Archive for May, 2011


Natural Farming: Inspiring Passionate ‘Stewards’

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

The article  below appeared originally online at CBN News about  Joel Salatin who authored The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer

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Joel Salatin is an outspoken, alternative farmer who wants Americans to think about what they eat and where it comes from.

And he thinks the Church should be leading the way.

His fresh approach has been featured in documentaries like “Food, Inc.” and books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is not showy or high tech. Its very simplicity is actually revolutionary given the state of agribusiness today.

Salatin does not confine his animals in cramped and filthy living spaces. Nor does he inject them with hormones or offer them chemically enhanced food. Such conditions are typical for most American farms today where efficiency and corporate demands dictate much of the animals’ existence.

One of Salatin’s main missions is to mimic God’s creation. That’s why all his cattle eat grass, not grain.  There are no pesticides, no fertilizers, and no hormones. Everything is natural.

Animals Living Together

“We move the cows every day to a new spot which allows the grass time to recuperate and go through its what I call ‘the teenage growth spurt,’” Salatin said.

On his fresh pastures, Salatin feeds his cows, hens and broiler chicks what he calls a ‘salad bar.’ It’s simply a mix of all kinds of grasses which provide rich nutrients for the cattle and the other animals to follow.

Salatin’s innovative cycle builds all kinds of synergies from the different animals he raises. As opposed to corporate farms which promote a “monoculture,” such as all corn or all beef, Salatin pursues a polyculture.

The farm’s name “Polyface” promotes this idea of animals living together to leverage their God-given traits in such a way that produces maximum advantage for the farmer.

For instance, Salatin puts broiler chicks on the land where the cows previously fed. The shortened grass encourages their ingestion of fresh, tender sprouts.

Next, Salatin brings in what he calls the “eggmobile,” a sort of hen house on wheels. He drives it to a new spot each day and opens the doors so the hens can literally have free range on their pasture.

Along the way the hens dig through the cow patties to eat protein-rich larvae. Their droppings in turn fertilize the field all over again.

Theological Farming

Salatin believes the model creates healthy animals and ultimately, healthy people. And he believes it’s an approach that makes theological sense as well.

“It is how you respect and honor the least of these that creates a consistent ethical framework on which you honor and respect the greatest of these,” he said. “It starts by honoring and respecting the pigness of the pig and the chickenness of the chicken.”

Respecting these animals and their innate needs not only is good farming but foundational to a “God-don’t-make-no-junk” philosophy of life, Salatin said.

Salatin explains his views in-depth in seven self-published books. He’s a sought-after speaker on college campuses where he promotes local food and tears down anything hinting of corporate production.

Not surprisingly, he’s viewed with skepticism by many associated with agribusiness.

Salatin’s Congressman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. is vice-chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. He said Salatin is a good friend but he doesn’t agree with much of his philosophy.

“In my opinion, it’s not necessary to produce food the way he does it,” Goodlatte told CBN News. He added that Salatin’s prices are unaffordable for many consumers.

Salatin maintains good food is worth it. He also countered that processed food is often more expensive.

Plowing Future Fields?

There are those in Washington who think Salatin might just be on to something.

Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst at The Center for Food Safety, said he’d like to see more research on Salatin’s approach.

“We need the U.S. Department of Agriculture to put as much money into studying how Joel Salatin does, so they can teach folks, as they do subsidizing the big operations,” Hanson said.

Around the country. Salatin has earned a loyal following.  At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill recently, his lecture sold out and fans quickly formed a book signing line afterwards.

Steve Gisselman was one such fan. As an assistant strength and conditioning coach at UNC, he’s read several of Salatin’s books and said Salatin has changed his thinking,

“I’ve really thought about where does my food come from?  Where am I getting it from?  Is it sustainable?” Gisselman said.

UNC food studies major Lauren Wilson said Salatin is influencing many young people who are considering farming.

“He’s a person out there showing it can be done and he’s been successful in various ways–environmentally, economically and socially” she said.

Inspiring ‘Loving Stewards’

If Salatin’s plans succeed he’ll help build up a new generation of farmers who subscribe to an all-natural approach. That’s why he’s so quick to denounce the negative stereotypes.

“We’ve got this cultural mentality that you’ve got to be an idiot to be a farmer” he told students at UNC.

Instead, he believes, the best and the brightest should be considering it.

“If we are wanting to take care of and steward our landscape, then we are going to need more loving stewards on that landscape,” Salatin said. “If it is to be done well, it is going to need excellent practitioners and more practitioners.”

Every year Salatin turns away hundreds of applicants wanting a shot at his rigorous apprentice and intern programs. Daniel Pike made the cut last year.

“I always wanted to farm but I didn’t think it was a real possibility,” Pike said. “You know, I need to go work in an office, work with computers and make money, make a living.”

Then Pike started reading Salatin’s books and began to see his dream as a viable option.

“There’s this alternative farming where people are making money,” he said. “Where it’s respecting of the animals and it goes in line with how God set up all the systems.”

Salatin said the good news is that many in the faith community are beginning to re-think their attitudes toward food and farming. And it’s home schooling families he says that are leading the charge.

“When a person is freed up to examine and then make an opt-out change as a strategic decision and then finds it soul-satisfying — ‘Wow, our kids are responding, our family is harmonious’– then they say, ‘Well, what else should we opt out of?’” he explained.

Creator, Not Creation, Worship

But Salatin still believes the church has a long way to go to fulfill the Biblical approach to literally eat and drink for the glory of God.

“It really disturbs me that the environmental movement has been co-opted by creation-worshippers instead of being encouraged by the Creator-worshippers,” he said.

The work on his farm has already inspired countless Americans to think more carefully about what they eat.

And if Salatin’s dreams come true, it will also energize the Church towards greater environmental stewardship and raise up a new generation of passionate farmers.

Read the original article here. 

Hybridisation – different thinking

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

NEW book The Mystery of Metamorphosis, A Scientific Detective Story by Frank Ryan is set to propel the work of a Port Erin marine biologist on to the world stage.

Don Williamson’s controversial theory of evolution – in which he postulates that evolution also occurs through hybridisation – is known in some areas of the scientific world, but this is the first time it has been introduced to popular audiences in the US and UK.

More than two thirds of the book are devoted to the work of Dr Williamson, who is described as ‘the iconoclastic modern-day scientist . . . whose studies of marine life led him to the boldest and most controversial theory of evolution since Darwin’s own’.

It charts Dr Williamson’s life, his upbringing in Seahouses, Northumberland, the discovery of his theory while lecturing at the Port Erin Marine Laboratory and his battle to gain acceptance of his theory in the scientific community – a struggle made far harder after he had a major stroke in 1990 that left him partially paralysed and, for a time, unable to speak, read and write.

‘It is quite weird reading a book about yourself,’ said Dr Williamson, 89. ‘It seems unreal, but at least he (Frank Ryan) has got his facts right. He does record my views and he made a very good job of it.’

And, he noted wryly, it is rather like reading his own obituary!

The island and Port Erin naturally feature in the book as Ryan casts his eye over events and the setting.

This means the book also reinforces the great loss felt to the scientific community following closure of the laboratory in 2006.

Dr Williamson described his ‘eureka’ moment.

‘When I was revising a lecture on larvae and evolution that I gave to honours BSc students, I pointed out there were various anomalies that could not be explained, but I did not go beyond that,’ he said.

‘But this particular year, 1983, I tore up my lecture notes and rewrote them.

‘I said that all these anomalies could be explained if larvae transferred between one group of animals and another. It was only in the subsequent two years I worked out it must have been done by hybridisation and must be done by the sperm of one animal and the egg of another.

‘ It’s more possible in the sea where eggs and sperm are broadcast and fertilisation is not in the female but in the sea. From time to time there is every chance eggs could be fertilised by foreign sperm, in most cases it comes to nothing but if it happens over millions of years, something will hatch out.’

His battle to gain recognition of his theory and have his papers published has been enormous.

Martin Angel, the editor of Progress in Oceanography, the publication in which Dr Williamson’s paper appeared, said: ‘Darwin would probably have had less trouble submitting a draft of the Origin of Species to the Bishop of Oxford.’

A very important part of the journey has been the support of Lynn Margulis, distinguished professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, whom Dr Williamson first contacted in 1988 because his theory shared elements with her theory of cells.

She wrote the foreword to the book with her son, Dorion Sagan (whose late father was astrophysicist Carl).

The battle to get his papers accepted by scientific journals continues and he has written an entry in the book ‘Evolution from the Galapagos’ to be published next year.

Dr Williamson has also challenged other biologists to conduct experiments to prove hybridisation occurs and said he has had a couple of ‘expressions of interest’.

Gratified that Ryan’s book is helping to introduce his theory to a wider audience than ever before, he said: ‘I like to think Darwin would welcome it. He was a broad-minded man, and going back to Darwin’s time – although I didn’t realise it until well after I developed my theory – the first suggestion that larvae had been transferred was made by a young man at Cambridge, Frank Balfour. He had the beginnings of the same idea, he died up Mont Blanc, aged 31, before he could develop his theory further. He was tipped as the successor to Darwin.’

He added: ‘I’m reasonably satisfied that my theory has got so far – it cannot now be swept under the carpet so somebody will take it up in the future.

‘It should be Frank Balfour’s name attached. He wrote a treatise on embryology in two volumes, it was a massive thing. He was an international expert on the development of animals. The theory of larvae evolution was tucked in behind it.

‘He did not get anywhere as far as I got, but it’s the start of my theory.

‘Had Darwin and he lived, they would probably have developed it together and it would probably be mainstream biology.’

 Read the full article here. 

Nutritionist Joan Gussow now calls herself a Foodist

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Prominent nutritionist and organic gardening advocate Joan Gussow spoke at the Wilton Library on the occasion of the publication of her new book Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life and Vegetables. She was introduced by Chef Michel Nischan of the Dressing Room Restaurant, whose book Sustainably Delicious: Making the World a Better Place Once Recipe at a Time is a well-regarded paean to the fresh local foods movement.

Nischan called Gussow’s writings and talks profoundly influential to generations of chefs, gardeners and farmers. Gussow (Ed.D.) is the Professor  Emerita and former chair of the Nutrition Education Program at Teachers College of Columbia University. Her book, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader is considered an extremely influential text on eating locally and seasonally, and this continues to be a major thrust of her speaking today.

Nischan’s restaurant also provided the food for the reception that followed. These sandwiches are shown in the slide show along with Nischan himself.

Gussow said that she hasn’t bought any vegetables in many years, since she grows everything in her 1000 square foot garden along the Hudson. She says that people should get used to eating locally and eating what is in season at that time of year rather than importing food from around the world. Apparently she feels it is Good For You to eat only the small number of vegetables available during the winter months regardless of their nutritive value.

Gussow is now 81 and has been working and writing in this field for more than 50 years. She told a few engaging stories about encounters with skunks and woodchucks. She also noted that her husband died 13 years ago and that she didn’t miss him at all.

Much of the interesting part of her talk came in the question period, where she made a number of helpful and ascerbic comments on the state of food and gardening.

  • Nutrition hasn’t really advanced much since the 1950s. We know that there are thousands of chemicals in food and in our bodies, but we still don’t know what is needed.
  • The Food Pyramid is simply a joke. It includes things like exercise, which have nothing to do with food and nutrition.
  • There are so many chemicals in the body and we only have studied about 30.
  • If I were teaching nutrition today, I would not call myself a “nutritionist,” but a “foodist.”
  • ABC Salad is made by shredding apples, beets and carrots, and is delicious.
  • Mache or corn salad plant is a winter annual that gives you fresh greens in the winter.
  • Most research trials on the health and curative effects of single compounds, such as beta-carotene fail and are likely to fail because our systems are more complex than that. All single nutrient trials are likely to be unsuccessful.
  • Sweet potato plants exude a sticky substance than can “glue together” small particles of silt to make better soil. This works for the related daikon plant as well.
  • She plants clover in the pathways in her garden because it greens up earlier in the spring and almost never needs mowing. It is only considered a weed because lawn weed killers have not been developed that can kill weeds without also killing clover. Therefore cover was redefined as a weed.
  • She uses chicken manure as part of her fertilizer.
  • Rather than having a compost pile, she buries her garbage throughout the garden.
  • She buys Promix compost, made in Canada. You should beware of US-based compost, as US regulations don’t preclude the use of sewage in compost, but Canada does. (Sewage can contain heavy metals.)
  • She takes a multivitamin each day. She also takes glucosamine, but doesn’t believe that it works.
  • She is not a vegetarian, but went through a period when she didn’t eat meat because she didn’t like what they did to commercial meat. She now gets her meat from a farmer in upstate New York.
  • If everyone in the world were vegetarians there wouldn’t be enough plants left for the animals and they would starve.
  •  

    Much of the main part of her talk was devoted to the repair of her garden along the Hudson which flooded seriously in the spring of 2010. You can see the damage and resulting repaired garden on her website, or you can buy her book. In fact she mentioned that possibility several times.

    However, the moral seems to be that if you have a mansion overlooking the Hudson and put your garden in your front yard, it is going to flood from time to time, and that if you have substantial resources at your disposal you can hire people to fill in the low yard and replant all your plants.

    Read the full article here. 

    Colorado Pot Advocates Turn To 2012 Ballot Measure

    Thursday, May 19th, 2011

    Marijuana advocates racked up big wins in this year’s session of the Colorado Legislature. Now they’re turning their sights to a bigger effort — full legalization on the 2012 ballot.Pot legalization backers hope to start gathering signatures as soon as this summer to put the question to voters. Given Colorado’s low signature threshold for ballot initiatives, which currently stands at about 86,000 people, they say they expect an easy path to the polls.

    Colorado voters defeated a legalization measure in 2006, as did California voters last year. But activists here are regrouping for another push.

    “We’re going to have a great legalization debate in 2012,” predicted Laura Kriho of the Cannabis Therapy Institute, a powerful grass-roots organizer that alerts marijuana advocates to lobby public officials on measures related to pot.

    Lawmakers heard from activists several times during the 2011 session that ended last week, and they achieved some surprising victories.

    Advocates defeated a proposal to set a driving-high impairment standard that was backed by law enforcement. They quickly squashed a proposal to ban edible marijuana, and dispensaries chipped away at some residency rules and other requirements through a revision of marijuana regulation that had been adopted the year before.

    With lobbyists working Capitol halls and a network of marijuana patients packing committee hearings, Colorado’s pot community won over lawmakers on many measures intended to crack down on the nascent industry.

    “With each passing legislative session, we’re seeing marijuana and the marijuana distribution system further entrenched and accepted in the state,” said Brian Vicente, head of Sensible Colorado.

    Now they’re turning back to the public. Next month, SAFER Colorado and other groups plan to finish work on a proposed ballot measure to make marijuana legal for all adults, not just those with certain medical conditions. After getting the language cleared by state elections officials, supporters can gather signatures.

    “We’ve had medical marijuana out there now for more than 10 years without any of the terrible things they said were going to happen. We haven’t seen an increase in accidents, in visits to emergency rooms, in crime — we haven’t seen increases in anything bad,” Kriho said.

    Even a prominent critic of Colorado’s marijuana industry, Republican Attorney General John Suthers, said last week that he welcomes a debate on whether pot should be legal. Suthers has argued that recreational pot users have subverted Colorado’s medical marijuana program.

    “We have a system right now of state-sponsored fraud,” Suthers said.

    Suthers said he’d oppose legalization but welcomed another ballot measure on the idea. “At least a legalization debate will be an honest across-the-board discussion of whether we really want to make this legal,” he said.

    Marijuana advocates believe they can win that argument, and they have reason for confidence.

    They prevailed over law enforcement over setting DUI limits for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Police backed a 5 nanogram blood-content limit. Marijuana advocates blasted lawmakers with e-mails and phone calls opposing the pot DUI bill, and a bipartisan group of senators rejected the measure.

    The bill failed in the Legislature’s closing days after even some conservative Republicans complained the 5 nanogram level seemed an arbitrary indication of whether a driver is impaired. Pot patients toasted the bill’s demise with a victory party the final night of the legislative session.

    “It’s great the Legislature didn’t take action on such a harmful bill that wasn’t grounded in evidence,” said Mason Tvert, head of SAFER Colorado, a pro-legalization group.

    Pot advocates’ biggest loss was a new requirement that caretakers — people who raise pot for a small number of patients — be required to register with the state. Caregivers argued that health officials, but not police, should know who is growing pot, and they complained that making the caretaker registry public would put home growers at greater risk of theft.

    Lawmakers stuck with the registry but exempted it from state open records law, blocking public access to the list of caretakers and their addresses.

    That requirement came in a larger marijuana regulation adjustment that affects many aspects of how pot is grown and sold. The measure, which awaits the signature of Gov. John Hickenlooper, loosened residency requirements for non-owners who work in dispensaries and required pot shops to treat patient records as medical records, among other things.

    Hickenlooper hasn’t said yet whether he’ll sign the bill. But the governor, along with lawmakers from both parties, seems to be shrugging off a warning letter sent last month by Colorado’s top federal prosecutor, John Walsh.

    Walsh warned that state employees who administer marijuana regulations could risk federal prosecution. The letter was similar to ones sent by federal prosecutors in other medical marijuana states, including Washington, where Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed legislation to license marijuana dispensaries after the Justice Department said it could result in a federal crackdown.

    Hickenlooper said that he didn’t share Gregoire’s fear that regulations would bring federal drug raids.

    “If the medical marijuana facility is conforming to our regulations, I would assume the federal government will not raid it,” Hickenlooper said Thursday.

    - By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

    (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

    Read the original article.

    Challenges of a Colorado Local Food Initiative

    Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

    Even in a county that’s largely supportive of local farmers, getting a quarter of your produce locally can be difficult.

    By Brendon Bosworth

    Mark Guttridge peeled back the white fabric draped across the floor of his hoop house, a greenhouse roughly 100 feet long, 30 feet wide and 12 feet high, with plastic pulled tight across its metal frame. He unveiled three neat rows of leafy vegetables ­– dark green spinach, bright lettuce and bok choy obviously thriving in the tunnel-like warm environment.

    “We just planted these in the last week of January,” Guttridge said.

    It was a cool afternoon in early April, with clouds hovering over Guttridge’s 30-acre Ollin Farms. The farm faces a suburban development and is flanked by Highway 119, which connects Longmont with Boulder.

    Guttridge is a regular at the Boulder County Farmers’ Markets, where he and his wife Kena sell their produce on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the warmer months. He also sells directly from a stand at his farm and supplies 120 families signed up for his community supported agriculture program with boxes of vegetables each week.

    Guttridge’s operation is an example of a localized food chain. His vegetables are grown, sold and bought within Boulder County’s borders.

    Besides locally grown produce being fresher than imported food and healthier than industrially processed foods, there is also a social value attached to buying and selling local food, Guttridge explained.

    “There are obvious health benefits, there are obvious flavor benefits, but the subtle thing that drives it all, to me, is this idea of community and being able to share things with your neighbors,” he said.

    Building up Boulder County’s local food system – increasing the capacity for food to be grown, processed, distributed and sold within the county – is a goal of Boulder-based nonprofit organization Transition Colorado. The organization’s outlook is informed by the global Transition movement, a grassroots effort tied to the Transition Network in the United Kingdom and focused on strengthening communities dealing with what Michael Brownlee, cofounder of Transition Colorado, refers to as a “convergence of global crises.”

    With his silvery hair pulled into a neat ponytail, 64-year-old Brownlee has a contemplative mien that melds with an unmasked pessimism about these impending crises: peak oil (the point at which global oil production hits its apex and begins to decline, resulting in rising fuel prices), global warming and economic instability.

    Re-localizing the food economy dovetails with localizing manufacturing and energy production and is key to curbing consumption of resources, he said during an interview around a small conference table at the organization’s headquarters, a three-level house in Boulder.

    “We’re not saying we want everything to be produced within a 100-mile radius,” he said. “We’re saying we want to shrink the local food shed, our food shed, to be as local as possible.”

    Transition Colorado has a goal of steering the county toward 25 percent food localization by 2020. To outline the economic benefits of achieving this goal and map out the strategies for reaching it, Brownlee has enlisted economist and author Michael Shuman to compile a report on the county’s food economy.

    Shuman, who holds a bachelor’s in economics and international relations as well as a law degree from Stanford University, has written similar reports for the state of New Mexico and a cluster of 16 counties surrounding Cleveland in Northeast Ohio. He is the director of research at Cutting Edge Capital, a B-corporation that helps small and mid-size businesses raise capital. He is also director of research and development for the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, a Washington-state-based organization that supports and connects networks of locally owned, independent businesses across the country. The alliance incorporates about 22,000 businesses in the United States, Shuman said over the phone.

    Twenty-five percent localization means that the gap between the current level of food production and complete self-reliance – the point where the county is producing enough to meet local demand ­– is closed a quarter of the way, with no drop in exports, Shuman explained.

    While localization involves shrinking the distance food travels from its origin to consumers’ plates, it also involves increasing local ownership of enterprises in the local food system, he said.

    “One of the things that I try to emphasize in these studies is that there’s a temptation to focus on fresh food and how much of fresh food that is grown gets into consumers’ hands and that’s the end of the study,” said Shuman.

    “And in point of fact, that part of the food system is a tiny percent. The vast majority of the food system is restaurants and grocery stores and the distribution points and the transportation system and the purchasing from institutions. When you start to take those things into account, you have a much richer picture of what your strengths and weaknesses are.”

    For Boulder County, Shuman will use an economic modeling tool that is used by government agencies and universities to calculate how a move to 25 percent localization could benefit the county.

    In the counties he assessed in Northeast Ohio, which have a combined population of 4.1 million, Shuman calculated that a move to 25-percent food localization by 2020 could result in the creation of close to 28,000 new jobs. Theoretically, this means that one in eight of the more than 214,000 unemployed residents could find work, he said.

    Shuman’s Ohio study projects that the shift would generate $868 million in additional wages each year and bring in more than $100 million dollars in taxes for the region.

    Shuman’s report identifies various challenges to achieving this goal in Ohio. These include acquiring land for new farms, training staff for new food businesses and promoting a culture of local food buying among consumers. The study also highlights the need for a formidable $1 billion in capital for building infrastructure and getting businesses off the ground.

    Brownlee is under no illusions as to the challenges facing his organization’s efforts in Boulder County. Besides upping the amount of food grown within the county, other changes include building food-processing facilities, such as canneries and slaughterhouses, and creating a better system for distributing food from local farms, he explained.

    A benefactor who prefers to stay anonymous, but lives in Boulder County, has donated $1.5 million to start a fund to support the development of small farms and food processing, distribution and storage businesses in the county that are fundamental to the food system, Brownlee said.

    “We’re also looking for ways to expand this fund,” explained Brownlee. “Following the slow money principle, we want to encourage increasing local investment in the local food system.”

    Continue reading this article on The New West.

    The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins is available now

    Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite

    Monday, May 16th, 2011

    Author Bruce Levine describes how government-corporate alliances have created a passive populace, and how Americans can recover dignity, unity, and the energy to do battle.

    May 13, 2011  | The following is an excerpt from Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green, 2011) by Bruce E. Levine.

     How many Americans believe that their voice matters in determining whether giant banks, insurance companies, and other “too-big-to-fail” corporations get bailed out? How many Americans older than twelve believe that they have any influence over a decision by the US government to invade another nation?

    There are a slew of books and articles out there providing analyses of the profound problems of American democracy and offering recommendations aimed at improving matters. However, these analyses and recommendations routinely assume that Americans have sufficient personal energy to take action. Instead, what if many Americans have lost confidence that genuine democracy is possible? When such fatalism sets in, truths about economic injustices and lost liberties are no longer enough to set people free.

    While a charismatic politician can still garner a large turnout of voters who are angry with whichever party is in power, the majority of Americans appear resigned to the idea that they have no power over institutions that rule their lives. At least that’s what I see. I was curious if what troubled me also was troubling others, so I wrote an article titled “Are Americans a Broken People?” It was republished on numerous Internet sites, and I read more than a thousand reaction comments (some of which are included in this book). I was swamped with e-mails and received several media interview requests to discuss the article, which had apparently touched a nerve among those who identify themselves as progressive, libertarian, or populist. They too wondered why so many Americans have remained passive in the face of attacks on their liberties and their economic well-being. Some of the questions that I first raised in that article and will answer more fully in this book are:

    • Has “learned helplessness” taken hold for a great many Americans? Are many Americans locked into an abuse syndrome of sorts in which revelations about their victimization by a corporate-government partnership produce increased anesthetization rather than constructive action?

    • What cultural forces have created a passive and discouraged US population? Have so-called right-wing and so-called progressive institutions both contributed to breaking people’s resistance to domination?

    • And most important, can anything be done to turn this demoralization and passivity around? Is it possible for people to rebuild their morale and forge the connections necessary to support a truly democratic populism that can take power away from elite control?

    Elitism—be it rule by kings or corporations—is the opposite of genuine democracy. It is in the interest of those at the top of society to convince people below them that (1) democracy is merely about the right to vote; and (2) corporations and the wealthy elite are so powerful, any thought that “regular people” can achieve real power is naive. In genuine democracy and in real-deal populism, people not only believe that they have a right to self-government; they also have the individual strength and group cohesion necessary to take actions to eliminate top-down controls over their lives.

    If people lose sight of what democracy really is, or if they lose hope of the possibility of attaining it, then they lose their energy to fight for it. The majority of us, unlike the elite, will always lack big money, so we depend on individual and collective energy to do battle. Without such energy, the elite will easily subdue us.

    Get Up, Stand Up is, in large part, about regaining that energy. There exist solid strategies and time-tested tactics that people have long used to battle the elite, and these will be detailed. However, these strategies and tactics are not sufficient. For large-scale democratic movements to have enough energy to get off the ground, certain psychological and cultural building blocks are required. With these energizing building blocks, it then becomes realistic—and not naive—to believe that large numbers of people can take the kind of actions that will produce genuine democracy. The belief that their actions can be effective provides energy to take actions, taking actions strengthens the faith, and an energizing cycle is created.

    Continue reading this article on Alternet.

    Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite by Bruce E. Levine is available now.


    Les Leopold: Seven Ways Hedge Funds Lie, Cheat, and Steal

    Friday, May 13th, 2011

    The following piece written by Les Leopold, author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It, appeared originally on Alternet.

    The verdict is in: Raj Rajaratnam, the billionaire head of the Galleon hedge fund, was found guilty of 14 counts of securities fraud and conspiracy on Wednesday: 5 counts of conspiracy, and 9 counts of insider trading – which means he could be joining Bernie Madoff in prison for the rest of his life. The prosecution, which played 43 secretly recorded conversations that revealed how insider information was sought, received and covered-up, provides the clearest view to date of how far billionaires will go to earn their riches.

    Which raises an even more perplexing question: Why would a billionaire go out of his way to break the law in order to make “only” a few million more?  ($63 million to be exact, which is less than 5 percent of his net worth.) Greed? Ambition? Status?  Sure all of these personal characteristics and more are in play. But maybe there’s a more basic explanation: Perhaps the entire hedge fund industry rests upon tens of thousands of instances of lying, cheating and stealing. The Raj, as he likes to be called, may not be that different from the other 8,000 hedge fund manage who amass riches beyond our imagination.

    The reality uncovered by the feds is far different from the usual PR about hedge fund elites — how they develop the best research, the best trading programs, the best analysis of the economy, and how they translate all their brilliance into hard headed trades that pay off big.  If you have the stomach to read the vacuous literature about their daring deeds, you’ll find odes to their courage, their intelligence and their cojones.But, what a number of prosecutions — including the latest — show is a set of guys (and a few gals) who will take any edge they can find, legal or not, to make more money. In their minds, laws are for little people. A billionaire, almost by definition, is someone who thinks he is above it all. (Maybe we would too if we made $2.4 million an HOUR, which is what the leading hedge fund manager walked off with in 2010.)But why worry? We are repeatedly told that hedge funds only take money in very large chunks from very sophisticated investors who should know what they are doing. You don’t walk into this casino unless your six-shooter is fully loaded. And besides, the story goes, who cares if they cheat since the money the winners rake in only comes from the losers. But the truth is far more complex. When all the facts are in, we’ll see that hedge funds take a little bit from us all. And when they cheat, they take even more.Here are seven ways hedge funds typically bend or break the law:

    1. Insider Trading:The Raj is not alone. If the Feds could tape every hedge fund we’d get an earful of how hedge funds use “expert networks” to transfer bits of illegal information that provide hedge fund managers with knowledge of events that are sure to move markets and make them a bundle. The Raj investigation already has upended several other hedge funds that benefited from this common phenomenon.

    2. Tax Evasion:No surprise here. Wherever you find billionaire financiers, you’ll find schemes to move money around the globe to dodge taxes. Fortunately, Rudolf M. Elmer, a Swiss banker, has blown the whistle on an international web of rich investors, banks and hedge funds that evade taxes by illegally shifting money to low-tax jurisdictions. There’s something particularly slimy about hedge fund tax dodging, given that they only pay a 15 percent federal tax rate no matter how much they make.

    3. Ponzi Schemes:Madoff isn’t the only one. Hedge funds and Ponzi schemes are made for each other since the funds are designed to evade so many disclosure regulations. It’s virtually a sure thing that every new year will reveal another Ponzi scheme through which a hedge fund steals money from investors and then uses new investor money to pay returns to the old investors. It’s so easy to do when no one is watching.But the Ponzi problem is much bigger. The entire housing bubble was kept alive with a barely legal Ponzi perfected by the Megatar hedge fund. Pulitzer Prize winning reporters Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein at ProPublica.org uncovered how Megatar created giant CDOs based on junk mortgages (even after the housing scam was unraveling) for the sole purpose of betting that they would fail. When they couldn’t sell the crap, they stuck it into the next CDO, sliced it, diced it, got top ratings and then sold it again. And when that crap couldn’t get sold, it went in to the next CDO and so forth.The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report revealed a similar patterns where hedge funds and banks would trade the junk bank and forth among themselves in order to keep the production line going. If these aren’t Ponzi schemes then the word has no meaning. These “innovative” Ponzi schemes were far more damaging than Bernie’s.

    Continue reading this article on Alternet.

    The Looting of America by Les Leopold is available now.

    Are Food Prices Too High or Not High Enough?

    Thursday, May 12th, 2011

    by Gene Logsdon, author of Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind. Hear Gene interviewed on WBUR’s Here and Now radio show yesterday!

    These days I doubt there is a correct answer to any of our social problems. We can only choose to act on which wrong answers do the least harm. Recently I listened to a news report on the rise in global food prices that didn’t quite add up to me. The foregone conclusion was that climate change in the form of too much rain was causing food shortages and rising food prices around the world. No attempt was made to give evidence that climate change was the cause; it was simply presumed to be the case. The report focused on what farmers were doing to cope.

    I can’t speak to the rice problem because I’ve never grown any, although I do know that much of the crop spends quite a bit of its growing season standing in water so maybe heavier than usual rain could be helpful. If we could get our corn and wheat to grow in standing water, we would be way ahead of the game right now.

    But what the report then said about American farming sounded vaguely lopsided to someone who has been around corn and wheat a long time. First of all, the report seemed to be contradicting its opening fears of coming starvation. Actually, the commentator said, American grain production was generally up, not down, although perhaps not up enough to feed an ever rising world population. If that is so, maybe global warming has helped, not hindered. But there was not one word about how rising population might be part of the problem.

    But after having primed the listener with the notion that we are all in danger of starvation because of grain shortages except the rich, the report did an about face and said that American farmers were coping with the heavy rains fairly well. Farmers were adapting to climate change three ways: 1) new varieties that responded better to adverse conditions; 2) spraying more fungicides to ward off fungal diseases; and 3) using bigger equipment.

    I have a hunch this report was inspired by a news release out of the ivy halls of agrimonsantaclaus. I am standing here looking at our fields in Ohio covered with water or mud. Well, yes, if you bioengineered corn and wheat varieties with some rice genes, I expect farmers could respond to this adverse weather better, but first you’d have to get the plants in the mud or water. Maybe we could transplant our bioengineered corn varieties the way many Asians do their rice: by hand.  And yes, spraying them with more fungicides might ward off diseases, but again you have to have something out there to spray. Bigger equipment? It would have to be equipped with pontoons. Bigger equipment is the primary problem in a wet planting season. It causes compaction seven feet down unless the soil is perfectly dry, soil scientists are telling us.

    Not one mention was made of the best way to be farming this year: letting the animals graze for their food as they turn untilled pasture into meat, milk and eggs. It has been so wet that you did dare put cows on some pastures some days but, on the whole, pasture farmers are happy with all this rain: we could graze twice as many animals as normal.

    Not one mention was made of the small farm alternative. In 1947 we could not get into the fields at all until May 28. Believe it or not, we got the crops all in with our puny little tractors and teams of horses and no one starved. Since there were three times as many farmers dividing up the job, none of them were faced with the awesome task of navigating five or ten thousand acres with tractors the size and shape of Spanish galleons.

    Not one mention was made of the fact that on the other food front, we are in good shape considering the weather. Gardeners with raised beds or super-loamy soil have their peas, carrots, radishes, lettuce, onions and potatoes up and growing, and early sweet corn planted. Where there are many hands to make light the task, we can handle adverse weather a whole lot better than anybody’s bioengineered, triple-stacked, hybrid wonder plants can do.

    I want to say that population pressures are far more a cause of high food prices than climate change, but I’m not sure that is the right story either. Maybe higher food prices are good if they persuade more people to get out there and grow some food. The problem is not (yet) overpopulation, but too many people involved in non-productive work.

    Meanwhile, the disastrous drought continues in Texas and the southwest. Global warming, no doubt.
    ~~

    Read the original post on The Contrary Farmer.

    Gene Logsdon’s latest book, Holy Shit, is available now.

    Watch: Kurt Michael Friese on Chasing Chiles

    Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

    Kurt Michael Friese, who coauthored Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail with Kraig Kraft and Gary Paul Nabhan, spoke in Montpelier, Vermont last month and had a chance to sit down for the following interview with Chelsea Green TV.

    Friese describes how the book came together and discusses some of the themes and issues that he and his coauthors investigated over the course of writing it. Setting out in a van they dub their “Spice Ship,” Friese, Kraft and Nabhan invite readers along on their journey through eight pepper-growing states and to Mexico in search of rare chiles, along with the local dishes and cultural traditions they inspire. The voyage takes them to the dusty streets and roadside stands of Sonora, Mexico, where they find the incendiary chiltepin stuffed in old bottles, and to northern Florida where salty growers eke out a living from the endangered datil pepper.

    Hear the full story from Kurt himself in the video below.

    Chasing Chiles is available now.

    Solar Interview with Energy Policy Expert Paul Gipe

    Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

    The interview below appeared originally online at SolarServer.com

    Paul Gipe is an expert on wind energy and energy policy, and is among the foremost advocates for European-style feed-in tariff policies in the United States. He has written extensively about renewable energy for both the popular and trade press, including regular updates on global developments of feed-in tariff policies for his site Wind-Works.org.

    His most recent book, Wind Energy Basics: A Guide to Home- and Community-Scale Wind Energy Systems, was published by Chelsea Green in May, 2009.

    In 2004, Mr. Gipe served as the acting executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association where he created, managed, and implemented a provincial campaign for Advanced Renewable Tariffs. The campaign sought to adapt electricity feed laws to the North American market and was instrumental in placing the European concept on the political agenda in Canada and the United States.

    Mr. Gipe first publicly called for a feed law in the US in his campaign for the board of directors of the American Wind Energy Association in 1998.

    Solar Server: How do you feel the disaster at the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant is affecting renewable energy policy globally, and particularly national government appetites for feed-in tariffs?

    Paul Gipe: Well, I think the most interesting development is in Germany, and I think that we will see if the coalition government will come out with new policies to increase the installation of wind energy in Germany. I think that is one very positive development, elsewhere, particularly in the United States, we still have our head in the sand, and continue business as usual.

    Solar Server: In terms of the feed-in tariff policies which have been passed or modified over the last year, which ones do you see as the most promising, and why?

    Paul Gipe: I continue to find the German program the model for the rest of the world to follow, in part because they have been able handle the explosive growth of solar PV. And have been able to accept that growth and regulate that growth in a responsible manner by a dialing down of the tariff in interim steps and in creating a growth corridor that they use to increase the degression to reduce the growth rate – the most responsible means of regulating the potentially explosive growth of solar PV.

    The next most sophisticated program is in Ontario, Canada, modeled of course after the European programs.

    And a very interesting development is that in Uganda. Uganda has a feed-in tariff policy that could be useful to states in the United States. It’s not often that the United States looks to deepest, darkest Africa for a model program, but it might be wise for us to do so.

    Continue reading this article at SolarServer.com.

    Wind Energy Basics by Paul Gipe is available now.


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