Friday, March 31, 2006
Article Published on Thursday, March 30, 2006 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Dismay of Our Elders Sums Up US
by Jay Bookman
An eerie sense of calm has settled over the nation's affairs — a dead calm.
It's not merely that the Bush administration has run aground on its own illusions. The real problem runs deeper, much deeper, and at its core, I think, lies the fact that out of fear and laziness we insist on trying to address new problems with old ideologies, rhetoric and mind-sets.
To put it bluntly, we don't know what to do, and so we do nothing.
Run through the list: We have no real idea how to address global warming, the draining of jobs overseas, the influx of illegal immigrants, our growing indebtedness to foreign lenders, our addiction to petroleum, the rise of Islamic terror . . .
Those are very big problems, and if you listen to the debate in Congress and on the airwaves, you can't help but be struck by the smallness of the ideas proposed to address them. We have become timid and overly protective of a status quo that cannot be preserved and in fact must be altered significantly.
The Republicans, for example, continue to mouth a cure-all ideology of tax cuts, deregulation and a worship of all things corporate, an approach too archaic and romanticized to have any relevance in the modern world, as their five years in power have proved.
The GOP's sole claim to bold action — the decision to invade Iraq in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 — instead epitomizes the problem. The issue of Islamic terrorism is complex and difficult, and by reverting immediately to the brute force of another era, we made the problem worse.
Unfortunately, the Democrats don't offer an alternative. They mouth no ideology whatsoever, their imagination, ingenuity and courage apparently having petered out 30 years ago. They can't bring themselves to acknowledge that the modern litany of problems will require us to invent new roles for government, and to rework the relationships between citizens, corporations and country.
But we can't even talk about such things. Our public discourse — which ought to be the source of renewal and energy in a democracy — has been stripped of meaning, with rudeness now mistaken for eloquence and anger substituting for insight.
All that has led to a sense of helplessness atypical of the American character. In an accurate reflection of our national mood, only 29 percent in a recent Gallup Poll said they were satisfied with the country's direction, a number that can't be explained away solely by our predicament in Iraq. The Gallup numbers haven't consistently been above 50 percent since the spring of 2002, long before most Americans were even aware an invasion loomed.
But more compelling to me than numbers are the e-mails, probably dozens of them in total, that have trickled into my in-box over the past year or so from older Americans all around the country.
"I am 79 . . . I am 84 . . . I was born in 1931," they start out. "I fought with the Eighth Army in Korea . . . We lost our oldest son in Vietnam . . . My husband served in the Pacific . . . I taught school for 35 years," they continue, each recounting their personal contributions to this country and establishing their own perspective on its history.
Then comes the statement that breaks your heart. The words vary from author to author, but the sentiment does not:
"This is not the country I wanted to leave my grandchildren . . . Is this what we sacrificed so much for all those years? . . . I really don't understand how it has come to this. . . . We took for granted that in America it would always be better for the next generation, but I can't see that's the case anymore. . . . Where did we go wrong?"
These people are concerned not for themselves, but for what they may soon leave behind. And that concern for the future is all the more remarkable because it is so rare among those of us who are their children and grandchildren.
Unlike our elders, we refuse to tax ourselves to pay for our wars, our roads, our government. We elevate leaders who promise us tax cuts and free services and cheap oil and the strongest military in the world, and we shun any who dare to suggest that sacrifice might be necessary for such things.
Of course, as a nation we have faced worse. The generation that endured the Great Depression only to be hit with World War II had to confront challenges that make our own pale in significance.
But when people of that generation express sincere dismay about where we're headed today, it's gotta make you wonder.
Jay Bookman is deputy editorial page editor. His column appears Thursdays and Mondays.
© Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Greedy self-serving entrepreneurs our trying to own the rights to ancient spiritual and healing knowledge. It's great to see India doing something about it.
from the February 09, 2006 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0209/p07s02-wosc.html
India: Breathe in, and hands off our yoga
Delhi builds a digital library of lore such as herbal remedies and yoga to safeguard intellectual property.
By Anupreeta Das Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
DELHI - India's centuries-old traditional knowledge, preserved and orally passed down through generations of households, is now going digital.
Over the coming months, India will unveil a first-of-its-kind encyclopedia of 30 million pages, containing thousands of herbal remedies and eventually everything from indigenous construction techniques to yoga exercises.
The project represents a 21st-century approach to safeguarding intellectual property of the ancient variety. The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) aims to prevent foreign entrepreneurs from claiming Indian lore as novel, and thus patenting it.
"We do not want anyone selling our own knowledge to us," says Ajay Dua, a top bureaucrat in the Department of Industrial Policy and Planning, which oversees intellectual-property rights. "Also, we would like anyone using our traditional knowledge to acknowledge that it is from India."
These concerns are not unfounded. In the past decade, India has fought several costly legal battles to get patents revoked. The impetus for TKDL came in 1997, after India successfully managed to get a US patent on the wound-healing properties of turmeric revoked.
"This patent claimed the wound-healing properties as a novel finding, whereas practically every Indian housewife knows and uses it to heal wounds," says R. A. Mashelkar, chief of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
The innovative idea to translate and digitize all the available information on traditional medicine was a collaborative effort of bureaucrats, scientists, and intellectual-property lawyers.
"It was a way to prevent more patents from being granted. Also, it was a way of throwing the information open to the public because this traditional wealth is for the benefit of mankind," says Rajeshwari Hariharan, a partner at K&S Partners, the law firm that represented India in several high-profile patent cases, including its fight over basmati rice, turmeric, and the antibacterial properties of the neem [margosa] leaf.
Of about 5,000 patents on plant-based formulations granted by the US in 2000, 80 percent were on plants of Indian origin, says Vinod Gupta, with the National Institute for Science Communication and Information Resources.
Mr. Gupta heads a team of 150 doctors, scientists, and information-technolgoy experts who have worked on the TKDL project since 2002. Poring over ancient medical texts and punching code into computers in Delhi, they have already documented more than 110,000 formulations culled from some 100 texts belonging to the three principal systems of traditional medicine - ayurveda, unani, and siddha.
Patent officers call this information "prior art," or previously existing knowledge about the applications of a product. Normally, a patent application is rejected if there is prior art on the product. But in the patent offices of the US, Europe, and Japan, prior art is recognized only if it has been published in a journal or database.
Traditional knowledge and folklore passed down orally - or contained in ancient, inaccessible texts - are not prior art. "We therefore revisited the past and modernized it," says Gupta.
The TKDL uses complex computer software to translate formulations written in ancient and medieval Indian languages to English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.
The $2 million project could wind up saving India money in the long run. "It is definitely far cheaper than any litigation costs India would have to pay to fight patent battles," says Gupta.
Indian officials are recognizing an ever- widening array of traditional knowledge that may be stolen by biopirates. "You name an area, and there is an Indian product in danger of being lost to a patent," says Gupta, pointing to Indian handicraft designs, Kashmir silk, and pashmina, a premium wool derived from the Himalayan goat.
Yet many were caught off guard here when in 2004 the US granted an Indian-American yoga practitioner a patent on a sequence of 26 asanas, or physical exercises. Following the initial disbelief that anyone could claim authorship over a 5,000-year-old tradition, officials say they are finally setting up a task force with yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar to prepare a case.
Such disputes have expanded the scope of the TKDL project. Once traditional medicine entries are completed, officials say they will focus on documenting all traditional knowledge. Already, the CSIR is creating databases on traditional Indian foods, indigenous architecture and construction techniques, and oral tribal knowledge, in what Dr. Mashelkar calls "defensive protection."
"The conversion of our [traditional] knowledge into digital format is need-based and has become essential," he adds.
Full HTML version of this story which may include photos, graphics, and related links
www.csmonitor.com Copyright Â© 2006 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.For permission to reprint/republish this article, please email Copyright
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Monday, March 27, 2006
Started on Thursday with Clown Class. I am letting go of old comfortable aspects of my clown and opening up to new unexplored areas of Sir Jello's psyche. It's exciting, scary and frustrating. Made some breakthroughs doing exercises to discover possible material for our performance pieces.
Thursday night, and the rest of the weekend I tuned into the NCAA basketball tournament. This is my favorite sports event of the year. I've watched very little basketball this year, so I'm seeing good teams for the first and last times. I loved watching the lowest seed ever to make it to the final four, George Mason University (seeded 11) beat mighty University of Connecticut (seeded 1). I had to record it and watch it when I got home in the evening.
Sunday afternoon, while the game was live I went to Auburn to see and hear the St. Petersburg String Quartet. The are considered one of the best String Quartets in the world. I haven't listened to that much classical music but have always been drawn to chamber music. I love the simplicity of instrumentation and my ability to hear the interplay between the few instruments. This was one incredible concert. I have never experienced such beauty of sound. I don't know how much was their excellence and how much was my ability to hear with fuller consciousness, as a result of my healing and growth in the past couple of years.
In addition to that we at the Hippie Museum project seem to be making slow progress in getting a solid foundation for building towards the future.
I've also started reading and am going to be following the guidance through the exercises of "The Artist's Way - A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity" by Julia Cameron. I'll leave you with this quote:
"I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me."
-- William Blake
Friday, March 24, 2006
Thursday, March 23, 2006
I was just reminded of the three year anniversary of Rachel's death by an article on the postponement of last night's scheduled American Premier of the play based on her diaries and emails. For more information about the postponment see the Democracy Now broadcast of March 23, 2006.
To me, Corrie represents all that is good about the "American" Spirit. I have a short publication of her letters that I will gladly email to you as a PDF file. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the 16th of March, 2003, 23-year-old American
human rights worker Rachel Corrie was crushed to
death by an Israeli military bulldozer. She was trying to
prevent the Israeli army from destroying the home of a
physician and his family in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.
In a remarkable series of emails to her family, she
explained why she was risking her life.
From a letter to Rachel’s mother dated February 27th, 2003:
“Love you. Really miss you. I have bad nightmares about tanks and
bulldozers outside our house and you and me inside. Sometimes the
adrenaline acts as an anesthetic for weeks and then in the evening or
at night it just hits me again - a little bit of the reality of the situation.
I am really scared for the people here.
“Yesterday, I watched a father lead his two tiny children, holding his
hands, out into the sight of tanks and a sniper tower and bulldozers
and Jeeps because he thought his house was going to be exploded...I
was terrified to think that this man felt it was less of a risk to walk
out in view of the tanks with his kids than to stay in his house. I
was really scared that they were all going to be shot and I tried to
stand between them and the tank. This happens every day, but just
this father walking out with his two little kids just looking very sad,
just happened to get my attention more at this particular moment...
“When I come back from Palestine, I probably will have nightmares
and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that
into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I've ever
done. So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break
with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the
reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide
which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government
is largely responsible.
“I love you and Dad...”
- Rachel’s last email
“Let me know if you have any ideas about
what I should do with the rest of my life.”
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
MotherJones.com / interview / 2006
On the Side of the Peacemakers
A musician shows what it's like to live in war and how people get by.
March 13 , 2006
In his most recent project, musician and activist Michael Franti melds music video and documentary film to showcase the stories of the people he encounters in a journey through the war-torn Middle East. For a couple of weeks in 2004, Franti, armed only with his guitar, traveled with a camera crew in Iraq, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories, meeting people of all stripes in an effort to understand the human cost of war. The record of the trip, entitled I Know I’m Not Alone, has won acclaim in recent months at numerous film festivals across the globe.
Franti seems prepared to embrace whoever crosses his path. As he passes into Iraq, female officials shyly touch his long, black dreadlocks, which he slips to them through a teller’s window. On the streets of Baghdad, he makes children and grown men sing, dance, and clap along to a ditty consisting only of the word “Habibi,” an Arabic term of endearment. He plays “Bomb the World” to a group of off-duty American soldiers in what he describes as “the hardest show I’d ever done in my life,” and later facilitates a party that brings them together with the Iraqis behind Baghdad’s first independent radio station.
Franti also witnesses the wanton violence of street bombings and sees firsthand the chaos of life under two separate occupations. He visits a children’s hospital in Iraq, and speaks with dozens of refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, Israeli soldiers, and grieving mothers from both sides of the divide. As Franti recounts in his film, “This trip made me realize one very important thing, which is that I’m not on the side of the Americans, Iraqis, Israelis, or Palestinians. I’m on the side of the peacemakers...whichever country they come from.”
Widely acclaimed in peace and social justice circles, Franti, the front man of Spearhead, has long tackled issues such as homelessness, AIDS, war, police brutality, and the death penalty in his music. He is also the force behind the annual Power to the Peaceful music festival in San Francisco. Mother Jones recently caught up with Franti to get his take on the war in Iraq and talk about his newest venture.
Mother Jones: What’s the political message of your film?
Michael Franti: The film is not a film about political policy or people openly criticizing the Bush administration. It’s just a film about what it’s like living in war and how people get by. To me, the story of the heavy metal band in Baghdad that uses telephone wire in order to make guitar strings, or the kid whose legs have been blown off drawing a picture and smiling in some ways speak to the war more than listening to politicians rant.
MJ: To make this film, you have said that you brought your guitar and sought to travel with an open heart. What will it take for more Americans to experience the world like that?
MF: I really encourage people to travel so we can see how the rest of the world views our country. That’s really important. Secondly, as artists, activists, and citizens who vote, we have to begin to vote from our heart.
Recently I was reading a newspaper poll online that said 21 percent of Americans said that torture and degradation of prisoners is acceptable. I was astounded. We don’t see the images of what’s happening there, and until we do war is just going to be something that other people do somewhere else.
MJ: What ways can people move past the slogans to accomplish positive steps for peace?
MF: I can only speak to what I feel like I can do. We need to see what’s happening to people, and that’s why I made this film. I think that if we can begin to humanize the Iraqi people, the U.S. soldiers, the Palestinian refugees, the Israeli people, the Israeli soldiers—if we can begin to put a human face to all this, it will be like at the end of the Vietnam War—when we started to see the images of an eight-year-old girl running down a country road naked, burning from Napalm, and suddenly people around the world said, “It’s time to stop this.”
MJ: What did the Iraqis you met think about the Americans’ effort to bring stability to Iraq?
MF: With electricity that rarely works, water that has viruses in it, no jobs, people dying every day in violent ways, what surprised me was how many Iraqis believed George Bush. The people that I spoke to, they believed that Bush was coming here to liberate the nation. I would say 99 percent of the Iraqis that I spoke to were happy that Saddam was gone and grateful for that. They thought Saddam would be taken out and then America would leave and allow the Iraqis to govern themselves.
MJ: Based on your experience, what role do you think the U.S. can play or should play in relation to Iraq achieving stability now?
MF: While I was there, I gathered that there were three options that were available for the country. 1) America occupies Iraq infinitely. 2) Because of all of the ethnic and religious battles taking place for power, you do like what was done with India: you create a Kurdish state, a Sunni state, and a Shiite state—and everybody was dreading that, but it was something that people openly spoke of. 3) The United States create an international body of economic support, humanitarian relief, and assistance in creating an Iraqi security force that can help to restore order amid so much chaos.
The problem with that third option, which is to me the best, is that we did everything that we could—and when I say “we” I mean the Bush administration—to tell the rest of the world to fuck off leading up to the invasion; and now to go back and say, “Hey, we need your sons and daughters to now go into Iraq and face being killed; we need your money; we need your support to take care of this mess that we’ve created”—it’s a hard sell.
MJ: Are you hopeful the situation will improve?
MF: I have hope for the situation improving because I see change in America. When I first came back from Iraq, I traveled around the country playing music talking about my experience there, and people in some states just booed me. They said, “How dare you criticize or question the war?!?” Now, a year later, especially since Hurricane Katrina, people really question the direction of our nation: Do we want to be a country that puts all its resources into war and every day creates more enemies? Or do we want to be a nation that puts our resources back into our own country and pays attention to health care, education, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability, and then, with the overflow, reaches out to other nations and ultimately creates more friends?
MJ: What were some of the differences you observed between life in Israel, Palestine, and Iraq?
MF: I went to Iraq because I wanted to see what one year of occupation had done to Iraqi society, and I went to the West Bank and Gaza Strip because I wanted to see what three generations of occupation had done to Palestinian society. I found a lot more hopelessness and despair in Palestine. I met people who didn’t have that vision, like Iraqis did, that their situation was going to change in the near future. You have people who feel stuck and live with this emotional and spiritual darkness hanging over them as a result of the occupation; and you also have people who live every day in fear of suicide attacks. So I met with people on both sides, who had lost family members, who had had their homes destroyed, and who were working to reconcile and create peace there. It was very inspiring to see the willingness of people on both sides to try to make the peace process move forward.
MJ: How often did you worry that that you might get killed or injured during this project?
MF: Every night before leaving I couldn’t sleep and kept playing scenarios in my head. One was an Islamic militant cutting my head off, and the other was being kidnapped by a CIA agent. When I got there, [it became clear] that I was not a big enough fish for the CIA to fry—they had much larger problems than me playing my guitar on the street—and [the risk] really just became being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
MJ: What were some of the biggest dangers you faced?
MF: Driving out of the Baghdad airport when we first got off the plane, there were two cars blown up coming into the airport—bodies inside them, the cars were still on fire. There were soldiers all around pointing their weapons in ready position. We tried to videotape it, and the driver, who we had just met, slammed the video camera out of our hands and said, “Don’t ever shoot any U.S. military operations, or else they’re going to open fire on our vehicle.” That was just the awakening.
MJ: How was it being a musician in these places?
MF: Traveling to the Middle East and playing music for people on the street, for soldiers, for people in hospitals, and for people who lost their homes, and seeing people open up through the experience of music really restored my faith in music, in art, and in culture to change things.
MJ: What’s that change going to look like in this country?
MF: I think that it’s going to be a mass awakening in this country that is ultimately going to lead to the removal of this administration and finds somebody who has a backbone to really stand up for human, natural, and spiritual interests of this country and this planet.
Michael Beckel is a senior editorial fellow at Mother Jones.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress, the Investigative Fund of Mother Jones, and gifts from generous readers like you.
© 2006 The Foundation for National Progress
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
The following is a summary from www.tv.com of the episode of South Park that was pulled from being rerun, allegedly due to threats by Tom Cruise. Since you can't watch it on TV I thought I should let you know what is in it. ENJOY
Originally aired: Wednesday November 16, 2005 on Comedy Central
Writer: Trey Parker
Director: Trey Parker
Show Stars: Trey Parker (Voice of Stan Marsh; Eric Theodore Cartman; Herbert Garrison; Officer Barbrady; Terrance; Timmy; Ned Gerblanski; Satan; Randy Ma), Matt Stone (Voice of Kyle Broflovski; Kenny McKormick; Gerald Broflovski; Pip Pirrup; Jesus; Jimbo Kearn; Phillip; Saddam; Various Others)
Production Code: 912
Stan is saving his money for a new bike and as a result he doesn’t join Kyle, Cartman and Kenny when they go off to play Laser Tag. Opting for something that is fun and free, Stan takes a personality test that is being offered by the Scientologists. After answering a lot of questions the results of Stan’s test show that he is one messed up kid who is “completely miserable and totally depressed.” Something that Stan wasn’t aware of. Fortunately it makes him a perfect candidate for scientology and for only $240 they will help him out. Back at home, Stan asks his parents for the money to help him with his total depression. His father suggests that he use the money for his bike money, it’s his choice, does he want the bike or does he not want to be depressed. Stan takes the plunge and spends his money on Scientology. Stan gets a brief history of Scientology before he goes into auditing room where his “Thetan Levels” are read. Stan grabs hold of the device and his levels are off the chart. After trying four different E-Meters, the results are the same. His results are faxed to the headquarters in Los Angeles, where Scientology’s president reviews the results. Stan has registered an OT9, the only other person to score that high was L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder and prophet. Back in South Park Stan is taking out the garbage when he sees that a large group of people have gathered outside. The Scientologists have gathered there to celebrate Stan as the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard. The president of the group arrives and goes inside to talk with Stan’s parents. His parents are against him joining the group, but the president tells them that they are looking for Stan to lead their group. John Travolta has arrived on the scene. Randy sends his son to his room. In his room Stan finds that Tom Cruise is there waiting for him. When Stan tells him what he thinks of his acting, Tom goes into the closet, believing he has failed in the eyes of the prophet. Stan calls for his father’s help and Randy tries to get Tom Cruise to “come out of the closet.”
Four hours later Tom is still in the closet. Everyone wants him to “come out of the closet.” R. Kelly is on the scene and sings about Tom Cruise being in the closet. The scientology president tries to convince Stan’s parents to let them have their son. They want to reveal the great secret of life behind their church to Stan. Randy asks his son if he would like to know this information and Stan responds with a “sure.” Usually it takes several years before a member can hear this information, but Stan is on the fast track. The president tells him what the Scientologists actually believe, involving aliens from about 75 millions years ago coming to Earth. Now what the scientologists want Stan to do is pick up the story where L. Ron left off. Meanwhile, upstairs Nicole Kidman is trying to get Tom to “come out of the closet.” Tom continues to deny that he is in the closet. Stan begins writing and when Kyle, Cartman and Kenny come over to invite him to the movies he doesn’t have time for them. Kyle is concerned about the cult that Stan has joined, but Stan assures him that Scientology is based on fact. If they can’t accept that he has found meaning (instead of the depression he didn’t know he had) then they are no longer friends.
John Travolta also tries to get Tom to “come out of the closet,” but instead he finds himself joining him. Out on the street R. Kelly sings about this latest development. The Scientologist president is reading Stan’s new work and when Stan tells him that he thinks that that church should no longer have to pay money to belong to the church; then the president tells him what the real deal is. There is a lot of money to be made from their followers. R. Kelly goes upstairs to try to get Tom and John to “come out of the closet.” R. Kelly gets angry, pulls out his gun, and when the closet door opens, he finds himself going inside. Outside, the president introduces Stan, who is going to read to them from his new doctrine. Stan goes over some of the highlights, but decides that he has to come clean with his followers. For his efforts, all his followers plan on suing him. Even Tom, John and R. Kelly have all “come out of the closet,” with plans on suing Stan. Stan tells them “I’m not scared. Sue me!”
THE YEAR'S BEST (actual) HEADLINES OF 2005:
(sent to me in an email)
Crack Found on Governor's Daughter
Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
[Now that's taking things a bit far!]
Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?
[Not if I wipe thoroughly!]
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
[What a guy!]
Miners Refuse to Work after Death
[No-good-for-nothing' lazy so-and-sos!]
Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
[See if that works any better than a fair trial!]
War Dims Hope for Peace
[I can see where it might have that effect!]
If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
[Who would have thought!]
Enfield ( London ) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
[They may be on to something!]
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
[You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?!]
Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge
[He probably IS the battery charge]
New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
[Weren't they fat enough?!]
Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
[That's what he gets for eating those beans!]
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
[Taste like chicken?]
Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
[Chainsaw Massacre all over again!]
Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
[Boy, are they tall!]
And the winner is....
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
[Did I read that sign right?]
Monday, March 20, 2006
GIVERNY, France � The gardens of Claude Monet, 1978.
� Dennis Stock / Magnum Photos
St. Francis and the Birth of Earth Day
By John McConnell, 90 year old founder of Earth Day
WHAT WOULD ST. FRANCIS DO NOW?
The global celebration of Earth Day on March 20, the first day of Spring, is a matter directly related to St. Francis and the amazing results of his vision and life. Were he here today, he would undoubtedly focus all his prayer and effort on achieving Earth Day's original purpose.
A little about Earth Day history will illustrate this.
Earth Day is on the March Equinox, which determines the annual date of Easter. (Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the March equinox.)
Not only that, the equinox is also the New Year in Iran and other Islam countries, which makes possible attention for a common purpose - the sustainable care of Earth, with justice and peace for all.
This will help us show real love for our world neighbors and the web of life that covers our globe.
ST. FRANCIS AND THE BIRTH OF EARTH DAY
The first Earth Day was inaugurated in San Francisco - The City of St. Francis. I had long been familiar with the Prayer of St. Francis: "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love..." In 1969 we obtained backing of the Mayor, city officials, churches, schools, businesses - a really all out event with massive coverage in media. While the event was backed by Franciscans and Catholic churches, participation included synagogues and many other denominations. The Red Cross delivered plants to schools for children to take home.
In succeeding Earth Days at the United Nations, we demonstrated that people of diverse creeds and cultures can leave room for their differences and come together for "peace, justice and the care of Earth."
A factor in the choice of the date was my own history. In 1957 I obtained global attention for an editorial in my weekly North Carolina "Toe Valley View" newspaper. The first Sputnik Satellite had just been launched on October 4th. None of the media seemed to note that this was the "Feast Day of St. Francis." And launched by the then Godless USSR! (The person who chose the date must have been a secret Christian.)
My editorial called for a visible "Star of Hope" satellite. It would be launched as a symbol of hope to further understanding and peace on our planet. It obtained front page attention around the world.
My own study and prayer life led to the conviction that we needed a common purpose that would appeal to people of all creeds and cultures - and a way to get attention for it. We needed something that would end history's terrible record of war and injustice.
These thoughts planted the seeds that led to Earth Day.
Another factor was my efforts in 1963 to get global participation in a daily "Minute for Peace." I was responsible for the Minute for Peace on radio world-wide, which followed the period of mourning for President Kennedy. "Peace begins in the mind." We asked for a one minute radio spot on all stations that would carry the sound of a bell and a thought or prayer for peace. We invited all listeners to join in this special minute - to deepen their commitment and increase their efforts for world peace.
Minute for Peace became the centerpiece of Earth Day. When we ring the UN Peace Bell we invite people world wide to join in two minutes of heartfelt prayer that we will overcome "doubt with faith" and strive to be a responsible Trustee of Earth.
Pray that every year St. Francis Day and Earth Day will bring a new sense of identity with the whole human family and a commitment to see peace through understanding and love -- the love that Jesus revealed. And may we put feet to our prayers with action to help make it happen.
SAINT FRANCIS PRAYER FOR PEACE
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury...pardon,
Where there is doubt... faith,
Where there is despair... hope,
Where there is darkness... light,
And where there is sadness... joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying
that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis of Assisi
Saturday, March 18, 2006
(AP) CHICAGO Soaring numbers of American children are being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs -- in many cases, for attention deficit disorder or other behavioral problems for which these medications have not been proven to work, a study found.
The annual number of children prescribed anti-psychotic drugs jumped fivefold between 1995 and 2002, to an estimated 2.5 million, the study said. That is an increase from 8.6 out of every 1,000 children in the mid-1990s to nearly 40 out of 1,000.
But more than half of the prescriptions were for attention deficit and other non-psychotic conditions, the researchers said.
The findings are worrisome "because it looks like these medications are being used for large numbers of children in a setting where we don't know if they work," said lead author Dr. William Cooper, a pediatrician at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.
The increasing use of anti-psychotics since the mid-1990s corresponds with the introduction of costly and heavily marketed medications such as Zyprexa and Risperdal. The packaging information for both says their safety and effectiveness in children have not been established.
Anti-psychotics are intended for use against schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses.
However, attention deficit disorder is sometimes accompanied by temper outbursts and other disruptive behavior. As a result, some doctors prescribe anti-psychotics to these children to calm them down -- a strategy some doctors and parents say works.
The drugs, which typically cost several dollars per pill, are considered safer than older anti-psychotics -- at least in adults -- but they still can have serious side effects, including weight gain, elevated cholesterol and diabetes.
Anecdotal evidence suggests similar side effects occur in children, but large-scale studies of youngsters are needed, Cooper said.
The researchers analyzed data on youngsters age 13 on average who were involved in annual national health surveys. The surveys involved prescriptions given during 119,752 doctor visits. The researchers used that data to come up with national estimates.
Cooper said some of the increases might reflect repeat prescriptions given to the same child, but he said that is unlikely and noted that his findings echo results from smaller studies.
The study appears in the March-April edition of the journal Ambulatory Pediatrics.
Heavy marketing by drug companies probably contributed to the increase in the use of anti-psychotic drugs among children, said Dr. Daniel Safer, a psychiatrist affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, who called the potential side effects a concern.
Safer said a few of his child patients with behavior problems are on the drugs after they were prescribed by other doctors. Safer said he has let these children continue on the drugs, but at low doses, and he also does periodic tests for high cholesterol or warning signs of diabetes.
Dr. David Fassler, a University of Vermont psychiatry professor, said more research is needed before anti-psychotics should be considered standard treatment for attention deficit disorders in children.
"Given the frequency with which these medications are being used, there's no question that we need additional studies on both safety and efficacy in pediatric populations," Fassler said.
© 2006 The Associated Press.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Saturday March 18, 9:46 AM
American kids getting high on prescription drugs
BOSTON (Reuters) When Paul Michaud's father died of cancer, the 16-year-old took OxyContin to ease his emotional pain.
He first snorted the prescription painkiller and within weeks he was injecting it into his veins for a more powerful high before turning to heroin as a cheaper option.
"It was the one drug that really pulled me. It took away everything," said Michaud, now 18, one of a new generation of American children getting high on and addicted to prescription drugs.
Teenagers are increasingly experimenting with legal drugs like OxyContin, widely known as "hillbilly heroin," and Vicodin, often bought online or taken from medicine cabinets, even before trying marijuana or alcohol, health officials say.
"Last year, painkillers were the No. 1 drug for people taking drugs for the first time," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an arm of the government's National Institutes of Health.
"It's been escalating and escalating," she said. "In the past, the No. 1 drug for new initiates was marijuana."
Michaud, who attended a Boston area high school, was caught stealing to pay for what he described as his almost instant addiction to OxyContin -- which can cost $80 to $100 for a 40 mg pill. He was then checked into a drug and alcohol clinic.
He has since been in and out of rehab programs six times.
"It destroyed my life pretty much. I haven't seen any of my teenage years," he said from the Phoenix House, a clinic in the western Massachusetts city of Springfield, where he says he has been clean for 50 days.
Michaud is not alone. Last year's Monitoring the Future study, produced jointly by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan, found a 38-percent rise in abuse of OxyContin among 18-year-olds between 2002 and 2005.
While overall drug use dropped 19 percent over the past four years, about one in 10 teenagers were abusing prescription drugs, the survey showed.
Among the most dangerous experiments are "pharming parties" where children meet after scouring family medicine cabinets and dumping what they find into a bowl. They stir things up, dip in, randomly pluck drugs out and swallow them.
"They literally do not know what they are taking," said Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital in Boston.
"They can overdose or take medications that counteract with each other or interact with each other in dangerous ways. When you combine the anti-anxiety drug Klonopin for example with alcohol, they work in the same way and can very much lower the threshold at which you stop breathing," he said.
Volkow at the National Institute on Drug Abuse said many teens associate prescription drugs with family doctors, and consider them safe, or have had positive experiences with properly prescribed medication in their early childhood.
The challenge, she said, is to control abuse without banning drugs that do more good than harm to society. OxyContin, which is sold generically and generates about $2 billion in annual sales, is widely used in hospitals.
The issue grabbed public attention in Boston after the suicide in January of 17-year-old Cameron O'Connor, who shot himself in the head a day after taking Klonopin. His death in Boston's middle-class Arlington suburb triggered calls for better ways to detect teen abuse of prescription drugs.
Teenagers are not the only prescription drug abusers. The number of people over the age of 55 treated for abuse of opiates, for example, has nearly doubled between 1995 and 2002, government statistics show. In 2003, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh admitted becoming hooked on OxyContin.
"We're also seeing an increase in the use of these drugs in young adults," said Lloyd Johnston, lead investigator at Michigan's Institute for Social Research, which researches the government's 700-page Monitoring the Future study.
Copyright Â© 2006 Reuters Limited.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Newly Released Files Reveal FBI Spied on PA Peace Group Because of Antiwar Views
Wednesday, March 15th, 2006
Newly released files show the FBI has been monitoring and possibly infiltrating a Pittsburgh peace group because of its opposition to the war in Iraq.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union released a series of once secret FBI files that show the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force conducted a secret investigation into the activities of the Thomas Merton Center beginning as early as November 2002, and continuing up until at least last March.
According to the ACLU these documents are the first to show conclusively that the rationale for FBI targeting is the group's opposition to the war.
One memo describes the Merton Center as a "left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism." It notes that the center hands out leaflets on a daily basis opposing the war in Iraq.
The FBI files also notes that one of the peace activists monitored handling out fliers "appeared to be of Middle Easter descent."
Another file on the peace center is titled "International Terrorism Matters" and it includes information on a series of anti-war rallies taking place in Pittsburgh and around the country.
The documents raise new questions about the extent of the government's domestic surveillance operations. On Monday Democratic Senator Russell Feingold introduced a resolution to censure President Bush for illegally ordering the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless domestic surveillance.
The White House has insisted the NSA surveillance is targeted solely at members of Al Qaeda and affiliates. But civil liberties groups fears that the government is also spying on political activists and critics of the government.
In December, NBC News revealed the existence of a secret Pentagon database to track intelligence gathered inside the United States including information on anti-war protests and rallies particularly actions targeting military recruiting.
Here in New York, the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed Freedom of Information requests on Tuesday on behalf of itself and fourteen of New York's most prominent political and religious groups to determine whether the FBI is spying on them as well.
AMY GOODMAN: In a minute, we'll be joined by Donna Lieberman in our studio, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, but first, to Pittsburgh, where we'll speak with Tim Vining, the former head of the Thomas Merton Center, personally named in the F.B.I. spy files on the group. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Tim.
TIM VINING: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you understand these files say, exactly?
TIM VINING: Well, the activity that we were cited for was simply leafleting in Market Square. We went out -- it was Buy Nothing Day, the day after Thanksgiving on November of 2002 -- and we went out just simply to hand out leaflets about a variety of issues -- transit advocacy, antiwar, global justice -- and for that, we were targeted. Also, what's really distressing to me, Amy, is that the Thomas Merton Center has worked very hard to build relationships with members of the local Muslim community, especially after 9/11, as they were targeted and scapegoated. And because of that, because we tried to build relationships that cross the lines of religion that are used to divide people, because of that, we were spied on by our government. Now, at a time when religious misunderstandings and differences lead to so much terrorism and violence in the world today, you would think our government would applaud us for seeking peace and trying to understand one another. Instead, they spied on us.
AMY GOODMAN: Tim Vining, who was Thomas Merton?
TIM VINING: Thomas Merton was a monk, a Trappist monk who spoke out during the Vietnam War in favor of peace, and he was a man who was extremely consistent. He thought that if we had the value of peace and we were truly peacekeepers and peacemakers, that we had to put our money where our mouth is. So he dedicated his life and his writing, from the monastery, speaking for peace.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what are your plans? And do you know, for example, who they were referring to when they say that someone was handing out fliers who was of Mid-Eastern decent.
TIM VINING: Well, one thing we're not going to allow the F.B.I. to do is to have us spy on one another and not trust one another. You know, so we're not even trying to guess. The fact is the person they identified simply, quote, “looked Middle Eastern.” There was no evidence that any of us, that person or any of us, were advocating any sort of violence. So I'm not quite sure. I know we have many members of the Thomas Merton Center who are Muslim, and we’re proud to have them as members and to stand with them.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you been able to identify people who work with the F.B.I. who are coming to your meetings?
TIM VINING: Yeah. We know, of course, that we're constantly having photographs taken of us. We’ve always suspected people at our meetings and at our large events. You know, this government has a history of spying on its citizens. We're not naive. But I think what's important is that we not allow this to get us to not trust one another or to live in fear and paranoia. You know, for years, since the Thomas Merton Center was formed in 1972, we have always stood with people who have been targeted or have been scapegoated, whether that be African Americans, gays and lesbians, immigrants, workers, youth, and we're not about to stop now. And if that makes us a threat to this government, then so be it. But we're not going be deterred. In fact, this Saturday, we're going back out into the streets of Pittsburgh, and we're going to have another huge protest in the thousands to defend our rights and to speak out against this war.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Tim Vining, former executive director of the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh; in our studio, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Donna, can you talk about the Freedom of Information Act request you have filed?
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Yes, the New York Civil Liberties Union has filed requests on behalf of a wide range of peace, civil rights, immigrant groups, as well as the New York Civil Liberties Union itself, to ascertain what kind of domestic surveillance is going on of us. We’ve filed these requests on behalf of groups that are committed to advocacy through lawful means, who haven't got a hint of illegal activity about them. And the purpose of the request is to find out what's going on and to publicize that, so that the American people can hold our government accountable for this reign of spying on what's really as American as apple pie: political protest and dissent. And we’re hopeful that we’ll get information, and that with this information, we will be able to not just unearth what's going on, but to build a movement to just put an end to this ridiculous policy by our government that doesn't bother to or can't or doesn't want to differentiate between lawful political protest and terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: And this issue of infiltration, Tim Vining, it’s one thing for an F.B.I. agent to come to a meeting, the question of if they are actively participating, if they are taking notes, have you ever asked people to identify themselves at a meeting, and has anyone ever done that?
TIM VINING: Yes, but of course, if someone is with the F.B.I., they’re not going to identify themselves. They have the right to lie, and they will lie. So we know that, you know, they've been at our meetings and they're taking notes. And sometimes we get asked this, Amy, like the NBC reporter was asking, “Well, you know, it's a public event, what's the big deal where you're just being watched?” What's different is this is our government, undisclosed agents of our government. The group that has the power to arrest us, to detain us, and God knows what else, if we think of Guantanamo Bay, and so then we're concerned with this, that an undisclosed agent of our government with actually the power to execute in this country would be observing us. And so, that puts a chill throughout the activist community. So we need to really stand strong, stand together, and say we're not going to give in to fear, to paranoia, and we're going to go out there and, you know, exercise our rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you also on Pentagon lists?
TIM VINING: Well, there was a Pentagon report, a list, and, yes, we’re on that list. I’m sure we’re on a whole bunch of lists that we’re not even aware of. But the Pentagon list that came out -- I think it’s MSNBC had released it -- identified some counter-recruitment. And here, they’re targeting our youth. They’re targeting -- a lot of the strength of the Thomas Merton Center has been the youth, and they’re targeting them, because of their counter-recruitment activities.
AMY GOODMAN: Donna Lieberman, this issue of infiltration and the legality of it?
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Well, there’s a case pending in New York, the Handschu case, which has been pending for twenty years. And it started after the – well, it was resolved temporarily after the revelation that the New York City Police Department had infiltrated the Panther 21, and the highly publicized, highly touted trial of 21 members of the Panther Party back in the 1980s for allegedly plotting to blow up department stores, turned out to be a total hype, entire harassment -- entrapment by the F.B.I., where it was revealed that F.B.I. agents had infiltrated the Panthers and the people behind any ideas of a plot to blow up anything were all government agents.
When government agents infiltrate lawful political organizations, they're under pressure to come back with information, and what government hearings have revealed time and time again is that they come back initially with no information, with information about lawful activities, and then they're under pressure to generate some business. And they try to entrap people into and foment illegal activity. They often fail, because these are organizations that are committed to peaceful protest, not terrorism. So, we're deeply concerned that when government infiltrates organization, they end up trying to destroy those organizations and get them to do things that they wouldn't otherwise do. Do we have any doubt that if Martin Luther King were alive today, that he would be bugged by the Bush administration? Not a doubt in our minds. Not the slightest doubt. And I think that the American people have to understand that the American Friends Service Committee, the Council of Peoples Organizations, the 9/11Families for Peaceful Tomorrows are all under the government's microscope because they dare to criticize this administration.
AMY GOODMAN: The 9/11 Families are those who lost loved ones on 9/11.
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Yes, these are people who lost family members in those terrible attacks.
AMY GOODMAN: Donna Lieberman, last question, we just broadcast from Britain all last week, and a man who is there now, a prominent professor, Muslim professor, Tariq Ramadan, is not allowed to come into this country. You are filing a suit on his behalf? Is it a suit?
DONNA LIEBERMAN: We filed a suit. It’s a suit. Today, we're filing a motion for preliminary injunction against the government to stop the exclusion of Tariq Ramadan from this country. He's being excluded from this country. He's the most prominent European scholar on Islam, and he was supposed to be teaching at Notre Dame. Instead, he's teaching at Oxford, a revolutionary hotbed of terrorism, as I understand, according to the government, and he's being excluded pursuant to a provision in government manuals that prohibits people or allows them to exclude people who engage in irresponsible expressions of opinion. In other words, our immigration policy, our policy on foreign visas for scholars is that we don't want any critics or the government can bar any critics of the Bush administration. That's not what a democracy, the voice of the free world is or ought to be about.
AMY GOODMAN: And what would a preliminary injunction mean?
DONNA LIEBERMAN: It would prohibit the government from continuing to exclude him based on his politics, not based on any illegal activity.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us. We will continue to follow the case and encourage people to go to our website at DemocracyNow.org to hear our conversation with Tariq Ramadan. Donna Lieberman, head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Tim Vining the former head of the Thomas Merton Center, joining us from Pittsburgh. The Merton Center has turned up in F.B.I. documents. The F.B.I. is surveilling that peace group.
Photo by Steve Appleford
Let it rain: John Brown, 11, helps farmer Lucino Cardozo and his son, Enrique, 11
Trouble in the Garden
The 350 families who banded together as the South Central Farmers transformed an industrial dump into a jungle paradise. But now they’re being evicted
~ By DEAN KUIPERS ~ from Los Angeles City Beat
Aqui estamos y no nos vamos! (We’re here and we’re not leaving!)
–sign hanging on the fence at South Central Farm
Hear the birds? Where else in L.A. do you hear that many birds?” says Tezozomoc – pronounced “tesomoke,” or “teso” for short – an energetic, well-spoken Latino man with an ancient-sounding name. He halts a discussion with a class visiting from the Pacific Oaks School in Pasadena, a “seminar in bicultural development,” to point into the thick, jungle-like foliage behind him.
“We create like this biosphere bubble here, with all of this vegetation,” he adds. “We have 500 trees. We have lizards –”
“Snakes?” asks one of the students, eyes wide open.
“Only politicians,” he laughs. “But what we call our other relations depend on this space, too.”
The space is the South Central Community Farm, a 14-acre community garden just south of downtown smack on Alameda Street, right up alongside the industrial warehouses of the City of Vernon. The contrast with community gardens elsewhere in the city is shocking. These aren’t tiny weekend projects with a few tomatoes and California poppies. The 330 spaces here are large, 20 X 30 feet, many of them doubled- and tripled-up into larger plots, crammed with a tropical density of native Mesoamerican plants – full-grown guava trees, avocados, tamarinds, and palms draped in vines bearing huge pumpkins and chayotes, leaf vegetables, corn, seeds like chipilin grown for spice, and rank upon rank of cactus cut for nopales. The families who work these plots are all chosen to receive one because they are impoverished by USDA standards, and use them to augment their household food supply. These are survival gardens.
The thick chains, padlocks, and security on the entry gates are evidence that these gardens are something more, too. Since Los Angeles developer Ralph Horowitz took control of the property in late 2003, they have become a symbol of resistance. The farmers, who have now been working these plots since 1992, were given eviction notices in 2004 and are suing everyone involved – Horowitz, the city, and original permit-holder the L.A. Regional Food Bank, whose massive building sits next door just across 41st Street – in an effort to turn the block into a new city park that would include continued gardening.
And if that was all it was about, this would just be another squatter land dispute. But the reason teacher Roberto Flores and his students from Pacific Oaks are here, and why activists and academics from Bolivia and Venezuela and Palestine and a land-holding corporation from Colorado and the Italy-based International Alliance of Inhabitants have descended on the place is because it has become a model for community land-use. Its formal decision-making structure, park planning, political outreach, and indefatigable presence at City Hall – they’ve spoken at every City Council meeting this year – have transformed the place into a democracy workshop.
Tezozomoc, one of two elected leaders who represent the farmers to the city, insists that the political and educational battle is now the point. An academic himself, working toward a masters in Linguistics at California State University, Northridge, he addresses the students in their own language.
“In human development, we talk about a heuristic, right? A tool or strategy that leads you toward a solution. If you have tools, then tools lead to new theories. Look what’s happening here. So, giving people this tool – the land – leads to new solutions.”
The gardens, he emphasizes, are a safety net program. First and foremost, they feed needy people.
“But, within the democratic process here, part of the work that we do is to develop people with the ability to be leaders in their communities. We had some people here who have come out and become part of the neighborhood councils, and others who advocate on behalf of people. That is actually what is more important: It’s not only about saving this project, but to develop people with a conscience so that they can stand up for what they believe.”
A Sweet Deal
Fernando Flores, a young architect who is working on future plans for South Central Farm, points out that this food safety net program is an extraordinarily cheap one – the city provides nothing to the farmers and they foot all the bills DIY for water, trash service, security, and farming supplies. In fact, it is expensive for only one guy: Ralph Horowitz.
Horowitz is less than impressed by all the empowerment overlay on the political occupation of the Farm. If the farmers have all been getting a crash political education for the last two years, he has been paying for it. The mortgage on the property is roughly $30,000 a month, he says, plus there’s insurance, property taxes, and the legal costs he’s accrued trying to defend against the farmers’ lawsuit.
“They’ve had the use of it going on 14 years!” Horowitz exclaims. “Even welfare recipients are asked, after so many years, to start to fend for yourself and stop asking your fellow taxpayers to carry you. These particular individuals should be thanking the city of Los Angeles – and suing the city isn’t the way to thank ’em.”
Still, one figures that Horowitz knows what he’s doing. Maybe it’s cost him a million bucks to own the plot at Alameda and 41st for the last two years, but he got a very sweet deal on the property. Even if he decides in the end to sell it back to the city, he might make eight or ten million in profit. And there are some real questions as to why the deal happened that way.
Horowitz owned this same property once before, when the garden’s saga really began, in the late-1980s. These two city blocks – 40th Street runs down the middle of the garden, but has been choked off on either end by fences – were seized by eminent domain to make way for the city’s Lancer Project, a waste-to-energy incinerator that would have generated electricity by burning trash. Horowitz’s Alameda-Barbara Investment Company was the largest of nine co-owners and received $4.7 million in compensation after a lawsuit was settled.
But there was some fine print. Since Horowitz’s company owned about 80 percent of the original property, he claimed he had right of first refusal on the property if the city decided to sell it.
And in fact, that’s exactly what happened. A group called Concerned Citizens of South Central got up in arms about the incinerator plan, and the city backed away from it, letting the property become an ad hoc dump, full of discarded couches and refrigerators. In 1992, after the Rodney King riots brought some City Hall attention to bear (albeit briefly) on what was then called South Central L.A., the L.A. Regional Food Bank approached the city and secured a revocable permit to use the property as a community garden.
“When we first started out trying to get low-income residents to come to the property, we actually had a tough time, because nobody would believe that somebody would let you come and garden for free,” says Darren Hoffman, communications manager at the Food Bank. “But once we got a couple people on there, word spread like wildfire.”
The 14 acres were split into 330 plots, and the Food Bank tested the soil for safety and set up the trash, toilet, and water arrangements that still cost each family only $13 a month. Considering that most plots were worked by a family of four or more, they were directly affecting anywhere from 1,300-to-2,000 people. But the paperwork with the city was explicit: It could pull the plug at any time.
“Originally, we were thinking temporary – we thought this would be like a two-year project. But two years turns into 13-14 years, and nobody sees it as a temporary project anymore,” says Hoffman.
In 1994, the city’s Department of Public Works, which was going to build the incinerator, sold the property to the Harbor Department for over $13 million. That sale was later ruled illegal and reversed.
In 1995, the city began negotiations with Horowitz, who wanted to buy the land back, this time as the Libaw-Horowitz Investment Company. An agreement finally went before the City Council, which refused to adopt the sale. In 2002, Horowitz sued for failure to execute the sale agreement, his second suit with the city over this property.
In August 2003, the City Council finally approved the terms of a sale in a closed session, awarding it to Horowitz for $5.05 million. In essence, selling it back to him for as much as it was worth during the eminent domain process in the late-’80s. Eviction notices were sent out the next month to the farmers working the land.
Since the 1980s, however, big changes would have greatly increased the value of that land. City, state, and federal governments had spent $2 billion building the Alameda Corridor, a modern rail and big-truck super-pipeline from the Port of Los Angeles straight through the warehouses of South L.A. and Vernon. This was now hot property.
“All the goods that are for Wal-Mart are going out to the Southwest from here, from Long Beach and from the L.A. Port,” notes Tezozomoc, pointing at Alameda Street. “About 70 percent of the product that comes into the Long Beach ´´ port is destined for Wal-Mart.”
The land, the farmers argue, was clearly worth a lot more than $5 million. Nine years earlier, the city had paid $13 million just to transfer the land from one department to another, so even using that as lowball number, Horowitz had received an eight-million-dollar break.
And then there was this matter of the right of first refusal. Judge Lawrence W. Crispo ruled several times against Horowitz, saying that a landlord could not negotiate a right of refusal on a condemned property – which is what an eminent domain seizure is, a court condemnation. But the City Attorney’s office, which offered e-mailed responses from attorneys via spokesman Frank Mateljan to questions submitted about this situation, said the “Libaw-Horowitz’ right of refusal was negotiated and became part of the stipulated judgment in condemnation.” City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo urged the City Council to concede and sell the property to Horowitz.
“That just doesn’t hold, though,” says Tezozomoc. “Go back to the original case of Chavez Ravine, right?”
Chavez Ravine was an impoverished Mexican neighborhood of hundreds of households overlooking downtown L.A. that was condemned to make way for low-income housing to be built by Richard Neutra. “If that was the case, if the city changed its mind about building low-income housing there, then they would have had to give the land back to each one of those families, the original owners – which they didn’t,” adds Tezozomoc. “Who did they give it to? The Dodgers.”
Still, the farm deal was sealed in early 2004, and Libaw-Horowitz sent out notices that the gardens would be closed as of February 29, 2004. The Food Bank agreed to begin tearing out the plants and interior fences.
“We were supposed to return the property in the way we received it,” said Hoffman. “So all of the interior fencing would have to go … and, basically, all of the foliage.”
“The Food Bank became our enemy,” says Tezozomoc. “We have gained a lot of enemies.”
Before these notices had even hit the fences, the farmers formed a political committee, South Central Farmers Feeding Families. Elected representatives met with Horowitz.
“Well, I own it, so I’ve been by numerous times just to see what goes on,” Horowitz says. “They called me, and acknowledged that I’d just bought the property, and they asked me if they could stay on it another 60 days rent-free. And I said yes.”
That gave the farmers just enough time to file a lawsuit against Horowitz et al., and get an injunction, allowing them to stay on the property until the suit was resolved. And to buy chains and padlocks.
~ Direct Democracy ~
Alberto and Maribel Tlatoa grew up on their plot at South Central Farm. The Tlatoa family has been growing food there for eight years, and now Alberto, 19, has become one of the elected captains of the occupation. He and his sister Maribel, 21, are sleeping on the property at least one night a week, standing guard, while still going to college – a perfect example of the new level of sophistication enlivening the farm community. Most of the farmers are impoverished immigrants, many still speaking the indigenous languages of the Guatemalan highlands or growing treasured 5,000-year-old heirloom corn seeds brought from Puebla, the heartland of Mexican culture. Many of them can’t afford to be involved, politically. But the kids learn to speak English, and learn to make themselves heard. Alberto goes to East Los Angeles College and has been to City Council meetings every week for a year solid.
“They know who I am,” he says softly. Every week he has his name on the list to speak. He’s glad that new City Council President Eric Garcetti has moved the public comment to the start of the weekly meeting, because now he only spends a half-day there instead of getting out late. (City Councilmember Jan Perry, whose district includes the farm, declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing lawsuit.)
Tezozomoc is proud of Alberto, saying, “He wants to be mayor of L.A. one day.”
Alberto and Maribel turn up to give a tour to the Pacific Oaks class and answer their questions. It’s a day of hard winter sun, and a light breeze flaps a row of 20 flimsy-looking tents that stretch along 40th Street. Alberto is on duty every Monday night, standing around a burn barrel for warmth. “I play the radio real loud at night,” he smiles.
Their duties are now pretty well defined. There’s a General Assembly meeting every week, where all 350 or so families can vote on farm matters like marches or buying a generator. The captains hear concerns and are in charge of security and logistics. Tezozomoc and Rufina Juarez are the elected representatives interacting with lawyers and city officials. And then there is a massive outreach campaign in which everyone does his or her part, bringing in supporters, money, and outside organizing expertise.
“We used to just like work on a little parcel, do our little gardening thing, then just go home,” says Maribel. “We would interact, but mainly just like neighbors. But now, since the whole movement, sometimes we vote and we gather and tell stories.”
She means the farm community, of course, but also the Latino and indigenous Mesoamerican community. “Especially being in South Central, with all the gang violence and everything – we don’t go out much in the community due to that. But now the whole movement has brought the community together.”
Alberto says that Mesoamerican community was one of the reasons why their parents remained committed to the place. The farming was necessary for their family of six to survive, but it quickly took on another function. “Our parents always wanted us to learn these farms were not just about putting something in our mouths, but to learn to grow our culture,” he adds.
Strangely, other demographics are barely represented. There are few blacks, fewer anglos or Asians. Perhaps that represents some kind of accurate picture of who would garden for food these days, but the gardens show a shocking cultural homogeneity.
“This 200 or 300 people wanted to get this property for themselves,” explains Horowitz. “That’s the purpose of their lawsuit.
“It’s not like a park, where you and your wife and your child can go into a park and use any of its facilities, at any time. These farmers are gardening these plots exclusively. As long as they’re standing on there, you can’t use the property. This is not a public function.”
In fact, the park is not even open now, except on Sundays for a farmer’s market. The farmers, it seems, are acutely aware of this perception, and if they can save the gardens as a city park, they are prepared to make big changes. Fernando Flores has already mapped them out.
Flores, 25, was not, like Tezo and the others, someone who grew up on South Central Farm. Last year, he was living in Ontario and going to California State Polytechnic University, Pomona for architecture when one of his mentors there brought him over to see the farm. He saw the potential to give his work a political perspective, and made it his architecture thesis project to redesign the place as a public park.
“You want to check it out? It’s in the back of my truck,” he says, opening the back of a big black SUV.
His model represents about a quarter of the actual land now occupied by the farm, and represents a clear answer to those who say it’s not a public place. A central plaza, surrounded by farm plots, would feature a square of low buildings with a stage area.
“We just finished this this past summer: A hybrid park,” he says. “This is a community center. We have offices, in case we want to have doctors. We have health fairs, here. If you want to have social services, as well.”
“One of the things that is lacking in South Central is, people don’t have access to like a community center where they can have theater or they can have a public event like a concert, right?” says Tezozomoc. The farm already has a stage set up, where bands like Ozomatli and former Rage Against the Machine singer Zach de la Rocha have played, and has a $5 punk show going on the 27th called Disfest. “So it’s a way to help our talent, and our youth, and our community. And that’s really what the basis of this project has been.”
Flores is now co-chair of the Support Committee, networking with community activists outside the farm. “This is the stuff that you read about and watch films about in school,” says Flores, walking through the plots, chatting with people working here and there. “I never imagined this would become my focus. But this is a movement that’s growing out of a seed right now.”
~ Far from over ~
Late on a Sunday afternoon, the farmer’s market is just closing up. They don’t sell produce on South Central Farm – although individual farmers might sell you a pumpkin or slice off some cactus for you, if you ask – but Sunday vendors do make hot food to whip up a little cash. There are quesadillas calabasitas (squash), tacos, fried plantains with sweetened cream and shaved cheese, and super-sweet tamarindo and hibiscus drinks. Only a few dozen people mill about, but there’s still time to have a huarache – “like the shoe,” a vendor explains – a folded pastry filled with squash and smothered in sticky nopales, white cheese, beans, and hot chili sauce. A lot of this prepared food comes from outside the gardens, including the chicken or pork; they don’t raise any livestock there.
The place is tranquil, smelling gorgeously of cilantro and hoja santo, a leaf used to wrap tamales which gives off a perfume like licorice when you rub it. If it weren’t for the frequent passage of Metro trains bombing past on their way to Long Beach, you could almost forget these gardens were in the middle of a heavy industrial district.
On June 30, 2005, a state appeals court overturned the Superior Court injunction on the property, giving Horowitz the right to remove the farmers. That was immediately appealed to the California Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case in October. Some elements of the farmers’ case, however, are still alive in the courts. Part of their suit claimed the city violated municipal code by selling the land cheap to Horowitz and partners Jacob Libaw and Timothy Ison. And Judge Helen Bendix had refused to allow the farmers to depose Libaw and Ison – but was recently reversed by a higher court. So, that part of the case moves forward.
“We are going to write another Temporary Restraining Order, because now, we’re saying you cannot destroy this because we need access to these other people, and then we have a good chance to win this,” said Tezozomoc. It’s not clear what information the other partners would have that might swing the case in favor of the farmers. But on the day Tezozomoc was meeting with the class from Pacific Oaks, he said he was “spending the night with the lawyers” to get that next TRO ready to file.
If it’s not already too late. On January 13, Tezozomoc and the captains among the South Central Farmers were gearing up for what they thought might be an imminent raid by L.A. County Sheriff deputies. According to the e-mailed responses from the City Attorney’s Office, Horowitz’s company has sued the L.A. Regional Food Bank for unlawful detainer, since they were the group administering the gardens, and once that’s settled, the eviction might begin. “A judgment is anticipated this week in the unlawful detainer case,” said the Monday e-mail from city attorneys. “That case is between Libaw-Horowitz and the L.A. Regional Food Bank, which administers the garden. The Food Bank is not resisting. A judgment for possession can be enforced using the County Sheriff.”
So the Food Bank, which Tezozomoc considers the farmers’ “enemy,” is all that is standing between them and eviction. The Food Bank’s Darren Hoffman says they’re not sure that, if the city were to take possession of the land again, their permit would still be in place or not. He says they have to wait for the “quagmire” in the courts to be settled.
“From my window here, I can see this beautiful urban garden,” says Hoffman. “We’d be sad to see it go. It would definitely be a loss to the community.”
Horowitz, for his part, says he would consider a buyout offer from the city.
“I wouldn’t agree with their rationale for doing it, but if they wanted to pay fair market value for the property to solve what they foresee is a problem, I wouldn’t stand in the way,” he says.
Meanwhile, the South Central Farmers are appealing to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has visited the site with his family, and to members of City Council, while they gear up for civil disobedience when and if the eviction comes.
“I’ve been so busy organizing I haven’t had time to eat my own produce,” says Tezozomoc, snatching sweet guavas off a tree planted by his dad. “I just want this place saved so I can get back to farming, get back to school, pay some bills. But this fight’s a long way from over.”
Monday, March 13, 2006
this just in
Former Bush Aide Charged in Felony Theft
Claude Allen had recently resigned as White House domestic-policy adviser.
By Rachel Shteir
Updated Friday, March 10, 2006, at 5:44 PM ET
When Claude Allen, President Bush's longtime domestic-policy adviser, resigned suddenly on Feb. 9, it baffled administration critics and fans. The White House claimed that Allen was leaving to spend more time with his family, while the Washington Times speculated that the 45-year-old aide, a noted social conservative, might have quit to protest a new Pentagon policy about military chaplains. Allen himself never publicly explained the reason for his departure.
News today may shed light on the mystery of Allen's resignation. According to the Montgomery County Police Department, Allen was arrested yesterday and charged in a felony theft and a felony theft scheme. According to a department press release, Allen conducted approximately 25 fraudulent "refunds" in Target and Hecht's stores in Maryland. On Jan. 2, a Target employee apprehended Allen after observing him receive a refund for merchandise he had not purchased. Target then contacted the Montgomery County Police. According to a source familiar with the case, Target and the police had been observing Allen since October 2005.
Allen is charged with practicing a form of shoplifting called "refund fraud."
In general, a refund-fraud scam goes like this: You purchase an item—a CD player, let's say—and leave the store with it. Then you come back to the store and pick up exactly the same CD player; you take the CD player and receipt from the original purchase to the returns desk, claiming that this is the item you bought, and get a refund for it. You keep the original CD player, and pay nothing. Professional shoplifters like refund fraud because it's relatively safe. Since you never actually steal an object from the store, no one can chase you out to the parking lot. According to Richard Hollinger, a professor at the University of Florida-Gainesville and the author of the only yearly survey on retail theft, figures vary but "some say that figures lost to refund fraud reach $16 billion a year."
According to the department, Allen sought refunds for more than $5,000 in the past year. Allen allegedly stole items as expensive as a Bose theater system and a photo printer. Theft of more than $500 is a felony in Maryland.
Allen was released on his own recognizance. A message left at his home was not returned by the time of publication.
Rachel Shteir is working on a book about shoplifting in America.
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2137895/
Copyright 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC
Friday, March 10, 2006
Ali Farka Toure is truly a hero of mine. I often continue my morning meditation after I quit sitting by dancing to the spiritual essence of his music. He became quite successful and toured for awhile, but said he had been severed from his roots by the music business demands. He moved back to his land, converted thousands of acres of arid land into farmable land and taught his community how to use the land to become self-sufficient. He also taught them of our spirit connection to the land and of the importance of standing up for our rights and the rights of nature to live in harmony with nature. I never knew him, I never saw him perform, but he made a connection with me through the love expressed in his music that cannot be described. I have tears in my eyes as I type this. I will miss my friend.
African music giant Farka Toure honored by Mali By Tiemoko Diallo
Wed Mar 8, 12:59 PM ET
Desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Toure, one of Africa's best-loved musicians, was posthumously awarded Mali's highest civil honor on Wednesday as a sandstorm delayed his funeral in his hometown on the edge of the Sahara.
The double Grammy-winning singer and guitarist, who died on Tuesday after a long fight with bone cancer, was made Commander of the National Order by Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure at a ceremony in Bamako attended by ministers and musicians.
"Farka is a monument of Malian music, Farka is the pride of Mali," Toumani Toure said.
Dubbed "the African John Lee Hooker," Farka Toure's haunting music, which he sang in 11 languages, combined the traditions of his native northern Mali with the influence of American blues, which he saw as having its roots in West Africa.
His body had been due to be flown to Niafunke, the town where he grew up on the barren shores of the slow-moving Niger river near the fabled trading town of Timbuktu.
But the landscape which inspired his music seemed to pay him a final homage as a desert wind blew clouds of orange sand and dust across the sky, grounding planes and forcing mourners to travel the 850 km (530 miles) in a cortege of jeeps.
"The whole of Mali woke up this morning to such strange weather and no visibility," said Toumani Diabate, a virtuoso of the kora -- a traditional West African harp -- who played alongside Farka Toure on his latest album.
"Ali was a man of God. Everyone is thinking the same thing. However you look at it, it's mystical."
One of the Africa's most internationally successful artists, Farka Toure won acclaim around the world for his 1994 album "Talking Timbuktu," recorded with Texan guitarist Ry Cooder, and won a second Grammy last month for "In the Heart of the Moon," made with his countryman Toumani Diabate.
He had just finished work on a new solo album when he died.
"It's a major loss for all of Africa because Ali proved that as an African, as a musician, we could take our work very, very far," Ivory Coast's Tiken Jah Fakoly, one of the continent's best-selling reggae stars, told Reuters in Bamako.
Though famous for his music, Farka Toure eschewed a life of glamour and thought of himself above all as a farmer, tending to a 350-hectare farm in Niafunke, where he was made mayor after setting up projects to help local women and children.
With few tarmac roads, his coffin -- draped in a Malian flag and carried in an aid agency jeep -- was not expected to reach Niafunke before nightfall meaning the burial would be delayed until Thursday, said family friend Diadie Sangare.
It was a journey that was well-known to Farka Toure, who was born in 1939 but like many Africans of his generation did not know his exact date of birth.
"For some people, Timbuktu is a place at the end of nowhere," he was quoted as saying in the liner notes to "Talking Timbuktu."
"But that's not true. I'm from Timbuktu and I can tell you that it's right in the center of the world."
(Additional reporting by Rainer Schwenzfeier in Bamako and Nick Tattersall in Dakar)
Copyright Â© 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.