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Commentary :: Government & Elections

"It's a Hollow Party"

SEIU President Andy Stern calls the Democratic Party "a party of stale ideas," expressing discontent that the activist base of the party will be in a weak bargaining position vis-a-vis the party elite after the election -- what if SEIU spent $65 million it's wasting on the John Kerry campaign on an initiative that would build up working-class bases of power independent of the Democratic Party?

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News :: Environment & Food

National farm group leader in town to support GE initiative

7/16/04 - National farm group leader in town to support GE initiative

By James Tressler

Eureka Times Standard

EUREKA -- The head of a national farmers campaign arrived in town Thursday to help build support for an initiative to ban genetically modified crops in Humboldt County.

Bill Wenzel, national director for the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering, said his visit is part of a nationwide effort to educate agricultural producers on the dangers genetically modified crops pose for U.S. agriculture and consumers.

"Until we have assurances from the government that genetically modified foods don't hurt farmers, pollute the environment or endanger our food system, we don't want this stuff on the ground," said Wenzel, speaking in front of Eureka Natural Foods.

Humboldt County is one of four counties with initiatives on the November ballot that would prohibit genetically modified crops. Earlier this year Mendocino County became the first county in the nation to pass such a ban.

Wenzel, who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin but who now is an attorney, maintained that since the commercial introduction of genetically modified crops in 1996, the biotech industry has spent millions of dollars promoting the new crops -- touting advantages such as lower production costs, higher yields and reduced pesticide use.

But since 1996, mounting evidence has indicated the altered crops actually cost farmers more, lead to lower yields and increased spraying because weeds and pests build resistance, say opponents of GMO, or genetically modified organisms. They also worry about health risks to humans, effects that could take generations to notice.

At least 37 countries have some form of bans or regulations on the new crops, a trend that could threaten the long-term economic survival of U.S. agriculture, Wenzel said.

"Bill's visit means a lot to our campaign -- he's one of the most articulate spokesmen for the movement," said Martha Devine, co-chairwoman of the Humboldt Green Genes, a coalition of activists and community members that last month qualified the November initiative. The group collected nearly 7,000 signatures, but only needed about 4,400.

Campaign organizers say they expect a fight from biotech companies. Locally, no groups have formally opposed the measure.

The Humboldt County Farm Bureau has remained neutral, while the North Coast Growers' Association supports the ban. County Agricultural Commissioner John Falkenstrom, while not outright opposing the measure, has indicated he believes such a ban would be tough to enforce.

Wenzel plans to speak at the Farmers' Market in Arcata on Saturday, tour area farms and speak at a campaign rally scheduled this evening at Benbow Lake State Park. He may also try to meet with management at Humboldt Creamery before leaving Monday.

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News :: Environment & Food

The effort to prohibit genetically engineered crops in California grows

07/15/04 - The effort to prohibit genetically engineered crops in California grows.

By Mike Lee

Sacramento Bee

Efforts to ban biotech crops that began last year as a brew pub brainstorm in Ukiah are maturing into a statewide political force.

Four November ballot initiatives will attempt to mimic the landmark Measure H in Mendocino County as anti-biotech activists push for prohibitions on genetically engineered crops.

While the campaign still has a shoestring budget, it's adding the trappings of a political machine: public relations strategies, official spokesmen, ties to a national organic association and fund raising for a war chest to fight the biotech industry in the state Legislature and in court.

The movement also is racking up successes, with ballot measures approved this week by supervisors in Butte, San Luis Obispo, Marin and Humboldt counties. At least eight other counties are targeted for similar ballot measures, which could create a threat to biotech's future in the nation's largest farming state.

"It's pretty doggone amazing, the network that has arisen in such a short time," said Doug Mosel, who in March helped make Mendocino the first county in the nation to ban the cultivation of biotech crops. Voters passed the measure by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.

Biotech industry leaders are monitoring the rising power of their opponents and facing the possibility that county-level momentum could spur a statewide campaign, said George Gough, Roseville-based government affairs manager for the Monsanto Co.

"While this still is certainly a grass-roots, county-by-county effort, it may be quickly becoming not so grass roots," he said.

Speculation is high that biotech backers will seek state legislation to end county-by-county bans.

"My sense is that they cannot afford to lose a key county like Butte," said Ryan Zinn, campaign coordinator at the Organic Consumers Association in San Francisco.

Industry leaders have revealed little about their intentions. When asked, they typically repeat the same statement: Voters shouldn't trounce farmers' rights to plant what crops they want.

Most current biotech crops give farmers easier control of bugs and weeds, though companies are working on other plants that produce drug compounds. One of the most common biotech tricks allows cultivated plants to survive sprays of common weedkillers, letting farmers kill weeds without harming crops.

So far, it's not clear who's taking the lead for business interests. CropLife America, which unsuccessfully bankrolled opposition to the Mendocino measure with more than $600,000, said it's staying out of the new round of political battles brewing in California counties.

The Sacramento-based Western Plant Health Association, a farm chemical and biotech trade group, is advising farmers about how to mount opposition but is making no other plans public. "We are very concerned, and we are still looking at all of our options," said spokeswoman Sara Miller.

The California Farm Bureau Federation, which officially supports biotechnology, is leaving response to local chapters, most of which are trying to stay neutral.

Meanwhile, anti-biotech forc es are gaining sophistication and confidence. They oppose genetic engineering because they fear pollution of non-biotech crops and the potential loss of exports to biotech-wary countries such as Japan.

After their March win, GMO-Free Mendocino leaders invited groups from across the state to learn how to copy that victory. They are in contact with leaders of other county movements, offering advice and encouragement.

This week, GMO-Free Mendocino officially joined arms with the Organic Consumers Association, which bills itself as the nation's largest public-interest group dedicated to a healthy food system. The association claims 90,000 California members.

The goal of the newly minted BioDemocracy Alliance - the two groups' joint effort - is to prepare for "the biotech bullies" who could challenge the county bans in court or the state Capitol.

"(The alliance) does add to our own sophistication, which we know we need in the face of the incredible resources of money, people and influence the industry has," said Mendocino's Mosel.

The Organic Consumers Association is canvassing for money - mostly donations between $25 and $50 - and support in San Francisco. Next up are other counties such as Santa Cruz, where the organization wants to take advantage of support from organic-food enthusiasts.

The association also is trying to generate enough pre-emptive calls and e-mails to legislators to stop any bill that aims to undo county ballot measures opposing biotech crops.

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News :: Environment & Food

More California Counties to Vote on Banning Genetically Engineered Crops

06/28/04 - More California Counties to Vote on Banning Genetically Engineered Crops

Wine Spectator
By Lynn Alley

In March, Mendocino County made national headlines when its residents voted to ban the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), becoming the first county in the nation to prohibit genetically engineered livestock and produce.

Since then, other counties in Northern California and the Central Coast have been moving in that direction. Activist groups in Butte, Humboldt, Marin and San Luis Obispo (home to the Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles appellations) counties have all gathered the requisite number of signatures to place GMO-ban initiatives on their local November ballots.

In Alameda County, which is home to the Livermore Valley appellation, an anti-GMO group is trying to get the board of supervisors to voluntarily put an initiative on the November ballot. "Should that fail, then we'll begin the process of gathering signatures," said Mitch Triplett, spokesman for GE-Free Alameda County.

But perhaps the most important addition to the growing list, at least for wine lovers, is that of Sonoma County, which is one of the state's prime wine regions and where wine grapes are the No. 1 agricultural commodity.

On Monday, a coalition of environmentalists and organic farmers calling themselves "GE-Free Sonoma" said they will seek a ballot measure to prohibit the propagation, cultivation, raising, growing, sale or distribution of genetically modified plants, livestock and fish in the county.

"This is not an environmentalists versus farmers initiative," said David Henson, one of the authors of the Sonoma measure and head of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, which promotes sustainable and organic agriculture. "This is farmers and environmentalists coming together to prevent genetic contamination of our farms and ecosystem."

Henson said the proposed initiative does not cover the sale of foods containing GMOs, nor does it prohibit "agricultural or medical research under properly controlled conditions."

The initiative contains an escape clause that would allow the board, through a unanimous vote, to exempt a commodity or item from the law. "If we find a cure for Pierce's disease, for instance, we can exempt that from the law," Henson said, referring to a fatal vine malady that poses a threat to the state's wine industry.

To allows the board to reevaluate its stance based on new scientific findings, the measure also contains a "sunset clause" that ends the legal enforceability of the ordinance after 10 years, Henson said. At that time, the supervisors may elect to extend the ordinance another 10 years by a majority vote.

GE-Free Sonoma claims bioengineered organisms have not been sufficiently studied and may threaten human health, natural biodiversity and markets abroad for farm products.

Proponents of GMOs, including CropLife America, an industry group that represents biotech companies such as Monsanto and DuPont, have said genetic modifications could help prevent disease and pests from plaguing crops and vineyards.

"Farmers should be able to choose whatever tools best meet their growing needs and practices," said Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), an advocacy group.

The Sonoma County Farm Bureau, a nongovernmental organization representing Sonoma farmers, has not decided what side it will take in the debate, as its board of directors has not yet looked over the initiative. "Certainly we want the [bio]technology to be safe," said executive director Lex McCorvey. "But then there are a lot of things we've done in the past that are not safe, but we move on."

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News :: Civil & Human Rights

Free silence zone

Free silence zone


George Orwell's novel "1984" cited oxymorons as tools of state. "War is Peace," "Freedom is slavery" and "Ignorance is strength."

Only two decades after the book's title, we ought to add the phrase: "Free Speech Zone."

At the Democratic National Convention in Boston, a razor-wired concentration camp -- OK, the designated demonstration area -- is supposed to be a safe harbor for protest. Nonsense. The cage is instead an affront to the First Amendment and to the very essence of the American character.

We understand that security is a big deal -- and that the Democrats are keen on shaping a positive image of the fall election season. But the cage goes too far.

Even the federal judge (as he upheld the zone's legality) sadly described the demonstration area "a festering boil." We all know that festering boils are not healthy for democracy.

Political conventions are national conversations about our country's direction for the next four years. They are important theater for the party, but that doesn't require silence from those who disagree.

Everyone ought to have a say: We'll hear from those who want a Democratic Party agenda. On TV, we'll hear from Republican operatives, Ralph Nader and others who would counter the official line conveyed by the Democrats. Free speech works best when everyone has a say. That's why it's essential to also hear the voices of dissent; those voices should be loud, clear and free.

Free speech should never be an oxymoron.

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News :: Resistance & Tactics

Linda Ronstadt Fired After Political Commentary

Ronstadt remarked at a casino venue that Michael Moore was a great american and the crowd went literally crazy. She was fired later that night.

This remark came on the heels of anti enron and schwarzenegger barbs.

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Announcement :: Government & Elections

The more they change...

It seems that every presidential election year, we hear (from both sides) that campaigns are getting uglier and meaner. This site proves that to be incorrect. They've always been a good opportunity
for mudslinging.
The Living Room Candidate has presidential campaign commercials from 1952 to the present. There are almost four hours of video to watch.


(Thanks, Kim Komando.)

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Commentary :: Poverty & Urban Development

The Ruling Class Dumps Bush

The ruling class has dumped George W. Bush, judging by the reversal of trends in campaign contributions beginning in March 2004.

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