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Give Back While On Holiday

When you think about your dream vacation, your first thought probably isn’t about how you’ll find time to volunteer while you’re there.  Most of us go on vacation to pamper ourselves a bit and we feel OK about being a little selfish while on holiday.

And that’s OK.  But given that it can be hard to find the time in our everyday lives to give back, you may want to consider using your vacation is an opportunity to do something good for others.  The great part is that you can do as much as you want – make it the main focus of your trip or just spend one day giving back.  Read on to get some ideas on how to make it work for you.

      1. Follow Your Passion

If you just want to make volunteering a small part of your vacation, the best way to do that is to pick your dream destination first and then find a great opportunity there.  After all, spending every moment of your holiday doing for others isn’t necessarily for everybody. 

If you’ve been dreaming about the beaches of Greek Islands, head to picturesque Santorini and call up the Santorini Animal Welfare Association to see how you can help them out with their stray dog management program for a day.  This, of course, is just one possibility.  Before your trip just Google “Volunteer Opportunities in…” to learn what you can do.

       2. Full Service

For some, one day is not enough and they want to make their trip all about helping others.  If that’s your style, the possibilities are endless.  A quick online search of “Volunteer Vacations” shows you just how much is out there.  In fact, the sheer amount of options may be a bit overwhelming.  Start to narrow down your choices by thinking about what your passionate about and good at, and then where in the world you’d like to go. 

Whatever that combination is, you’re likely to find the perfect trip for you.  You may end up doing wildlife conservation in Africa, building homes in South America or teaching children on Pacific islands.  Regardless, you’ll have a unique experience and do a lot of good.

3.  Local Motion

If you’d rather show your commitment to a cause with your wallet, you can always search out local non-profits that champion a cause that’s meaningful to you and make a contribution.  This is a really nice way to show that you appreciate the place that hosted you for your vacation and want to leave your thanks in a tangible way.  Many places are known for something that attracts visitors.  If you stay in a hotel in Saugatuck, Michigan (wwW.theKirbyhotel.Com), which is known for its lively art scene. You can show your respect by donating to Ox-Bow, an artist residency that supports local artists. 

Learn more about the area here: http://www.thekirbyhotel.com/news/

The 3 Most Controversial Supreme Court Cases

 

Brown vs. Board Of Education:

 

 

On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court declared previous laws of segrated schooling unconstitutional because of the effect they had on the upbringing on children of color. This decision started to create some real change but in many places it didn’t have an immediate effect. In ’57 the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, used the national guard, yes you heard that correctly, the national guard, to block nine students of color from walking into the Little Rock High School. In ’63 the governor of Alabama, George Wallace, stood in front of a door individually to cause a problem for two black students trying to enroll.

 

Both of these cases had to be dealt with by the President, Dwight D. Eisenhower himself. In Arkansas he deployed an airborne division to go into the school, and in Alabama JFK sent in the National Guard to remove George Wallace. Crazy stuff right? If you feel like you're being mistreated visit http://www.lawinjury.com/Practice-Areas/more/.

 

Roe vs. Wade:

 

This case split the country in half because of the difficulty in deciding whether an abortion is right or wrong. Issues of morality, privacy, and freedom were brought to the table. The case is based off of Norma McCorvey, a single Texas mother during the ‘70s. McCorvey’s alias was Jane Roe when she became pregnant for a third time and decided to have an abortion. Once this decision was made, the Texas laws prevented her from going through with it.

 

In ’73, the Supreme Court ruled that women are allowed to have abortions based on their privacy and freedom rights. Roe had already had her child, which she gave up for adoption, but every other woman from then on was able to abort her child.

 

This is obviously a very debated topic even today in 2014.

 

Dred Scott vs. Sanford:

 

Dred Scott was a slave who originally was from Missouri, then moved to the free state of Illinois and territory of Wisconsin before moving back to Missouri. While in Illinois, Scott attempted to appeal for his freedom considering he was in a free state. In 1857 in the case, the Supreme Court declared that all blacks whether slaves or free men, could never become citizens of America. This basically meant that his appeal didn’t matter because he was black and blacks were not equal even though the constitution says that, “all men are created equal”.  This also meant that slavery was legal throughout the country.

 

Although, Sanford thought this would settle the issue of slavery once and for all, it actually spurred more of an anti-slavery movement in the north. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9j3lKSs2ZoA )

 

If something like this is happnening to someone you know contact the best chicago injury lawyer, Jay Deratany!

 

 

 

 

           

FILM: INSIDE REMPLOY

Remploy was created after the Second World War to provide employment to injured soldiers. After 60 years of operating on a workforce of primarily disabled people, the government is planning to close most of the remaining factories. Around 1,500 disabled people will loose their jobs as a result. The government argues that the factories resemble "victorian-era segregation", and that the money can be better spent helping disabled people find work in mainstream workplaces.

Remploy workers argue that they may never work again, and that even if they do – because of prejudice and discrimination – they face working in insecure environments.

Associated Article "Busting the myths behind the Remploy Closures"

 

7 NHS TRUSTS PLACED IN HANDS OF GOVERNMENT LAWYERS & ACCOUNTANTS AS THEY FACE BANKRUPTCY

thegreenleft

Shocking news has emerged that the government are sending "hit squads" of accountants & lawyers into 7 NHS Trusts to oversee their financial problems, amid fears that up to 60 Hospitals could be sold off or closed due to financial woes. This could potentially lead to the bankruptcy of several NHS Trusts and could affect up to 60 hospitals. The government are attempting to spin the news by leaking it to the Telegraph in advance so that the Tory stalwarts can put the best possible spin on it. The accountancy teams will re-examine the spending of each Trust and find ways that savings can be made. The Tories will attempt to blame this on PFI contracts signed by Labour, and there is no doubt that these awful contracts certainly played a part. But it would be wholly wrong to pretend that these are the only financial reasons for the demise of these 7 Trusts.

1. The NHS is currently facing £20,000,000,000 of spending cuts brought in by this Tory government despite their claims they would ring fence the NHS.

2. Despite the sacking of 28,610 NHS Staff, the government are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on temporary doctors and nurses including those from the number one Tory Donor Lord Ashcroft's temporary agency staff.  Agency spend under the Tories has grown by 50% across 32 NHS Trusts

3. The government are wasting millions of pounds in consultancy fees to McKinsey and others whose advice they seek on the NHS carve up. In just one carve up of South London NHS, McKinsey are being handed £2m.

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4. The government have so far put nearly £5bn of NHS services up for sale that will allow private companies to make profits on. They are in the process of planning the sell off of a further £2.5bn. The total figure could reach nearly£30bn. Ultimately, these profits will have to be paid by the UK taxpayer since 'officially' services will remain free at the point of use. In short, private healthcare profit will be paid for my the UK Taxpayer.

5. The government have spent £3.5bn on restructuring the NHS. This includes the abolishing of Primary Care Trusts and the establishment of Clinical Commissioning Groups. This is needless expenditure at a time when the NHS is facing unprecedented funding pressures.

6. The government spending on the NHS is basically standing still. At a time when inflation in the NHS means that nearly £8bn of additional spend is required each year to keep up with prices and new medicines, it in effect means that the NHS is undergoing £8bn of additional cuts on top of the so-called £20bn of "efficiency savings". 

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7. The Tories have also signed a record number of PFI contracts in their first year. These will ultimately cost the taxpayer £33bn. The Tories have some cheek to preach on PFI.

Thus, the £40-50bn damage being caused by the Tories to the NHS is also very damaging to the financial health of the NHS Trusts that are now being placed under the financial and legal control of government squads of lawyers and accountants. Labour should apologise for dodgy PFI contracts, of that there is no doubt, but do not let the Tories pretend that that is the only reason NHS Trusts are in financial difficulty. 
 

THE PARADOX OF CUBAN AGRICULTURE

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When Cuba faced the shock of lost trade relations with the Soviet Bloc in the early 1990s, food production initially collapsed due to the loss of imported fertilizers, pesticides, tractors, parts, and petroleum. The situation was so bad that Cuba posted the worst growth in per capita food production in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. But the island rapidly re-oriented its agriculture to depend less on imported synthetic chemical inputs, and became a world-class case of ecological agriculture. This was such a successful turnaround that Cuba rebounded to show the best food production performance in Latin America and the Caribbean over the following period, a remarkable annual growth rate of 4.2 percent per capita from 1996 through 2005, a period in which the regional average was 0 percent.

Much of the production rebound was due to the adoption since the early 1990s of a range of agrarian decentralization policies that encouraged forms of production, both individual as well as cooperative—Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC) and Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCS). Moreover, recently the Ministry of Agriculture announced the dismantling of all “inefficient State companies” as well as support for creating 2,600 new small urban and suburban farms, and the distribution of the use rights (in usufruct) to the majority of estimated 3 million hectares of unused State lands. Under these regulations, decisions on resource use and strategies for food production and commercialization will be made at the municipal level, while the central government and state companies will support farmers by distributing necessary inputs and services. Through the mid-1990s some 78,000 farms were given in usufruct to individuals and legal entities. More than 100,000 farms have now been distributed, covering more than 1 million hectares in total. These new farmers are associated with the CCS following the campesino production model. The government is busy figuring out how to accelerate the processing of an unprecedented number of land requests.

The land redistribution program has been supported by solid research- extension systems that have played key roles in the expansion of organic and urban agriculture and the massive artisanal production and deployment of biological inputs for soil and pest management. The opening of local agricultural markets and the existence of strong grassroots organisations supporting farmers—for example, the National Association of Small Scale Farmers (ANAP, Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños), the Cuban Association of Animal Production (ACPA, Asociación Cubana de Producción Animal), and the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF, Asociación Cubana de Técnicos Agrícolas y Forestales)—also contributed to this achievement.

But perhaps the most important changes that led to the recovery of food sovereignty in Cuba occurred in the peasant sector which in 2006, controlling only 25 percent of the agricultural land, produced over 65 percent of the country’s food. Most peasants belong to the ANAP and almost all of them belong to cooperatives. The production of vegetables typically produced by peasants fell drastically between 1988 to 1994, but by 2007 had rebounded to well over 1988 levels (see Table 1). This production increase came despite using 72 percent fewer agricultural chemicals in 2007 than in 1988. Similar patterns can be seen for other peasant crops like beans, roots, and tubers.

Cuba’s achievements in urban agriculture are truly remarkable—there are 383,000 urban farms, covering 50,000 hectares of otherwise unused land and producing more than 1.5 million tons of vegetables with top urban farms reaching a yield of 20 kg/m2 per year of edible plant material using no synthetic chemicals—equivalent to a hundred tons per hectare. Urban farms supply 70 percent or more of all the fresh vegetables consumed in cities such as Havana and Villa Clara.

All over the world, and especially in Latin America, the island’s agroecological production levels and the associated research efforts along with innovative farmer organizational schemes have been observed with great interest. No other country in the world has achieved this level of success with a form of agriculture that uses the ecological services of biodiversity and reduces food miles, energy use, and effectively closes local production and consumption cycles. However, some people talk about the “Cuban agriculture paradox”: if agroecological advances in the country are so great, why does Cuba still import substantial amounts of food? If effective biological control methods are widely available and used, why is the government releasing transgenic plants such as Bt crops that produce their own pesticide using genes derived from bacteria?

CUBAN AGRICULTURE

The Truth About Food Imports in Cuba

There is considerable debate concerning current food dependency in Cuba. Dependency rose in the 2000s as imports from the United States grew and hurricanes devastated its agriculture. After being hit by three especially destructive hurricanes in 2008, Cuba satisfied national needs by importing 55 percent of its total food, equivalent to approximately $2.8 billion. However, as the world food price crisis drives prices higher, the government has reemphasized food self-sufficiency. Regardless of whether food has been imported or produced within the country, it is important to recognize that Cuba has been generally able to adequately feed its people. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Cuba’s average daily per capita dietary energy supply in 2007 (the last year available) was over 3,200 kcal, the highest of all Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Different Models: Agroecology versus Industrial Agriculture

Under this new scenario the importance of contributions of ANAP peasants to reducing food imports should become strategic, but is it? Despite the indisputable advances of sustainable agriculture in Cuba and evidence of the effectiveness of alternatives to the monoculture model, interest persists among some leaders in high external input systems with sophisticated and expensive technological packages. With the pretext of “guaranteeing food security and reducing food imports,” these specific programs pursue “maximization” of crop and livestock production and insist on going back to monoculture methods—and therefore dependent on synthetic chemical inputs, large scale machinery, and irrigation—despite proven energy inefficiency and technological fragility. In fact, many resources are provided by international cooperation (i.e., from Venezuela) dedicated to “protect or boost agricultural areas” where a more intensive agriculture is practiced for crops like potatoes, rice, soybean, and vegetables. These “protected” areas for large-scale, industrial-style agricultural production represent less than 10 percent of the cultivated land. Millions of dollars are invested in pivot irrigation systems, machinery, and other industrial agricultural technologies: a seductive model which increases short-term production but generates high long-term environmental and socioeconomic costs, while replicating a model that failed even before 1990.

Last year it was announced that the pesticide enterprise “Juan Rodríguez Gómez” in the municipality of Artemisa, Havana, will produce some 100,000 liters of the herbicide glyphosate in 2011. In early 2011 a Cuban TV News program informed the population about the Cubasoy project. The program, “Bienvenida la Soya,” reported that “it is possible to transform lands that over years were covered by marabú [a thorny invasive leguminous tree] with soybean monoculture in the south of the Ciego de Ávila province.” Supported by Brazilian credits and technology, the project covers more than 15,000 hectares of soybean grown in rotation with maize and aims at reaching 40,500 hectares in 2013, with a total of 544 center pivot irrigation systems installed by 2014. Soybean yields rank between 1.2 tons per hectare (1,100 lbs per acre) under rainfed conditions and up to 1.97 tons per hectare (1,700 lbs per acre) under irrigation. It is not clear if the soybean varieties used are transgenic, but the maize variety is the Cuban transgenic FR-Bt1. Ninety percent of machinery is imported from Brazil—“large tractors, direct seeding machines, and equipment for crop protection”—and considerable infrastructure investments have been made for irrigation, roads, technical support, processing, and transport.

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The Debate Over Transgenic Crops

Cuba has invested millions in biotechnological research and development for agriculture through its Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) and a network of institutions across the country. Cuban biotechnology is free from corporate control and intellectual property-right regimes that exist in other countries. Cuban biotechnologists affirm that their biosafety system sets strict biological and environmental security norms. Given this autonomy and advantages biotechnological innovations could efficiently be applied to solve problems such as viral crop diseases or drought tolerance for which agroecological solutions are not yet available. In 2009 the CIGB planted in Yagüajay, Sancti Spiritus, three hectares of genetically modified corn (transgenic corn FR-Bt1) on an experimental basis. This variety is supposed to suppress populations of the damaging larval stage of the “palomilla del maíz” moth (Spodoptera frugiperda, also known as the fall armyworm). By 2009 a total of 6,000 hectares were planted with the transgenic (also referred to as genetically modified, or GM) variety across several provinces. From an agroecological perspective it is perplexing that the first transgenic variety to be tested in Cuba is Bt corn, given that in the island there are so many biological control alternatives to regulate lepidopteran pests. The diversity of local maize varieties include some that exhibit moderate-to-high levels of pest resistance, offering significant opportunities to increase yields with conventional plant breeding and known agroecological management strategies. Many centers for multiplication of insect parasites and pathogens (CREEs, Centros de Reproducción de Entomófagos y Entomopatógenos) produce Bacillus thuringiensis (a microbial insecticide) and Trichogramma (small wasps), both highly effective against moths such as the palomilla. In addition, mixing corn with other crops such as beans or sweet potatoes in polycultures produces significantly less pest attack than maize grown in monocultures. This also increases the land equivalent ratio (growing more total crops in a given area of land) and protects the soil.

When transgenic Bt maize was planted in 2008 as a test crop, researchers and farmers from the agroecological movement expressed concern. Several people warned that the release of transgenic crops endangered agrobiodiversity and contradicted the government’s own agricultural production plans by diverting the focus from agroecological farming that had been strategically adopted as a policy in Cuba. Others felt that biotechnology was geared towards the interests of the multinational corporations and the market. Taking into account its potential environmental and public health risks, it would be better for Cuba to continue emphasizing agroecological alternatives that have proven to be safe and have allowed the country to produce food under difficult economic and climatic circumstances.

The main demonstrated advantage of GM crops has been to simplify the farming process, allowing farmers to work more land. GM crops that resist herbicides (such as “Roundup Ready” corn and soybeans) and that produce their own insecticide (such as Bt corn) generally do not yield any more than comparable non-GM crops. However, using these GM crops along with higher levels of mechanization (especially larger tractors) have now made it possible for the size of a family corn and soybean farm in the U.S. Midwest to increase from around 240 hectares (600 acres) to around 800 hectares (2,000 acres).

In September 2010 a meeting of experts concerned about transgenic crops was convened with board and staff members from the National Center for Biological Security and the Office for Environmental Regulation and Nuclear Security (Centro Nacional de Seguridad Biológica and the Oficina de Regulación Ambiental y Seguridad Nuclear), institutions entrusted with licensing GM crops. The experts issued a statement calling for a moratorium on GM crops until more information was available and society has a chance to debate the environmental and health effects of the technology. However, until now there has been no response to this request. One positive outcome of the year-long debate on the inconsistency of planting FR-Bt1 transgenic corn in Cuba was the open recognition by the authorities of the potential devastating consequences of GM crops for the small farmer sector. Although it appears that the use of transgenic corn will be limited exclusively to the areas of Cubasoy and other conventional areas under strict supervision, this effort is highly questionable.

The Paradox’s Outcome—What Does the Future Hold?

The instability in international markets and the increase in food prices in a country somewhat dependent on food imports threatens national sovereignty. This reality has prompted high officials to make declarations emphasizing the need to prioritize food production based on locally available resources. It is in fact paradoxical that, to achieve food security in a period of economic growth, most of the resources are dedicated to importing foods or promoting industrial agriculture schemes instead of stimulating local production by peasants. There is a cyclical return to support conventional agriculture by policy makers when the financial situation improves, while sustainable approaches and agroecology, considered as “alternatives,” are only supported under scenarios of economic scarcity. This cyclical mindset strongly undermines the advances achieved with agroecology and organic farming since the economic collapse in 1990.

Cuban agriculture currently experiences two extreme food-production models: an intensive model with high inputs, and another, beginning at the onset of the special period, oriented towards agroecology and based on low inputs. The experience accumulated from agroecological initiatives in thousands of small-and-medium scale farms constitutes a valuable starting point in the definition of national policies to support sustainable agriculture, thus rupturing with a monoculture model prevalent for almost four hundred years. In addition to Cuba being the only country in the world that was able to recover its food production by adopting agroecological approaches under extreme economic difficulties, the island exhibits several characteristics that serve as fundamental pillars to scale up agroecology to unprecedented levels:

Cuba represents 2 percent of the Latin American population but has 11 percent of the scientists in the region. There are about 140,000 high-level professionals and medium-level technicians, dozens of research centres, agrarian universities and their networks, government institutions such as the Ministry of Agriculture, scientific organizations supporting farmers (i.e. ACTAF), and farmers organizations such as ANAP.

THE PARADOX OF CUBAN AGRICULTURE

Cuba has sufficient land to produce enough food with agroecological methods to satisfy the nutritional needs of its eleven million inhabitants. Despite soil erosion, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity during the past fifty years—as well as during the previous four centuries of extractive agriculture—the country’s conditions remain exceptionally favorable for agriculture. Cuba has six million hectares of fairly level land and another million gently sloping hectares that can be used for cropping. More than half of this land remains uncultivated, and the productivity of both land and labor, as well as the efficiency of resource use, in the rest of this farm area are still low. If all the peasant farms (controlling 25 percent of land) and all the UBPC (controlling 42 percent of land) adopted diversified agroecological designs, Cuba would be able to produce enough to feed its population, supply food to the tourist industry, and even export some food to help generate foreign currency. All this production would be supplemented with urban agriculture, which is already reaching significant levels of production.

About one third of all peasant families, some 110,000 families, have joined ANAP within its Farmer to Farmer Agroecological Movement (MACAC, Movimiento Agroecológico Campesino a Campesino). It uses participatory methods based on local peasant needs and allows for the socialization of the rich pool of family and community agricultural knowledge that is linked to their specific historical conditions and identities. By exchanging innovations among themselves, peasants have been able to make dramatic strides in food production relative to the conventional sector, while preserving agrobiodiversity and using much lower amounts of agrochemicals.

Observations of agricultural performance after extreme climatic events in the last two decades have revealed the resiliency of peasant farms to climate disasters. Forty days after Hurricane Ike hit Cuba in 2008, researchers conducted a farm survey in the provinces of Holguin and Las Tunas and found that diversified farms exhibited losses of 50 percent compared to 90 to 100 percent in neighboring farms growing monocultures. Likewise agroecologically managed farms showed a faster productive recovery (80 to 90 percent forty days after the hurricane) than monoculture farms. These evaluations emphasize the importance of enhancing plant diversity and complexity in farming systems to reduce vulnerability to extreme climatic events, a strategy entrenched among Cuban peasants.

Most of the production efforts have been oriented towards reaching food sovereignty, defined as the right of everyone to have access to safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. However, given the expected increase in the cost of fuel and inputs, the Cuban agroecological strategy also aims at enhancing two other types of sovereignties. Energy sovereignty is the right for all people to have access to sufficient energy within ecological limits from appropriate sustainable sources for a dignified life. Technological sovereignty refers to the capacity to achieve food and energy sovereignty by nurturing the environmental services derived from existing agrobiodiversity and using locally available resources.

Elements of the three sovereignties—food, energy, and technology—can be found in hundreds of small farms, where farmers are producing 70–100 percent of the necessary food for their family consumption while producing surpluses sold to the market, allowing them to obtain income (for example, Finca del Medio, CCS Reinerio Reina in Sancti Spiritus; Plácido farm, CCS José Machado; Cayo Piedra, in Matanzas, belonging to CCS José Martí; and San José farm, CCS Dionisio San Román in Cienfuegos). These levels of productivity are obtained using local technologies such as worm composting and reproduction of beneficial native microorganisms together with diversified production systems such as polycultures, rotations, animal integration into crop farms, and agroforestry. Many farmers are also using integrated food/energy systems and generate their own sources of energy using human and animal labor, biogas, and windmills, in addition to producing biofuel crops such as jatrophaintercropped with cassava.

Conclusions

A rich knowledge of agroecology science and practice exists in Cuba, the result of accumulated experiences promoted by researchers, professors, technicians, and farmers supported by ACTAF, ACPA, and ANAP. This legacy is based on the experiences within rural communities that contain successful “agroecological lighthouses” from which principles have radiated out to help build the basis of an agricultural strategy that promotes efficiency, diversity, synergy, and resiliency. By capitalizing on the potential of agroecology, Cuba has been able to reach high levels of production using low amounts of energy and external inputs, with returns to investment on research several times higher than those derived from industrial and biotechnological approaches that require major equipment, fuel, and sophisticated laboratories.

The political will expressed in the writings and discourses of high officials about the need to prioritize agricultural self-sufficiency must translate into concrete support for the promotion of productive and energy-efficient initiatives in order to reach the three sovereignties at the local (municipal) level, a fundamental requirement to sustain a planet in crisis.

By creating more opportunities for strategic alliances between ANAP, ACPA, ACTAF, and research centers, many pilot projects could be launched in key municipalities, testing different agroecological technologies that promote the three sovereignties, as adapted to each region’s special environmental and socioeconomic conditions. These initiatives should adopt the farmer-to-farmer methodology that transcends top-down research and extension paradigms, allowing farmers and researchers to learn and innovate collectively. The integration of university professors and students in such experimentation and evaluation processes would enhance scientific knowledge for the conversion to an ecologically based agriculture. It would also help improve agroecological theory, which would in turn benefit the training of future generations of professionals, technicians, and farmers.

The agroecological movement constantly urges those Cuban policy makers with a conventional, Green Revolution, industrial farming mindset to consider the reality of a small island nation facing an embargo and potentially devastating hurricanes. Given these realities, embracing agroecological approaches and methods throughout the country’s agriculture can help Cuba achieve food sovereignty while maintaining its political autonomy.

SQUEEZING UNTIL THE PIP SQUEAKS – DISABILITY BENEFIT AND THE HIV POSITIVE COMMUNITY

thegreenleft.org

As a gay man living with HIV since at least 1990, when I was diagnosed, I have always been extremely grateful and reliant on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – as have many others with HIV for whom it has been a life raft since it was introduced in 1992, ironically enough by Mrs Thatcher’s government. It is a benefit which is not means tested and which allows HIV positive people to return to work, part-time in my case, and still be assured that if they are unwell or unable to work full-time that they will have something to fall back on.

‘Many long-term recipients of Disability Living Allowance DLA will not be eligible for PIP under the new harsh testing regime, which resembles the “computer says no” scenario from Little Britain.’

Several years ago I attended a meeting organised by Terrence Higgins Trust when it seemed that many of us who had been awarded DLA for life, could have that benefit stripped from us. There were people there, some of them in their 70s, with real terror in their eyes. Many had given up jobs and life insurance and for them, Disability Living Allowance DLA is the only guarantee of any sort of quality of life. A recent article in the Guardian also referred to this.

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The new Welfare Reform Act intends to abolish DLA from next year and replace it with PIP, Personal Independence Payments. It is clear from debates during the passing of the legislation and from Department of Work and Pensions statements since, that the aim is to remove half a million recipients from Disability Living Allowance DLA. Even worse, ATOS Medical Services, whose cut throat methods have recently been exposed in the Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ programme and elsewhere, have been given the contract to assess who should and should not receive PIP. The quota will be what drives the assessment and not any real need.

The process will start from next April with face-to-face interviews. It is likely that many long-term recipients of DLA will not be eligible for PIP under the new harsh testing regime, which resembles the “computer says no” scenario from Little Britain. What is even worse is that DLA is a gateway benefit, thus those refused PIP will also lose subsidised travel, housing benefit and many other benefits and be cast into the grinder of being dependent on Employment and Support Allowance. The impact, both in terms of mental and physical health, for many people living with HIV will be huge.thegreenleft

It is vital that people living with HIV join the campaigns being mounted against these huge benefit cuts and the demonisation of disabled people by the anti-cuts and disability movements. In Greece, for example, because of the severe cuts, only those whose CD4 cell count is below 200 receive benefits, with the result that some are allowing their health to fail to access food etc. Two organisations I am involved in are Coalition of Resistance, the national anti-cuts campaign and Queers Against the Cuts, fighting against the cuts for LGBT people, many of whom are HIV positive. We must fight together or we will sink together.

ARE THERE ANY RED LINES FOR OUR GREEN COUNCIL ?

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ARE THERE ANY RED LINES FOR OUR GREEN COUNCIL ?

Local councillors and councils across Britain are to all intents and purposes, trying to square the circle. Largely devoid of financial control over the size of their budget, in the hollowed out democracy in which we live, they are being required to make unpalatable indeed impossible decisions about where precisely they should make cuts that are being imposed on them by central government.
 
Green Councillors in Brighton and Hove, who took control of the council in May 2011 as a minority administration, were faced with a particularly unenviable task, taking over from a relatively low spending Tory administration and faced with a particularly unfavourable grant allocation by central government. Moreover they came to power on the basis of high hopes and expectations, as representatives of a party committed to fighting the cuts and defending public services.


Upon taking “power” the Green Council leadership must have been struck by the enormity of the challenge before them. Of course before being elected they would have already have had a fair idea  of the difficulties they would face since B&H council, like those elsewhere, have had to function with inadequate and declining resources for years, whilst the consequences of the collapse of what Caroline Lucas has described as “turbo capitalism” have made more people more reliant on public services, including those provided by local councils.
 
Greens in Brighton broke with tradition by announcing their draft proposals in October, to allow proper consultation with local residents before finalising their budget. Although admirable in itself consultation was confined to the question of where cuts should be made. In common with many other councils local residents were invited to make use of on-line budget simulators to express a view as to where cuts should be made, with the requirement that the books be balanced. The budget that was finally passed, with the attempt by B&H Greens to slightly reduce the extent of the cuts for 2012/13 and in future years by increasing council tax undermined by an alliance of Labour and Tory councillors,resulted in savings approaching £20 million out of a budget of around £200 million.

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Although the council leadership would have us believe that has been done without damaging essential front-line services the budget has included the following:

 

  • Changes to the contracts with private contractors who provide home care on behalf of the council. No longer allowing the travel time of care staff to be included in the cost of the contract this reduction in payment is likely to be passed on to the low paid workers and to impact on what is likely to become an even more ”rushed” visit to a vulnerable person.
  • Reductions in the subsidising of essential bus services 
  • Reductions in advice service provision at a time when advice is needed more than ever.
  • Above average increases in council housing rents (in line with central government recommendations and in spite of a large surplus on the housing revenue account following changes to funding arrangements).

 Brighton and Hove Greens are planning similar reductions next year (and presumably the year after) and have already announced these in their budget documents for the current year. They will also be required to implement further drastic cuts in housing benefit, which are likely to mean that many private sector tenants are evicted because of huge shortfalls in their benefit and many of the council’s own tenants fall into arrears because they have a spare room which they don’t need ( why should council tenants have the same rights to have people come and stay as owner occupiers !) and for which housing benefit will no longer be paid.
 thegreenleft
Council Tax collection,which Brighton Greens appear to have maintained a hardline approach to,( an 80 year old in the city having recently,and disgracefully been jailed for non payment), will be even harder next year as Council Tax Benefit "reform" means that even those in receipt of JSA and ESA will be required to make payments. 

Having done my best to understand and digest the decisions made by B&H council, and the context in which those decisions were made, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Brighton and Hove Council, following a recent decision to increase charges by 5%, now makes the highest charges in the country for home care services. When interviewed about this on Radio 4 the lead member stated that “the money has to come from somewhere” Indeed it does and Green Party policy includes a commitment to free social care , paid for by increased taxation of the rich, clamping down on tax avoidance, slashing military expenditure etc etc.
 
 Is there any point at which Brighton and Hove Green Councillors will say “enough is enough” (even at the cost of losing office ) stop implementing cuts in essential public services and instead seek to lead a fight against them ?

SOCIAL MOVEMENTS AFFIRM BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION

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The hills of Caracas emptied into a thousand trickles of red tshirts, hats and horns on Wednesday of last week for the culmination of Chavez's presidential campaign.  In La Vega and other barrios, community-run jeeps lined the streets to take passengers to the final event before Sunday's national elections, the vehicles donated to the local consejos comunales as part of the government's program to enable transportation to the hardest to reach parts of the city.  Driven and managed by local community members, they descended caravan style, flying red flags, weaving their way to the center of the city.

Downtown, people slipped through traffic on motorcycles or arrived by foot to gather in sections of the city, forming unity blocks to march together.  One such section was the Alianza Popular Revolucionario (APR), a national network of popular movements.  They gathered beneath red and black flags at the feet of a statute of Ezekiel Zamora, and included members of the community media network ANMCLA, two campesino fronts, Movimiento Frente Campesinos Bolivar and Zamora, the workers front of SURCOS, and Sexo General Diversa, a woman and LGBTQ advocacy group.  Together, they represent a diverse fellowship of political and social activists, united in their desire for poder popular, or people power.

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Members of the APR support Chavez because he has given them the space and resources to have a national impact. The premise of Venezuela's participatory democracy is the construction of popular power, or political structures that focus power on local councils and social movements. There have been countless victories for popular movements over the past decade, a recent one being the new workers rights law guaranteeing a six-month maternity leave for mothers, followed by leave for either the mother or the father, depending on the family's circumstances. 

The Chavez presidency has also had positive effects in terms of national attention for popular movements within the alliance.  In the past two years, groups like Sexo Genero Diverso, have had a profound influence on the consciousness of the Venezuelan people.  While their success is due to their own massive education efforts utilizing art, propaganda, street campaigns, and open discussions, the support they've had through the structures of popular power under Chavez has enabled their widespread success.

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On a national level, popular power has had a profound effect on community development in Venezuela.  By localizing money in the lands of the consejo comunales, and investing resources in the management skills of people in the communities through training and project grants, the revolution is focusing on enabling its population to be self-sufficient.  This, coupled with free healthcare, education, and significant support for culture and arts, is why thousands of independent-minded Venezuelans support another term for Chavez. 

Consejo Comunales

Throughout the first half of the morning, people filled up the three main boulevards that stretch the length of the city, and stayed until nightfall.  A slogan of choice was, “Are we here because we're required to be? NO!” in reference to claims that Chavez only has the support of people he somehow forces or bribes to come.  While members of the APR are the first to acknowledge that the revolution must continue to deepen its practice, and that there are always things that can be done differently, they came out in force to acknowledge the revolution´s current accomplishments, and affirm their desire for another six years of popular power.

SUCCESS IN QUEBEC SPEAKS TO POWER OF MASS MOVEMENTS

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Usually it takes social movements years, even decades, to significantly affect public policy. The movement unleashed by Québec students last spring has had a much quicker impact.

Beyond politicizing a generation, it has spurred a more socially and ecologically progressive political climate. It is within this context that Pauline Marois' government has adopted more progressive reforms in its first days in office than any other provincial government in recent Canadian history.
 

After rescinding the Charest government's special bill that criminalized student demonstrations, they abolished the tuition increase that universities had already begun charging (many students have received a rebate). The Parti Québecois also eliminated a highly regressive two hundred dollar per person health tax and have moved to shut down a controversial nuclear power plant. In another decision prioritizing the environment and people’s health, they placed a long-term moratorium on hydraulic fracking and eliminated subsidies for asbestos mining, which prompted the federal Conservative government to announce it would no longer block the Rotterdam Convention from listing chrysotile asbestos as a toxic product.

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In addition to these reforms, the PQ appears to be re-evaluating the $3 billion Turcot Interchange highway expansion that the Montréal city council has criticized and the Plan Nord resource extraction initiative, which has been criticized by environmental, socialist and indigenous groups. Even though the PQ has a history of backing free 'trade' agreements the Marois government looks set to obstruct the Harper Conservatives' negotiations around the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe, which would further entrench corporate rights. Marois may even embarrass Harper at the upcoming Francophonie summit by supporting African countries in their call for a permanent UN Security Council seat.

To pay for abolishing the health tax and tuition freeze the government announced a tax increase for those making over $130,000 and another higher tax bracket for those making over $250,000. Additionally, the government announced that it will increase certain corporate taxes and reduce capital gains tax exemptions, which allow those who make their money from investing to pay lower tax rates than those who make their money from working.

Not surprisingly the corporate media is up in arms about these developments. Right-wing commentators are complaining that Marois' ministerial appointees are too ecologically minded and not sufficiently concerned about business interests. They are particularly angry about the tax increases.

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To a large extent these reforms by the PQ government, which had drifted to the right in recent years, are the fruit of the last eight months of protests. But don't expect the dominant media to credit all those unnamed individuals who demonstrated, put their body on the line or risked their entire school semester to defend socially progressive ideals. To do so might spur further activism.

But that’s exactly what is needed. The grassroots movements that have developed need to continue pushing for a more equitable and ecologically sustainable society. The minority PQ government is especially vulnerable to popular protests as it looks to capture the broadly progressive electorate and squeeze out Québec Solidaire, the left-wing party that has two members in the National Assembly. At the same time the PQ is facing a backlash from right-wing commentators and corporate lobbyists who are most powerful when the streets are quietest.

For those in Québec, recent gains should inspire further mobilizations. For those outside, the PQ’s reforms are a reminder that determined grassroots movements can create a political climate in which governments place environmental concerns and social rights over the interests of corporations and the wealthy.

 

VENEZUELA’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS – A BRIEFING

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Venezuelans go to the polls this Sunday (7 October) to elect their president. In total there are seven candidates from president. However the main choice is between the incumbent Hugo Chavez, backed by a coalition of progressive and left aligned parties and social movements, and Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor with strong ties to the country's elite and backed by a number of right-wing parties, who have formed a unity coalition known as the M.U.D.

VENEZUELA’S ELECTIONS – CERTIFIED AS FREE AND FAIR

This will be Venezuela's 15th set of national elections since Hugo Chavez was elected President in 1999. That is more sets of elections than took place in the 40 years prior to Hugo Chávez becoming President.It is also one of the highest number of elections held in any country in the world in that time. All have been declared free and fair including by international bodies such as the EU and Organisation of American States (OAS).In September 2012 former US President Jimmy Carter said “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world” and that Hugo Chavez has always won “fairly and squarely”.Of the previous Presidential election, held in 2006, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza recently said: “we had no objection. It was fair” and that Venezuela “has a strong electoral system that is technically very good.”The Report of the EU Observer Mission to the 2006 Venezuelan presidential election stated that it was overall conducted “in respect of national laws and international standards,” with “a high turnout, and peaceful atmosphere”.This scrutiny of Venezuela’s election processes will continue at the coming Presidential election with 200 international witnesses, including from the Union of South American Nations (representing all 12 South American countries which vary significantly in their political composition, from Ecuador to Brazil to Colombia).  

INDEPENDENT ELECTIONS

Venezuela’s elections are overseen by the National Electoral Council, an independent branch of state similar to the UK Electoral Commission.    The trust in this institution has been so great that earlier this year Venezuela's main right-wing opposition coalition, the M.U.D, organised for it to conduct its Presidential primaries. The M.U.D Executive Secretary described the CNE's role in this selection as "an excellent indication of the democratic institutions in the country"[1]. Previously in July 2011, the right-wing party Voluntad Popular held internal elections with support from the CNE in which Leopoldo López was chosen as National Coordinator. López – who is currently the campaign manager for Presidential candidate Henry Capriles Rodonski – expressed his appreciation for the CNE’s role.

HIGH LEVELS OF PARTICIPATION

As a result of the CNE’s efforts to register people and to make voting easier, Venezuela has had unprecedented rates of voter turnout in recent years. Three quarters of voters went to the polls in the 2006 presidential elections and a record 66% voted in the 2010 Parliamentary elections. Record numbers are now registered to vote – up from 11 million in 1998 to 19 million today. Over 96% of Venezuelans are now registered to vote, whereas as many as 20% of the electorate were left off the list in the past. Access to polling stations is also greater than ever before, with there number increasing from 8,000 to 14,000 in the past decade. This has tackled a past problem whereby ballot boxes were often not accessible to those in the poorest areas, where most of the population lives.  

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A SECURE AND TRANSPARENT PROCESS

Venezuela uses some of the most secure and advanced voting technology for its elections. Venezuela’s electronic voting system is 100% auditable with 17 audits carried out and involving all the political parties at each stage. On the day of voting, the electronic voting machines are activated only when a fingerprint that corresponds to the voter’s ID number in the database is registered. This system prevents fraudulent behaviour such as double voting and identity theft. There is also a clear separation in the voting between the systems that identifies the voter and another where the voter casts their ballot. Additionally, the machines print a paper receipt that can be checked by the individual voter and allows for a full manual count to be made if any results are contested. A manual count of more than half of the votes automatically takes place to ensure that the results tally.   In August 2012, Jennifer McCoy, director at the prestigious Carter Centre, described Venezuela's electronic voting system as “the most comprehensive that…I've seen in the world”. Of the post-electoral audits she said it had “never had any significant discrepancy between the paper receipts and the electronic votes.” The Venezuelan public had an opportunity to scrutinise the election procedures in nationwide test-run on 2 September that reviewed the electoral machinery and technology. About 1.8 million voters, around 10% of the electorate, participated in this test with the Executive Secretary of the right-wing opposition M.U.D coalition confirming that that voting in Venezuela is secret and secure.  

POLLS SHOW STRONG LEAD FOR CHAVEZ

Polls indicate a clear win for Hugo Chávez as the most likely outcome. The average of the 18 polls conducted in September gave Hugo Chavez a 12% lead. Many polls also show president approval rates of over 60%. In August 2012, the Japanese finance organisation, Nomura Holding published a client analysis stating that Hugo Chavez has a “large lead” against Henrique Capriles Radonski which they found “unlikely to be closed …before the October 7 election”. Likewise a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report earlier this year described “President Chavez's commanding lead in the polls and high level of electoral support”. This poll lead is undoubtedly linked to Venezuela’s expanding economy, which is growing at 6% per year, as well as new social policies which address the ongoing needs of Venezuela’s poor majority. For example in the past year alone 250,000 new social houses have been built, state pensions made available for all and the minimum wage increased by 30%. These follow the policies that have successfully delivered free healthcare and education for all,slashing poverty rates in recent years.    

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RIGHT-WING COALITION TO REJECT RESULTS IF THEY LOSE ELECTION?

In light of the aforementioned substantial poll leads for Hugo Chávez, there are growing fears that sections of the right-wing coalition are preparing to reject the results should Venezuelans choose to re-elect President Chavez in October.   For example, Ricardo Haussmann, a key Capriles economic adviser, recently said his campaign will employ 200,000 people at the polling stations so that they can declare their own results to the world before the official announcement is made by Venezuela's independent National Electoral Council (CNE). The intention is clear: to discredit the official results and claim fraud. As Eleazar Diza Rangel, editor of Venezuela's main national newspaper Ultimas Noticias – which is broadly sympathetic to the anti-Chávez opposition – recently explained the purpose of attempts "to claim fraud at the coming presidential elections of 7 October [would be] in order not to recognise the people's will". A smear campaign against the independent National Electoral Council (CNE) also appears underway. For example, on August 21, head of the opposition campaign Leopold Lopez announced that the opposition would take action against alleged “risks” that he claimed the state poses to the votes.  But even whilst making the claim of “bias” Lopez admitted that "In all the processes that have been done in the past there has not been a single indication that there is no guarantee that the vote is secret". Others in the Venezuelan opposition are not supporting the tactic of preparing to cry fraud and smearing the CNE. For example Enrique Marquez MP, vice-President of the opposition party Un Nuevo Tiempo, said on 5 September that Venezuela’s voting system " offers no danger to the confidentiality of the vote."  

UNDERMINING THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE

Rejecting the legitimate election results in the face of a Hugo Chavez victory would be totally consistent with how sections of the Venezuelan right have previously resorted to undemocratic means. Most well known is the short-lived coup against the democratically-elected Chavez government in 2002 which abolished democracy altogether until it was overturned by popular demonstrations. In 2003, they unleashed a 64-day oil industry lock-out that saw GDP collapse by a third with the declared aim of ousting President Chavez. They then claimed fraud at the 2004 recall referendum on whether Hugo Chávez would continue as President, which he won 58% to 42%. The opposition promised to provide evidence but eight years on they are yet to do so. Then faced with certain defeat, they decided to boycott the 2005 parliamentary elections at the last minute, seeking to undermine the results, a move opposed by the Organisation of American States.  Since then opposition has sought to use the democratic process to remove Hugo Chavez. In doing so it has accepted the National Electoral Council (CNE) results that saw its presidential candidate Henry Capriles Radonski elected as a state governor, Hugo Chávez's proposed constitutional changes narrowly defeated in a referendum in 2007 and dozens of governors, mayors and MPs from parties of the right elected. But faced with Hugo Chávez winning another six year term, some in the opposition seem set on resorting to the old ways of ignoring the will of the people.  

CONCLUSION

As is normal in any democracy there is an open and vibrant election process underway with both main candidates regularly organising rallies, visiting towns, doing interviews and daily press conferences. Whatever views are held of the Chávez-led government, its democratic mandate is without doubt. There is certainly no evidence from previous elections of fraud or manipulation. Jimmy Carter has described Venezuela’s electoral system as amongst the “best in the world.” Any doubt about the impartiality of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) in overseeing free elections is easily dismissed by the fact that right-wing coalition have recently asked for it to oversee their own internal selections. It is not serious for it to endorse the CNE as a legitimate electoral authority in February and denounce it in October. The truth is that any opposition attempt to cry fraud is really about covering up its own political unpopularity as the polls show. Any such manoeuvres to undermine the real outcome need to be widely condemned. It is the right of the Venezuelan people to freely determine who their next president is. Their will must be upheld and respected

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Give Back While On Holiday

When you think about your dream vacation, your first thought probably isn’t about how you’ll find time to volunteer while you’re there.  Most of us go on vacation to pamper ourselves a bit and we feel OK about being a little selfish while on holiday.

And that’s OK.  But given that it can be hard to find the time in our everyday lives to give back, you may want to consider using your vacation is an opportunity to do something good for others.  The great part is that you can do as much as you want – make it the main focus of your trip or just spend one day giving back.  Read on to get some ideas on how to make it work for you.

      1. Follow Your Passion

If you just want to make volunteering a small part of your vacation, the best way to do that is to pick your dream destination first and then find a great opportunity there.  After all, spending every moment of your holiday doing for others isn’t necessarily for everybody. 

If you’ve been dreaming about the beaches of Greek Islands, head to picturesque Santorini and call up the Santorini Animal Welfare Association to see how you can help them out with their stray dog management program for a day.  This, of course, is just one possibility.  Before your trip just Google “Volunteer Opportunities in…” to learn what you can do.

       2. Full Service

For some, one day is not enough and they want to make their trip all about helping others.  If that’s your style, the possibilities are endless.  A quick online search of “Volunteer Vacations” shows you just how much is out there.  In fact, the sheer amount of options may be a bit overwhelming.  Start to narrow down your choices by thinking about what your passionate about and good at, and then where in the world you’d like to go. 

Whatever that combination is, you’re likely to find the perfect trip for you.  You may end up doing wildlife conservation in Africa, building homes in South America or teaching children on Pacific islands.  Regardless, you’ll have a unique experience and do a lot of good.

3.  Local Motion

If you’d rather show your commitment to a cause with your wallet, you can always search out local non-profits that champion a cause that’s meaningful to you and make a contribution.  This is a really nice way to show that you appreciate the place that hosted you for your vacation and want to leave your thanks in a tangible way.  Many places are known for something that attracts visitors.  If you stay in a hotel in Saugatuck, Michigan (wwW.theKirbyhotel.Com), which is known for its lively art scene. You can show your respect by donating to Ox-Bow, an artist residency that supports local artists. 

Learn more about the area here: http://www.thekirbyhotel.com/news/

The 3 Most Controversial Supreme Court Cases

 

Brown vs. Board Of Education:

 

 

On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court declared previous laws of segrated schooling unconstitutional because of the effect they had on the upbringing on children of color. This decision started to create some real change but in many places it didn’t have an immediate effect. In ’57 the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, used the national guard, yes you heard that correctly, the national guard, to block nine students of color from walking into the Little Rock High School. In ’63 the governor of Alabama, George Wallace, stood in front of a door individually to cause a problem for two black students trying to enroll.

 

Both of these cases had to be dealt with by the President, Dwight D. Eisenhower himself. In Arkansas he deployed an airborne division to go into the school, and in Alabama JFK sent in the National Guard to remove George Wallace. Crazy stuff right? If you feel like you're being mistreated visit http://www.lawinjury.com/Practice-Areas/more/.

 

Roe vs. Wade:

 

This case split the country in half because of the difficulty in deciding whether an abortion is right or wrong. Issues of morality, privacy, and freedom were brought to the table. The case is based off of Norma McCorvey, a single Texas mother during the ‘70s. McCorvey’s alias was Jane Roe when she became pregnant for a third time and decided to have an abortion. Once this decision was made, the Texas laws prevented her from going through with it.

 

In ’73, the Supreme Court ruled that women are allowed to have abortions based on their privacy and freedom rights. Roe had already had her child, which she gave up for adoption, but every other woman from then on was able to abort her child.

 

This is obviously a very debated topic even today in 2014.

 

Dred Scott vs. Sanford:

 

Dred Scott was a slave who originally was from Missouri, then moved to the free state of Illinois and territory of Wisconsin before moving back to Missouri. While in Illinois, Scott attempted to appeal for his freedom considering he was in a free state. In 1857 in the case, the Supreme Court declared that all blacks whether slaves or free men, could never become citizens of America. This basically meant that his appeal didn’t matter because he was black and blacks were not equal even though the constitution says that, “all men are created equal”.  This also meant that slavery was legal throughout the country.

 

Although, Sanford thought this would settle the issue of slavery once and for all, it actually spurred more of an anti-slavery movement in the north. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9j3lKSs2ZoA )

 

If something like this is happnening to someone you know contact the best chicago injury lawyer, Jay Deratany!

 

 

 

 

           

FILM: INSIDE REMPLOY

Remploy was created after the Second World War to provide employment to injured soldiers. After 60 years of operating on a workforce of primarily disabled people, the government is planning to close most of the remaining factories. Around 1,500 disabled people will loose their jobs as a result. The government argues that the factories resemble "victorian-era segregation", and that the money can be better spent helping disabled people find work in mainstream workplaces.

Remploy workers argue that they may never work again, and that even if they do – because of prejudice and discrimination – they face working in insecure environments.

Associated Article "Busting the myths behind the Remploy Closures"

 

7 NHS TRUSTS PLACED IN HANDS OF GOVERNMENT LAWYERS & ACCOUNTANTS AS THEY FACE BANKRUPTCY

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Shocking news has emerged that the government are sending "hit squads" of accountants & lawyers into 7 NHS Trusts to oversee their financial problems, amid fears that up to 60 Hospitals could be sold off or closed due to financial woes. This could potentially lead to the bankruptcy of several NHS Trusts and could affect up to 60 hospitals. The government are attempting to spin the news by leaking it to the Telegraph in advance so that the Tory stalwarts can put the best possible spin on it. The accountancy teams will re-examine the spending of each Trust and find ways that savings can be made. The Tories will attempt to blame this on PFI contracts signed by Labour, and there is no doubt that these awful contracts certainly played a part. But it would be wholly wrong to pretend that these are the only financial reasons for the demise of these 7 Trusts.

1. The NHS is currently facing £20,000,000,000 of spending cuts brought in by this Tory government despite their claims they would ring fence the NHS.

2. Despite the sacking of 28,610 NHS Staff, the government are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on temporary doctors and nurses including those from the number one Tory Donor Lord Ashcroft's temporary agency staff.  Agency spend under the Tories has grown by 50% across 32 NHS Trusts

3. The government are wasting millions of pounds in consultancy fees to McKinsey and others whose advice they seek on the NHS carve up. In just one carve up of South London NHS, McKinsey are being handed £2m.

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4. The government have so far put nearly £5bn of NHS services up for sale that will allow private companies to make profits on. They are in the process of planning the sell off of a further £2.5bn. The total figure could reach nearly£30bn. Ultimately, these profits will have to be paid by the UK taxpayer since 'officially' services will remain free at the point of use. In short, private healthcare profit will be paid for my the UK Taxpayer.

5. The government have spent £3.5bn on restructuring the NHS. This includes the abolishing of Primary Care Trusts and the establishment of Clinical Commissioning Groups. This is needless expenditure at a time when the NHS is facing unprecedented funding pressures.

6. The government spending on the NHS is basically standing still. At a time when inflation in the NHS means that nearly £8bn of additional spend is required each year to keep up with prices and new medicines, it in effect means that the NHS is undergoing £8bn of additional cuts on top of the so-called £20bn of "efficiency savings". 

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7. The Tories have also signed a record number of PFI contracts in their first year. These will ultimately cost the taxpayer £33bn. The Tories have some cheek to preach on PFI.

Thus, the £40-50bn damage being caused by the Tories to the NHS is also very damaging to the financial health of the NHS Trusts that are now being placed under the financial and legal control of government squads of lawyers and accountants. Labour should apologise for dodgy PFI contracts, of that there is no doubt, but do not let the Tories pretend that that is the only reason NHS Trusts are in financial difficulty. 
 

THE PARADOX OF CUBAN AGRICULTURE

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When Cuba faced the shock of lost trade relations with the Soviet Bloc in the early 1990s, food production initially collapsed due to the loss of imported fertilizers, pesticides, tractors, parts, and petroleum. The situation was so bad that Cuba posted the worst growth in per capita food production in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. But the island rapidly re-oriented its agriculture to depend less on imported synthetic chemical inputs, and became a world-class case of ecological agriculture. This was such a successful turnaround that Cuba rebounded to show the best food production performance in Latin America and the Caribbean over the following period, a remarkable annual growth rate of 4.2 percent per capita from 1996 through 2005, a period in which the regional average was 0 percent.

Much of the production rebound was due to the adoption since the early 1990s of a range of agrarian decentralization policies that encouraged forms of production, both individual as well as cooperative—Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC) and Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCS). Moreover, recently the Ministry of Agriculture announced the dismantling of all “inefficient State companies” as well as support for creating 2,600 new small urban and suburban farms, and the distribution of the use rights (in usufruct) to the majority of estimated 3 million hectares of unused State lands. Under these regulations, decisions on resource use and strategies for food production and commercialization will be made at the municipal level, while the central government and state companies will support farmers by distributing necessary inputs and services. Through the mid-1990s some 78,000 farms were given in usufruct to individuals and legal entities. More than 100,000 farms have now been distributed, covering more than 1 million hectares in total. These new farmers are associated with the CCS following the campesino production model. The government is busy figuring out how to accelerate the processing of an unprecedented number of land requests.

The land redistribution program has been supported by solid research- extension systems that have played key roles in the expansion of organic and urban agriculture and the massive artisanal production and deployment of biological inputs for soil and pest management. The opening of local agricultural markets and the existence of strong grassroots organisations supporting farmers—for example, the National Association of Small Scale Farmers (ANAP, Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños), the Cuban Association of Animal Production (ACPA, Asociación Cubana de Producción Animal), and the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF, Asociación Cubana de Técnicos Agrícolas y Forestales)—also contributed to this achievement.

But perhaps the most important changes that led to the recovery of food sovereignty in Cuba occurred in the peasant sector which in 2006, controlling only 25 percent of the agricultural land, produced over 65 percent of the country’s food. Most peasants belong to the ANAP and almost all of them belong to cooperatives. The production of vegetables typically produced by peasants fell drastically between 1988 to 1994, but by 2007 had rebounded to well over 1988 levels (see Table 1). This production increase came despite using 72 percent fewer agricultural chemicals in 2007 than in 1988. Similar patterns can be seen for other peasant crops like beans, roots, and tubers.

Cuba’s achievements in urban agriculture are truly remarkable—there are 383,000 urban farms, covering 50,000 hectares of otherwise unused land and producing more than 1.5 million tons of vegetables with top urban farms reaching a yield of 20 kg/m2 per year of edible plant material using no synthetic chemicals—equivalent to a hundred tons per hectare. Urban farms supply 70 percent or more of all the fresh vegetables consumed in cities such as Havana and Villa Clara.

All over the world, and especially in Latin America, the island’s agroecological production levels and the associated research efforts along with innovative farmer organizational schemes have been observed with great interest. No other country in the world has achieved this level of success with a form of agriculture that uses the ecological services of biodiversity and reduces food miles, energy use, and effectively closes local production and consumption cycles. However, some people talk about the “Cuban agriculture paradox”: if agroecological advances in the country are so great, why does Cuba still import substantial amounts of food? If effective biological control methods are widely available and used, why is the government releasing transgenic plants such as Bt crops that produce their own pesticide using genes derived from bacteria?

CUBAN AGRICULTURE

The Truth About Food Imports in Cuba

There is considerable debate concerning current food dependency in Cuba. Dependency rose in the 2000s as imports from the United States grew and hurricanes devastated its agriculture. After being hit by three especially destructive hurricanes in 2008, Cuba satisfied national needs by importing 55 percent of its total food, equivalent to approximately $2.8 billion. However, as the world food price crisis drives prices higher, the government has reemphasized food self-sufficiency. Regardless of whether food has been imported or produced within the country, it is important to recognize that Cuba has been generally able to adequately feed its people. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Cuba’s average daily per capita dietary energy supply in 2007 (the last year available) was over 3,200 kcal, the highest of all Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Different Models: Agroecology versus Industrial Agriculture

Under this new scenario the importance of contributions of ANAP peasants to reducing food imports should become strategic, but is it? Despite the indisputable advances of sustainable agriculture in Cuba and evidence of the effectiveness of alternatives to the monoculture model, interest persists among some leaders in high external input systems with sophisticated and expensive technological packages. With the pretext of “guaranteeing food security and reducing food imports,” these specific programs pursue “maximization” of crop and livestock production and insist on going back to monoculture methods—and therefore dependent on synthetic chemical inputs, large scale machinery, and irrigation—despite proven energy inefficiency and technological fragility. In fact, many resources are provided by international cooperation (i.e., from Venezuela) dedicated to “protect or boost agricultural areas” where a more intensive agriculture is practiced for crops like potatoes, rice, soybean, and vegetables. These “protected” areas for large-scale, industrial-style agricultural production represent less than 10 percent of the cultivated land. Millions of dollars are invested in pivot irrigation systems, machinery, and other industrial agricultural technologies: a seductive model which increases short-term production but generates high long-term environmental and socioeconomic costs, while replicating a model that failed even before 1990.

Last year it was announced that the pesticide enterprise “Juan Rodríguez Gómez” in the municipality of Artemisa, Havana, will produce some 100,000 liters of the herbicide glyphosate in 2011. In early 2011 a Cuban TV News program informed the population about the Cubasoy project. The program, “Bienvenida la Soya,” reported that “it is possible to transform lands that over years were covered by marabú [a thorny invasive leguminous tree] with soybean monoculture in the south of the Ciego de Ávila province.” Supported by Brazilian credits and technology, the project covers more than 15,000 hectares of soybean grown in rotation with maize and aims at reaching 40,500 hectares in 2013, with a total of 544 center pivot irrigation systems installed by 2014. Soybean yields rank between 1.2 tons per hectare (1,100 lbs per acre) under rainfed conditions and up to 1.97 tons per hectare (1,700 lbs per acre) under irrigation. It is not clear if the soybean varieties used are transgenic, but the maize variety is the Cuban transgenic FR-Bt1. Ninety percent of machinery is imported from Brazil—“large tractors, direct seeding machines, and equipment for crop protection”—and considerable infrastructure investments have been made for irrigation, roads, technical support, processing, and transport.

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The Debate Over Transgenic Crops

Cuba has invested millions in biotechnological research and development for agriculture through its Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) and a network of institutions across the country. Cuban biotechnology is free from corporate control and intellectual property-right regimes that exist in other countries. Cuban biotechnologists affirm that their biosafety system sets strict biological and environmental security norms. Given this autonomy and advantages biotechnological innovations could efficiently be applied to solve problems such as viral crop diseases or drought tolerance for which agroecological solutions are not yet available. In 2009 the CIGB planted in Yagüajay, Sancti Spiritus, three hectares of genetically modified corn (transgenic corn FR-Bt1) on an experimental basis. This variety is supposed to suppress populations of the damaging larval stage of the “palomilla del maíz” moth (Spodoptera frugiperda, also known as the fall armyworm). By 2009 a total of 6,000 hectares were planted with the transgenic (also referred to as genetically modified, or GM) variety across several provinces. From an agroecological perspective it is perplexing that the first transgenic variety to be tested in Cuba is Bt corn, given that in the island there are so many biological control alternatives to regulate lepidopteran pests. The diversity of local maize varieties include some that exhibit moderate-to-high levels of pest resistance, offering significant opportunities to increase yields with conventional plant breeding and known agroecological management strategies. Many centers for multiplication of insect parasites and pathogens (CREEs, Centros de Reproducción de Entomófagos y Entomopatógenos) produce Bacillus thuringiensis (a microbial insecticide) and Trichogramma (small wasps), both highly effective against moths such as the palomilla. In addition, mixing corn with other crops such as beans or sweet potatoes in polycultures produces significantly less pest attack than maize grown in monocultures. This also increases the land equivalent ratio (growing more total crops in a given area of land) and protects the soil.

When transgenic Bt maize was planted in 2008 as a test crop, researchers and farmers from the agroecological movement expressed concern. Several people warned that the release of transgenic crops endangered agrobiodiversity and contradicted the government’s own agricultural production plans by diverting the focus from agroecological farming that had been strategically adopted as a policy in Cuba. Others felt that biotechnology was geared towards the interests of the multinational corporations and the market. Taking into account its potential environmental and public health risks, it would be better for Cuba to continue emphasizing agroecological alternatives that have proven to be safe and have allowed the country to produce food under difficult economic and climatic circumstances.

The main demonstrated advantage of GM crops has been to simplify the farming process, allowing farmers to work more land. GM crops that resist herbicides (such as “Roundup Ready” corn and soybeans) and that produce their own insecticide (such as Bt corn) generally do not yield any more than comparable non-GM crops. However, using these GM crops along with higher levels of mechanization (especially larger tractors) have now made it possible for the size of a family corn and soybean farm in the U.S. Midwest to increase from around 240 hectares (600 acres) to around 800 hectares (2,000 acres).

In September 2010 a meeting of experts concerned about transgenic crops was convened with board and staff members from the National Center for Biological Security and the Office for Environmental Regulation and Nuclear Security (Centro Nacional de Seguridad Biológica and the Oficina de Regulación Ambiental y Seguridad Nuclear), institutions entrusted with licensing GM crops. The experts issued a statement calling for a moratorium on GM crops until more information was available and society has a chance to debate the environmental and health effects of the technology. However, until now there has been no response to this request. One positive outcome of the year-long debate on the inconsistency of planting FR-Bt1 transgenic corn in Cuba was the open recognition by the authorities of the potential devastating consequences of GM crops for the small farmer sector. Although it appears that the use of transgenic corn will be limited exclusively to the areas of Cubasoy and other conventional areas under strict supervision, this effort is highly questionable.

The Paradox’s Outcome—What Does the Future Hold?

The instability in international markets and the increase in food prices in a country somewhat dependent on food imports threatens national sovereignty. This reality has prompted high officials to make declarations emphasizing the need to prioritize food production based on locally available resources. It is in fact paradoxical that, to achieve food security in a period of economic growth, most of the resources are dedicated to importing foods or promoting industrial agriculture schemes instead of stimulating local production by peasants. There is a cyclical return to support conventional agriculture by policy makers when the financial situation improves, while sustainable approaches and agroecology, considered as “alternatives,” are only supported under scenarios of economic scarcity. This cyclical mindset strongly undermines the advances achieved with agroecology and organic farming since the economic collapse in 1990.

Cuban agriculture currently experiences two extreme food-production models: an intensive model with high inputs, and another, beginning at the onset of the special period, oriented towards agroecology and based on low inputs. The experience accumulated from agroecological initiatives in thousands of small-and-medium scale farms constitutes a valuable starting point in the definition of national policies to support sustainable agriculture, thus rupturing with a monoculture model prevalent for almost four hundred years. In addition to Cuba being the only country in the world that was able to recover its food production by adopting agroecological approaches under extreme economic difficulties, the island exhibits several characteristics that serve as fundamental pillars to scale up agroecology to unprecedented levels:

Cuba represents 2 percent of the Latin American population but has 11 percent of the scientists in the region. There are about 140,000 high-level professionals and medium-level technicians, dozens of research centres, agrarian universities and their networks, government institutions such as the Ministry of Agriculture, scientific organizations supporting farmers (i.e. ACTAF), and farmers organizations such as ANAP.

THE PARADOX OF CUBAN AGRICULTURE

Cuba has sufficient land to produce enough food with agroecological methods to satisfy the nutritional needs of its eleven million inhabitants. Despite soil erosion, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity during the past fifty years—as well as during the previous four centuries of extractive agriculture—the country’s conditions remain exceptionally favorable for agriculture. Cuba has six million hectares of fairly level land and another million gently sloping hectares that can be used for cropping. More than half of this land remains uncultivated, and the productivity of both land and labor, as well as the efficiency of resource use, in the rest of this farm area are still low. If all the peasant farms (controlling 25 percent of land) and all the UBPC (controlling 42 percent of land) adopted diversified agroecological designs, Cuba would be able to produce enough to feed its population, supply food to the tourist industry, and even export some food to help generate foreign currency. All this production would be supplemented with urban agriculture, which is already reaching significant levels of production.

About one third of all peasant families, some 110,000 families, have joined ANAP within its Farmer to Farmer Agroecological Movement (MACAC, Movimiento Agroecológico Campesino a Campesino). It uses participatory methods based on local peasant needs and allows for the socialization of the rich pool of family and community agricultural knowledge that is linked to their specific historical conditions and identities. By exchanging innovations among themselves, peasants have been able to make dramatic strides in food production relative to the conventional sector, while preserving agrobiodiversity and using much lower amounts of agrochemicals.

Observations of agricultural performance after extreme climatic events in the last two decades have revealed the resiliency of peasant farms to climate disasters. Forty days after Hurricane Ike hit Cuba in 2008, researchers conducted a farm survey in the provinces of Holguin and Las Tunas and found that diversified farms exhibited losses of 50 percent compared to 90 to 100 percent in neighboring farms growing monocultures. Likewise agroecologically managed farms showed a faster productive recovery (80 to 90 percent forty days after the hurricane) than monoculture farms. These evaluations emphasize the importance of enhancing plant diversity and complexity in farming systems to reduce vulnerability to extreme climatic events, a strategy entrenched among Cuban peasants.

Most of the production efforts have been oriented towards reaching food sovereignty, defined as the right of everyone to have access to safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. However, given the expected increase in the cost of fuel and inputs, the Cuban agroecological strategy also aims at enhancing two other types of sovereignties. Energy sovereignty is the right for all people to have access to sufficient energy within ecological limits from appropriate sustainable sources for a dignified life. Technological sovereignty refers to the capacity to achieve food and energy sovereignty by nurturing the environmental services derived from existing agrobiodiversity and using locally available resources.

Elements of the three sovereignties—food, energy, and technology—can be found in hundreds of small farms, where farmers are producing 70–100 percent of the necessary food for their family consumption while producing surpluses sold to the market, allowing them to obtain income (for example, Finca del Medio, CCS Reinerio Reina in Sancti Spiritus; Plácido farm, CCS José Machado; Cayo Piedra, in Matanzas, belonging to CCS José Martí; and San José farm, CCS Dionisio San Román in Cienfuegos). These levels of productivity are obtained using local technologies such as worm composting and reproduction of beneficial native microorganisms together with diversified production systems such as polycultures, rotations, animal integration into crop farms, and agroforestry. Many farmers are also using integrated food/energy systems and generate their own sources of energy using human and animal labor, biogas, and windmills, in addition to producing biofuel crops such as jatrophaintercropped with cassava.

Conclusions

A rich knowledge of agroecology science and practice exists in Cuba, the result of accumulated experiences promoted by researchers, professors, technicians, and farmers supported by ACTAF, ACPA, and ANAP. This legacy is based on the experiences within rural communities that contain successful “agroecological lighthouses” from which principles have radiated out to help build the basis of an agricultural strategy that promotes efficiency, diversity, synergy, and resiliency. By capitalizing on the potential of agroecology, Cuba has been able to reach high levels of production using low amounts of energy and external inputs, with returns to investment on research several times higher than those derived from industrial and biotechnological approaches that require major equipment, fuel, and sophisticated laboratories.

The political will expressed in the writings and discourses of high officials about the need to prioritize agricultural self-sufficiency must translate into concrete support for the promotion of productive and energy-efficient initiatives in order to reach the three sovereignties at the local (municipal) level, a fundamental requirement to sustain a planet in crisis.

By creating more opportunities for strategic alliances between ANAP, ACPA, ACTAF, and research centers, many pilot projects could be launched in key municipalities, testing different agroecological technologies that promote the three sovereignties, as adapted to each region’s special environmental and socioeconomic conditions. These initiatives should adopt the farmer-to-farmer methodology that transcends top-down research and extension paradigms, allowing farmers and researchers to learn and innovate collectively. The integration of university professors and students in such experimentation and evaluation processes would enhance scientific knowledge for the conversion to an ecologically based agriculture. It would also help improve agroecological theory, which would in turn benefit the training of future generations of professionals, technicians, and farmers.

The agroecological movement constantly urges those Cuban policy makers with a conventional, Green Revolution, industrial farming mindset to consider the reality of a small island nation facing an embargo and potentially devastating hurricanes. Given these realities, embracing agroecological approaches and methods throughout the country’s agriculture can help Cuba achieve food sovereignty while maintaining its political autonomy.