Saturday, September 30, 2006

Interview with Carlo Petrini

Carlo Petrini is the founder of the Slow Food Movement. Here's an interview with him from the New York Times:

I'm very into the development of communities of producers and farmers, and it's only if we develop and enforce these communities that we can overcome an industrial logic.

Talk on Food

If you're interested in the Slow Food ,movement (which is part of the anti-corporate globalisation movement), here's a good talk from 2003 down and download) here's the intro:

3 out of every 5 Americans are now overweight. Children who eat fast food every day gain an extra 6 pounds every year. It now appears likely that - for the first time in American history - our children will actually have a shorter life span than their parents.

This program about fast food is not just about the fact that grease, sugar, and extra calories makes us fat and sick. It is about the giant industries behind fast food that change not only our bodies but the body of the earth and the lives of farmers who traditionally grew our foods.

An amazing coincidence - and effort too - brought together five eloquent writers and activists: The physicist and seed collector Vandana Shiva from India, the Kentucky farmer and poet Wendell Berry, Eric Schlosser who wrote: Fast Food Nation, the founder of the Slow Food movement Carlo Petrini from Italy and Michael Pollan, teacher and author of The Botany of Desire.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Real news reports on Habeus Corpus

While I imagine "hard news" like the New York Times and Katie Couric are fucking around with Clinton's interview with the Fox News guy (Charlie Rose came on my TV last night with a big "serious" discussion on this nonsense), or how the hell some stupid celebrity is conducting their lives, and everybody else is eating it up, Democracy Now actually talks about the issues.

Russ Feingold, the last democrat

Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold
In Opposition of the Military Commissions Act

As prepared for delivery from the Senate floor

September 28, 2006

Listen to Senator Feingold's statement.
Watch a video excerpt (Realplayer or Quicktime) of Senator Feingold's statement.

Madam President, I oppose the Military Commissions Act.

Let me be clear: I welcome efforts to bring terrorists to justice. It is about time. This Administration has too long been distracted by the war in Iraq from the fight against al Qaeda. We need a renewed focus on the terrorist networks that present the greatest threat to this country.

But Madam President, we wouldn’t be where we are today, five years after September 11 with not a single Guantanamo Bay detainee having been brought to trial, if the President had come to Congress in the first place, rather than unilaterally creating military commissions that didn’t comply with the law. The President wanted to act on his own, and he dared the Supreme Court to stop him. And he lost. The Hamdan decision was an historic rebuke to an Administration that has acted for years as if it were above the law.

Finally, only because he was essentially ordered to do so by the Supreme Court, the President has agreed to consult with Congress. I would have hoped that we would take this opportunity to pass legislation that allows us to proceed in accordance with our laws and our values. That is what separates America from our enemies. These trials, conducted appropriately, have the potential to demonstrate to the world that our democratic, constitutional system of government is our greatest strength in fighting those who attacked us.

And that is why I am saddened that I must oppose this legislation. Because, Madam President, the trials conducted under this legislation will send a very different signal to the world, one that I fear will put our own troops and personnel in jeopardy both now and in future conflicts. To take just a few examples, this legislation would permit an individual to be convicted on the basis of coerced testimony and hearsay, would not allow full judicial review of the conviction, and yet would allow someone convicted under these rules to be put to death. That is simply unacceptable. We would not stand for another country to try our citizens under those rules, and we should not stand for our own government to do so, either.

Not only that, this legislation would deny detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere—people who have been held for years but have not been tried or even charged with any crime—the ability to challenge their detention in court. Among its many flaws, this is the most troubling—that the legislation seeks to suspend the Great Writ of habeas corpus.

The legislation before us is better than that originally proposed by the President, which would have largely codified the procedures the Supreme Court has already rejected. And that is thanks to the efforts of some of my Republican colleagues for whom I have great respect and admiration.

But this bill remains deeply flawed, and I cannot support it.

One of the most disturbing provisions of this bill eliminates the right of habeas corpus for those detained as enemy combatants. I support an amendment by Senator Specter to strike that provision from the bill. I ask unanimous consent that my separate statement on that amendment be put in the record at the appropriate point.

Habeas corpus is a fundamental recognition that in America, the government does not have the power to detain people indefinitely and arbitrarily. And that in America, the courts must have the power to review the legality of executive detention decisions.

Habeas corpus is a longstanding vital part of our American tradition, and is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

As a group of retired judges wrote to Congress, habeas corpus “safeguards the most hallowed judicial role in our constitutional democracy – ensuring that no man is imprisoned unlawfully.”

Madam President, this bill would fundamentally alter that historical equation. Faced with an executive branch that has detained hundreds of people without trial for years now, it would eliminate the right of habeas corpus.

Under this legislation, some individuals, at the designation of the executive branch alone, could be picked up, even in the United States, and held indefinitely without trial and without any access whatsoever to the courts. They would not be able to call upon the laws of our great nation to challenge their detention because they would have been put outside the reach of the law.

Madam President, that is unacceptable, and it almost surely violates our Constitution. But that determination will take years of protracted litigation.

Madam President, why would we turn our back on hundreds of years of history and our nation’s commitment to liberty -- particularly when there is no good reason to do so? We should be working to provide a lawful system of military commissions so that those who have committed war crimes can be brought to justice. We can do that quite well without denying one of the most basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution to those held in custody by our government.

Some have suggested that terrorists who take up arms against this country should not be allowed to challenge their detention in court. But that argument is circular – the writ of habeas allows those who might be mistakenly detained to challenge their detention in court, before a neutral decision-maker. The alternative is to allow people to be detained indefinitely with no ability to argue that they are not, in fact, enemy combatants. Unless any of my colleagues can say with absolute certainty that everyone detained as an enemy combatant was correctly detained – and there is ample evidence to suggest that is not the case – then we should make sure that people can’t simply be locked up forever, without court review, based on someone slapping a “terrorist” label on them.

There is another reason why we must not deprive detainees of habeas corpus, and that is the fact that the American system of government is supposed to set an example for the world, as a beacon of democracy. And this provision will only serve to harm others’ perception of our system of government.

Madam President, a group of retired diplomats sent a very moving letter explaining their concerns about this habeas-stripping provision. Here is what they said: “To proclaim democratic government to the rest of the world as the supreme form of government at the very moment we eliminate the most important avenue of relief from arbitrary governmental detention will not serve our interests in the larger world.”

Many, many dedicated patriotic Americans share these grave reservations about this particular provision of the bill.

They have reservations not because they sympathize with suspected terrorists. Not because they are soft on national security. Not because they don’t understand the threat we face. No. They, and we in the Senate who support the Specter amendment, are concerned about this provision because we care about the Constitution, because we care about the image that American presents to the world as we fight the terrorists. Because we know that the writ of habeas corpus provides one of the most significant protections of human freedom against arbitrary government action ever created. If we sacrifice it here, we will head down a road that history will judge harshly and our descendants will regret.

Madam President, we must not imperil our proud history. We must not abandon the Great Writ. We must not jeopardize our nation’s proud traditions and principles by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and permitting our government to pick people up off the street, even in U.S. cities, and detain them indefinitely without court review. That is not what America is about.

Unfortunately, the suspension of the Great Writ is not the only problem with this legislation, nor is it the only instance where the legislation goes beyond establishing military commissions to include unnecessary provisions with deeply troubling results.

The Administration has spoken about the need for this legislation to bring clarity to the War Crimes Act, which makes it a crime to violate Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. It has proposed that we specifically list the actions that would be considered crimes under that law. On the face of it, that certainly sounds sensible. But when you look at this legislation, you realize that the modification it makes only muddies the waters. Not only that, it does so retroactively.

The key problem is in the definition of “cruel or inhuman” treatment. This is a critical definition because it is the provision that determines which coercive interrogation techniques amount to crimes under U.S. law. But because of the complex structure of this section, it is very difficult to understand what the new definition would criminalize, and I am concerned that any ambiguity may be interpreted too narrowly by some. The definition incorporates several terms that in turn have their own separate definitions, and it even has one new definition that doesn’t go into effect until the date of enactment, even though the rest of the amendments to the War Crimes Act are made retroactive to 1997. Frankly, Madam President, the new prohibition is extremely unclear. And we have already heard different interpretations of it from Senators and Administration officials who negotiated the language. If our goal is to give unambiguous guidance to our personnel, and the courts, this does not do it.

The way the provision is drafted, it even seems designed to grant immunity to senior officials who authorized coercive interrogation techniques.

Madam President, we should just follow the approach originally endorsed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which would have applied the language of the McCain amendment.

Madam President, I am also very concerned about the definition of unlawful enemy combatant that is included in this legislation, and about the corresponding issue of the jurisdiction of the military commissions.

Madam President, this legislation has been justified as necessary to allow our government to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other dangerous men recently transferred to Guantanamo Bay. Yet if you look at the fine print of this legislation, it becomes clear that it is much, much broader than that. It would permit trial by military commission not just for those accused of serious terrorist crimes, but also individuals, including legal permanent residents of this country, who are alleged to have “purposefully and materially supported hostilities” against the United States or its allies.

This is extremely broad, and key terms go undefined. And by including hostilities not only against the United States but also against its allies, the bill allows the U.S. to hold and try by military commission individuals who have never engaged, directly or indirectly, in any action against the United States.

Not only that, but the bill would also define as an unlawful enemy combatant subject to trial by military commission, anyone who “has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.” This essentially grants a blank check to the executive branch to decide entirely on its own who can be tried by military commission.

If we are going to establish military commissions outside of our traditional military and civilian justice systems, at a minimum we should explicitly limit their application to the worst of the worst, those who pose a serious threat to our country. We shouldn’t leave it up to just one branch of government to make these incredibly important decisions.

Mr. President, the bulk of this legislation concerns the structure and process of military commissions. Although we heard from many witnesses at congressional hearings this summer that we should hew as closely as possible to the long-established military system of justice, this bill instead essentially starts from scratch and creates a whole new structure. It does so despite Justice Kennedy’s wise advice in his concurrence in Hamdan, where he said: “The Constitution is best preserved by reliance on standards tested over time and insulated from the pressures of the moment.”

For example, this legislation creates a presumption for the admissibility of hearsay evidence. Now, it is true that because of the exigencies of war and active combat situations, hearsay rules may need to be structured differently than they are in our criminal courts, but the rules laid out in the UCMJ are drafted to handle these same exigencies. While there may need to be some adjustments to the UCMJ hearsay rules, we need not discard them altogether.

The presumption against hearsay is a fundamental protection built into our existing legal structures to ensure that proceedings yield a just and fair result. Yet in this provision and elsewhere, the legislation erodes such protections—going far beyond what is allowed in the military system—and without justification.

Even more disturbing is that the bill appears to permit individuals to be convicted, and even sentenced to death, on the basis of coerced testimony. According to the legislation, statements obtained through cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, as long as it was obtained prior to December 2005 when the McCain amendment become law, would apparently be admissible in many instances in these military commissions.

Now, it is true that the bill would require the commission to find these statements have sufficient reliability and probative value. But why would we go down this road of trying to convict people based on statements obtained through cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation techniques? Either we are a nation that stands against this type of cruelty and for the rule of law, or we are not. We can’t have it both ways.

The idea that coerced statements can be used as long as they were obtained long enough ago is appalling. It seems to assume that there was a lack of clarity in the law prior to December 2005. In fact, there was great clarity, until this Administration decided to invent a narrow definition of torture that had never been used or accepted anywhere in the civilized world. The McCain amendment was needed to get this Administration to return to the law. It was a repudiation of the legal theories of the infamous Bybee memo, which the Administration even said it was withdrawing once it was publicly revealed. Its enactment should not now be used as a dividing point before which evidence obtained through cruel and inhuman treatment can be used in court.

At times of great adversity, the strength of a nation’s convictions is tested and its true character revealed. If we sacrifice or qualify our principles in the face of the tremendous challenge we face from terrorists who want to destroy America, we will be making a terrible mistake. If we cloak cruel or degrading interrogations done in the name of American safety with euphemisms like “alternative techniques,” if we create arbitrary dates for when differing degrees of morality will apply, we will have betrayed our principles and ourselves.

Statements obtained through such techniques should not be admissible, even against the most vicious killers in the world, in proceedings held by the government of the United States of America. Period.

Mdm President, in sum, this legislation is very troubling and in many respects legally suspect. I fear the end result of this legislation will only be more delay. It will surely be subject to further legal challenge, and may squander another four or five years while cases work their way through the courts again.

We can and must fight terrorism aggressively without compromising fundamental American values. We must remember what the Army Judge Advocate General told me at a Judiciary Committee hearing this summer: that the United States should set an example for the world, and that we must carefully consider the effect on the way our own soldiers will be treated.

Mdm President, in closing let me do something I don’t do very often – and that is quote John Ashcroft. According to the New York Times, at a private meeting of high-level officials in 2003 about the military commission structure, then-Attorney General Ashcroft said: “Timothy McVeigh was one of the worst killers in U.S. history. But at least we had fair procedures for him.” How sad that this Congress would seek to pass legislation about which the same cannot be said.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

More thoughts on Chomsky & Chavez

I was at lunch, drinking coffee, reading the conclusion to Vandana Shiva's book Earth Democracy, and I started to think about the hoopla surrounding Hugo Chavez and Hegemony and an uneasy feeling came to me about the whole thing. Chomsky's up in his home outside Boston, not responding to inquiries from the New York Times and others seeking his response to inconsequential snippets of Chavez's UN speech for their gossip columns, and there's some right-wing propaganda going on about removing the big Citgo sign up in Boston because it's a Venezuelan company, 7/11 breaking ties with Citgo and mentioning Chavez speech in their press release, mainstream news people like Maureen Dowd and Bob Schiffer calling Chavez loony without any explanation, willfully ignoring the rest of his speech in favor of acting out their usual role as lapdogs to the US govenrment, & Chomsky on the best-seller list. There's a strange wind blowing around all of this, and I don't like the smell of it. Hopefully Chomsky can lay low until it all blows over.

And then I come back from lunch and find this piece of gold by Paul Balles from the Baltimore Chronicle, Where are all the Voices?

When someone like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stands at the podium in the UN and calls G W Bush a devil, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd labels Chavez "a world-class nutbar." She can, and does, call Bush names herself, but the Venezuelan president isn't allowed to speak such truths.

What made Chavez "a world-class nutbar," Maureen? Was it his statement that "The immoral veto of the United States allowed the Israelis, with impunity, to destroy Lebanon. Right in front of all of us as we stood there watching, a resolution in the council was prevented"? She didn't say. She simply labeled Chavez a nutbar.

Perhaps Dowd faulted Chavez because he recommended Noam Chomsky's book Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. Chomsky's is one voice in the wilderness trying to rein in the evil forces of conquering warlords. Where are the rest?

That's a good question, What made Chavez a world class nutbar? Because he called Bush El Diablo? If so, then millions of Americans should be committed, because I hear worse about Bush, all the time.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Great way to start a day....

Here's some quotes from Hegemony or Survival lifted from

"Bush and colleagues declared the right to resort to force even if a country does not have WMD or even programs to develop them. It is sufficient that it have the'intent and ability' to do so. Just about every country has the ability, and intent is in the eye of the beholder. The official doctrine, then, is that anyone is subject to overwhelming attack. Colin Powell carried the revision even a step further. The president was right to attack Iraq because Saddam not only had 'intent and capability' but had 'actually used such horrible weapons against his enemies in Iran and against his own people'-- with continuing support from Powell and his associates, he failed to add, following the usual convention."

"As predicted, the war increased the threat of terror. Middle East expert Fawaz Gerges found it'simply unbelievable how the war has revived the appeal of a global jihadi Islam that was in real decline after 9-11.' Recruitment for the Al Qaeda networks increased, while Iraq itself became a 'terrorist haven' for the first time. Suicide attacks for the year 2003 reached the highest level in modern times; Iraq suffered its first since the thirteenth century. Substantial specialist opinion concluded that the war also led to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

"We are entering a period of human life that may provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to be smart than stupid -- whether there is intelligent life on earth, in some sense of "intelligence" that might be admired by a sensible extraterrestrial observer, could one exist. The most hopeful prospect is that the question will not be answered: if it receives a definite answer, that answer can only be that humans were a kind of "biological error," using their allotted 100,000 years to destroy themselves and, in the process, much else. The species has surely developed the capacity to do just that, and our hypothetical extraterrestrial observer might conclude that they have demonstrated that capacity throughout their history, dramatically in the past few hundred years, with an assault on the environment that sustains life, on the diversity of more complex organisms, and with cold and calculated savagery, on each other as well."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Killer Spinach

Anyone only half interested who would only be reading the headlines or first paragraphs or news reports in the past few days would come away with the misconception that organically produced spinach caused the ecoli outbreak, because, as Monsanto and other biotechnology giants tell us, "Organic food is grown in manure".

We don't add in manure, other than our manure from our live and healthy chickens, which is sterile and integrated with the soil by the time we will plant anything in there, and I don't think many people we know add in manure because it's not sustainable to keep buying in many inputs from outside sources, but organic farms in california probably do this, however they bring no more of a risk than conventional products do...

AP wrote:
Natural Selection Foods LLC, the country's largest grower of organic produce, said late Sunday that manufacturing codes from packages of spinach that infected patients turned over to health officials all were from non-organic spinach.

and.... wrote:
]E. coli
Pro-GM advocates are putting about the story that organic foods are more susceptible to Escherichia coli, because organic farming uses animal manure. Animal manure is, in fact, used both by conventional and organic farmers. Organic farming has strict rules about how animal manure is composted prior to use on crops.

This is a myth started by Dennis Avery of the thinktank, the Hudson Institute. The Hudson Institute is funded by Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Novartis, AgrEvo and Zeneca. He has distorted data from from Dr Paul Mead at the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), the US federal agency that tracks outbreaks of foodborne illness. The CDC had to issue a statement disclaiming any connection with Avery's allegations about E. coli :

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not conducted any study that compares or quantitates the specific risk for infection with E. coli 0157:H7 and eating either conventionally grown or organic/natural foods."

See the excellent article "Saving the planet with pestilent statistics" (named after Dennis Avery's book "Saving the Planet Through Pesticides and Plastics"), by Karen Charman for more details of Avery and his distortions of CDC data :

Since then, the E.Coli myth has been parrotted by GM proponents worldwide. The latest to take up on it is Dr John Mottley, University of East London, who has repeated the false allegations about E. coli without examining the evidence.

What's the lesson here? You can buy your food from a local, trusted source, where you know their farming methods.

In fact, this is a result of NOT adhering to USDA organic standards for "raw manure" meaning you can't just follow a cow around with a baggie and then throw it on the spinach, which anti-organic propaganda will have you believe. If it was spinach from an organic farm, they weren't adhering to organic practices, which is quite possible because organic farms in California are becoming industrialised (which is why we're supporters of localized food production and community-supported agriculture).

What happens under organic standards (most of which we follow even though we're not Certified Organic) is if you apply manure, you have to wait 120 days before harvesting, so that all possible harmful material is sterilized by sun and air and integrated into the soil before it can attach to the part of the plant people eat. I think standards even say that if you use manure (a lot of people we know keep their soil fertile through crop rotation and cover cropping, and applying feathermeal, so don't even use it) you have to even compost the manure first so that it's sterile before it even hits the field.

What the spinich farm in California might have done was to cheat and apply the manure too late so that the leaf material was exposed to manure that didn't have a chance to integrate itself into the soil. Conventional agriculture can just spray shit from lagoons right onto fields if it wants to, because there are not standards in place like there are for organic.

Anyway, shit is what makes up the soil. Tons and tons of worm shit, animal shit, rotten plant material, bacteria, and the soil regenerates and makes itself healthy through the activity of thousands and thousands of organisms, and it's been doing that for millions of years. What the kind of agriculture we practice tries to copy that, while at the same time adding elements of human control.

So, bottom line, organic agriculture is actually less susceptible to disease than conventional, if its standards are strictly followed. But when you start mass-producing anything, you may start to cut corners if it increases profits.

I think this NPR report kinda illustrates my point about local organic vs. big organic

Now everybody come along and we can see in real time how propaganda works. Predictably, pro-agribusiness "think tanks" jump on this news, despite the facts, in their efforts to discredit organic:

National Center for Policy Analysis wrote:
Organic spinach appears to be the culprit behind a 20-state outbreak of deadly E. coli poisoning, casting further doubt on greens' claims that "organic is safer," says Investor's Business Daily (IBD).

This one is totally awesome for it's misleadingness
NCPA wrote:
# And as more school cafeterias go organic, more kids are getting sick; a 2002 federal report revealed that the number of school-lunch outbreaks caused by E. coli and salmonella doubled between 1990 and 2000.

Man these people have no shame. Organic is barely in school cafeterias now, let alone in the 90s. Clearly the Ecoli outbreaks in school cafeterias have absolutely nothing to do with organic. In fact if you study it more closely, you'll probably find that not a single one of those cafeterias that had ecoli were serving organic food. What DID happen during the 90s was NAFTA, and since trade restrictions were dropped, it's possible that more food was coming in from countries who don't enjoy the food safety standards that we do here (even though ours aren't exactly perfect).

Lap dog media coverage of Chavez speech...

... I don't think I have to comment on it. It's hilarious.

Chavez's speech if you read the entire text calls the UN worthless, so the right reactionaries should love it. But Chavez is correct in saying that what makes the UN worthless is not that they don't rubber stamp whatever the US imperialists want to do, but too often they bend to the veto power by the US and Israel.

I'm interested in seeing Chomsky's remarks on Chavez waving his book around. This is from a 2005 Chomsky interview I lifted from

SD: I recently read a speech by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He actually was talking about your book, Hegemony or Survival; he was praising it as a great piece of anti-imperialist literature. So we know that he’s a fan of yours, but I was wondering if you are a fan of his. What do you think about the Bolivarian Revolution?

NC: Again, the interesting question is not what I think about it or what you think about it, or what George Bush thinks about it. The question is, what do Venezuelans think about it? On that, we have evidence. Despite extreme hostility from the media, from the business classes and from the United States, Chavez has won election and referendum one after the other by heavy majority.

There are polls in Latin America, careful polls by Latin American polling institutions, and they are quite revealing. What they show is a decline in faith in democracy over almost all of Latin America, not because people don’t like democracy, but because they don’t like the neoliberal economic policies that have come along with it, which are harmful. There are very few exceptions. Venezuela is one of those exceptions.

The wealthy and the privileged hate him. On the other hand, the great majority of the population is very impoverished and has always been kept out of the country’s enormous wealth. This Bolivarian Revolution, whatever you and I may think about it, is actually doing something for the poor and apparently they are reacting. So the enormous support for him in the slums and great hostility in the Pelican Suites gives you a pretty good guess.

We already know how the right reactionaries will respond to this business about Chavez waving Hegemony or Survival around (which is a good book, I read it as soon as the library got a copy), and they're so predictable it's pointless to do anything but ignore them. I have a Google Alert for Chomsky and the reactionaries have been loving him lately, with his "embrace" of Hizbollah (he visited there in May, before the Israeli state-terrorist attacks, and a corporate lapdog news organization from the middle east called MEMRI did a particularly hilarious bit of propaganda on that, see it here)