Archive for June 10, 2009

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Farmers Seek Justice from Obama, USDA; Consumers Headed Back to Court

WASHINGTON – June 9 – A slowdown in the sales of organic milk and dairy products, attributed in recent articles by the New York Times and other media outlets to the weakened economy, has organic dairy farmers from coast to coast at or near financial collapse.  But a worsening scandal in the industry might be doing more to economically injure organic family farmers than the flattening of demand for organic dairy products.

Since 2005, a handful of giant factory farms, each milking thousands of cows, have been accused of skirting strict federal organic regulations and creating a surplus of cheap “phony” organic milk flooding the market and driving down profit margins for legitimate industry participants.  The Cornucopia Institute estimates that as much as 30-40% of organic milk is now coming from giant industrial operations, milking as many as 7000 cows each.

Last week, a judge in federal district court in St. Louis, rejected 19 class-action lawsuits filed by consumers who are claiming fraud in the sale of “organic” milk coming from one of the giant operations.  In 2007, federal investigators found the Aurora Dairy had “willfully” violated 14 different federal organic regulations.  Consumers in 40 states sued, alleging fraud in the manufacture of organic milk sold as storebrands in Wal-Mart, Target, Safeway, Costco and other national chains served by Aurora.

Lawyers representing consumers involved with the class-action lawsuits vow that they will appeal the judge’s initial ruling, especially in light of a recent Supreme Court decision that clearly gives citizens the right to sue corporations that allegedly act illegally even though federal regulatory agencies provide statutory authority over certain industries.

According to Mark Kastel, the Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute, the dismissal was particularly distressing “because Bush Administration officials had substantially softened USDA penalties recommended by enforcement staff for Aurora’s organic transgressions.”  Cornucopia first alerted the USDA to Aurora’s violations by filing formal legal complaints with the agency.

“The very essence of the checks and balances system in our three branches of government provides for citizens to seek remedy, when regulatory agencies fail to enforce laws passed by Congress,” said Gary Cox, a Columbus, Ohio-based attorney with experience in the organic industry.  “It is our contention that a judicial review of the alleged misconduct by these giant corporations, and the lack of enforcement by the USDA, is not only appropriate but imperative.”

The outcome of the pending suits will not only impact consumers but many organic dairy farmers whose livelihoods are now threatened by the giant corporate dairy marketers.  A glut of organic milk on the market now has the nation’s organic processors attempting to reduce their supply and cutting prices paid to farmers.  Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk processor, and owner of the Horizon Organic brand, and H. P. Hood, a giant Boston-based milk bottler, that controls the Stonyfield milk label, have both terminated contracts with farmers or allegedly attempted to strong arm some of them out of business.

“I have invested my life in building this dairy farm, and Hood encouraged many dairy producers to make major investments and ramp-up for organic production, now my entire livelihood and the financial future of my family is at risk,” said Kevin Poetker who milks 200 cows near Waterloo, IL, 24 miles SE of St. Louis.

Even Organic Valley, the farmer-owned cooperative that is second only to Dean Foods in organic milk sales, has cut prices to their members and asked them to reduce their milk production by 7%.  “Farmers who build their herds make long-term financial and management decisions, and just shutting off even 7% of their milk is no easy task,” Kastel said.

Thousands of letters, mostly from organic farmers, have been sent to president Obama and USDA secretary Tom Vilsack asking them to immediately intervene and undertake aggressive enforcement of organic regulations, something lacking during the past administration.

The USDA’s handling of the Aurora violations is not the only instance where its enforcement actions have gone awry.  Other alleged violations have gone uninvestigated by agency staff.  Cornucopia has filed several additional complaints, based upon direct observation of practices employed on other huge feedlot dairies owned by Aurora and Dean Foods.

“Either the USDA refused to investigate or, when they actually found violations, they have allowed illegal activities to continue,” Kastel lamented.  “We are now appealing to the Obama administration for a more ethical approach to enforcement in these matters.  Congress gave the USDA the responsibility of overseeing the organic industry and now we are happy that some on Capitol Hill are considering launching an investigation into, seemingly, favorable treatment for some corporate players.”

If there is good news for consumers, it’s that they have alternatives in the marketplace.  “Consumers seeking authentic, nutritionally superior organic milk have many choices and we hope they will support the family farmers, the heroes who built the organic industry,” stated Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association.

A multi-year research study by The Cornucopia Institute created a scorecard, posted on its website (www.cornucopia.org), rating all 110 organic brands based on their ethical and legal approach to milk production.  The study indicates that 90% of organic milk, cheese, butter and yogurt marketers are clearly subscribing to both the “spirit and letter of the organic regulations.”

“These giant factory farms are a bad aberration.  Unfortunately they are associated with a couple of the largest participants in the industry.  We need consumers to step up and make careful choices in the supermarket so they reward the true heroes in this industry and send a strong message to the bad actors,” Kastel said.  “Some organic farmers out there desperately need the help and support of consumers.”

Cornucopia: Seeking economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy, and economic development our goal is to empower farmers – partnered with consumers – in support of ecologically produced local, organic and authentic food.

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stop caterpillar

CHICAGO, Illinois – June 9 – As Caterpillar shareholders gather on June 10th at the Northern Trust Bank Building in Chicago, to discuss falling profits, they will be met by representatives of Jewish, Christian, and human rights organizations calling on Caterpillar to build the U.S. economy, not destroy Palestinian lives and livelihoods.

Human rights groups will urge Caterpillar shareholders to vote yes on proposal #5, a shareholder resolution which calls for a review of Caterpillar sales to countries with poor human rights records, including Israel. The resolution is sponsored by an interfaith coalition including Jewish Voice for Peace, the Mercy Investment Program, and 16 Catholic orders. Jewish Voice for Peace will personally deliver thousands of lettersasking the Caterpillar Board of Directors to end military sales to Israel. These shareholders will be supported outside by a public gathering calling on Caterpillar to “Build America, Not Destroy Palestine.”This effort is organized in part by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and local groups, Chicagoans Against Apartheid in Palestine and the Arab Jewish Partnership for Peace and Justice in the Middle East. Events are also planned for June 10th at Caterpillar dealerships across the country.

According to Katherine Fuchs, National Organizer for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, “It is possible for Caterpillar to turn a profit, employ Americans, and rebuild the U.S. economy without destroying Palestinian livelihoods. Investors need to understand that supporting the violation of international law and the destruction of Palestinian homes, land, lives, and livelihood is not good business. The recent divestment decisions of the Church of England and Hampshire College show that there is a price for destroying instead of building.”

The dissent inside and outside of the Caterpillar shareholder meeting comes in the midst of a growing movement to divest from Caterpillar until it ends its material support for Israel’s military occupation and apartheid practices. Caterpillar equipment, including armored and weaponized D-9 bulldozers, are used by the Israeli military to destroy Palestinian homes, lay waste to thousands of acres of Palestinian agricultural land, and build illegal Israeli settlements, which are opposed by the Obama administration. Most recently, unmanned Caterpillar D9 bulldozers were used to destroy houses during “Operation Cast Lead” in December-January. Additionally, the Israeli military has killed dozens of people using Caterpillar equipment, including American peace activist Rachel Corrie of Olympia, Washington.

“Ultimately, Caterpillar is contributing to the destruction of any future for the Palestinian people,” notes Bill Chambers of Chicagoans Against Apartheid in Palestine. “We challenge Caterpillar to contribute to building, not destroying, Palestine.”

The movement to hold Caterpillar accountable has received a recent boost from decisions by the Church of England and Hampshire College to divest. These institutions held a combined total of more than $3 million in Caterpillar stock before their decisions to divest in December 2008 and February 2009, respectively. More recently, a group of 20 Israeli human rights organizations have petitioned the Norwegian government to divest its pension fund from a list of companies providing support for Israel’s military occupation, including Caterpillar.

The pressure on Caterpillar is part of a larger effort to promote accountability for companies that profit from Israel’s military occupation. Human rights groups, students, and faith organizations have joined forces to put pressure on these companies. The US Campaign and its member organizations plan to continue pressuring Caterpillar by organizing divestment efforts in cities, campuses, and churches across the country.

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The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is a national coalition of more than 280 organizations facilitating responsible U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine and responsible consumer choices to support human rights, international law, and equality for all Israelis and Palestinians. For more information about the US Campaign, please click here.

search terms

It might surprise that it’s not words like ‘warez’ and ‘porn’ that top the list of high-risk search terms (ie those that invite malware onto your computer), but on the other hand, it is no surprise that words like ‘lyrics’, ‘free music downloads’ or ‘free ringtones’ feature as chart toppers. Malicious sites of course will target popular search terms plus: the very notion of ‘free’ in relation to copyrighted items like music or ringtones should ring alarm bells. To download the pdf with the full list, click on the link below.

The Web’s Most Dangerous Search Terms [Lifehacker via gHacks]

Great cleanup utilities

Posted: June 10, 2009 in science & technology
Tags:

glary

Download Squad offers links and brief descriptions of what looks like 6 useful and free cleanup utilities. Of course, CCleaner is included, but also Bleachbit, which works well on Linux (for Windows it’s currently available only as a testing preview version). It does have a footprint that is larger than usual for cleanup apps, but it also supports a much larger list of programs than most of the other apps of its kind. Apart from all major browsers, it also tidies up after Google Earth, Flash, Java, Second Life Viewer, Skype, Vuze, and more. Found 63.7Mb of crap files on my recently-cleaned drive.

Anotherapplication I tried is Glary Utilities. It packs a whole lot more functionality into one package than the others, but it’s still under a 5Mb download. In addition to scanning for files, registry issue, and broken shortcuts, Glary can also check for malware, optimize memory, edit your context menu, shred and encrypt files, and analyze drive usage. Lee Mathews reckons it’s a must have, and I agree. It is totally free for personal use (and well worth paying for at the office).

For information on all of the applications go to Download Squad.

mercenaries

The Rise of Private Armies – Mercenaries, Murder and Corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan

Journalist Jeremy Scahill warns against the growing power of corporate private armies and the “disintegration of the nation state apparatus.”

The following is a transcript from the Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, broadcast on June 5.

There was good news and bad news about Afghanistan this week. And it was the same news.

That’s right. The Senate held confirmation hearings for Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, slated to be the next commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Here’s how two different news organizations reported his testimony:

The Associated Press headline read, “War in Afghanistan is ‘Winnable,'” but the “Washington Independent” reported that the general had, quote, “painted a bleak picture of the Afghanistan war” and that the United States “needed to show significant progress within ’18 to 24 months’ or risk the war spiraling out of control.”

What we know for sure is that the fighting in Afghanistan is escalating. At least 21 thousand more American troops are going in and the number of private security contractors working for the military there jumped 29 percent in the last three months alone. Get this: there are now more private security contractors in Afghanistan than there are U.S. soldiers. And as of next year, according to new Pentagon documents, the war in Afghanistan will be costing more than the war in Iraq.

It’s the job of experienced, knowledgeable investigative reporters to throw a monkey wrench into the spin machine and try to make some sense of all this. They’re an endangered species, but one of the best in the business is Jeremy Scahill, who’s been digging into Pentagon documents and thick congressional hearings for several years now. He’s twice winner of the George Polk Award for special achievement in journalism, and author of this best selling book, BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL MERCENARY ARMY. Jeremy now runs the new Web site, RebelReports. Jeremy Scahill, welcome back to the JOURNAL…

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bagua-1

On June 6, near a stretch of highway known as the Devil’s Curve in the northern Peruvian Amazon, police began firing live rounds into a multitude of indigenous protestors — many wearing feathered crowns and carrying spears. In the neighboring towns of Bagua Grande, Bagua Chica and Utcubamba, shots also came from police snipers on rooftops, and from a helicopter that hovered above the mass of people. Both natives and mestizos took to the streets protesting the bloody repression. From his office in Bagua a representative for the international organization “Save the Children” reported that children as young as four years-old were wounded by indiscriminate police shooting. President Alan García had hinted the government would respond forcefully to “restore order” in the insurgent Amazonian provinces, where he had declared a state of siege on May 9 suspending most constitutional liberties. The repression was swift and fierce.

By the end of the day a number of government and the president’s party APRA offices were destroyed, 9 policemen and approximately 40 protesters were killed. Overwhelmed by the number of the wounded small local hospitals were forced to close their doors. A doctor in Bagua Grande described the repression as a “barbarian act” similar to those committed in Beirut by the Israeli occupying forces a few years ago. A Church official denounced that many of the civilian wounded and killed at the Devil’s Curve were forcefully taken to the military barracks of El Milagro. From Bagua, a local journalist declared to Ideele Radio that following the killings policemen dumped bagged bodies in the Utcubamba River. Indigenous leaders have accused García of “genocide” and have called for an international campaign of solidarity with their struggle. Indigenous unrest in the Peruvian Amazon began late last year. After an ebb of a few months, the uprising regained force again on April 9. Since then, Amazonian indigenous groups have sustained intensifying protests for more than two months, including shutdowns of oil and gas pumping stations as well as blockades of road and river traffic.

The Devil’s Curve massacre is not the only instance of repression. García recently sent in the Navy to violently break through indigenous blockades on the Napo River, also in northern Peru. But few expected such a violent reaction from the government. García says the response was appropriate and blamed the indigenous for thinking they could decide what happens in their territories: “These people don’t have crowns. They aren’t first-class citizens who can say… ‘You [the government] don’t have the right to be here.’ No way.” The president called the protestors “pseudo-indigenous.”

Indigenous representative Alberto Pizango called Devil’s Curve the “worst slaughter of our people in 20 years.” And added, “Our protest has been peaceful.” We’re 5,000 natives [in the blockade] that just want respect for our territory and the environment.”

Protestor’s top demand is the repeal of a series of decrees, known collectively as the “Law of the Jungle,” signed by García last year. The President decreed the legislative package using extraordinary powers granted to him by Peru’s Congress to enact legislation required by the 2006 U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement. Indigenous groups are also demanding the creation of a permanent commission with indigenous representation to discuss solutions to their territorial, developmental, health and educational problems.

One of the most controversial aspects of the decrees is that they allow private interests to buy up indigenous lands and resources. Following a colonial logic of “progress,” García’s decrees foster the commodification of indigenous territories, ecological reserves, communal and public lands, water, and biogenetic resources to the benefit of powerful transnational interests. What’s more, the “Law of the Jungle” implicitly conceives of indigenous Amazonia as an open, empty, bountiful, and underdeveloped frontier and its inhabitants as obstacles to neoliberal modernization and investment schemes.

[The following section provides the details on the background of the struggle and the current state of the crisis]

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