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Our Collapsing Food System -- And How to Fix It

By Curtis Lang and Jane Sherry on Feb 24, 2006

Creating a Healthy Global Food Economy


Welcome to the February 24, 2006 edition of the Satya Center newsletter.

Warm greetings from your Editors, Curtis Lang and Jane Sherry.

This newsletter focuses on news stories from around the world, and our opening editorial highlights the many ways that we can make a difference – through our personal choices, through our example, through our efforts to educate others and through political action as individuals and as members of communities and groups.

Today, as farmers and gardeners turn their attention to spring planting, we are focusing on food issues, sustainable agriculture, and how we can restructure our current disastrously inefficient industrial farm system.

In the February 2, 2006 newsletter, much was made of the fact that the average American worker has a lot of trouble just paying for the high cost of housing, health care and groceries, and that for many families it is just plain impossible to pay for high quality, organic food from high-cost stores like Whole Foods.

As Stan Cox wrote in a great article entitled “Natural Food, Unnatural Prices,” on Alternet, “Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is frank about that. He recently told The Independent (UK), ‘You can't have it both ways. If you want the highest quality, it costs more. It's like complaining that a BMW is more expensive than a Hyundai. Yes, but you're getting a better car.’”

“And few Whole Foods Markets are situated in economy-car country. Of the 170 stores in the U.S., none are located in zip codes with average 2003 household incomes at or below $31,000 -- the approximate income earned by a full-time employee earning the average Whole Foods wage.”

“Only nine of the 170 stores are in zip codes with incomes of $43,300 or lower. That was the median income in the United States that year (that is, half of U.S. households had incomes lower, and half of them higher, than $43,300).”

“Half of the zip codes with Whole Foods stores lie above $72,000 in average income. A fourth of them exceed $100,000.”

“Mackey's defense of high prices is mirrored in Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott's defense of his company's low wages, which he summed up in an address to employees last October: ‘I ask anyone to do the math. Even slight overall adjustments to wages eliminate our thin profit margin.’ And, said Scott, price increases are out of the question because even as it is, ‘our customers simply don't have the money to buy necessities between paychecks.’”

The current system of industrial agriculture is simply unable to provide healthy food at affordable prices to the majority of workers in the richest country in the world, despite the fact that our “free market” system of oligopoly global capitalism provides massive government subsidies to the largest players in the agricultural-industrial complex, who provide chemical-laden mass-produced foodstuffs largely shorn of vitality and natural nutrients at deep discounts to the billions of global citizens unable to pay big bucks for organic produce, wild fish and free-range beef, pork and chicken.

Those who claim the current system provides abundant low-cost food on a scale never before realized in the world are looking at a very narrow view of the agricultural landscape.

The full cost of today’s “cheap food” is not completely accounted for. That low-cost food is dependent upon government farm subsidies that go disproportionately to the largest players. “Cheap” food depends upon US military intervention in many foreign countries to insure a continuous supply of “cheap oil” for fertilizers, pesticides and transportation across continents. The US taxpayer pays several hundred billion dollars a year to support the vast global military machine that insures a steady stream of “cheap oil”. If food producers had to pay for the cost of this constant military intervention they would have to pay an additional $10 a barrel for oil used in their industry, and many would instantly go bankrupt.

The prices at Wal-Mart and Shop-Rite do not include a vast range of other “hidden costs” that are paid by taxpayers and consumers in a myriad of other ways.

If we calculated the social costs of cheap industrial food the costs would look much different. Think of the exploitation of migrant farm workers whose cancer rates and birth defects, and low quality of life are subsidizing our factory farm system because of corporate agriculture working conditions --- and how each one of us benefits from that exploitation.

Our system of industrial agriculture degrades the earth to produce more and more low-cost, low-quality food. If we calculated the true costs to our environment for the “cheap food” agricultural policy with its dependence on chemical fertilizers that rob the soil of integrity and create ever greater dependence on extra water to feed the nitrogen imbalance and ever more petro-chemicals to run the corporate agricultural machine, we would see there is a tremendous inherent cost and that we are leaving a monstrous ecological debt to the future generations of the earth.

Because industrial agriculture pollutes the earth and water and degrades the soil, our food contains less and less of the vital nutrients we need for healthy living. Factory produced foods of all kinds, vegetables, meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, all are increasingly contaminated with chemicals, diseased animal parts, virulent bacteria ...and more. If we consider the long-range health consequences of eating chemically laden, devitalized, nutrient poor food, the real price tag is actually much higher and we are paying for it as a society with ever-escalating medical bills and health insurance rates, not to mention poor quality of life.

What’s the long-term cost to society when a long time family farm business goes bankrupt? What’s the social value of the knowledge base of a farm family -- or of a rural community with many farmers and high-value added small craft producers like jam makers and cheese makers? What’s the cost to the consumer of having fewer and fewer choices about who to buy your food from…and fewer and fewer mega-corporations controlling the food supply?

What is the environmental and social cost of large, corporate farms? What is the cost to global society of the loss of seed diversity and the contamination of traditionally planted fields by GM crops? What is the cost to society when all farmers must buy seed and pesticide from a chemical-agricultural oligopoly that genetically modifies the food you eat without doing adequate testing to determine that the food is healthy to eat and that the GM crops won’t stimulate the growth of mutated insects that are immune to all types of pesticides?

Perhaps worst of all, we are enslaving our descendants for many generations to come. We are handing over control of our food supply to the lords of Frankenfood – the large corporations like Monsanto that own the patents on genetically modified crops. Soon their GMO crops will contaminate healthy farmland around the world – and they will force traditional farmers to pay hefty damages to the corporations because these contaminated crops have shown up in their fields, and the traditional farmers have not paid license fees to these predatory corporations.

Professor Mae-Wan Ho has been in the forefront of global activists dedicated to rolling back the GMO food juggernaut for many years. Read her acticle about “Health, Human Rights and GM Crops” for a great introduction to this issue and pass along the url to your friends.

The irony of course, is that our food supply would be far less dangerous, and far less costly, if factory farming were to change their chemical fertilizer drenched, pesticide, fungicide, herbicide laden soil over to green manuring, compost & soil building, companion planting & crop rotation. And of course, it would cost less to produce healthier food without chemicals. Farmers would not be supporting the oil industry, the pharmaceutical industry & ag chemical companies, and in turn the earth could begin to heal.

"An analysis of the materials needed to produce our food can be startling. Ten litres of orange juice needs a litre of diesel fuel for processing and transport, and 220 litres of water for irrigaton and washing the fruit. The water may be a renewable resource, but the fuel is not only irreplaceable but is a pollutant, too," according to the “McSpotlight” website.

The other irony, is that farmers, who produce food for this country, whether laden with chemicals or free of chemicals, are not the ones getting rich. For every dollar spent in the grocery store the farmer receives only nineteen cents. The remaining 81 cents of each dollar you spend on food goes to marketing-related activities, including packaging, advertising, transportation, and the labor used by assemblers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and eating places.

According to the “USDA Agriculture Factbook”, “The cost of marketing farm foods has increased considerably over the years, mainly because of rising costs of labor, transportation, food packaging materials, and other inputs used in marketing, and also because of the growing volume of food and the increase in services provided with the food.”

“In 1990, the cost of marketing farm foods amounted to $343 billion. In the decade after that, the cost of marketing rose about 57 percent. In 2000, the marketing bill rose 6.9 percent. These rising costs have been the principal factor affecting the rise in consumer food expenditures. From 1990 to 2000, consumer expenditures for farm foods rose $211 billion. Roughly 92 percent of this increase resulted from an increase in the marketing bill.”

“The cost of labor is the biggest part of the total food marketing bill, accounting for nearly half of all marketing costs. Labor used by assemblers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and eating places cost $252 billion in 2000. This was 4.7 percent higher than in 1999 and 64 percent more than in 1990. The total number of food marketing workers in 2000 was about 14.3 million, about 17 percent more than in 1990. About 80 percent of the growth in food industry employment occurred in public eating places. A wide variety of other costs comprise the balance of the marketing bill. These costs include packaging, transportation, energy, advertising, business taxes, net interest, depreciation, rent, and repairs.”

Thus it’s clear that the runaway growth of fast food restaurants is fueling the high cost of food marketing. The fast-food industry takes low-quality factory food and packages it into highly advertised Supersized, chemically laden, preservative rich, low-cost meals consisting mainly of sugar, fat and carbohydrates -- meals that are intrinsically toxic and inimical to human health.

According to the USDA Factbook, “Data from USDA’s food intake surveys show that the food-away-from-home sector provided 32 percent of total food energy consumption in 1994-96, up from 18 percent in 1977-78. The data also suggest that, when eating out, people either eat more or eat higher calorie foods–or both–and that this tendency appears to be increasing.”

“According to the National Center for Health Statistics, an astounding 62 percent of adult Americans were overweight in 2000, up from 46 percent in 1980. Twenty-seven percent of adults were so far overweight that they were classified as obese (at least 30 pounds above their healthy weight)–twice the percentage classified as such in 1960. Alarmingly, an upward trend in obesity is also occurring for U.S. children.”

The next time you spend $100 going out to eat or buying pre-packaged meals or out-of-season produce from a Whole Foods store or your local Shop-Rite ask yourself whether you think that the advertising, marketing and packaging of this food is worth $81 dollars to you.

The industrial agricultural system is broken, and the food distribution system in this country is rigged to provide empty calories and chemically enhanced manufactured-food products to the majority of Americans, while reserving the privilege of purchasing extremely expensive “natural” foods from around the world, in and out of season, for the upper classes.

Republicans and Democrats alike seem unwilling to concede the extent of the problem or to propose the kind of visionary thinking that the situation demands.

Some activists, farmers and consumers, concerned about the agricultural crisis in America, are bringing new, co-operative, community based food distribution systems to upscale consumers, and poor and working class neighborhoods alike – new models that offer a way out of the greed-is-good industrial-agricultural capitalist model.

“A growing number of pioneering nonprofit organizations are working to put good food within economic reach of their local communities,” explains Stan Cox. “One of them is People's Grocery in Oakland, Calif. The nonprofit, community-based organization sells fresh produce and staples through its store and Mobile Market -- a ‘grocery store on wheels’ that travels through West Oakland making regular stops. The organization also has extensive educational programs and has helped establish a growing network of community gardens that currently provide 25 percent of the produce it sells.

“I asked co-founder Brahm Ahmadi what makes it possible for People's Grocery to sell good, natural food that low-income families can afford, while Whole Foods can't,” Cox continues. “He said the fundamental difference is that ‘they're pursuing profit and we aren't.”

“Ahmadi says good food doesn't have to be expensive. ‘Because of its huge size, Whole Foods receives a deeper discount from its suppliers than any other natural-food retailer. Yet the prices in its stores are among the most expensive. They are purely profit-driven, so they do not allow that cost benefit to go to the customer.’”

“Once, says Ahmadi, a Whole Foods executive told him, ‘We could not market food the way you do, because our shareholders simply wouldn't allow it.”

“People's Grocery subsidizes its efforts through charitable funding, with the understanding that the donated money will go to hold prices down. But as the low-income market strengthens, says Ahmadi, People's Grocery will try to reduce its dependency on contributions by marketing food that it obtains directly from producers, cutting out as many steps of the expensive supply chain as possible.”

Meanwhile, the public is voting on food issues every day, with their pocketbooks. And they are voting for locally grown, non GMO organic produce, meats, dairy and fish that they buy from farmers they know personally. New types of micro-markets for those interested in alternatives to factory produced foods are springing up across America.

Community sponsored agriculture is one such experiment. Industrial agriculture won't provide you with safe, vital, nourishing food at low prices. It never has. You have to make informed choices. Find out more about healthy farms and gardens, sustainable agriculture and healthy food in the SatyaCenter.com link directories.

You can read about the origins of community sponsored agriculture in the US and about the genesis of one major East Coast CSA in “The Roxbury Farm CSA Story”, by farmer Jean-Paul Courtens, who runs Roxbury Farm in partnership with his wife, Jody Bolluyt.

“Food (healthy, safe, affordable) is something, Curtis & I have been concerned about for many years,” says Jane, “and we have been members of the same CSA, Roxbury Farms, since 1990, when we lived in NYC. We started a drop off site in the Westchester suburbs, when we moved there from Manhattan several years ago, and now we are blessed to live in Hudson Valley CSA-farm country, where our property is literally surrounded by working farms and CSA’s.”

We have found that community sponsored agriculture is a real win-win proposition for the farmer, for the farming community and for the consumers who support the CSA through their yearly subscriptions.

CSAs generally provide consumers with beautiful, fresh, vital organic food at prices far lower than you would find in Whole Foods. The food we get from Roxbury Farm CSA is picked the same day we pick it up, but if we go to Whole Foods, the produce is days old, and after the long haul from California organic factory farms the grocer has to spray the fruits and vegetables with cold water so they don’t wilt in the store. Our produce stays fresh for well over a week in our fridge (if it lasts that long), but oftentimes the produce from the grocery store gets iffy in a few days.

CSAs provide farmers with an economic model that supports sustainable farming practices, by paying the farmer a lump sum for a share of the yearly yield in the winter, when the farmer most needs the money to prepare for next year’s planting. Very little of each dollar spent in a CSA is going to marketing the food.

Consumers take on a portion of the risk every farmer takes each year, because the consumer agrees to buy whatever the farmer produces. If tomato crops fail, so be it. If there’s a bumper crop of lettuce, CSA members eat a lot of salads. Many CSAs provide a couple dozen varieties of vegetables, even fruits, herbs and flowers, as part of the yearly share, and this is good for consumers and farmers alike.

Farms that can utilize crop rotation over long periods of time to insure soil fertility are healthy farms, as opposed to chemically dependent monoculture farms which deplete the soil of nutrients & vital energies.

CSAs often work with land conservancies and can be instrumental in setting aside land to be farmed organically in perpetuity. This enables farm communities to preserve their character as agricultural districts despite the explosion of development in rural and semi-rural areas located two or three hours from major cities.

Want to find a CSA in your area? The Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) Database sponsored by the Sustainable Agriculture Network has a comprehensive state-by-state guide to CSA farms in the United States.

Hook up with others who want a brighter agricultural tomorrow and work together to create new farming paradigms.

If there is no CSA farm drop off site in your area, find the closest farm & find out about getting a group together from your neighborhood to start one.

Farms & Gardens are the lifeblood of our world. One of the best ways you can participate in and support sustainable agriculture is by planting a home garden. May we restore the Garden!

Here are a few other examples from a brainstorming session we had with our friend & visionary Patricia Kaminski of The Flower Essence Society for what we can do to re-think our relationship to food and health, and our ability to afford it –or to help others of lesser means afford it:

a) Develop green centers/community gardens in every urban neighborhood (this is a win-win for our planet, for the beauty of the neighborhood, and for the pocketbook)

b) Develop close knit relationships with local gardeners, farmers and producers --- forge direct buying links that are a win-win for both parties

c) Join community sponsored agriculture projects, buying clubs and food coops that maximize the buying capacity of every dollar – for example buying a case of produce, and then dividing the contents, etc.

d) Learn how to shop wisely and cook with whole foods – for instance – it’s far more economical to buy a 10 lb bag of quality organic rice for a household, than numerous pre-packaged boxes of rice entrees (even those that are healthful- and learn how to season the rice dishes with one’s own store of herbs and spices).

e) Ask your grocers to buy directly from local farmers in season.

f) Encourage restaurant owners, food retailers, wholesalers, or dining services to buy directly from farmers. Hospitals, workplaces, schools, and universities often have food services. Let dining hall managers know you want locally, sustainably produced foods.

g) Don’t buy so many pre-prepared and packaged foods, whether “natural” or junkfood, “fresh” or frozen. The cost to you is 90% marketing, and the cost to our society is staggering. These foods are not nutritious anyway.

h) Buy foods that are in season whenever possible. There is no good nutritional reason for people in New York to eat oranges and bananas in winter. The cost of transporting and marketing this food is outrageously high for individuals and for society. As we enter the era of peak oil, it is simply unsupportable.

i) It is far more economical to learn basic techniques of food preservation and storage – such as buying a box of apples in the fall when they are plentiful and the price is low, than buying a few every week throughout the year (or worse, buying less nutritious sweets or processed fruit deserts, cookies etc.). Apples can be wrapped in newspaper and stored in a cool area such as basement, for many months.

j) It is far better to buy whole broccoli and steam it, than to buy a frozen entree, that cost more and is low in enzymes, etc. It is far better to buy a large container of olive oil and vinegar than numerous small bottles of pre-made salad dressing.

To find resources for healthy eating, search for recipes in our tag cloud or search in the library in our food section. Here you will find new recipes and menu plans written by renowned nutritionists, chefs and Satya Center alt.healer practitioners. Keep checking back for new additions. Feel free to contact us (info@satyacenter.com) with specific requests or questions about diet, recipes, ingredients or menus.

It is our sincere hope that we all have affordable access to fresh, local, healthy, gmo-and-chemical-free food and that we may eat nourishing meals with a sense of gratitude, love and communion. May your meals be flavorful, healthy, balanced and a peaceful moment in your day, bringing health and abundance to you and your family. May we all be well nourished so that we are empowered to create a balanced, loving and peaceful world community.

Top Satya Center Stories of the Week

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho’s new article, Global Food Trade and the New Slave Labour tells the story of how South African plantations produce “cheap food” from globalization’s victims.

“South Africa’s commercial agriculture is export oriented, and is fragile as it is open to challenges from the global market and the progressive removal of trade barriers and subsidies,” explains Dr. Ho. “Increased competition and unfair terms of trade with highly subsidised producers in the North, along with other factors such as drought, exacerbate poor pay and working conditions, leading to poor health for farm workers. Unequal trade regimes reinforce inequality for women and for emerging black farmers who are unable to compete with white farmers on economic terms.”

“Western Cape farmers pay labourers in part or in full with alcohol,” Dr. Ho continues. “This is known as the ‘tot system’, a common practice left over from slavery. A steady stream of alcohol is given to the workers throughout the day. Not too much to make them drunk, but enough to make them dependent.”

In “Pisces Foods” (http://www.satyacenter.com/pisces-foods), astrologer Jonathan Pearl provides us with seasonally appropriate dietary advice that will cleanse our systems after the long winter and rejuvenate us so we can enjoy the busy spring season just ahead.

“Since the symbol of Pisces is two fish swimming in the ocean, the first food is exactly this,” says Jonathan. “When the Sun is in the water signs of Pisces, Cancer and Scorpio, we eat more fish and other sea foods. These are loaded with nutrients and for many people some of the few wild foods eaten.”

Breaking News Headlines 24/7 at Satya Center

Read breaking news stories updated 24/7 from Pacific News Service. Tune in to Satya Center’s 24/7 environmental news headlines and listen to environmental news radio from Environmental News Network at ENN EarthNews.


Top Stories From Around the Web


GM WATCH daily
EU Steadfast in Rejecting Genetically Engineered Food, Despite WTO Pressure
Feb. 7, 2006

Sometimes you have to agree to differ. Europe has done that with the U.S.
over Iraq, over Kyoto, over the International Criminal Court, over US
antipathy to the UN, over the torture of prisoners and extraordinary
rendition, over hormone-laced beef and over GMOs. And those leaders, like
Tony Blair, who have sought to go along with the U.S., are widely - and
rightly - despised.

Science and Development Network
GM crops are not the answer to pest control
G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, 15 February 2006

G. V. Ramanjaneyulu argues that insect-resistant crops will eventually require an increased use of pesticides, and that farmers around the developing world will suffer as a result.

Thousands of farmers in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have committed suicide since the 1990s, and many of these deaths have been blamed on so-called pest disasters. This refers to the way farmers' heavy use of pesticides has led to increased resistance in pests, which in turn has caused substantial crop losses and a slide into crushing debt.

Given this situation, what should be the response to those suggesting that we apply high doses of toxins over extended periods, irrespective of whether the pests are present? After all, this is what supporters of genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant crops are encouraging farmers to do.

We do not have to look far to find well-established and credible alternatives, namely the use of integrated pest management (IPM), or even non-pesticidal management and organic farming.

Guardian UK
Flying in the face of nature
John Vidal
Wednesday February 22, 2006

Migrating birds are blamed for bringing avian flu into Europe. But John Vidal finds there is growing consensus that animal farming and man's intrusion into the environment are major factors in the spread of new diseases

Ten years ago next month, the government first reported a link between the cattle disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its human equivalent Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD); five years ago this week, the cull began of millions of sheep and cows suspected to have foot and mouth disease; and three years ago, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) threatened global health. Now poultry farmers around the world are on full alert as country after country reports the virulent H5N1 avian influenza virus in wild birds, which it is feared could cross to humans.

As dead swans are found with H5N1, and Europe locks up its poultry, a consensus is emerging among scientists, ecologists and human health experts that this strain of avian flu, as well as diseases such as monkeypox, HIV/Aids, West Nile virus, Ebola, Sars, BSE and Lyme disease are emerging and crossing more easily to humans because of environmental changes taking place and the intensification of farming. Diseases are then spread rapidly around the world with the globalisation of trade and aviation.


Eco-Economy Update from EarthPolicy.org
BOTTLED WATER: POURING RESOURCES DOWN THE DRAIN
By Emily Arnold, 2/2/06

The global consumption of bottled water reached 154 billion liters (41
billion gallons) in 2004, up 57 percent from the 98 billion liters
consumed five years earlier. Even in areas where tap water is safe to
drink, demand for bottled water is increasing—producing unnecessary
garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy. Although in the
industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it
can cost up to 10,000 times more. At as much as $2.50 per liter ($10 per
gallon), bottled water costs more than gasoline.

The United States is the world’s leading consumer of bottled water, with
Americans drinking 26 billion liters in 2004, or approximately one 8-ounce
glass per person every day.


Magic City Morning Star
Big Brother National Animal Identification System Could Bankrupt Small Farmers
By Walter Jeffries
Feb 22, 2006, 15:37

Wednesday, February 22nd was Washington's real birthday. In honor of General George Washington who became the first President of our brand new liberated nation, I urge you to contact your local radio stations as well as national radio station personalities to let them know the danger that the USDA's National Animal Identification System (NAIS) poses to our liberties. Let them know that you want them to address the issue of why is the government stealing away our rights with programs like NAIS, PAWS, REAL ID, and the Patriot Act.

Are you familiar with NAIS? Let me give you a little background. The USDA wants to register the GPS coordinates, name, address, phone and other data on every farm, home and other location that has even has a single animal with a government Premise ID. For this privilege of mandatory registration you will pay a fee of $10 or more per year. Next they intend to tag every single one of your animals with a RFID or other tag. This will be mandatory. In addition to paying an annual fee and paying for tags for all of your animals, you would also be required to log, track and report all 'events' such as the birth of an animal, death of an animal, animals leaving or entering your property. All reports must be made within 24 hours or you could face stiff fines. Do not expect them to keep your private information secure. In a little "Oops" the USDA just released the social security numbers of 350,000 farmers.

Big producers like factory farms get to use a single batch ID for tens of thousands of animals to keep their costs down. For them NAIS is a minor bookkeeping entry that gives them big profits in the export markets to Japan and other countries. Small farmers and homesteaders with their mixed aged flocks and herds would be required to tag and track every single individual animal. NAIS is great for big corporate producers and hellish for small farmers and homesteaders. The cost of NAIS in fees, tags, equipment costs and time will bankrupt small farmers and overwhelm people who raise their own food animals. In the end, the consumer will pay - NAIS could add almost a thousand dollars a year to the annual food budget for the typical family of four. By destroying small producers NAIS will kill the Slow Food and the Buy Local movements, as local farmers are driven out of business.

. . . What is the solution? NAIS should be made strictly voluntary and the rights of consumers, small farmers, livestock owners, homesteaders and pet owners should be protected from future abuses. If NAIS is such a good idea then the sellers who would benefit from the export markets and other venues requiring traceability will get higher prices so they will voluntarily join the system. There is no need to force it down everyone's throat if it is such a good idea. The very fact that the USDA is planning to make NAIS mandatory proves what a bad idea it really is. Better the carrot than the stick.

For more information about NAIS check out the FAQs at the top of the left hand sidebar and the various additional resources in the right hand sidebar on the www.NoNAIS.org web site.

Speak now while you still have the right. Let your voice be heard across the land. Start to day by contacting your local talk show radio hosts and stations.


t r u t h o u t
The Spirit of Gandhi, the Passion of Jesus
By Pablo Paredes, 23 February 2006

"I can't sit here and do nothing while this war keeps claiming kids and stealing souls." This was the response I received from Fernando Suarez Del Solar when I questioned his newest and boldest idea for bringing an end to the bloodshed in Iraq.

Many would find it a sad irony to know that the first Mexican to die in this war was of the name Jesús. Fernando's son, Jesús Suarez Del Solar, was a charismatic young soul who above all placed a premium on helping children. Jesús joined the Marines believing he would free the children of Iraq. This was his mission, and when he died, Fernando made it his.

Fernando learned his son fell to enemy fire and was devastated, but his heart was yet to be further shattered. He soon learned, by his own merit on a humanitarian mission to Iraq, that the military had lied to him. His son was the victim of the only weapons of mass destruction so far encountered in Iraq. Jesús stepped on an illegal US mine. Since learning the truth, Fernando has made it his mission to shed light on the multitude of lies that surround the invasion and occupation of Iraq and to help in every way possible the children in Iraq, as well as his son's fellow troops.

The Los Angeles Times
Religious Progressives, the Next Generation
by Diane Winston, 2/05/06

With the passing of Coretta Scott King comes a hard question: What new vision will stir religious progressives?

The revolutionary potential of religious ideas was certainly evident in the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision — that all people are equal in God's eyes — helped overturn segregation. One result was that people of color gained greater access to housing, education, jobs and elected office. That was just the beginning. Both Kings believed the faithful could transform the world.

Their movement stalled. But in the weeks between the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and Coretta King's death, I've seen a spike in simpatico activities.

Common Dreams NewsCenter
America's Moral Decline and the Rise of False Christianity
by Karen Horst Cobb, 2/16/06

“This is the year God wants to make you a millionaire.” The visiting evangelist stomped back and forth on the stage of the rented school building. His “hallelujahs” and “praise God” crescendos were followed by jumping up and down. Sweat ran down his face as he proclaimed that the church members would not need to be afraid if the economy collapses and their neighbors houses are foreclosed upon because they are blessed and will have all of their needs met. The service ended with the explanation that the first step to becoming a millionaire is to pledge $200 of “seed faith money” to the church.

Just prior to the introduction of the evangelist the young single minister with spiky hair introduced the beginning of fellowship “life groups," explaining that the “free market” will decide which ones succeed. Recently, Ted Taggard of mega church New Life Fellowship in Colorado Springs explained that Spirituality is a “commodity “ to be bought and sold. The writings of Milton Friedman are recommended for all new converts. This young minister must also be a free market convert . His small group is a satellite of World Harvest Church. The sermon themes of the mega churches are all very similar and reflect the cause of America‘s moral decline. Christianity is getting a makeover using the classic trappings of Money, domination and military aggression.


World of Wisdom.com
Oil - End of an Age and the Rise of Russia’s Star
by Adrian Ross Duncan

The discovery and exploitation of oil in the early 19th century made a lot of whales very happy indeed. Until that time whale oil was extensively used primarily for lighting and to a certain extent for cooking, but with the development of kerosene, the bottom – fortunately for whales – fell out of the whaling industry over a period of several decades. Plastic is currently performing the same service for trees. Traditionally oil and gas have been associated with the planet Neptune (as indeed whales are), and it is probably no coincidence that the first commercial exploitation of oil in the 1850’s took place soon after the discovery of Neptune in 1846.

When Neptune was discovered, it was in exact conjunction with Saturn at 25 Aquarius, and subsequent Saturn/Neptune conjunctions have correlated with dramatic political upheavals – there were many (relatively peaceful) social revolutions in Europe in the late 1840’s because of the rise of socialism. The correlation of the 35-year Saturn/Neptune cycle with social change has been well documented, especially as regards communism, whose defining moments – the 1917 revolution, the death of Stalin in1953, and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – all occurred at the conjunction.

To a certain extent the Saturn/Neptune cycle is also related to the supply of oil and gas, which is natural enough considering the association of Saturn with restriction and blockage, and of Neptune with oil. As consumers, we become aware of this through the price of oil at the petrol pump, but the correlation between petrol prices and oil supply is complicated by a number of factors, not least the desire of OPEC countries to maintain stable oil prices by pumping more or less oil as the situation demands. There is naturally also a correlation between oil supply and growth and prosperity, but again there are a number of factors that complicate the equation. For example there has been excellent growth in the United States in 2005 even though the price of oil tripled over the last three years. Conversely, with the discovery of the largest oil pool ever in Texas in 1930 – at the time of a precise Saturn/Neptune trine – the price of oil was brought crashing down bringing chaos to the industry and considerably worsening the Great Depression. High oil prices do not guarantee economic woe, and low prices do not guarantee prosperity. Stable prices are best.

. . .A new Saturn/Neptune cycle began in 1989 with the series of conjunctions that took place around 10 degrees Capricorn from March to November. As with all previous conjunctions, this had monumental political repercussions – in this case no less than a New World Order, which was connected with the fact that Uranus also conjoined Neptune and commenced a new 172 year cycle shortly afterwards. It seems likely that the Saturn/Neptune conjunction creates the new political structures through which form the background for oil supply, and that each conjunction has a different emphasis. At any rate it seems that the newly formed Russia, sensitive as it is to the Saturn/Neptune cycle, is now taking over in significance from the Middle East, and with the current build up to the first opposition of the 1989 cycle, it is Russia that is flexing her muscles rather than OPEC.

The bullying tactics of Russia have been clearly apparent in their dealings with the Ukraine as 2006 began. . . Basically Ukraine refused to allow the gas pipelines that go through its country to come under the control of the state-owned Russian gas giant Gazprom, and Gazprom responded by demanding that Ukraine would then have to pay the EU market price for gas, which at around $220 per 1000 cubic meters quadrupled the price for Ukraine. When Ukraine understandably rejected this – they had previously been guaranteed a fixed price five years into the future – Gazprom shut down supplies.

As the gas pressure fell also for European countries, it became quite clear for the EU that they themselves were now vulnerable to Russian blackmail, as Gazprom already supplies 25% of EU’s gas. What is more, this figure is growing as European supplies of gas dwindle, and new pipelines are being built from Russia. Interestingly, Gerhard Schroeder, the former premier of Germany is chairman of the board of the Gazprom branch for the pipeline going directly under the Baltic Sea to Germany. There are even rumors that Italy’s premier Berlusconi – if he loses his current post, will become chairman of the southern Gazprom pipeline bound for Italy. As Putin expands Russia’s web of pipelines into Europe he will clearly acquire a stranglehold on EU energy. Obviously this will not be used overtly – that is bad business practice – but Russia will acquire enormous influence... and great riches too. This must be sweet music to the Russian nation after the economic humiliations of the 1990’s.

Gazprom was formed at the Saturn/Neptune conjunction in 1989 and though privatized during the 1990’s Putin reasserted state control by acquiring 51% of the shares when he came to power. He went on to crush the competing oil giant Yukos, whose chairman Mikhail Khordorkovsky was jailed in 2004 for tax evasion... though everyone knows that the real reason was that he had presidential ambitions. The head of Gazprom is Aleksej Miller who is an old pal of Putin’s from his time as mayor of St. Petersburg. In reality Gazprom is an arm of the Kremlin, and is being used not just as a financial instrument but also as a political tool. Whilst America depletes its resources on foreign adventures in Iraq, Russia is rapidly consolidating its power. Quite apart from huge pipelines to northern, central and southern Europe, there are deals with Japan, Korea and the Far East, capitalizing on the huge demand for oil in these countries, which Russia is in a strong position to satisfy because it has almost a third of the world’s gas reserves.

It is in this light that the coming Saturn/Neptune opposition should be seen. This phase of the Saturn/Neptune cycle corresponds to the earlier 1972 opposition phase – in other words it is likely that the last half of the 35 cycle – from 2006 to the next conjunction (in Aries) in June 2025, will see the use of oil and gas to leverage Russia as a growing power on the world stage. The opposition phase of a cycle is connected with awareness, and just as the West became aware of the power of the Middle East in the previous cycle, the EU, and belatedly the US, will become aware of the power of Russia in this cycle. The events connected with Ukraine prove that this is not a benign influence... the power is there to gain advantage.

It is too late to do anything about the growing power of Russia... the pipelines are complete or under construction, North Sea supplies are running down, Europe is hungry. It is Russia’s turn to prosper, and the country is in great need of wealth after a dire period of poverty and disintegration. The choices in Europe are stark, and there will naturally be a strong incentive to economize by building economical houses and cars and investing in alternative energy supplies, and this in turn will stand Europe in good stead when the next Saturn/Neptune cycle runs its course from 2025 to 2060. It is those countries that become relatively independent of fossil fuels that will be in a supreme position as it becomes more and more expensive to extract diminishing quantities from the earth. . .

The Age of Oil will run its course, just as the Age of Coal did. At current rates of extraction, oil will run out in the middle of the 21st century, though – as it gets more and more expensive per barrel – it will be a slow process as oil gradually gets supplanted by other power sources. The big question is: how peaceful will this process be? As dynamic technological progress made living easier, populations have exploded and dependence on cheap energy is what makes the world go around today. Yet there will be a future in which the burning of fossil fuels simply does not take place. Houses will not be heated by coal, gas or oil. Cars will not run on gasoline. Power will not come from oil, gas or coal-fired stations.

There are two views as to what will happen in the transition process. One is the Roman Empire model – the fall of civilization. The other is that man’s ingenuity will find solutions, and this view is more in keeping with the Aquarian Age prophecy. The exploitation of Earth’s resources is a phenomenon largely reflected astrologically by the 200 year Saturn/Jupiter conjunction cycle in Earth. When this moves to Air for another 200 year period – in 2020 – other energy sources based on light and waveforms will gradually take over in an extremely low-energy society. Whilst we have difficulty imagining this transition, our children, and our children’s children will easily find the way.

GlobalResearch.ca
The hidden stakes in the Iran crisis
By Thierry Meyssan
February 4, 2006

The confrontation between the big powers over Iran continues with antagonisms hidden from view. Since December 2002, the USA has accused Iran of seeking nuclear arms in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

The seizure of Iran by the USA would mean them taking control of both the East bank of the Persian Gulf and the Southern Caspian, including their reserves of oil and gas estimated to be the second largest in the world.

Already the US have military control of part of the Caspian basin and of a corridor enabling them to link this area with the Indian Ocean (Afghanistan and Pakistan). They have also taken control of the key areas of the Gulf (Saudi Arabia and Iraq). At the end of this operation, Washington should have complete control over the world’s main hydrocarbon production and reserves. It will control the world economy without the need to share power.

Znet
January 03, 2006
After This War
By Howard Zinn

The war against Iraq, the assault on its people, the occupation of its cities, will come to an end, sooner or later. The process has already begun. The first signs of mutiny are appearing in Congress The first editorials calling from withdrawal from Iraq are beginning to appear in the press. The anti-war movement has been growing, slowly but persistently, all over the country.

Public opinion polls now show the country decisively against the war and the Bush administration. The harsh realities have become visible. The troops will have to come home.

And while we work with increased determination to make this happen, should we not think beyond this war? Should we begin to think, even before this shameful war is over, about ending our addiction to massive violence, and using the enormous wealth of our country for human needs? That is, should we begin to speak about ending war - not just this war or that war - but war itself? Perhaps the time has come to bring an end to war, and turn the human race onto a path of health and healing.

A group of internationally known figures, celebrated both for their talent and their dedication to human rights - Gino Strada, Paul Farmer, Kurt Vonnegut, Nadine Gordimer, Eduardo Galeano and others - will soon launch a world-wide campaign to enlist tens of millions of people in a movement for the renunciation of war, hoping to reach the point where governments, facing popular resistance, will find it difficult or impossible to wage war. It may be an idea whose time has come.

Austin Chronicle
Things to come: Grounding Middle Class America
Michael Ventura, Monday, October 3, 2005

...In a recent interview, [Britt] Ekland, now 62, offered an idea to be remembered if we are to endure the enormous changes that are overtaking us: "The key to life is being able to downsize without losing your dignity."

That thought will run through this series of columns, in which I'll sketch, as best I can, what we're in for (for good as well as for ill).

...With its excellent rail system, Europe is far less dependent (internally) upon air travel. That is tonight's subject. More than pump prices, and perhaps more than heating-oil prices, the first drastic change for middle-class and more-or-less affluent Americans will be their inability to fly.

In the last year, the price of jet fuel has risen 50% (NY Times, Sept. 15, p.C1). The airlines have desperately tried to absorb this price hike, keeping fares low and hoping for the best. But those days will be over by Easter, if not Thanksgiving. USA Today, Sept. 15, p.1B:

...The average driver may be able to absorb fuel costs for a few years more, but not the average flier. Within a year – or two, or three? – affordable passenger flight will be history.


The Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin)
This 12-Step Program Can Break U.S. Oil
by Michael Brune, 2/06/06

Our president almost came clean in his State of the Union speech last week when he finally admitted that "America is addicted to oil." That addiction threatens our national security, our environmental health and our way of life.

It is true that our leaders are exhibiting the classic signs of an addiction denial, aggression, avoidance, blaming others and as a country we are falling far short of reaching our full potential.

America's stubborn dependence on oil erodes our bedrock values. For it, we will go to war, support unstable and undemocratic regimes, destabilize our climate, decimate our forests and parks, threaten the health of our children, and weaken our economy.

The president admitted to a national problem, but stopped well short of committing our country to a full recovery program. We already have the technology. What we desperately need is the courage to act now. It is time for nothing short of a national intervention, and a 12-step program to break America's oil addiction. Here's how . . .


Let's Move America Beyond Oil - Sign the Pledge to MOVE AMERICA BEYOND OIL
Details at http://www.nrdcactionfund.org

Transition Culture
Unleashing Abundance: Energy Descent Action Planning as a Community Response to Peak Oil
By Rob Hopkins
(from Cultivate Magazine, Published Autumn ‘05. Available from The Cultivate Centre, Dublin)

How we look at the inevitable and impending decline in oil supply (the advent of ‘peak oil’) will invariably shape our experiences and responses. Will it bring about ‘The Long Emergency’ that James Howard Kunstler refers to and the classic film ‘The End of Suburbia’ predicts, will it initiate ‘The Great Turning,’ as deep ecologist Joanna Macey calls it or will we have ‘A Prosperous Way Down’, to use Howard Odum’s phrase?

I believe that it is essential that we approach this question from an attitude of service towards others. It is not a tenable position to say ‘how will I survive this?’ or ‘where do I have to be in order to be OK?’ Either we all pull through or none of us do. If peak oil does anything, it reminds us that we are part of a community; that we do not exist in isolation even though many of us are stuck in the illusion that we can live prosperously without even knowing the names of our neighbours.

. . . If you ask most people what life will be like when oil costs $200 or $300 a barrel, they invariably think of all the things they will no longer be able to have. No more foreign holidays, no more driving the car whenever they like. Most people don’t think beyond, about questions such as how it will affect food prices, the availability of common household goods, even the availability of common modern medicines. When they really think about it, some may conjure up mental images of The Famine, of civil unrest and so on. I think therefore that one of the first things we have to do is to work with people to help them create a vision of how things could be. We need to be able to see this as an exciting opportunity, as a once in a lifetime opportunity to create the future that we want.

In Kinsale we started by visiting a lot of permaculture/sustainability related sites in the area. We then held a seminar employing Open Space Technology on the theme of ‘Kinsale 2021 – Towards a Prosperous and Sustainable Future Together’ with members of the community. The students then spent a few months developing the vision that started to emerge during the Open Space. They set out their vision as to how Kinsale could be in 2021, living with one quarter of the energy, yet in a more abundant and satisfying way. They mapped how we could get from the present to their vision. Year by year, in achievable yet bold steps, they designed a pathway to a lower energy future. Finally they offered a set of resources for people to find out more. These chapters form the heart of ‘Kinsale 2021 – an Energy Descent Action Plan – Version 1’. This was printed with help from Kinsale Town Council and Kinsale Environment Watch and has been very well received.

This process is ongoing. Every year’s second year students will take the plan back to the community, hold Open Space events and produce a revised and more representative document each of the next two or three years. Simultaneously, they will begin implementing the plan, putting in place practical and high visibility projects around town in order to help build public awareness.

I think that what has begun in Kinsale has great potential for the rest of the county as a model for engaging communities in a process of moving forward. It is a model that offers a positive, solutions-based approach and one that gets people moving to build the foundations for what will be needed very soon. It is not realistic to expect everyone in Kinsale to start growing his or her own food all of a sudden, but we can put in place the infrastructure (seed banks, skills and knowledge transfer, sources of compost) to make it possible. We can plant orchards around the town. We can plant trees for timber. We can begin to build the new world that we dream of gently around people and watch it grow to replace the old.

I feel that the advent of peak oil offers those people who have long envisioned a more sustainable world the opportunity to step forward and start building the world of their dreams. To retreat into an attitude of “well it’s not worth it, we’re doomed”, is to deny our own potential. In the speech that Nelson Mandela gave when released from prison, he said “our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us”. Energy descent action plans offer us a vision for embarking on a great journey and for unleashing our untapped potential. It is time that we roll up our sleeves.

Published on Wednesday, February 22, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Hotter, Faster, Worser
by John Atcheson

Over the past several months, the normally restrained voice of science has taken on a distinct note of panic when it comes to global warming.

How did we go from debating the "uncertainty" behind climate science to near hysterical warnings from normally sober scientists about irrevocable and catastrophic consequences? Two reasons.

First, there hasn’t been any real uncertainty in the scientific community for more than a decade. An unholy alliance of key fossil fuel corporations and conservative politicians have waged a sophisticated and well-funded misinformation campaign to create doubt and controversy in the face of nearly universal scientific consensus. In this, they were aided and abetted by a press which loved controversy more than truth, and by the Bush administration, which has systematically tried to distort the science and silence and intimidate government scientists who sought to speak out on global warming.

But the second reason is that the scientific community failed to adequately anticipate and model several positive feedback loops that profoundly amplify the rate and extent of human-induced climate change. And in the case of global warming, positive feedback loops can have some very negative consequences. The plain fact is, we are fast approaching – and perhaps well past – several tipping points which would make global warming irreversible.


Good Morning Silicon Valley!
The Bell Companies’ $200 Billion Dollar Fiber Optic RipOff
February 02, 2006

The United States is the 19th ranked nation in household broadband connectivity rate, just ahead of Slovenia. Want to know why? Because, contends telecom analyst Bruce Kushnick, the Bell Companies never delivered symmetrical fiber-optic connectivity to millions of Americans though they were paid more than $200 billion to do it. According to Kushnick's book, "$200 Billion Broadband Scandal", during the buildup to the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act, the major U.S. telcos promised to deliver fiber to 86 million households by 2006 (we're talking about fiber to the home, here). They asked for, and were given, some $200 billion in tax cuts and other incentives to pay for it. But the Bells didn't spend that money on fiber upgrades -- they spent it on long distance, wireless and inferior DSL services.

The Nation
The End of the Internet?
by Jeff Chester, February 2, 2006

The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online.

Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency. According to white papers now being circulated in the cable, telephone and telecommunications industries, those with the deepest pockets--corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers--would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out.


Meditation Moment


Prayer to Chenresig, Buddha of Compassion, based on Prayer of St. Francis




O Avalokiteshavara, Noble Chenresig,
Great Compassionate Lord,
Hear my ardent prayer.
Please see me in my unworthiness.
I can barely take care of myself,
How can I relieve the suffering of the world?
Perhaps with your aid, I may
Begin simply, with all those I meet.

Make me, then, an instrument of your compassion,
A channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Let my love be impartial,
Reaching out to everyone,
Even to those who do me harm
Or threaten the stability of my world.
Where there is injury, let me sow patience.
Help me to let go of ill-will against any "enemy" who is
Someone who wants to be happy
And avoid pain just as I do.

Where there is darkness, let me bring Light.
I cannot destroy the evil in the world,
But with your help, may I lighten
The darkness of any suffering I see.

Where there is sadness, may I bring joy!
Oh, Embodiment of the Compassion of all the Buddhas,
Whose 1,000 arms dredge the depths of samsara,
Tirelessly bringing solace to all,
May I realize that you are inseparable from me,
Changeless and innate.

Therefore, from the seat of this Great Compassion,
May I not so much seek to be comforted, as to comfort;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is through effort that we gain merit,
It is through meditation that we recognize Your Wisdom.
And it is in dying to self
That we awaken to our Immortality.

I dedicate any virtue I may gain
To the relief of the suffering of the world.
May I remain in the sleep of samsara
Until all sentient beings have
Awakened before me.
Om Mani Padme Hum