Sunday, January 27, 2008

NYT: Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler

     Here's an interesting article I just read in the New York Times regarding the consumption of meat in the world economy. Of particular interest to me were the following pieces of information:

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

and this one, which I already was aware of qualitatively but didn't know the difference was so substantial:

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

     My fiancee and I currently are not vegetarians, but we do try to limit our meat intake for both health and economic reasons (we have a lot of fresh, cheap vegetables available out here in California). Sometimes I joke that we're "vegetillusullarians", i.e., that we "usually eat vegetables". I believe the information will further factor into my mind when I'm looking through our recipes deciding what I should make for dinner.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Book Review: Superpower principles - U.S. Terrorism Against Cuba

     Occasionally you'll hear some story about Cuba or Fidel Castro in the news, generally portraying the country as a wasteland and the man as a ruthless dictator. You may have also heard presidential candidates talk about Cuba, how they support the U.S. embargo against the country (which has been condemned each year for over a decade by the United Nations and also the WTO, where the European Union brought charges against the United States for the illegal embargo in 1997) which if we listen to the official line is imposed to help bring about "democratic" change in the country.
     Why is the United States government so hostile towards Cuba? The book Superpower Principles: U.S. Terrorism Against Cuba is a great collection of essays by people like Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, William Blum, Michael Parenti, and more which help explain this phenomenon. The "Cuban threat" began in January of 1959 when Fidel Castro and his guerrilla forces overthrew General Batista's U.S.-backed dictatorship. Michael Parenti explains what angered the U.S. government
    In June 1959, some five months after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the Havana government promulgated an agrarian reform law that provided for state appropriation of large private landholdings. Under this law, U.S. sugar corporations eventually lost about 1,666,000 acres of choice land and many millions of dollars in future cash-crop exports. The following year, President Dwight Eisenhower, citing Havana's "hostility" towards the United States, cut Cuba's sugar quota by about 95 percent, in effect imposing a total boycott on publicly produced Cuban sugar. Three months later, in October 1959, the Cuban government nationalized all banks and large commerical and industrial enterprises, including the many that belonged to US firms [Cuba offered to reimburse those who previously owned land or property that was nationalized, according to whatever value they had placed it at on the previous year's tax return. This was rejected.--Delta].
    Cuba's move away from the free-market system domination by US firms and toward a not-for-profit socialist economy caused it to become the target of an unremitting series of attacks perpetuated by the US national security state. These attacks included U.S.-sponsored sabotage, espionage, terrorism, trade sanctions, embargo, and outright invasion. The purpose behind this aggression was to undermine the Revolution and deliver Cuba safely back to the tender mercies of global capitalism.
    The U.S. policy toward Cuba has been consistent with its longstanding policy of trying to subvert any country that pursues an alternative path in the use of its land, labor, capital, markets, and natural resources. Any country or political movement that emphasizes self-development, egalitarian human services, and public ownership is condemned as an enemy of the USA and targeted for sanctions or other forms of attack. In contrast, the countries deemed "friendly towards America" and "pro-West" are those that leave themselves at the disposal of large U.S. investors on terms that are totally favorable to the moneyed corporate interests.
    Of course, this is not what U.S. rulers tell the people of North America. As early as July 1960, the White House charged that Cuba was "hostile" to the United States (despite the Cuban government's repeated overtures for normal friendly relations). The Castro government, in Eisenhower's words, was "dominated by international communism". Cuba was a threat to the "stability" of the hemisphere and to the survival of American democracy, we heard. U.S. officials repeatedly charged that the island government was a cruel dictatorship and that the United States had no choice but to try "restoring" Cuban liberty.
     U.S. rulers never explained why they were so suddenly concerned about the freedoms of the Cuban people. In the two decades before the Revolution, successive administrations in Washington manifested no opposition to the brutally repressive autocracy headed by General Fulgencio Batista. Quite the contrary, they sent him military aid, did a vigorous business with him, and treated him well in every other way. The significant but outspoken difference between Castro and Batista was that Batista, a comprador ruler, left Cuba wide open to U.S. capital penetration. In contrast, Castro and his revolutionary movement did away with the private corporate control of the economy, nationalized U.S. holdings, and renovated the class structure toward a more collectivized and egalitarian mode. That is what made Fidel Castro so insufferable in Washington--and still does.
     Needless to say, the U.S. method of mistreatment ahs been applied to other countries besides Cuba. Numerous potentially dissident regimes that have asked for friendly relations have been met with abuse and aggression from Washington: Vietnam, Chile (under Allende), Mozambique, Angola, Cambodia, Nicaragua (under the Sandinistas), Panama (under Torrijo), Grenada (under the New Jewel Movement), Yugoslavia (under Milosevic), Haiti (under Aristide), Venezuela (under Chavez), and numerous others. The U.S. modus operandi is:
  • to heap criticism on the targeted government for imprisoning the butchers, assassins, terrorists, and torturers of the previous U.S.-backed reactionary regime;
  • denounce the revolutionary or reformist government as "totalitarian" for failing to immediate institute Western-style, electoral politics;
  • launch ad hominem attacks upon the leader, labeling him as fanatical, brutal, repressive, genocidal,power hungry, or even mentally imbalanced;
  • harass, destabilize, and impose economic sanctions to cripple its economy;
  • attack it with surrogate forces, trained, equipped, and financed by the CIA and led by members of the former regime, or even with regular U.S. armed forces.

  •      The book goes into many aspects of U.S.-Cuban relations, and offers important historical background to understand why the media and government act the way they do towards Cuba. It also goes into some detail about the plight of the Cuban Five. The Cuban Five are a group of five Cubans who infiltrated anti-Cuban terrorists groups that are located in Miami and who operate with the consent of the CIA. They used this information to warn the Cuban governments of future attacks, which were often involved with planting bombs in tour buses, hotels, and other attacks with the intent of hurting Cuba's vital tourism industry. After doing this for over a year, the Cuban government met with the FBI and handed over all the evidence that the Cuban Five had gathered and asked the U.S. government to take action against the terrorists. But instead of acting against the terrorists, the United States arrested the Cuban Five. The Five were tried in Miami, the most unlikely place in the world for Cubans to get a fair trial. At the end of the day many of the Cuban Five were sentenced to life in prison with the only crime actually committed being identification fraud. However, the government accused them (and the biased jury convicted) on conspiracy to commit espionage, which there was no evidence available suggesting this. The trial has been criticized by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, among others.

         Leonard Weinglass, an attorney for the Cuban Five,writes
    The Five were not prosecuted because they violated American law, but because their work exposed those who were. By infiltrating the terror network that is allowed to exist in Florida they demonstrated the hypocrisy of America's claimed opposition to terrorism.

        I recommend this book to anyone who wants more insight on U.S.-Cuban relations or the Cuban Five. Also, if you become outraged at the treatment of Cuba you could participate in the boycott of Bacardi (which also makes Grey Goose vodka, by the way). Bacardi is a private company whose owning family is strongly anti-Cuban, has funded the groups that carry out terrorist attacks against the island, and was strongly influential with the U.S. government in making the embargo harsher in 1996 (the lobbyist for Bacardi actually wrote part of a bill that was passed in 1999 as well).

         Cuba isn't a perfect place and there are certainly mistakes that have been made (some admitted by the leadership itself). But the United States supporting an illegal and immoral embargo, backing terrorist acts against the Cuban people, rejecting public opinion in the U.S. (most of which wants normal relations, even among the business community), and imprisoning Cuban anti-terrorist heroes is not the way to bring about democratic change (which of course the U.S. is unwilling to do anyway). If anyone wants to talk about issues relating to Cuba, please bring it up in the comments.

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    Huckabee wants to amend the Constitution to reflect 'God's standards'


         I'm posting this for two reasons. One, because I think it's a interesting sound byte. But also, I think it's important to point something out here. It's common among the secular community to view this kind of proclamation as simply a way for politicians to manipulate religious nutbags. And while this fact is indeed true, it's also important for us to remember that this does not make Huckabee the "bad" Republican. All the Republicans are bad, both for our country's people, for people around the world, and for the health of the world itself. Each one of them is firmly attached to the idea of US corporate control over the political and economic life of the country, each one is attached to the idea that the US should invade and undermine the political expression of foreign people's if it endangers US corporate profits, and each one is opposed to actually solving the climate crisis that our planet faces (unfortunately many of these are actually part of the "bipartisan consensus"). Huckabee cannot make "God's law" U.S. law for two primary reasons: 1). The wealthy of our country who have control of the government do not particularly want this and 2). Huckabee probably doesn't want to do this himself, he just wants votes and will disappoint the Christian fascists the moment he gets in office (as did Bush and those before him).

         The response for this from the secular community should not be to excessively fear a Huckabee presidency and to work towards getting those who we know who might vote Huckabee to vote for some other, "better" Republican candidate. The point is that we don't want any Republican candidates in office, and so we should fight at the very least for Democratic candidates (if not Green, Peace and Freedom, etc.). To do otherwise is to allow these types of statements made by politicians to manipulate not only religious nutbag political opinion, but also that of the freethinking community.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Documentary - What Would Jesus Buy?

         I recently became aware of a documentary by Morgan Spurlock (creator of Super Size Me) which addresses over-consumption in American society and the commercialization of Christmas called What Would Jesus Buy?. It features "Reverend Billy" of the Church of Stop Shopping who brings a unique and comical way of getting people interested in the anti-consumerism movement. I haven't been able to see the film yet (it's only playing at select locations) at the moment) but I'm anxiously awaiting a wider release.

         Here's the trailer. Enjoy, and happy New Year =) I suppose I've had a dry spell in terms of writing as of late, but I hope to bring this blog back up to a more active state. You know how it is...