the NORML Foundation, 74 percent of all Americans busted for pot are under age 30, and 1 out of 4 are age 18 or younger. That's nearly a quarter of a million teenagers arrested for marijuana violations each year. To put this bluntly, we now have an entire generation that has been alienated to believe that the police and their civic leaders are instruments of their oppression rather than their protection.

Giving Weight to Words

The NY Times recently published an article about a new computer program, Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, that can determine a speaker's gender, physical and mental health, personality, and more, by counting that speaker's words. More "practical" applications of the program are analyzing terrorist communications and identifying authors of anonymous blogs.

"He Counts Your Words (Even Those Pronouns)"

"James W. Pennebaker’s interest in word counting began more than 20 years ago, when he did several studies suggesting that people who talked about traumatic experiences tended to be physically healthier than those who kept such experiences secret. He wondered how much could be learned by looking at every single word people used — even the tiny ones, the I’s and you’s, a’s and the’s.

"That led Dr. Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, down a winding path that has taken him from Beatles lyrics (John Lennon's songs have more 'negative emotion' words than Paul McCartney's) all the way to terrorist communications. By counting the different kinds of words a person says, he is breaking new linguistic ground and leading a resurgent interest in text analysis." Read More >>

So "There is some for everyone"

"Cuba is limiting how much basic fruits and vegetables people can buy at farmers' markets, irritating some customers but ensuring there's enough — barely — to go around.

"The lines are long and some foods are scarce, but because the government has maintained and even increased rations in some areas, Cubans who initially worried about getting enough to eat now seem confident they won't go hungry despite the destruction of 30 percent of the island's crops by hurricanes Gustav and Ike last month."

Read More >>

Source: AP

Repower America Ad

ABC chose not to air this commercial, so we thought we would share it with you here.






Jamaica Implements National School Garden Program

Kingston, Jamaica: 
The National School Garden Programme was officially launched today (October 10), under the theme: 'Youth Response to Food Security', during a ceremony at Jamaica College in Kingston.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, J.C. Hutchinson, pointed out that $108 million has been allocated to the programme, and the Jamaica 4-H Clubs would take charge of it.

"Over a three year period, the main goal is to implement approximately 1,000 gardens in primary, secondary and tertiary level schools across the island. I am very pleased that the programme has been receiving overwhelming response and 340 schools have so far been registered, including schools with existing gardens that are being assisted with technical support and inputs," Mr. Hutchinson said.

The programme has five major objectives: to get young persons to recognise and accept the role they must play in food production; to encourage environmental awareness in sustainable agriculture; to select careers in agriculture; to treat agriculture as a viable business option; and to integrate service learning into the formal education process.


Chiapas: Police attack Indigenous farmers, killing six

"...[O]n October 3, 2008, federal and state police in Chiapas, Mexico, carried out a violent operation that left six people dead, 17 injured, and 36 more detained, almost all of whom were inhabitants of the ejido (communally held land) of Miguel Hidalgo, located in the municipality of La Trinitaria, Chiapas.

"Leading up to the attack, on September 7th, members of the ejido attempted to reclaim a Mayan archeological site located near the city of Comitán, with the plan of taking over its administration. In response, the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia y Historía (INAH, National Institue of Anthropology and History), which had previously been administrating the site, filed a lawsuit against those involved in the reclamation. A series of negotiations followed, with the last one taking place on October 2. ..." Read More >>

Source: Intercontinental Cry

Indigenous Leaders Demand Recognition of Rights in Global Warming Management

"Indigenous leaders in five Amazonian nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia on Wednesday demanded a larger say on how best to manage tropical forests to fight climate change.

More than a billion poor people who depend on forest ecosystems risk economic and cultural devastation if efforts favored by rich nations to reduce greenhouse gases fail to respect their rights and needs, they said at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona. ..." Read More>>

Source: AFP

Sell it with Flowers

"If you're driving down the 405 some day and think those roadside poppies seem to be growing in the shape of the Coca-Cola logo, don't panic. You may not be hallucinating -- it could just be a new form of advertising. ...A federal waiver of rules regarding commercial uses on freeways, 'would allow sponsors to use vegetation to include commercial logos as part of the displays,' Kempton wrote. 'It is our expectation that sponsors would recognize the value of the program, exercise diligence in designing and maintaining displays that directly represent their business, and be willing to increase their financial participation.'" Read More>>
Source: LA Times

Cooperation as Rebellion: Creating Sustainable Agriculture in Paraguay

"In Paraguay, where 1 percent of the population owns 77 percent of all arable land, corrupt agrarian reform and the booming soybean industry is leading the country towards an industrial agricultural export model that leaves no room for small food producers. While many Paraguayan campesino [small farmer] families have moved into urban peripheries, tenacious farmers have fought not only for their right to land, but also to redefine and recreate the agricultural model based on cooperative, organic and people-friendly alternatives. As newly elected President Fernando Lugo moves to make good on campaign promises, the proposals of Paraguayan farming movements themselves already point the way to sustainable change. ..." >>Read More
Written by April Howard
Source: Toward Freedom

Ecuador's New Constitution & a "Citizen's Revolution"

Over the weekend, Ecuadorian voters went to the polls to vote on a referendum for a new constitution. With over 90% of the votes counted, Ecuador has voiced overwhelming approval for the new document, effectively bringing a "citizens' revolution," in President Rafael Correa's words, to fruition.

The new constitution includes such social programs as maternity pensions, increased social security benefits and free education, but it also includes an affirmation of nature's rights, an issue that made headlines when the constitution was first drafted. Following are the rights extended to Ecuador's land, where perhaps they are needed most, considering the decimation of the Amazon cloud forest.

Rights for Nature

Art. 1[N2] . Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms.* The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.

Art. 2[N3] . Nature has the right to an integral restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.

In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation on non renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.

Art. 3.[N4] The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.

Art. 4[N5] . The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.

The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

Art. 5[N6] . The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and form natural wealth that will allow wellbeing.

The environmental services are [sic] cannot be appropriated; its production, provision, use and exploitation, will be regulated by the State.

The constitution is not without opposition, as critics compare President Correa consolidation of power to Hugo Chavez' and Evo Morales'.

Read more about Ecuador's approval of the constitution.
And read more about the Rights of Nature in an article by

The Other Crisis

Most media and many people are, understandably, consumed by the U.S. economic crisis. Hopefully, political debates and new presidents will soon focus on the "other" crisis as well.

The "'tsunami' of hunger," writes Esther Vivas, "is no natural process, but stems from the neoliberal policies of international institutions, imposed over decades." Citing the statistic that over 850 million people are suffering from hunger in the face of a crisis only deepening, Vivas clearly and systematically breaks down both causes of and alternatives to the current policies.

To summarize: Because of the privatization of "earth, water [and] seeds," natural resources have been pillaged, and food's intrinsic meaning has shifted from nourishment to its market value. Further, decades of neoliberal policies have allowed crops to be sold at prices lower than their cost and have reduced crop diversity. Finally, the monopoly of the food distribution chain has allowed companies to dictate wholesale and retail prices, production and consumption. One of the most telling statistics is this:

In Spain, for example, the average disparity between original and purchase price is 400%, with distributors reaping the greatest benefit. On the other hand, the farmer is receiving less and less pay for his goods, and the consumer is paying more and more for his purchases.

Yet there are viable alternatives, argues Vivas. Calling for agrarian reform that addresses both production and property, she argues that farmers must regain rights to their land, seeds and water: "Returning agriculture into the hands of the family farm is the only route to guaranteeing universal access to foodstuffs." Moreover, today's failing policies must be reshaped or rejected to stabablize the system, including in such reforms food reserves for times of underproduction. We must also turn to more responsible consumption, as illustrated by this point:

Were the whole world to consume as does a United States citizen, we would require five land-locked planets just to satisfy the needs of our world population.

Read Vivas' full article on Znet, which covers these points and more in depth.

Foods of Mexico Live in New York

An interesting article came through in the New York Times today on a Mexican immigrant from Oaxaca who is growing produce on a small plot on Staten Island - much of it native to the southern Mexican state - and selling it at a farmers market in a local urban farmer's market. Although the article does not specifically mention the farmer's ethnicity, this story exemplifies the possibility of indigenous knowledges being transformed and transported to worlds outside of their places of origin.
"Mr. Juárez’s specialty is produce indigenous to Mexico, and the seeds of many of the goods he grows are from that country, though he also plants typical American produce. For generations, immigrants from around the globe have turned little corners of New York into an approximation of the countries they left behind. Since 2001, Mr. Juárez has been following in their footsteps. He is maintaining the traditions of the small farming town in southern Mexico where he grew up, and providing an anchor to home for some of the city’s quarter-million Mexican immigrants."
The unusual nature of immigrants finding land on which to produce food was made possible by the NY city-based non-profit group New Farmer Development Project. The article mentions that the land is slated to be used by another group for different purposes in the near future, leaving the families that grow there in need of new space with which to produce. It is unclear if the non-profit is still functioning (their website appears to be down at the time of this writing), or if another group will be continuing the efforts of the project.
In searching for more information on the NFDP, I came across another non-profit that could end up as a source of funding and support: the National Immigrant Farming Initiative. This group provides funding for farming projects involving immigrants and refugees. Groups like these could end up playing a key role in food production in the U.S. in the not-too-distant future. With more and more U.S. farmers leaving the field, there may be a void to fill as industrial agriculture continues to discover its limitations. The rural farming background of many immigrants to the U.S. could provide a new influx of farmers - if they only had access to the land.
Finally, it is also commonly thought that much of the local/indigenous knowledge (food use and farming practices are examples of such knowledge) that exists in rural areas (like Oaxaca) is lost or left behind when people go through the process of relocation to cities and other developed areas (like the U.S.). Here we see that it is possible to find ways to maintain traditions and traditional knowledge use even in one of the most developed places on the planet - New York City. And perhaps the greatest part of this story is the fact that by providing access to land for people who know how to farm, fresh locally produced food can become available for the residents of the city.
Read the article here.
photo courtesy of NYTimes.

"Reactionary Rampage in Bolivia"

Will the Bolivian government increase the forcefulness of its response to opposition in the future? In his article "Reactionary Rampage in Bolivia," author and NACLA contributor Forrest Hylton critiques what he describes as Evo Morales' "weak" and "ex post facto" reaction to the September 11 tragedy in El Porvenir, Pando, in Bolivia's eastern lowlands, where 30 people were killed and 40 others went missing at the hands of regional officials in league with paramilitary gangs.

To understand the government's reaction, Hylton also tries to flesh out the diplomatic crisis (the latest being the September 10 expulsion of US ambassador Phillip Goldberg for alleged coup-plotting) and the realities of Bolivia's political climate.

For the benefit of US readers, Hylton uses an analogy that makes clear the internal dynamics playing out in the eastern lowlands. While acknowledging its limitations, Hylton compares the situation to the North/South dynamic in the US:

It may be helpful for U.S. readers to consider Bolivia’s eastern lowlands as analogous to Dixie. In the 1950s and 60s, working with governors and mayors of states and localities, white supremacist paramilitary groups terrorized African Americans. The campaign of terror was intended to preserve a status quo that benefited a tiny class of wealthy white landowners, against which the federal government—under Eisenhower and Kennedy—hesitated to act.

Imagine, though, that African Americans had comprised an overwhelming majority of the U.S. population, that Kennedy was Black, and that he had come to power on the back of serial insurrections led by African Americans. Imagine that, in response, white supremacists not only massacred Blacks, but also blockaded roads, blew up oil pipelines, and burned and looted federal government offices and installations.

Hylton then goes further back to the secessionist movement in the 1800s, comparing the mobilization of wealthy, white slave-holders to the wealthy, white minority in Bolivia challenging Morales' government.

While an overthrow is not likely by this wealthy minority, Hylton argues, the opposition nevertheless can make governing the country unstable and therefore difficult to govern. Read the full article here.

Image: LA Times

Hurricane Ike and Cuba

An email from Vicente "Panama" Alba, who is in Cuba, tells the reality of the situation on the small island in the Caribbean. Much of what has happened there has gone unreported in the U.S. media, so this will give you a more accurate, albeit a more sad, picture:

Cuba has been, and continues to be, devastated by Hurricane Ike. The only thing, and without question the most important thing, that hasn't been devastated is the will and determination of the Cuban people to surpass this disaster and go forward.

There's lots of information circulating in the international press about the extent of damages. But there are perhaps a few things that haven't, and it's these I want to briefly mention to give you an idea of the extent of damages.

There's not one province that has gotten off easy. More destruction, less destruction - but all fourteen provinces and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud have suffered from Hurricane Ike. And some have suffered a double impact, especially Pinar del Rio, which is still -
as I write this - under Alarma Ciclonica (Hurricane Alarm) due to the intense rains and tropical storm winds that are still hitting the province. All of the province's 14 municipalities are suffering, but the two municipalities of Los Palacios (south) and Las Palmas (north) have taken the brunt of both Gustav and Ike.

The eye of Ike has left Cuba, but the body is still kicking strong. Imagine: as of about 4pm, it's slowly growing in size and intensity. Sustained winds of 150 kph. Still category 1 but category 2 starts at 154 kph sustained winds. Its bands of tropical storm winds and rains extend 335 km (radius) covering all of Pinar del Rio with rains reaching to the western part of Camaguey province in central Cuba. And we're being told to brace for another 12-24 hours of rains. In Habana, we're still getting occasional gusts up to over 80 kph. All western coastal areas have been evacuated due to inundations. Last night, for instance, ocean waters penetrated two km inland in the Batabano area, on the central southern coast of Provincia Habana.

Lots of "firsts", but for which no one will get a ribbon:
As of 4:30 yesterday afternoon, over 2.5 million people - or almost 21 percent of the country' s population of some 12 million - have been evacuated. And the number is slowly growing, as rivers that have never flooded before leave their banks, fattened by torrential rains, and dams that are fill and spilling over contribute even more to the flooding. 2.5 million! In the 17 years I've been in Cuba, including through many hurricanes, I don't remember that many people ever being evacuated before. That's an immense undertaking involving organization, coordination and cooperation. Significantly, over two million of these people were able to get shelter in the homes of family and friends, yet another indication of the incredible solidarity that is an everyday functioning part of Cuban society.

The damage to food crops as well as export crops is extensive. In Villa Clara, some 70% of plantains - all kinds - have been knocked down, with maize, papaya and yuca also seriously affected. In Holguin, plantain, yuca, vegetables and beans have been affected. In Santiago de Cuba, damages to plantain, yuca, maize, plus sugar cane has been burned by the winds. Lots of coffee beans have fallen off trees and, weather permitting, they'll try to save what they can. In Ciego de Avila, a strong producer of plantains for the entire country, the greatest damage has occurred in the agricultural sector, in particular - but not only - to the plantain crops. In Cienfuegos, plantain and sweet potato are affected, as well as vegetables and citrus such as grapefruit and oran ge. The one crop that hasn't been affected is malanga - a tuber kind of like potato. And they're trying to recuperate coffee beans that have fallen on the ground in the Escambray Mountains. The same in Baracoa and Maisi, both in Guantanamo, which are key (actually, the main) coffee-producing areas in Cuba.

Housing has been seriously affected everywhere. For example, preliminary reports from Holguin indicate that over 150,000 houses have been affected, of which 37,000 have been totally destroyed. The province of Las Tunas says that nothing like Ike has ever hit the province during the last fifty years. In some municipalities, 80% of the housing stock has been affected. I can't even begin to estimate how many hundreds of thousands of houses have been either damaged or destroyed on a national scale! The final numbers are bound to be high.

And the rains! That's the most serious part of Ike right now, even more than the winds. In the Escambray, over 500 mm has fallen in some areas. Some communities are still incomunicado due to roads blocked with trees. But before Ike arrived, experienced personnel, including health specialists, had been sent to these mountain communities, along with additional food stocks, in anticipation of such problems, as Hurricane Fay, which affected Cienfuegos just before Gustav, had already affected electricity networks in the Escambray. The beautiful area of Las Terrazas, in Pinar del Rio - which many of you have no doubt visited, got over 400 mm of rain in the last 24 hours, as have many other areas in the province - and elsewhere in the coutnry. Pinar is completely without electricity. Vinales and many other areas are completely incomunicado. To the imapct of Gustav is being added the impact of Ike. Some people in Pinar del Rio were even asking if Ike is returning, as they're without communication or up-to-date access to information and the rains seem worse than before!

Everywhere in the country, dams are full and overflowing, causing inundations - still - in low zones, which are fully evacuated. In Las Tunas, before Ike passed, the province was experiencing a drought, with dams only 50% full. Now, all dams are spilling over. A first: the Bulgara Dam in Camaguey, built 22 years old, has NEVER been full, but now, after Ike, it's full and spilling for the first time since it was constructed. And this story is repeated everywhere.

Also, for the first time since it was built, the carretera central, Cuba's main central highway, has flooded. For those of you who know Cuba, the flooding covers a 3.5 km length at Aguada de Pasajeros, where the central highway - that is the main road link between west and east, crosses with the main highway from Cienfuegos in the south to Matanzas in northwest, is so full of water that all traffic has been stopped, and it's anticipated that it'll be closed for at least three or so days. This has never happened before and the images are impressive! Flooding has been caused by overflowing rivers in the area, that have never flooded like this before now.

One bit of very good news, though, to come out of Cienguegos is that the new "more hurricane proof" houses that were built to replace coastal settlements that had been completely demolished by Hurricane Dennis (2005) were able to withstand Ike. This is very good news indeed!

Jose Rubiera, the head of Cuba's weather forecast department, was asked if Cuba has ever had a hurricane that has touched every part of the country as has Ike. He replied that Hurricane Dennis (2005) entered Granma and then blasted up the centre of Cuba, but that the eastern part of Cuba has never had a hurricane as strong as Ike. Flora (1963) also affected a great part of Cuba, especially the east, but it was more rain than wind - unlike Ike which has been both plus heavy coastal inundations.

Assistance is coming from everywhere, both inside and outside the country. Examples: Santiago de Cuba has sent brigades to help Baracoa and Holguin. Camaguey, which has brigades in Pinar del Rio who went there after Gustav, has told those brigades to stay put and continue to help reconstruction efforts in that sister province. Camaguey, which has gone at least 25 years without being hit by a hurricane of this magnitude and which says they don't have the same experience confronting t hem as does Pinar, has reached out a very substantial hand of solidarity to los pinarenos.

And from overseas. You already know about the assistance from Russia: food, huge tents, construction materials. And $500,000 from poor little Timor Leste. Mexico is offering aid in housing and electricity. Uruguay is making a call to the international community to help Cuba with foods, medicines and construction materials. Brazil is putting together an interministerial Assistance Group to help both Cuba and Haiti. After Gustav, solidarity and offers of help were already coming from China, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Spain, Brazil Mexico, Guatemala, the Cayman Islands, Peru, Santa Lucia, etc.

Cuba, that has the will and determination, will indeed need a great deal of material assistance for their reconstruction efforts. As Cubans themselves, as well as the authorities, no corner within the country is too isolated, no loss too great, to not get the necessary response. Tonight, on Mesa Redonda (Round Table) on TV, we'll be getting more detailed information about the extent of damages in the different provinces. They're still preliminary, since there are still so many areas incomunicado. But information is already coming in.

I started this email at 1:30pm. It's now 4pm. At 1:30pm, my area finally got electricity back. But many parts of the city are still without electricity. Calle 23, that main street in Vedado, has lots of tree limbs down a nd lots and lots of electrical wires. We're still having high gusts of wind. It's too dangerous for linemen to go up the posts, so full repairs will still take a while. Then, at 2:30pm - only one hour to try to get my fridge cold again so that food won't spoil (everyone has this same concerrn) - a torrential storm began. Lightning and very loud thunder. I had to shut down the computer as my dining room window was leaking terribly because of the angle of the rain and the force with which it was falling. My two kitties, Mariposa and Luisito, were terrified! The electricity has gone out again and I'm finishing this up and sending it out on battery. So once again, I don't know when I'll be sending the next one. It's important that you know, though, that whereas Ike's eye has left, we're still very much under the winds and rains of this hurricane. It's immense!

Oh!!! The energy has just come back on - at least in this area! Not sure for how long nor how stable, but I'm powering up my computer again! Until the next heavy downpour, that is...

Vicente " Panama" Alba