Archive for May, 2011

Something Is Very Wrong With the Bin Laden Kill Story

Monday, May 9th, 2011

The following post written by Davidson Loehr, author of America, Fascism and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher, appeared originally online at DailyKos.

Bin Laden “was used in the same way that 9/11 was used to mobilize the emotions and feelings of the American people in order to go to a war that had to be justified through a narrative that Bush junior created and Cheney created about the world of terrorism.” — Dr. Steve R. Pieczenik

With the (at least second) death of Usama bin Laden now creating a tsunami of feelings and feverish nationalism, millions of people are finding a sense of emotional closure: some stitches to help seal the wound, the fear and confusion of 9-11-2001.

But something is very wrong with the administration’s slip-sliding story of midnight heroics executing The Bad Guy Behind 9-11, then disposing of his body so no one could verify the alleged DNA match.  The administration is simply saying “Just trust us” – as though many people do.

Surface irregularities
The photo of President Obama and a roomful of his advisers apparently watching the operation go down (recorded by helmet-cams worn by the SEALS) turns out to be a picture of them watching … something else.  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta acknowledged that the helmet-cams were not on during the operation, and were off for 25 minutes after the SEALS entered the compound.

And that million-dollar mansion in which bin Laden lived?  Well, no.  Property records showed that the land was worth $48,000 when it was purchased in stages in 2004 and 2005, according to the Associated Press. (1)

Initially, the story was presented as a vicious firefight against an armed compound, where bin Laden used his wife as a human shield, firing at the invaders from behind her.  Now it seems that bin Laden was not armed, was not using anyone as a shield, and was in his pajamas when killed. (2)

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald cut to the chase in his May 3rd column: “In bin Laden killing, media – as usual – regurgitates false Government claims”:

“Yesterday [May 2, 2011], it was widely reported that bin Laden “resisted” his capture and “engaged in a firefight” with U.S. forces….  It was also repeatedly claimed that bin Laden used a woman — his wife — as a human shield to protect himself, and that she was killed as a result. That image — of a cowardly though violent-to-the-end bin Laden — framed virtually every media narrative of the event all over the globe. And it came from many government officials, principally Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan.”

The major media dutifully reported this made-for-the-movies story.  But by the next day it was obvious that almost all of the key dramatic elements in the story were completely false: fictions for the masses, facts be damned. Greenwald:

“No matter how many times this happens — from Jessica Lynch’s heroic firefight against Iraqi captors to Pat Tillman’s death at the hands of Evil Al Qaeda fighters — it never changes: the narrative is set forever by first-day government falsehoods uncritically amplified by establishment media outlets, which endure no matter how definitively they are disproven in subsequent days.” (3)

This is the psychology of the “Big Lie”: we tend to swallow wildly exaggerated stories more than little lies, because we wouldn’t be either willing or able to lie so completely about such life-and-death matters, so assume others also wouldn’t.  The plot – starting with an absurd mythic story, knowing people will finally trust it over the slings and arrows of fact that reveal it as manipulative duplicity – has been proven to work time after time; it’s no wonder governments continue to use it.  It’s playing to car-crash journalism, and our love of a simple and pure story of victory or vengeance by the Good Guys over The Forces of Evil.  We love good theater, but will settle for much less.  All the spotlights are persuasive.

Who benefits from this Kabuki Theater story? Well, when Obama met for a chat with firefighters from Engine 54 in lower Manhattan, he assured them – and, through the media, the rest of us: “You’re always going to have a president and an administration who’s got your back.” (4)

Deeper misdirection
If this shifting story were no more than politics as usual in a propaganda-driven world, we could swallow it – at least as well as we’ve swallowed the earlier untrue and manipulative stories about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman.  But there are enough stories from then-reputable sources indicating that the bin Laden kill story’s Big Lie goes much deeper: frighteningly deeper. These more disturbing stories indicate that Usama bin Laden was not even connected to the events of 9-11, let alone their “mastermind” — and that he died in 2001.

Usama bin Laden was a red herring
On November 13, 2002, just fourteen months after 9-11, a blogger contributed this to Buzzflash (

For your amusement and future reference, here’s what Bush has said about bin Laden at various points in time, depending on how he was trying to spin things:

“The most important thing is for us to find Usama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him.”
- G.W. Bush, 9/13/01

“I want justice…There’s an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive,’”
- G.W. Bush, 9/17/01, UPI

“…Secondly, he is not escaping us. This is a guy, who, three months ago, was in control of a county [sic]. Now he’s maybe in control of a cave. He’s on the run. Listen, a while ago I said to the American people, our objective is more than bin Laden. But one of the things for certain is we’re going to get him running and keep him running, and bring him to justice. And that’s what’s happening. He’s on the run, if he’s running at all. So we don’t know whether he’s in cave with the door shut, or a cave with the door open — we just don’t know….” – GW Bush, remarks in an open meeting with the Press Travel Pool at Bush’s “ranch” in Crawford TX, 12/28/01, as reported on the official White House site.

“I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority. I am truly not that concerned about him.”
- G.W. Bush, responding to a question about bin Laden’s whereabouts, 3/13/02 (The New American, 4/8/02)  (5)

This last quote – made just two and a half months after Bush swore to find bin Laden and bring him to justice – showed that even GW Bush didn’t consider Usama bin Laden an essential part of the story for which our soldiers – and hundreds of thousands of citizens in Arab countries – have shed so much blood and suffered so many life-altering injuries.

Usama bin Laden cannot be connected to 9-11
What did Usama himself say about 9-11? In a Sept. 28, 2001 interview with the Pakistani newspaper Ummat, bin Laden is reported to have said:
“I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children and other people. Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of a battle.” (6)

FBI admits they have no evidence connecting bin Laden to 9-11
According to the FBI Top Ten Most Wanted page: “Usama Bin Laden is wanted in connection with the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. These attacks killed over 200 people. In addition, Bin Laden is a suspect in other terrorist attacks throughout the world.” (7)

When asked why there is no mention of 9/11 on the FBI’s web page, Rex Tomb, the FBI’s chief of investigative publicity, is reported to have said,

”The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Usama Bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.” (8)

In fact, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Vice President Dick Cheney both admit there is no evidence linking bin Laden to 9-11.  On March 29, 2006, on The Tony Snow Show, Vice President Dick Cheney stated: “We’ve never made the case, or argued the case, that somehow Osama Bin Laden was directly involved in 9/11. That evidence has never been forthcoming.” (9)

At the end of their Top Ten list, the FBI notes that bin Laden “is left-handed and walks with a cane.”

This last comment is important because there are many reports of the CIA creating fake bin Laden videos – at least one with a right-handed actor looking to be 80-100 lbs. fatter, and with a much fatter nose, than Usama bin Laden — which have been embarrassingly easy to spot as fake.

Former CIA Officials Admit To Faking Bin Laden Video
Steve Watson, PrisonPlanet, Tuesday, May 25th, 2010:
“Two former CIA officials have admitted to creating a fake video in which intelligence officers dressed up as Usama Bin Laden and his cronies in an effort to defame the terrorist leader throughout the Middle East.

“The details are outlined in a Washington Post article by investigative reporter and former Army Intelligence case officer Jeff Stein.” (10), (11)
Could the CIA group of “dark skinned actors” have been behind the infamous December 2001 “Fat nosed” Bin Laden video, that was magically found in a house in Jalalabad after anti-Taliban forces moved in?

The tape featured a fat Usama laughing and joking about how he’d carried out 9/11. The video was also mistranslated in order to manipulate viewer opinion and featured “Bin Laden” praising two of the hijackers, only he got their names wrong. This Usama wrote with his right hand (the real Usama was, as the FBI site noted, left-handed). The actor playing Fat Usama in the December 2001 staged video, also wore gold rings: a practice totally in opposition to the Muslim faith.

Despite the fact that the man in the video looks nothing like Bin Laden and is right-handed, the CIA stood by it and declared it to be the official “9/11 confession video”. (12, 13)

Usama Bin Laden died in late 2001
– A Google search for “bin Laden died in 2001” brought up 31 pages of stories.  Here are a few representative stories from mainstream sources, including one that may – if true — be a “smoking gun” from a top government insider:

1.         “Usama bin Laden has died a peaceful death due to an untreated lung complication, the Pakistan Observer reported, citing a Taliban leader who allegedly attended the funeral of the Al Qaeda leader.

“The Coalition troops are engaged in a mad search operation but they would never be able to fulfill their cherished goal of getting Usama alive or dead,” the source said.

Bin Laden, according to the source, was suffering from a serious lung complication and succumbed to the disease in mid-December 2001, in the vicinity of the Tora Bora mountains. The source claimed that bin Laden was laid to rest honorably in his last abode and his grave was made as per his Wahabi belief.

About 30 close associates of bin Laden in Al Qaeda, including his most trusted and personal bodyguards, his family members and some “Taliban friends,” attended the funeral rites. A volley of bullets was also fired to pay final tribute to the “great leader.” December 26, 2001. (14)

2.         Translation of Funeral Article in Egyptian Paper: al-Wafd, Wednesday, December 26, 2001 Vol. 15 No. 4633 Islamabad — A prominent official in the Afghan Taliban movement announced yesterday the death of Usama bin Laden, the chief of al-Qa’da organization, stating that bin Laden suffered serious complications in the lungs and died a natural and quiet death. The official, who asked to remain anonymous, stated to The Observer of Pakistan that he had himself attended the funeral of bin Laden and saw his face prior to burial in Tora Bora 10 days ago. He mentioned that 30 of al-Qa’da fighters attended the burial as well as members of his family and some friends from the Taliban. In the farewell ceremony to his final rest guns were fired in the air.

The official stated that it is difficult to pinpoint the burial location of bin Laden because according to the Wahhabi tradition no mark is left by the grave. He stressed that it is unlikely that the American forces would ever uncover any traces of bin Laden. (15)

3.         “Usama bin Laden is dead. The news first came from sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan almost six months ago: the fugitive died in December [2001] and was buried in the mountains of southeast Afghanistan. Pakistan’s former president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, echoed the information. The remnants of Usama’s gang, however, have mostly stayed silent, either to keep Usama’s ghost alive or because they have no means of communication.

“With an ego the size of Mount Everest, Usama bin Laden would not have, could not have, remained silent for so long if he were still alive. He always liked to take credit even for things he had nothing to do with. Would he remain silent for nine months and not trumpet his own survival?” (16)

4.         “The Bin Laden Scam is One of the Most Shameful Acts Ever Perpetrated…”
By Gordon Duff, Veterans Today, December 5, 2009

“Conservative commentator, former Marine Colonel Bob Pappas has been saying for years that bin Laden died at Tora Bora and that Senator Kerry’s claim that bin Laden escaped with Bush help was a lie. Now we know that Pappas was correct. The embarrassment of having Secretary of State Clinton talk about bin Laden in Pakistan was horrific. He has been dead since December 13, 2001 and now, finally, everyone, Obama, McChrystal, Cheney, everyone who isn’t nuts is finally saying what they have known for years.

“We know this: Bin Laden always denied any ties to 9/11 and, in fact, has never been charged in relation to 9/11. He not only denied involvement, but had done so, while alive, 4 times and had vigorously condemned those who were involved in the attack.

“This is on the public record, public in every free country except ours. We, instead, showed films made by paid actors, made up to look somewhat similar to bin Laden, actors who contradicted bin Laden’s very public statements, actors pretending to be bin Laden long after bin Laden’s death.” (17)

5.         Top Government Insider: Bin Laden Died in 2001, 9/11 A False Flag
The most recent (4 May 2011) story is – if true – the most explosive, from a man who was appointed to sensitive and influential positions in the Secretary of State and Defense departments by five presidents going back to Richard Nixon. (18, 19)  As of May 7, 2011, this story seems to be going viral – a Google search showed over forty pages of hits). The story deserves an extended citation (link to full story at the end):

“Top US government insider Dr. Steve R. Pieczenik, a man who held numerous different influential positions under three different Presidents and still works with the Defense Department, shockingly told The Alex Jones Show yesterday that Usama Bin Laden died in 2001 and that he was prepared to testify in front of a grand jury how a top general told him directly that 9/11 was a false flag inside job.

“Pieczenik cannot be dismissed as a “conspiracy theorist”. He served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under three different administrations, Nixon, Ford and Carter, while also working under Reagan and Bush senior, and still works as a consultant for the Department of Defense. A former US Navy Captain, Pieczenik achieved two prestigious Harry C. Solomon Awards at the Harvard Medical School as he simultaneously completed a PhD at MIT.

“Recruited by Lawrence Eagleburger as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Management, Pieczenik went on to develop, “the basic tenets for psychological warfare, counter terrorism, strategy and tactics for transcultural negotiations for the US State Department, military and intelligence communities and other agencies of the US Government,” while also developing foundational strategies for hostage rescue that were later employed around the world.

“Pieczenik also served as a senior policy planner under Secretaries Henry Kissinger, Cyrus Vance, George Schultz and James Baker and worked on George W. Bush’s election campaign against Al Gore. His record underscores the fact that he is one of the most deeply connected men in intelligence circles over the past three decades plus.

“The character of Jack Ryan, who appears in many Tom Clancy novels and was also played by Harrison Ford in the popular 1992 movie Patriot Games, is also based on Steve Pieczenik.

“Back in April 2002, over nine years ago, Pieczenik told the Alex Jones Show that Bin Laden had already been “dead for months,” and that the government was waiting for the most politically expedient time to roll out his corpse. Pieczenik would be in a position to know, having personally met Bin Laden and worked with him during the proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan back in the early 80′s.

“Pieczenik said that Usama Bin Laden died in 2001, “Not because special forces had killed him, but because as a physician I had known that the CIA physicians had treated him and it was on the intelligence roster that he had marfan syndrome,” adding that the US government knew Bin Laden was dead before they invaded Afghanistan.”

Marfan syndrome is a degenerative genetic disease for which there is no permanent cure. The illness severely shortens the life span of the sufferer.

“He died of marfan syndrome, Bush junior knew about it, the intelligence community knew about it,” said Pieczenik, noting how CIA physicians had visited Bin Laden in July 2001 at the American Hospital in Dubai.

“He was already very sick from marfan syndrome and he was already dying, so nobody had to kill him,” added Pieczenik, stating that Bin Laden died shortly after 9/11 in his Tora Bora cave complex. [NOTE: Dr. Pieczenik is implying an earlier death than most, who give December 13th as the date of Usama’s death. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.)

“Pieczenik explained that he was not a liberal, a conservative or a tea party member, merely an American who is deeply concerned about the direction in which his country is heading.”

(The website Above Top Secret is now (May 7, 2011) running the story of a nearly complete media blackout relating to Dr. Pieczenik’s story.) (20)

Most of this information is known to Fox News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the administrations of both the GW Bush and Obama.  If the subject were less emotional and complex, hoardes of reporters would already have torn the official version to shreds.  But the way Obama’s administration packaged and released the stories was meant to – and did – plunge all of us into the fiery picture of bloody heroics in the made-for-movie saga of a continuing fight for Good against Evil.  The high temperature of the story directs us toward uncritical acceptance, along with admiration and gratitude for the courage of both our Navy SEALS and – not incidentally – our president.

With our leaders operating within the supercharged atmosphere inside the Beltway, they live in a capsule of secrecy conducive to creating True Believers.  The danger of such closed circles was perhaps put best by Albert Speer, who was the only Nazi to confess, then to write clearly and forcefully just how the process worked.  This is not meant to compare our government with the Nazis – just to say the presence of so much secrecy easily traps the key players inside a hall of mirrors:

In normal circumstances, people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them, which makes them aware they have lost credibility.  In the Third Reich there were no such correctives, especially for those who belonged to the upper stratum.  On the contrary, every self-deception was multiplied as in a hall of distorting mirrors, becoming a repeatedly confirmed picture of a fantastical dream world, which no longer bore any relationship to the grim outside world.  In those mirrors I could see nothing but my own face reproduced many times over.

(21)   Our whole country is now engulfed by an incendiary story that reeks of dangerous propaganda.  It’s time we stopped shouting “Fire!” and began shouting “Theater!”

(6) copied from the website of journalist Robert Fisk,
(14),2933,41576,00.html(15),2933,41576,00.html(16) New York Times. July 11, 2002
(20) The topic started on May 6, 2011 @ 12:12 PM by monkeySEEmonkeyDO:
“I have been noticing a complete media blackout with the ULIMATE 911 whistleblower, Dr. Steve R. Pieczenik, and I attempted to search through the MSM’s websites for ANY record of his name. Here is a small, yet powerful, list of major news networks who REFUSE to acknowledge this brave and honest man:
Foxnews (Associated Press)

HOWEVER… I did find one major news network that did post this story. The brave and daring posted the ground breaking story but posted it under the “lifestyle” section which is right next to the home garden and travel sections… LOL.. I can NOT make this stuff up”. (

(21) Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) – Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, 2007, p. 65

Hot Stuff: Chile Peppers, Climate Change, and the Future of Food

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

by Makenna Goodman

Climate change is the issue of our time. Its ill effects will fall heaviest on the people who have least contributed to it: billions in the global south. But no one will escape the impact of the warming climate, and one place it will manifest most obviously is on our plates. If we look at chile peppers, for example, it’s easy to see how the negative effects of climate change have affected the food on our plates and the farmers behind that food. In their new book, Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail, authors (and self-titled “gastronauts”) Gary Nabhan, Kurt Michael Friese, and Kraig Kraft clear a path in the rubble on their beloved “spice ship,” with the chile pepper as their guide. You’ll never see hot sauce in the same way again. In this interview, the three spoke as a team, so I’ve conglomerated their answers to reflect their pepper-infused mind-meld.

Q. Your new book, Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail looks at both the future of place-based foods and the effects of climate change on agriculture through the lens of the chile pepper. Why the chile pepper, as opposed to, say, corn?

A. There is an easy enough metaphor behind the heat of chiles and the heat of global warming, but really it’s much more than that. Chiles are grown all over the world and have become the hallmarks of certain cuisines. There exists a tremendous amount of diversity in the shapes, tastes, and ecological adaptations of the chiles that reveal much to us about how climate change is affecting place-based foods. But there is also great diversity in how people process and consume chile peppers. They fire up people’s imaginations (and taste buds) in ways that corn, wheat, or soy can’t do. Plus we happen to love the hot little suckers.

Q. Over a year-long journey traveling in the U.S. and Mexico, the three of you — an agroecologist, a chef, and an ethnobotanist — came face to face with the realities of once thriving farms and producers now in danger of losing chiles integral to their local cultural identity. What chiles did you focus on, and why?

A. Of course there are many more heirloom chiles than the handful we focused on in the book. We happened to choose these because they are integral parts to the places we visited. Chimayos in New Mexico, Chiltepines in Sonora, Habaneros in the Yucatan, Tabascos in Louisiana, Datils in St. Augustine, Fish Peppers near Chesapeake Bay, even Beaver Dam peppers in Wisconsin and Jimmy Nardellos in Connecticut — each chile pepper has its own poignant (and pungent!) story and a role in local culture and cuisines.

Q. How did the three of you come together to work on this project?

A. It started with a conversation between Gary and Kurt, about following the pepper trail — tracing how this simple nightshade made its way from Central America all the way to Southeast Asia. Gary admired the vitality of Kraig’s field work and enthusiasm for chile cultures, so we invited him on board the “spice ship.” For our first orbit, we decided to focus on plant hunting for peppers in North America. But we hope to take the spice ship around the world someday.

Q. I didn’t realize Tabasco™ sauce was once created solely from Tabasco™ peppers grown at the McIllhenny company production site in Avery Island, Louisiana. And while the company still produces all of their seed peppers in the original location, currently their peppers are farmed in over 165 countries worldwide. In your book, you talk about how this could be seen as a model for achieving resilience in the face of climate change. Can you speak more to this issue?

A. The key idea here is indeed resilience, the capacity to survive change. How do we adapt our culinary traditions and our cultures to deal with the changes that come with global warming without compromising identity and authenticity?

For those who saw the vulnerability at Avery Island of having all their chiles in one basket, it was a very easy decision. Diversify where Tabasco would be grown, or risk losing everything. Yet in implementing some viable bet-hedging strategies, the McIllhennys admirably maintained links to tradition. All their peppers — wherever they are grown — are mashed with salt mined from Avery Island and all the seed for all the Tabasco grown elsewhere is maintained and propagated at Avery Island. Forced to make a change, this community figured out a way to adapt which maintained some sense of place and tradition.

Q. How has the sustainable food movement and increased interest in terroir affected small-scale chile growers in the U.S.?

A. Because of the resurgence of direct marketing by small-scale growers, there is more vegetable diversity offered today at farmers markets, through CSAs and in grocery stores than a dozen years ago. Terroir — the taste of place — is still better known in wines, tequilas, maple syrup, and coffees than in vegetables and fruits, but growers and connoisseurs know it has been there all along. This, however, is the first book of many recent ones discussing the taste of place which recognizes that terroirs as we know them are being dramatically scrambled by climate change. [See Gary Nabhan's Grist post on "global weirding and the scrambling of terroir."]

Q. What is the most delicious chile dish each of you have ever had, and where did you eat it?

A. Kurt: Of course I can’t pick just one, but for me the most delightful recent discovery was learning about Xnipec in the Yucatan. It’s a kind of pico de gallo with habanero chiles and sour orange juice, sometimes they add cabbage. The name comes from the Mayan for “dog’s nose,” because when you eat it, it may make your nose run from the heat.

Kraig: Only one? A green chile cheeseburger  — either in my parent’s backyard, or at the Owl Bar and Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico.

Gary: So many chiles, so little time … My two favorite traditional chile products are the Halaby pepper from Aleppo, Syria and chile Coban from Guatemala, but my favorite dishes is Ysleta green chile stews served near El Paso and my own chiltepin-vanilla bean ice cream, which is so hot you have to eat more of it to cool yourself down …

Q. How can other chile lovers join the movement to protect and support heirloom chiles and their farmers?

A. A mutual friend of ours, Poppy Tooker, has coined the phrase “You’ve got to eat it to save it!” which is so true. The more of a market that exists for heirloom and local foods — not just chiles — the better their chance for survival.

For those who are gardeners, the best thing they can do is to grow and save and share heirloom seeds at home. In addition, there are some great organizations doing important work to protect biodiversity in our food system, including chiles. Native Seeds/SEARCH, Seed Savers Exchange, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange are among the many nonprofits that work to conserve chile seed stocks and their related cultural legacies. And of course, support the chile farmers themselves and the many nonprofits working to save food biodiversity, such as Slow Food and its Ark of Taste.

Makenna Goodman is an Associate Editor at Chelsea Green Publishing, providing information and resources on the politics and practice of sustainable living. She co-manages a diversified farm in central Vermont that specializes in maple syrup, and alongside Grist, has written for Huffington Post, TreeHugger, AlterNet and PlanetGreen.

This Q&A appeared originally online at

Check out Chasing Chiles in our bookstore now!

LISTEN: Diane Wilson interviewed on David Sirota

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Fearless environmental activist Diane Wilson, whose new book is Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth, was interviewed recently on David Sirota‘s AM760 radio show.

Listen to the full interview here.

Diane discussed her recent arrest outside the BP annual general meeting in London, and described how she got her start as an activist in Texas for guest host John Turk.

If you’re not familiar with Diane’s story, she is a fourth-generation shrimper and all around hell-raiser whose first book, An Unreasonable Woman, told of her battle to save her bay in Seadrift, Texas.  Back then, she was an accidental activist who worked with whistleblowers, organized protests, and eventually sunk her own boat to stop the plastic-manufacturing giant Formosa from releasing dangerous chemicals into water she shrimped in, grew up on, and loved.

But, it turns out, the fight against Formosa was just the beginning. In Diary of an Eco-Outlaw, Diane writes about what happened as she began to fight injustice not just in Seadrift, but around the world—taking on Union Carbide for its failure to compensate those injured in the Bhopal disaster, cofounding the women’s antiwar group Code Pink to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, attempting a citizens arrest of Dick Cheney, famously covering herself with fake oil and demanding the arrest of then BP CEO Tony Hayward as he testified before Congress, and otherwise becoming a world-class activist against corporate injustice, war, and environmental crimes.

Check out Diary of an Eco-Outlaw in our bookstore now.

A Benign Extravagance

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Simon Fairlie, author of Meat: A Benign Extravagance, wrote the following piece, which appeared originally online at Global Food Security.

I recently spent several years investigating the environmental impact of livestock production for a book called Meat: A Benign Extravagance, which stimulated the debate on the real carbon foot print of rearing animals for food, particularly when the Guardian’s George Monbiot wrote his ‘Let them eat meat – but farm it properly’ critique.

The first lesson I learnt was not to trust any of the statistical clichés that are passed around like a relay baton. For example, the commonly cited figure of 100,000 litres of water required to produce a kilo of beef is nonsense: it refers to the total amount of rain falling upon the land grazed by the cow, rain which would fall – and drain away or be transpired or excreted by living creatures – whether or not the cow was on the field.

Similarly, the inefficiency of livestock at converting vegetable food into animal protein is habitually exaggerated by opponents of meat eating. Globally, for every kilo of meat or dairy protein produced, approximately 1.4 kilos of vegetable protein are ingested by livestock. Since meat protein is viewed by many consumers and food analysts to be superior, and since meat provides variety in a diet, this level of inefficiency is arguably acceptable.

The FAO’s calculation that livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of anthropogenic carbon emissions is, at the very least, a heavily massaged statistic. Most of the CO2 emissions they attribute to all livestock are derived by applying out of date emissions for Amazon deforestation caused by beef cattle which comprise barely one per cent if the world’s livestock. Their figures for methane and nitrous oxide take account of the emissions caused by livestock, but do not factor in the replacement nitrous oxide and methane emissions that would occur if we did not farm livestock, such as nitrous oxide from the fertilizer needed to replace manure to produce crops, or the methane emitted by wild animals or forest fires resulting from undergrazing.

The correct figure is more likely to be 10 per cent or even less. So why do the FAO economists plug the inflated figure of 18 per cent? It appears to be because they want to depict extensive livestock, especially cattle, as the villain of the piece and so argue that intensive farming of pigs and poultry in factory farms is a more viable alternative.

Less is more
Once one has winnowed out all this anti-livestock and anti-ruminant bias, the fact remains that the model of livestock farming currently pursued in the industrialized countries is flagrantly unjust and unsustainable.

To feed the entire world the levels of meat currently enjoyed in the USA, Europe and the OECD countries would require massive quantities of grain to be fed to livestock wastefully at a conversion efficiency of about four to one.

My key conclusion is that within every agro-economy there is a certain amount of meat – what I call default livestock production – that has very little environmental impact because it is basically a byproduct of an agricultural system designed to produce grains and other vegetable products. This includes meat from livestock such as pigs and poultry fed on crop residues and food waste, cattle, sheep or goats fed on grass or legumes that are an integral part of the arable rotation, and animals fed on surplus grain necessary to provide a buffer in the event of a poor harvest.

Any meat consumption above the default level requires dedicated feed crops to be fed to livestock at an inefficient rate, involving extravagant use of land, fertilizer and water. To provide this diet for all of the world’s nearly seven billion people is not sustainable; and to feed, as we do, vast quantities of grain to livestock to provide luxury goods for consumers in industrialized countries is manifestly unjust when a billion people in the world are undernourished.

Check out Meat: A Benign Extravagance in our bookstore now.

Will the Real Food Movement Please Stand Up?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

by Woody Tasch

Farmer Bob Comis recently suggested that the food movement is suffering from “multiple personality disorder.” He argued that several vocal factions — foodies, locavores, and “smallists” — tend to dominate the food movement discussion, unrealistically distracting us from our ultimate objective: bringing affordable, organic food to all as part of a broader commitment to social justice.

For decades now, organic farmers and sustainable food activists of all stripes have been vexed by the question: Is this a movement? Can it scale and have meaningful impact?

At one eloquent and entrepreneurially-impeccably-credentialed end of the spectrum stands farmer Joel Salatin:

Don’t let them confuse you. Organic farming is not an industry. It is a movement. It is part of a movement that began when the first indigenous peoples fought against the Conquistadors. It is fighting back against the modern Conquistadors, the multinational corporations, those who would patent and genetically modify life and destroy diversity.

At the other eloquent and entrepreneurially-impeccably-credentialed end of the spectrum stands Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg: “I hate the ‘m’ word. Organics is an industry. We must build and utilize industrial-scaled enterprises, if we are going to get toxics out of the food chain in one generation.”

There are 6,132 farmers markets in the U.S., up 350 percent since 1994. There were 60 CSAs in 1990; today there are almost 13,000. Some 400,000 people belong to them. That seems movement-ish, until you consider some countervailing data. 50,000 in Copenhagen, alone, belong to a single box scheme. More than 60 million people play Farmville online. McDonald’s first quarter profits in 2011 were $1.21 billion, up 11 percent from Q1 2010. So, despite Food Inc.‘s nomination for an Oscar, Michael Pollan’s single-handed splicing of the local, organic food gene into the American consciousness, and Jamie Oliver’s much ballyhooed Food Revolution on TV, where’s the (grass-fed, organic) beef? Where’s the movement?

The beginning of an answer lies with Paul Hawken, who beautifully argues in Blessed Unrest that it is a fool’s game to try to put a single name on the millions of initiatives emerging around the globe as an immune response to the destruction of natural systems. Add to Hawken’s prognosis Wendell Berry’s disdain for movements. Berry fears that movements, however well-intentioned, devolve into warring special interests, abstractions that deflect us from reducing, in our daily lives, our complicity in the destructiveness of the modern economy.

Where does that leave us?

Well, being stubborn, slogan-loving Americans, we could try to come up with names anyway: Foodie, locavore, vegan, localism, smallism, anti-GMOism, anti-Conquistadorism, anti-Twinkie-ism, raw milkism, school lunchism, ethical treatment of animalism, family farmism, urban farmism, farmers market vs. Walmartism, heirloom variety-ism, real foodism, slow foodism, indigenous culturism, nurture capitalism, biocharism, terroirism.

Or we can zoom out, and zoom down, and look for the broader and deeper process of which all this food related activism is a part. Here are some of the persectives of people who have been working for decades to transform the food system (or create new ones):

Think: Eliot Coleman‘s advice, “Feed the soil, not the plant.”

Think: Gary Snyder’s observation: “Food is the field in which we daily explore our harming of the world.”

Think: Joan Gussow’s aphorism, “I prefer butter to margarine, because I trust cows more than I trust chemists.”

Think: Odessa Piper’s insight, “Local is the distance the heart can travel.”

Along this Coleman-Snyder-Gussow-Piper axis lies the connection between the food movement and its deepest roots, which reach all the way to the nonviolent ethics of Gandhi and King.

This enterprise that we are a part of, with its new organic farmers and the host of small food enterprises that are emerging to bring their produce to market, is about an economy that does less harm. It’s about rebuilding trust and reconnecting to one another and the places where we live. It’s about healing the social and ecological relationships that have been broken by hundreds of years of linear, extractive pursuit of economic growth, industrialization, globalization, and consumerism. It’s about pulling some of our money out of ever-accelerating financial markets and its myriad abstractions — called, with more than a little irony, securities — and putting it to work near where we live, in things that we understand, starting with food — creating a more immediate and tangible kind of security.

This attention to and, even, celebration of the small, the slow and the local can seem, at times, rather precious against the scale of global economic, political, and environmental challenges. But it was agriculture that gave birth to the modern economy, and, as Paul Ehrlich recognizes, it must be agriculture that we fix if there is to be a postmodern economy:

The agricultural revolution led to a period of cultural evolution unprecedented in its rapidity and scale … It is a story that starts with the obtaining of food but returns us to two aspects of human behavior that, although present in hunter-gatherers, became even more important in sedentary groups-religion and violence.

CSAs to the rescue. Local Harvest and Greenling and Green Mountain Creamery and Mamma Chia and Revolution Foods and People’s Grocery and Gather Restaurant and Shepherd’s Way Cheese and High Mowing Organic Seeds and Growing Power and Slow Food and the Business Alliance for Local, Living Economies, and RSF Social Finance to the rescue.

Can we imagine a pro-soil, pro-earthworm, pro-small farmer, anti-fiduciary-razzmatazz, pro non-capitalist-pig movement that becomes as robust in this second decade of the 21st century as the anti-war movement was in the 1960s?

Peace Now. Fertility Now. Food Here Now. Slow Money.

Read the original article on Grist.

Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered by Woody Tasch is available now.

Toward a Liberation Psychology

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

The following is excerpted from Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite by Bruce E. Levine. It appeared originally online at Counterpunch.

When I first heard the term liberation theology (in opposition to a theol­ogy that fosters compliance with the status quo), I thought there should also be a liberation psychology—a psychology that doesn’t equate a lack of adjustment with mental illness, but instead promotes constructive rebel­lion against dehumanizing institutions, and which also provides strategies to build a genuinely democratic society.

It turned out that somebody else had thought of the same thing before I had. Ignacio Martin-Baró (1942–1989) was both a priest and a psychologist, and it is he who should be given credit for popularizing the term liberation psychology. Martin-Baró’s liberation theology, liberation psychology, and activism for the people of El Salvador cost him his life. In the middle of the night on November 16, 1989, Martin-Baró, together with five colleagues, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter, were forced out to a courtyard on the campus of Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas, where they were murdered by the US-trained troops of the Salvadoran government’s elite Atlacatl Battalion.

As a Jesuit priest, Martin-Baró embraced liberation theology in opposi­tion to a theology that oppressed the poor, and as a social psychologist, he believed that imported North American psychology also oppresses marginalized people.

The Politics of Mainstream Psychology

Martin-Baró believed that the prevailing mainstream psychology had become infatuated with methods and measurements and thus was ignor­ing unquantifiable realities necessary for liberation. Such unquantifiable but powerful human dimensions include commitment, solidarity, hope, and courage. He saw a mainstream psychology that either ignored or only paid lip service to social and economic conditions that shape people’s lives.

In Writings for a Liberation Psychology, a compilation of Martin-Baró’s essays, editors Adrianne Aron and Shawn Corne point out that libera­tion psychology is about looking at the world from the point of view of the dominated instead of the dominators. Martin-Baró drew heavily on the work of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator, who recognized a certain “psychology of oppres­sion” in which the downtrodden become fatalistic, believing they are powerless to alter their circumstances, thus becoming resigned to their situation.

The prevailing organizational psychology that Martin-Baró criticizes is one that promotes an alienation of working people by serving the needs of industry. In his essay “Toward a Liberation Psychology,” Martin-Baró points out:
What has happened to Latin American psychology is similar to North American psychology at the beginning of the twen­tieth century, when it ran so fast after scientific recognition and social status that it stumbled . . . In order to get social position and rank, it negotiated how it would contribute to the needs of the established power structure.
Prevailing psychological theories are not politically neutral. Martin-Baró astutely observed that many mainstream psychological schools of thought—be they psychoanalytic, behavioral, or biochemical—accept the maximization of pleasure as the motivating force for human behavior, the same maximization of pleasure that is assumed by neoclassical economic theorists. This ignores the human need for fairness, social justice, freedom, and autonomy as well as other motivations that would transform society.

Martin-Baró pointed out that when knowledge is limited to verifi­able facts and events, we “become blind to the most important meanings of human existence.” Great scientists recognize this, as a sign hanging in Albert Einstein’s office at Princeton stated: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Much of what makes us fully human and capable of overcom­ing injustices—including our courage and solidarity—cannot be reduced to simplistic, verifiable, objective variables.

In American society, mental health treatment is a significant force that can work either for or against genuine democracy. There are approaching eight hundred thousand social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists working in the United States today (though not all provide mental health services), as well as many mental health counselors and paraprofession­als. The US Surgeon General reported in 1999 that 15 percent of adults and 21 percent of children and adolescents in the United States utilize mental health services each year, and it is likely that these percentages have increased.

Whether they realize it or not, mental health professionals who narrowly treat their clients in a way that encourages compliance with the status quo are acting politically. Similarly, validating a client’s challenging of these undemocratic hierarchical modes is also a political act. I believe that mental health professionals have an obligation to recognize the broader issues that form a context for their clients’ mental well-being, and to be honest with their clientele about which side of this issue they are on.

Continue reading this excerpt on Counterpunch.

Get Up, Stand Up by Bruce Levine is available now.

Hot Topic: A Lesson in Climate Change and Chili Peppers

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Kurt Michael Friese and Kraig Kraft, who coauthored Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail with Gary Paul Nabhan, were featured last Friday on public radio’s Marketplace program.

Listen to the full interview here, or read the transcript below.

Kai Ryssdal: Take a moment now to consider the chili pepper. There are more than 10,000 varieties. We eat ‘em. We season our food with them. They go into arthritis creams and shampoos, pesticides and, yes, pepper sprays. In 2007 — the last year we have the data for — American farmers grew more than 800,000 tons of chili peppers. Twenty-six million tons worldwide, half of that in China.

So, needless to say, they’re big business. Beyond the commercial, though, chili peppers are important in cuisines and cultures all over the world. Which helps explain why I found myself shopping for chilies in a Mexican market the other day with a chef…

Kurt Friese: I’m Kurt Friese. I’m the chef.

And an agroecologist.

Kraig Kraft: Hi, I’m Kraig Kraft. I’m the agroecologist.

A what? Let me just say he knows more about chilies than you and I would ever want to know.

Kraft: There are five domesticated chili peppers. Tobasco is one, habanero is the other one. And the rest fall under Capsicum annuum. All of these: Your bell peppers, jalapenos…

It’s Habaneros and Bells for us today. Paprika, too. That’s a dried chili. Chef Kurt explains our lunch menu is from St. Augustine, Fla.

Continue reading this piece at Marketplace.

See Chasing Chiles featured at Marketplace’s “The Big Book”.

Learn more about Chasing Chiles in our bookstore now.

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