Jill Richardson: Agroecology vs. Modern Farming Methods

Jill Richardson, food system expert, author, and founder of Lavidalocavore.org, has a great post up at Daily Kos today on the viability of agroecology leading the way to double food production in 10 years.

Agroecology applies science to indigenous and traditional farming practices to provide natural, sustainable, high yield farming methods using local resources. Following are two examples from Jill’s post:

Example 1:
“You first start growing your rice plants and then you time the hatching of your ducklings so that the rice plants are just a little too big for them to eat. As your rice grows, the ducks grow too, pooping out fertilizer and snacking on weeds and bugs that might otherwise harm your rice. And you can also grow azolla, an aquatic fern, in this system. Azolla crowds out weeds, fixes nitrogen, and serves as duck food.”

Example 2: “The “push-pull” method involves pushing pests away from corn by interplanting corn with an insect repelling crop called Desmodium (which can be fed to livestock), while pulling the pests toward small nearby plots of Napier grass, “a plant that excretes a sticky gum which both attracts and traps pests.” In addition to controlling pests, this system produces livestock fodder, thus doubling corn yields and milk production at the same time. And it improves the soil to boot!”

Why not just have Monstanto supply GMO seeds and chemical fertilizers?

“chemical inputs are a bit like drugs. Your land gets hooked. Once you’ve killed your soil and you no longer have the local varieties of seeds you used to use, you NEED those seeds and fertilizer every year. When the inputs are no longer free or subsidized, you’re screwed. And often, over time, you’ll need MORE fertilizer and pesticides just to get the same yields, once your soil is depleted and the bugs begin to evolve resistance to the pesticides.”

Big ag is big business, and big business has big influence on governments the world over. But big ag isn’t the solution to the global food shortage. It is bad for the environment, produces less healthy food, and damages the soil and culture of indigenous peoples.

If you care about farming practices and food safety, I recommend reading Jill’s article, which is also posted in much more detail at Alternet, and reading her book Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to fix it. And you can stop in at her blog, lavidalocavore.org.

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Economics 101 v. Contemporary Arrogance

“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance.”
— Paul Johnson

Keynesian economics are the solution to recessions and depressions. In the battle of great ideas, Keynesian economics can lose traction to free market economics and for folks who have six hours can learn lots about the push and pull of economic theory by watching the PBS series Commanding Heights.

Keynesian economics and the commanding heights of manufacturing lose steam when they fail to accommodate and incorporate the power of human desire, the engine of capitalism. Fashion, this year we want fins on our cars, the next year we want round headlights, the next year we want two tone paint jobs and chrome, the next year we… you get the idea… one thing I took away from watching Commanding Heights is that these human desires and the dynamics of popular capitalism are like a force of nature, they are like wind and tides. Simply dismissing fashion and desire is a big mistake. The wind will blow.

One thing that happens when keynesian economics are employed (see the deficit spending of the Obama administration and started by the Bush administration in response to the economic meltdown) is that governments run deficits. This is a normal cycle of keynesian economics. The deficits are made up in good times if you leave tax rates alone. If the free market capitalists manage to drive tax rates down in the good times and cause the accumulation of wealth, the paydown of debt by government does not occur and we are ill-prepared to deal with the next downturn. This is where we were in 2008-2010. It doesn’t help that the financial planners around Bush and Obama were intent on saving bankers instead of homeowners, but the flattened tax schedule of the Reagan revolution had prevented economic good times from paying down deficits. There is also the issue of the wisdom of spending on war economies instead of peace and manufacturing economies, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Our current situation has created deficit issues and the deficit hawks/vultures are seizing the moment to attack social democracy institutions such as education, health care and social security.

Alternet has a good piece by Larry Beinhart from March 1st.

The Astonishing Stupidity of Not Raising Taxes on the Rich When Budgets Are Tight

The current economy is routinely and universally referred to as the worst recession since the Great Depression.

It makes sense, therefore, to look back at government tax and spending policies during the Depression and what the results were.

1932 — Hoover raises the top tax rate from to 25 to 63 percent.

1933 — Roosevelt comes into office. He begins spending at the same time that new tax hike comes into effect. The Depression bottoms out.

1934 — Recovery begins. The GNP rises 7.7 percent, unemployment falls to 21.7 percent.

1935 — New government spending on public works and rural electrification. A push to strengthen labor and raise wages. New taxes through the creation of Social Security.

The GNP grows another 8.1 percent, and unemployment continues to fall.

1936 — The top tax rate is raised again. This time to 79 percent.

GNP grows a record 14.1 percent; unemployment falls even further.

1937 — Roosevelt is afraid of deficits! He cuts spending for 1937.

There’s a new recession. It continues for a year.

Might be a good time to review our history, kids.

 

 

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Towards more effective approaches, by Bev Harris

TOWARD MORE EFFECTIVE APPROACHES (AND WHY HACKING DEMOs ARE NOW INSANITY)

by Bev Harris

Reprinted with permission of Black Box Voting

About once a week, I am asked to bring in a team somewhere and demonstrate the hacking of a voting system. I don’t, because I’ve concluded this is a form of insanity, tracking the old adage that insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over again and expecting a different result.

If you want to see a demonstration of hacking voting machines, just click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hNxBa6KENE to watch the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary “Hacking Democracy.”

That was a groundbreaking effort, by the Black Box Voting organization and two exceptional British filmmakers (Russell Michaels and Simon Ardizzone). But in the end it changed nothing, and new hacking demonstrations never will.

That’s because they focus public attention on security, diverting attention from the real issue: Our right to self-government, and how current election systems have stripped away necessary public controls.

The crucial concept here is not “security” — because as it turns out, you can NEVER secure a system against its own administrator — but rather, the right to self-government. It is smack dab front page in the US Constitution that representatives shall be chosen “by the people”, and what has happened with our election system is that the choosing system for our governance has been usurped by the government itself, removing it from the public. And if you doubt that we have an inalienable right to self government, take a close look at the Declaration of Independence, and for added academia read the diagrams carefully in the eminent Laurence H. Tribe’s book “The Invisible Constitution,” where self-governance is a cornerstone.

Back to hacking: You cannot secure a computer from its own administrator. Its administrator is an insider in a government office, and/or the vendors he selects.

WHY WON’T HACKING MORE SYSTEMS PROVE OUR POINT?

It was a good start, to help the public with conceptual issues about computerized vote counting. But:

1. Nothing meaningful has changed, and some elections jurisdictions actually went right out and purchased the exact specifications they saw in the demonstrations, for in-house use.

2. Further thought on this reveals an incontrovertible truth: Any concealed, computerized system can be subverted by its own administrator.

3. Focus on computer security gave birth to an ivory tower and rather greedy little sub-industry, self proclaimed “security” experts who promise to make a system that we could trust. Upon further review, what they mean is that we should trust THEM to tell us that the system “has been verified.”

If you doubt this, try asking any one of these consultants if they mean “the public can see and authenticate” or “it will be verified for the public to trust.” Inevitably, (after professing not to understand your question and sometimes, attempting to divert you to some altogether different topic), they come down to this: “It will be verified [by us] for you.”
Click HERE to see the rest of the article.

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Is it Coup Yet? The Unstoppable Plutocratic Takeover

“The proprietors are rich, and very holy; 
but the wage they pay to these poor brothers and sisters of theirs is 
only enough to keep them from dropping dead with hunger. The work-hours 
are fourteen per day, winter and summer–from six in the morning till 
eight at night–little children and all. And they walk to and from the 
pigsties which they inhabit–four miles each way, through mud and slush, 
rain, snow, sleet, and storm, daily, year in and year out. They get four 
hours of sleep. They kennel together, three families in a room, in 
unimaginable filth and stench; and disease comes, and they die off like 
flies.”

–Mark Twain: “The Mysterious Stranger”

Pure, unrestrained capitalism is as ugly as the most grotesque machinations of communist dictators. In order for capitalism to be an acceptable economic system, it needs much guidance; the type of guidance that comes from labor unions and government that is committed to social and economic justice, environmental protection, and human rights.

The class war is afoot, and the extremely wealthy are empirically winning. The top 1% own 42% of the wealth, the bottom 80%, just 7% of the wealth. In the mid-1970s, the top 1 percent received less than 10% of total income. By 2007, it had risen to 23.5 percent. This isn’t a war between rich and poor. It is between right and left. I don’t believe the conservatives’ aim is the destruction of the middle class, nor is it their goal to cause an epidemic of medical bankruptcies or the extinction of polar bears. But I do think those are natural consequence if their ideology prevails.

Even though thirty years of declining marginal tax rates, deregulation of energy, banking, investment, insurance, and other industries, and a steady march towards entirely unrestricted trade have quashed the middle class and all but destroyed our economy, many still believe in supply side economics, the elimination of all trade barriers, and that during our most prosperous times, steeply progressive taxation was somehow on the wrong side of the Laffer curve.

Others adhere to a precept of Adam Smith’s invisible hand – that society is accidentally served better if we act in our own best interest, than if we purposefully attempt to do what’s best for society. It is a beautiful thing. No matter how many tens or hundreds or thousands of millions one makes, he can take comfort in the knowledge that the byproduct of his own indulgence eliminates more poverty and suffering than does philanthropy. I have no issue with laissez-faire so long as the rules of the game are properly fixed. Governments should not plan economies, they should construct fiscal and regulatory mechanisms that promote the general welfare of the population as a whole.

Union membership is a fraction of what it was a couple of generations ago (8% of workforce now, 35% in 1950), and real wages for workers have been flat for decades while executive pay has increased many hundred percentiles. Nevertheless, an idea that has burgeoned lately is that union overreach has made it necessary for our jobs to be euphemistically “outsourced” to third world countries, and caused the national debt crescendo to unfathomable heights. In a world without trade barriers, and technology that allows industry to pitch factories in the middle of third world populations that will work for pennies an hour, no imaginable degree of wage concession on the part of U.S. workers will be sufficient for them to compete. In a perfectly free and global market economy, the prevailing wage is driven to subsistence, the planet to a state of inhabitability.

Wealth concentration and income disparity are at levels unseen in nearly a century, and on the rise. There is no FDR in our presidential pipeline, and the Supreme Court, in a fit of nearly unprecedented judicial activism, weighed in on Citizens United vs FEC, elevating the richest individuals and corporations essentially to the status of ruling class. The more money they have, the more power they wield over Congress, and the greater success they have in preserving and augmenting the very policies that are fueling the demise of the working class and widening the great divide between rich and poor.

In particular, the policy of low marginal tax rates for the rich is especially culpable. The halving of top marginal tax rates from 70% in the 1970’s to 35% is more than any other factor responsible for the corresponding increases in national debt and wealth disparity, and was a significant contributor to the orgy of Wall Street excesses that led to our financial collapse. So what does a Democratically controlled Congress do? It extends the Bush tax cuts for the rich. The fix is in, folks. The oligarchs are in control.

The political right’s mission is to eliminate unions, the minimum wage, public education, environmental protection, progressive tax rates, welfare, social security, equal rights for gays, reproductive rights, and even writs of habeas corpus, and they will look upon the attainment of those goals as necessary to make America strong and prosperous. They won’t be entirely successful, and America won’t revert to Twain’s capitalism (although it will exist elsewhere so that Walmart can provide value to its customers), but simply playing defense, and as much as possible preserving the status quo, isn’t sufficient. The status quo has us squarely on a path to plutocracy.

We may very well have reached a tipping point from which there is no recovery. I fear the return of a robust middle class is a lost cause. But then, perhaps lost causes, as Clarence Darrow surmised, are the only ones worth fighting for.

 

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Is a General Strike Coming?

The Wobblies appear to be thinking that a general strike is needed. The IWW commissioned Eric Drooker to create graphics and posters. I spotted the graphic on Ten Bears’ website first, then came across it again at Boing Boing.

There is so much going on in the world. The revolt in the Middle East to dump their corrupt governors is inspiring and dangerous. People are dying for their hope to throw off oppressive regimes. Gaddafi is clearly willing to use every weapon he possesses to kill Libyans who want him gone.

The guy/idiot (deputy attorney general Jeff Cox from Indiana) Wisconsin who fantasized about using live ammunition against citizens “assembling to petition the government for redress” (sound familiar? check out amendment numero uno) has been sent packing for his impolitic speech. But state violence against protesting citizens is not a hollow threat in the US.

I was struck yesterday by the language that is being used to describe the unrest in the Middle East. I heard on NPR that a Day of Rage was called in Saudi Arabia. I wonder if that is an accurate translation of the call or more linguistic framing, like using the term terrorist instead of insurgents.

We live in interesting times. See you in the streets?

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Bad, Bad Tim Eyman

(click arrow to hear) (Re-recorded)

From the state of Washington
comes a dude named Tim Eyman.
He hates government and taxes,
Gives the rich folks all they want.

You see, Eyman he is a hater.
He thinks police and schools are bad.
Poor and sick and old folks suffer.
He don’t give a damn. Ain’t that sad?

Chorus:

He’s bad, bad Tim Eyman,
The baddest man in Washington,
Tax breaks for them rich folks,
Service cuts for me and you.

Lyrics, guitar, and vocals by Don Smith.
Music by Jim Croce

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There is Strength in a Union

Unions can go bad, (think Tony Boyle of the UMW) but the unions gave us the weekend, the eight hour day and ended child labor in this country. Unions have clearly lost power in the past 60 years and I hope they have bottomed out and are about to make a resurgence. I am a business owner and will be joining the IWW in the near future. I have long term wobblie sensibilities, I just haven’t seen the point in paying dues and making my wobblie sensibilities official, but I am rethinking that. SEIU is also a great union.

Do you need some entertainment to help you get oriented on unions? Screen Crave listed 5 movies to watch last September when Labor Day rolled around.

I have watched Harlan County several times and I am thinking it is time to watch it again.

 

Click to jump to Screen Crave

I also recommend The Wobblies. A good documentary that was passed over by Screen Crave. You can get it at Netflix.

Click to jump to Netflix This is just a wonderful piece of filmmaking. Does not have great car chase scenes or huge budget explosions. Just content. You want to check out some great flicks that did not make theater runs? Check out Docurama Films.

 

Jeremiah was a prophet.

Just like a tree that’s planted by the water,
I shall not be moved.
Though the winds are blowing all around me,
I shall not be moved.

These winds will never last,
this storm is sure to pass,
this trial is just a test so
I shall not, I shall not,
oh, I shall not be moved.

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Carbon Nation – Movie Showing in Seattle

If you are in San Francisco, Portland or Seattle, you can see the movie Carbon Nation in the next week or two. There are solutions to our energy issues that do not require that we bomb anyone or support oppressive regimes to keep oil prices down.

This does not have to be a Red or Blue issue. Can we persuade the country to move in a direction that is good for all of us? (almost all of us, may cost the Exxon/BP execs some big bucks down the line)

Tip of the hat to Mary at The Left Coaster for picking up this story from Climate Progress.

Here’s the trailer:

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Notes on Dennis Kucinich's talk in Olympia

On February 21, 2011 I traveled from Seattle with three progressive friends to hear Dennis Kucinich speak on “The True Cost of War” at the Capitol Theatre in Olympia, Washington. As we drove in the fuel-efficient Prius, we left a trail of sticky smugness behind us in the aether.

Kucinich was preceded by a peace choir, with an interpretive dancer/gesturer;  at first I thought she was signing for hearing-impaired audience members.

A web search turned up these videos of the talk.

Dennis Kucinich’s Presentation Available on TCTV and Internet

If you know of more, please add them as comments or let me know and I’ll add them to this article.

Here are my

Notes and impressions

The greatest cheers from the audience came when Kucinich called for prosecution of Bush Administration officials. “If there’s any justice in the world, every high ranking official in the Bush Administration must be brought to justice.” The lies were deliberate. There must be accountablity.

The current administration has failed to hold them responsible.

Why do we have to ask Spain to prosecute?

Forgiveness has transformative potential.

UK had a commission, as did South Africa.

After 9/11 the world was pouring out their hearts to us. The event was appropriated for nefarious ends.

[I think accountability is really a core issue for so many progressives. President Obama’s choice to look forwards allowed the Republican criminals off the hook and empowered the GOP’s resurgence. It allowed them to hide the truth from the American people.]

We now have National Security State. Patriot Act.

Stiglitz’ $3 trillion war. Borrowed 2 trillion. $1.6 trillion macroeconomic increased cost of oil due to war. (War is profitable!) Overall, $5 trillion macroeconomic estimate plus $3 trillion for war.

Kucinich told of a congressional hearing at which the military officer admitted that the missile tests for a new weapon system were rigged.

“What a war does to the soul of a nation.. What a war does to disconnect us from our deepr humanity.”

“The Pentagon is over 50% of discretionary spending.”

War mentality has infected the country so that even good, smart people can’t escape it.

Most of his colleagues in Congress are basically good people, even the Republicans. But the system is broken.

Kucinich worked the crowd with calls for:

Jobs for all!
Education for all!
Health care for all!
Peace for all!

We need a Department of Peace, funded to the amount of just 1% of defense spending.

Though I like Kucinich, it’s sad that he lacks the charisma (and height) of great leaders. He spoke of his debilitating intestinal disorders when he was younger. Becoming a vegan greatly improved his condition.

Questions from the audience

Afterwards there were many good questions from the audience.

“What’s your exit strategy from the war in Afghanistan?” After a pause, Kucinich responded, “Just go. Quickly.” That brought cheers from the audience.  This video shows the interaction.

“How do we get Bush and Cheney to the gallows?” Kucinich cleverly responded with, “I think it’s KLM out of New York.” He then said, “There isn’t any bigger High Crime than misleading our country to war.” Amen.

Someone asked about what we should do about Wikileaks. Kucinich recommended three things: (1) Get Bradley Manning out of solitiary confinement. (2) Government has too many secrets, but they know too much about us. (3) How on earth does a mere private in the Army get such delicate information?

What to do about the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens’ Unitied? We need a constitutional amendment requiring only public financing of elections.

How can we save the women of Afghanistan from the Taliban? “1. By not bombing them. 2. It’s the responsibility of the international community.”

Someone said to Kucinich, “I disagree with your backing down on the single-payer issue;” — voting for Obama’s health care bill, despite it’s lack of even a public option) — “I think for-profit health care is a disgrace.” Kucinich explained that it was a very difficult decision. He spent an hour on Air Force One with the President. Kucinich thought of the children who would benefit from some of the regulations in the new health care law.

Kucinich ended with some touch-feely talk about our need to realize human potential. That we’re all interconnected and All One. Comprehension of human unity.

Note on my companions

My companions — two women and a man, all middle aged like me — are a bit to the left of me politically. Unlike me, they are 9/11 truthers. Oddly, the guy is a supporter of President Obama, saying that we ought give him a chance. It’s sad, he said, that Wisconsin went Republican, but Democrats didn’t turn out to vote. (Golly, I wonder why.)

Our political differences led to some lively discussions, including raised voices, though no angry outbursts. We continued debate about 9/11 via emails.

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