The Crackdown

The backlash to the WikiLeaks release of United States' diplomatic wires by many political figures and talking heads has been harsh, at best (at worst, it has been reckless and violent). Despite being convicted of no crimes, WikiLeaks has had its funds frozen from its bank in Switzerland, and its post office box closed in Australia. The company PayPal, which had previously been processing Wikileaks' donations, has refused to continue to support the organization and has dropped Wikileaks from its service. Apple has removed the Wikileaks Application from its App store. All around the world, Wikileaks is being condemned as a treacherous group, even being likened to a terrorist organization. Sarah Palin has suggested that Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, "be hunted down like Osama Bin Laden [read: let him go]."

Meanwhile, Avaaz.org, your #1 source for petition-signing, is inviting citizens of the world to lend their voice to a cause- to stop the crackdown on WikiLeaks. The website asserts that:

The vicious intimidation campaign against WikiLeaks is a dangerous attack on freedom of expression and the press. Top US politicians have branded WikiLeaks a terrorist organization, and urged corporations to shut it down. Commentators have even suggested assassinating its staff.

Whatever we think of WikiLeaks, legal experts say it has likely broken no laws, and the group works with leading newspapers (NYT, Guardian, Spiegel) to carefully vet what it publishes - so far less than 1% of the cables leaked to it.

We urgently need a massive public outcry to defend our basic democratic freedoms. Sign the petition to stop the crackdown -- let's reach 1 million voices this week!

The petition has already been signed by over 600,000 people. Help get it to a million here: http://www.avaaz.org/en/wikileaks_petition/?slideshow


The Power of Truth

The whistle-blowing organization Wikileaks has come under intense pressure recently in what is quickly and globally becoming an information battlefield. Wikileaks is being fervently cast away by various internet servers in Europe as well as in the U.S. It has had its funds frozen from its bank in Switzerland, and its post office box closed in Australia. The company PayPal, which had previously been processing Wikileaks' donations, has refused to continue to support the organization and has dropped Wikileaks from its service. All around the world, Wikileaks is being condemned as a treacherous group, even being likened to a terrorist organization. Sarah Palin has suggested that Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, "be hunted down like Osama Bin Laden [read: let him go]"

These actions and statements from governments, private companies, and talking heads are an astounding denial and rejection of what Wikileaks ultimately stands to represent- the truth. The organization is being bombarded with hatred and fear, because officials are terrified of what it might reveal. As activist Naomi Klein stated today via her twitter account, "Few societies have defended their own ignorance as aggressively or as enthusiastically as ours."

And indeed, the general response to the leaked documents from Wikileaks has been aggressive and intense. The organization is being censored on the internet, cut off from its funds, even cut off from its mail, though it has not been subpoenaed or convicted of any crime. This is simply a not-for-profit organization that was simply making information available to the public- information that is pertinent to our lives and that we therefor have a right to access.

But there is growing support for the organization as well, with movements such as I am Wikileaks springing up around social media websites. I am Wikileaks vows to continue providing an outlet for the whistle-blowers, should their censorship intensify. And Wikileaks itself has found something of a secure server for now. They can be found at http://www.wikileaks.ch/, and the CEO of the Swiss provider now hosting them has said that "Wikileaks should be treated like any of our other clients. We would only stop hosting them if they broke Swedish law or failed to pay their bills."

And Mr. Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks who was arrested in London earlier today, wrote an op-ed for the Australian in which he asserts that:

Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.

People have said I am anti-war: for the record, I am not. Sometimes nations need to go to war, and there are just wars. But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies. If a war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it.

This episode is a testament to the power of truth. Wikileaks has only released 1% of the 250,000 diplomatic wires it has received, and already look at the backlash it has created. Consider what would happen if all of the documents were released at once. What type of international frenzy would there be? It goes to show that just the tiniest bit of truth can have profound, reverberating consequences, making its power far stronger than that of apathetic ignorance. So perhaps Rupert Murdoch was right when he said, "in the struggle between truth and secrecy, it seems inevitable that truth will always win."


Media Heroes

The Nation Magazine has published a list of 30 top media heroes, as voted for and appointed by its readers. Surprisingly (or maybe not so much), although the pole was coming from a progressive online blog, many of the top spots went to TV personalities, mostly from MSNBC. I'm not so sure how I feel about MSNBC getting so much credit from liberal-progressive readers, but I'm at least glad that Amy Goodman made it to the [almost] top of the list:

1. Rachel Maddow (MSNBC)

2. Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!)

3. Glenn Greenwald (Salon)

4. Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone and more)

5. Bill Moyers (formerly PBS)

6. Jon Stewart (The Daily Show)

7. Keith Olbermann (MSNBC)

8. Jeremy Scahill (The Nation)

9. Paul Krugman (New York Times)

10. Stephen Colbert (Colbert Report)

11. Chris Hayes (The Nation, MSNBC)

12. Seymour Hersh (The New Yorker and more)

13. Chris Hedges (The Nation and more)

14. Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post)

15. Jane Hamsher (FireDogLake)

16. Cenk Uygur (The Young Turks)

17. Naomi Klein (The Nation)

18. Dylan Rattigan (MSNBC)

19. Bill Maher (HBO)

20. Frank Rich (New York Times)

21. David Sirota (syndicated columnist)

22. Thom Hartmann (radio)

23. Julian Assange (WikiLeaks)

24. Digby -- i.e. Heather Parton (blogger)

25. Greg Palast (writer)

26. Ed Schultz (MSNBC)

27. Laura Flanders (GRIT TV and more)

28. Allison Kilkenny-Jamie Kilstein (Citizen Radio team)

29. Sam Seder (Huffington Post and Majority Report)

30. Jim Hightower (The Nation and more)

Also recieving honorable mention were Markos Moulistas, Lawrence O'Donnell, Katrina vandenHeuvel, Eric Boehlert, Bob Herbert, Josh Marshall, Marcy Wheeler, Robert Scheer, Helen Thomas, Dean Baker, Yves Smith, Nick Kristof, Ezra Klein, Atrios, Mike Malloy, Max Blumenthal, Joe Conason, Robert Fisk, Melissa Harris-Perry, David Swanson, Nate Silver, Ali Abuniman, Gail Collins, Dave Weigel, Eugene Robinson.

Kudos to these various journalists for having the cahones to tell it like it is! What do you say? Who are some of YOUR personal media heroes who perhaps did not make the list?


Change of Heart?

Has the Catholic world gotten a new Pope? I don't recall seeing a tower of black smoke billowing from Vatican City, but it seems like the former Benedict XVI- you know, the one who said last year that condoms increase the AIDS problem in Africa- has disappeared and been divinely replaced by a Pope who has some sort of a grasp on reality.

It seems difficult to believe that a Pope would have any semblance of sensibility when it comes to issues of dirty, scary, sinful s-e-x, but it seemed as if the public health fairy had knocked him on his highly-hatted head when comments that he made on HIV and condom use were publiziced this past weekend. The comments came from a book which is to be published by Ignatious Press, titled "Light of the World: The Pope, The Church, and Signs of the Times." In it, Pope Benedict addresses the controversial issue of contraception and the AIDS epidemic by saying that there MAY be SOME situations where condom use is SORT OF accepted.

Whoa. That's a big step, no? The Vatican actually endorsing condom use? Ok well no not exactly. What the Pope REALLY said was that condom use is the "first step" on a sort of moral ladder... that using condoms in cases of, say, prostitution, is a way of assuming responsibility and acknowledging that what one is doing is wrong. Sure. Leave it to the Vatican to instill some sort of plaguing guilt on what would otherwise have been a solid ethical lesson. Here's Benny's words, in context:

"There could be single cases that can be justified, for instance when a prostitue uses a condom, and this can be a first step towards a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, to develop again the awareness of the fact that not all is allowed and that one cannot do everything one wants."

It seems tricky, but somewhere in there is a light of hope for AIDS activists and others around the world who see condoms as a solid, albeit not exclusive, means of combatting the disease. Because even though his holiness spoke in very vague and confusing language, his statement was a reversal of the Church's typical outright denunciation of contraceptives. And for an institution that bases its belief system on a 2,000 year old moral code, in which global epidemics and HIV did not exist, these statements made by their glorified leader are quite a miraculous step forward.

9 3/4

Three of my favorite things: street art, harry potter, and the NYC subway!


Very Scary, Very Real

An Editorial from Green America: Keep Child Slavery out of the Cocoa Supply Chain

Sorry to scare you, but on Halloween, much of the chocolate Americans will hand out to trick-or-treaters will be tainted by the labor of enslaved children.

Hershey's, Nestlé, and the other big chocolate companies know this. They promised nearly a decade ago to set up a system to certify that no producers in their supply chains use child labor. They gave themselves a July 2005 deadline for that, which came and went without meaningful action. A second voluntary deadline sailed by as well in 2008. There's a new deadline for voluntary action at the end of this year. Don't hold your breath.

Few Americans had heard of this problem before reporters Sudarsan Raghavan and Sumana Chatterjee exposed the scandalous conditions under which most U.S. chocolate is made, in the summer of 2001.

In one of their articles, a slave described his 13-hour work-days on the 494-acre plantation as brutal, filled with harsh physical labor, punctuated by beatings, and ending with a night of fitful sleep on a wooden plank in a locked room with other slaves.

“The beatings were a part of my life,” said the boy, who was sold into slavery at not yet 12 years old. “Anytime they loaded you with bags and you fell while you were carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead, they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again.”

The reports shocked some members of Congress into action. That fall, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) prepared bills to require U.S. chocolate companies--by force of law--to certify their products as slave-free. Engel’s bill passed the House, but before Harkin’s bill could pass the Senate, the chocolate industry had announced a voluntary four-year plan to clean up its own supply chains, without legislation.

Meanwhile, evidence that child slavery still bedevils the chocolate industry isn’t hard to find. For example, in late September, a research team from Tulane University (specifically charged by Congress with oversight of the voluntary supply-chain efforts) reported that “the industry is still far from achieving its target by the end of 2010 … and the majority of children exposed to the worst forms of child labor remain unreached.”

The just-released documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate, by filmmakers Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Romano takes a less detached tone, going undercover and exposing child slavery in the cocoa supply chain from the inside.

And if that’s not enough, the State Department’s own 2010 Trafficking in Persons report lists several West African countries where children are traded and taken to work cocoa plantations.

All the while, the biggest chocolate companies cavil that because they don’t own the cocoa plantations outright, cleaning up their supply chains is too hard. But some of them aren’t even trying. The biggest cocoa company in the country, Hershey’s--even after nine years to get started--has no certification system in place whatsoever to ensure that its cocoa isn’t tainted by labor rights abuses.

Here are three things you do this Halloween to ensure that your chocolate isn’t tainted by the exploitation of children overseas.

* You can look for chocolate from companies that do certify their supply chains, via labels such the Fair Trade label and the IMO Fair For Life label. Green America offers a scorecard explaining these labels in detail, and ranking the chocolate companies.
* You can contact conventional chocolate companies like Hershey’s – call them, write to them, write on their Facebook pages – and tell them you expect them to prove their supply chains aren’t tainted.
* You can contact your representatives in Congress. If after a decade the chocolate companies can’t monitor their own supply chains, we need to go back to the drawing board, and demand, by law, that slave-produced chocolate has no place on the shelves of stores in the USA.

The people who produce the raw materials for our chocolate treats deserve fair wages and safe working conditions. African children shouldn't have to suffer unspeakable horrors so that our children can have a happy Halloween

--Andrew Korfhage

Find our report on Hershey's cocoa sourcing here, and click here to send a message directly to the Hershey company.


Politics, not Prejudice

There has been a lot of ugliness in our political world recently, with desperate politicians spewing out some of the most blatant, unchecked and hateful language to have ever been considered as legitimate political dialogue. Ruthless, cruel verbal attacks have been made on low-income individuals, immigrants, and gays on the part of many Republican Candidates seeking to divert an angry populace's attention away from the policies and problems that have rooted so much of our unease.

But besides being a pathetic platform for any politician to stand on, these comments, which are made by influential public figures, have a profound effect on the perceptions and actions of their audience. The open discussion of hate and discrimination has brought many fringe racists and homophobes to the forefront of the issues, resulting in hate crimes, paranoia, and suicides in populations that may have been very vulnerable to begin with.

Perhaps it takes an elected official who is NOT currently campaigning to have the guts to speak to what is right, but Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York City has been quite vocal recently on issues of civil rights. First, he openly spoke of his support for the proposed Mosque to be built in downtown Manhattan, much to the chagrin of many anti-Muslim protesters and the praise of those who support freedom of religion, as well as those who see the irrational fear of Muslim people in our country as a highly dangerous form of cultural ignorance. Now, continuing his trend of speaking out for personal freedoms, Bloomberg shows his support for gay love and civil rights.

Speaking at the 30th annual Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Awards Dinner last night, the mayor of New York had this to say:

"To those of you who have been the target of bullying and bias, whether you happen to be in this room or any neighborhood in the city, I say this: this great city stands with you. We believe in you. We want you here. We will do anything in our power to keep you safe. And we will do everything in our power to punish those who dare threaten the well-being of our citizens...."

"...Our city- and our nation- have come a long way, but our journey is not yet complete. I wish for you the same thing I wish for any parent in this city: the joy of seeing your son or daughter fall in love, the joy of walking your son or daughter down the aisle on the most important day of their lives. Government should not be in the business of telling people whom he or she can and cannot love. And believe me, I will fight every single day to make that a reality."

These are powerful words coming from a politician, and I wonder whether he would be so brave with his stances if he himself were coming up for re-election. Still, this is an important point for a politician to emphasize in light of so many tragic deaths of young people across our country. More of our leaders need to be brave like this, to reject hateful commentary, and to show the American people that we are indeed still a free and democratic society, that we are all equal and deserve respect, and that part of the benefit of being an American is the joy and freedom of being and loving whoever you want.



Have you ever dove into and under couch cushions at home in a desperate search for a lost earring, a little bus fare, or a T.V. remote? If you have, you've found that the exotic under-regions of your furnishings are home to many lost, forgotten, and often gruesome items.

One of the most disturbing things to be excavated is the archaic McDonald's french-fry that has lived secretly under your bum for after an indefinite length of untidy time, during which you failed to protect your couch cushions from the threat of rotting food. But luckily for you, this McDonald's french fry does not seem to rot... ever... no matter how long you've kept it there. Indeed, it is one of the most disturbing finds not because of how decayed it is, but because of how in tact it is. I shudder to think of all of the non-potato ingredients that are keeping that fry from suffering the same fate as every other verdant specimen in the natural world.

While McDonald's swears that their "food" is made with only the freshest of ingredients, there are those who beg to differ, and who have the proof they need to voice their difference. Artist Sally Davies is one of them, recently coming out with a photographic experiment, keeping and documenting a McDonald's Happy Meal in her home for 6 months. As the weekly photographs reveal, the burger and fries remained completely unchanged from the beginning to the end of the experiment. If that doesn't make you cringe, I don't know what would...

...actually, nevermind. I do know. Ever hear about how chicken nuggets are made? Yeah, that'll make you cringe too.


Pea's Peace is Up and Running [Again]

Blogging is rough. It requires daily commitments, incessant motivation, constant attention, and little bitty pieces of your heart and soul. It reveals a softened, private part of yourself to the enormity of the internet at large, and that can be a pretty daunting encumbrance.

Admittedly, I've struggled with my own focus and dedication to Pea's Peace. It's not that I haven't found enough interesting and inspiring things out there in this great big balanced world... it's just that I started to question my own reasoning and purpose for keeping up this blog. I felt dwarfed by the amount of information available to you all, and intimidated by the thought that there are blogs and bloggers out there who are much more seasoned and professional than I am. After all, I have a full-time job and a full-time life, how serious could I really be about this project?

So after 14 months and 112 blog posts, I took everything down out of sheer fragility of confidence. I systematically went through and removed my writings from public view, though I couldn't quite erase them completely because each word that they contain is a reflection of a little piece of myself... and that's just too valuable to give up.

But now they're back up, and their legitimacy is more personal to me than I need it to be justified. I'll keep on blogging, indifferent to my own impact or ripple in the world of online blogs... because the basic truth is that it's good for me. I enjoy doing it. And that is all that matters. I am going to be braver, and keep on bearing my everything on this humble web page, regardless of what others may think.

So here are all 112 reinstated pieces from Pea's Peace. I'm sorry for the interruption, and I hope that you enjoy :-)


Unfair and Unbalanced

Since the Supreme Court's landmark decision earlier this year that corporate expenditures could be used without limit and in any capacity to finance political campaigns, our elections process has seemingly become a special interest free-for-all. Although campaign spending was ludicrous as it were, with the 2008 presidential election costing a record $5 billion, now corporations literally have all of freedom they need to oversee our elections processes, and may under the protection of law, because somehow limiting their power would be a violation of freedom of speech.

And Newscorp was among the first big-time companies to cash-in, so to speak, on this convenient new allowance. Are you surprised? The parent company of FOX news and the Wall Street Journal, which over the years has blatantly revealed its conservative biases, has now openly admitted to their partiality: they have gifted a donation of $1 million to the Republican Governor's Association.

This is quite alarming for several reasons. First, Fox continues to be a major outlet for news stories covering this year's elections. And with this enormous open endorsement of Republican candidates, how can their "reporting" ever be "fair" or "balanced," as they claim? The radical right-leaning commentary that one hears on Fox news would not fool most informed viewers, but rather serve to the fire of misinformation and preexisting incendiary opinion. Still, this action further exposed Fox's position as being the most unfair, unbalanced news source in the nation.

But more importantly, this action is done within the confines of complete legality. Thanks to the Supreme Court's decision to lift a limit on the amount and type of corporate spending on campaigns, I would bet that donations such as Newscorp's $1 million to the Republicans will be given much more frequently, and in much higher numbers. Not that they haven't been happening already, but with the declaration of open season on campaign spending, all the money trails will be exposed, showing our political process for what it really is.


Cease and Desist

The dominion of disposable plastic bags in our supermarkets may soon be coming to an end. Several countries around the world, and even certain cities within the U.S. have initiated a total ban against plastic shopping bags, while many supermarkets and other shopping outlets are offering incentives for costumers who choose to bring their own reusable alternatives with them to the store (BYOB- bring your own bag!). In similar cases, some local governments are considering further pressure to slow or halt the distribution of plastic bags by placing heaving taxes against them. Recently, Planet Green has released a list of cities around the world which have imposed the total ban on plastic bags.

These are all extremely important steps towards ensuring the health and safety of our world's ecosystems, especially in light of the giant floating island of garbage in the Pacific Ocean. It is twice the size of Texas by some reports, twice that of the continental U.S. by others, consisting mostly of discarded and non-biodegradable plastic products. The pollution of our world's oceans is far more critical than we might have guessed, and it is both entirely our fault and entirely our responsibility to fix it. We are making it increasingly difficult for fish and other marine life to survive in any kind of habitable environment. And besides global warming and the increasing taxation of industrial over-fishing, the most prominent offenders to the oceans' situation are, not surprisingly, plastics. They are so destructive, in fact, that even the United Nations has called for their increased regulation.

Besides the amendments we make to our own personal consumption, and the efforts of our governments to assuage our efforts, there are private groups working around the world to undo some of the damage inflicted upon world's oceans, and they have proved to be nothing short of heroic. Nextek Limited, for example, a company that is based out of the UK and Australia, is doing some really impressive stuff to counter-act plastic pollution. Although it boasts a variety of noble projects, the company's primary purpose is to process and recycle polymer plastics in a sustainable and responsible way, from discarded bottles and mixed plastics into clean, safe milk bottles and other products. By far their most impressive work is done at sea, where they collect the materials they need in order to forge these recycled gems. They sustainably gather floating plastics from the surface of the south Pacific ocean, while at the same time returning any accidentally captured sea life to the water. They then process the plastics in order to decontaminate them and subsequently recycle them. To read their full story, follow this link to Positive News.

How amazing! Congratulations to these benevolent and innovative businessmen who've created such a fantastic answer to plastic. They can't single-handily drain the ocean of its estimated 4 million tons of plastic pollution, but they have certainly set the bar in terms of environmental stewardship. Congratulations to the brave municipal governments who are taking the lead in this fight against pollutions by banning the use of plastic bags completely, and those who are on their way with a partial tax. And congratulations to you, the consumer, because it is your actions and assertions that ultimately have the power to make real change happen around the world!


What Oil Spil...?

It was only a matter of time before the swarming, buzzing frenzy about the oil spill would slow, sputter out, and become only a faint murmur and a memory of what was once the most catastrophic corporate accident in our nations history. After weeks of basking in the spotlight of front-page articles, daily briefings, and consultations with Hollywood figures, alas... BP's oil spill has lost it's 15 minutes of fame. Sure, there are still scattered articles pertaining to the aftermath, but overall the media ship has sailed over the Deepwater Horizon. While BP's executives are likely wiping the sweat from their brow, thankful for the cooling of their fannies, the gulf coast's proverbial world remains upside-down, and unfortunately relief is a long ways away.

There are still massive amounts of non-degrading oil stewing in the gulf waters. According to researchers at the University of Georgia, 79% of the oil released by the massive spill has yet to be recovered, all of which poses a dire threat to local ecosystems, fishing industries, beaches, livelihoods, public health, etc... you name the aspect of peaceful living in the gulf, and more than likely the oil has disrupted it. And for an area of the country which seems to fall repeatedly on bad times, the impact could be devastating.

Many individuals living in the gulf are in need of assistance, from financial reimbursement for the loss of business, to emotional and social support for the damage to their homes and lifelines. In terms of mental health issues, BP has preemptively compensated gulf residents by providing $58 million to help treat those affected by the spill for stress, anxiety, and depression. However, the fund that BP set up as a voluntary trust for its oil spill victims was created with the clause that monies for the trust would be directly linked to BP's successful drilling endeavors in the gulf. Therefore, fickle BP would not be required to pay out a dime if the funds from gulf oil extraction were to somehow disappear- a fact that some awaiting payout might not be aware of.

Just because the oil spill situation is no longer a top news story in our mainstream media does not mean that this problem is going to go away any time soon. Even our president has warned us that the consequences of the spill are wide-reaching, and that the worst is far from over. But if you think that this disaster has taught our government a lesson about the dangers of desperate energy extraction, think again... after almost immediately overturning a moratorium on offshore drilling, the government is now considering lifting the moratorium on deep-water drilling imposed immediately after the spill as well. And if you think that BP would be more cautious in its endeavors to extract oil from the bottom of the ocean... wrong again! The company is now planning to commence deep-water oil drilling in Libya, a country with a limited action plan in the case of an offshore spill.

If the case of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska 21 years ago has anything to teach us, its that the problems caused by massive oil spills are serious, and do not dissipate quickly. Residents living along the Prince William Sound are still experiencing environmental and social consequences of that terrible spill to this day, as gulf coast residents likely will experience decades from now, long after the noise around the event has quieted to a whisper.


Flower of the Week

Cat's Whiskers. I couldn't imagine a more aptly named Flower of the Week. What do you think?


"Be Evil"

Google, as a company, has seemed to adopt a somewhat warm & cuddly image in recent years, mostly thanks to its exhausted mantra of "don't be evil." The overly simplistic catchphrase, featured in Google's own code of conduct and heard repeatedly by Google followers, somewhat masks the enormity of Google's vastly unknown and incredibly consequential activities, resting our minds in knowing that our access and information on the internet are secure and protected; leaving us free to indulge in hours of Youtube videos, LOLcat pictures, and the like... untroubled, knowing that our trust is held in a corporation which is truly compassionate at its core.

After all, hasn't Google always been on our side? Haven't they advocated openly for net neutrality over the years? And don't they have a funny holier-than-thou type of public relations that make us want to trust them? For years Google has been snapping our images, filtering our information, and teaching us about the world. They have completely revolutionized the way we acquire information, and have become our go-to encyclopedia for everything from American history to favorite baking recipes. Sure, they got caught spying on us, but they fessed up and then apologized for it. They even vowed to benevolence when it comes to our personal information, stating that "maintaining people's trust is crucial to everything that we do." So our friends at Google would never truly betray our trust, right?

Wrong. Unfortunately, Google's pledge to maintain net neutrality (and consequently our trust) was severely wrinkled yesterday, as if all of a sudden their manta became "Don't be evil- unless it could potentially be profitable to be so." It's kind of like an Animal-Farm-type revision: "no animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets" and so on...

Well, for Google it appears that "the sheets"are synonymous with "Verizon," as the two are most certainly in bed together. After denying last week that they had any intention to alter the free state of the internet, Google has signed a proposal with one of the nations largest internet service providers, which introduces the concept of priority service to certain sites and hosts, and the ability of ISPs to effectively block content at their discretion; basically opening up the internet to a pay-to-play regime whereby the highest bidder gets the fastest connection speed.

There are several facets to the proposal which would undermine the unfettered nature of the internet, but the bottom line is this: Google and Verizon are moving in a direction that would ultimately change the internet as we know it forever. It would turn the net, which currently allows enormous space for a deluge of information from every corner of the world, into something more like a cable television system: where the premium channels come at a higher price, and content not suitable to the provider gets winnowed out. This is corporate takeover and self-regulation at its worst, and it simply cannot be allowed to happen. Voice your opinion today, and tell the Federal Communications Commission to do its job, and to save the internet!


Flower of the Week

Surrounded by hundreds of beautiful, exotic, bizarre, and enchanting flowers at the United States Botanic Gardens in downtown D.C. the other day, I felt as if I had taken enough photos to fill the rest of the year with weekly blossoms. But despite the array, there was one flower which caught my attention immediately: in high-hanging planters lining the pathways of the conservatory hung the yellow flowers of the Nong Noch vine. Like nature's beaded curtains, they hung down in cascades of color, brightening and framing my journey through a sea of flowers. They were my immediate favorite, but only the first of many that I fell in love with that day.


Spill by Numbers

From the NPR program All Things Considered. The list of numbers related to the devastating BP oil spill is a concise means of summarizing its effects over last few months:

32,000- The number of people who have been involved in cleaning up the spill

5,300 - The number of vessels that have been deployed to the gulf

3.2 million - The feet of boom which have been laid
to section off the oil from shorelines, wetlands, and other precious areas.

1,843,786 gallons of toxic dispersants have been applied in the gulf

1,699 oiled birds have been found alive, of which 549 have been saved.

This is compared to 1,499 oiled birds which were found dead.

2,168 Baby sea turtles whose nests were in danger due
to their proximity along the gulf to the oil spill, and who were successfully
relocated to the Atlantic shore.

Along the gulf coast shorelines, 600 miles total have been affected by the spill.
This is broken down into 365 miles in Louisiana, 111 miles in Mississippi,
68 miles in Alabama, and 88 miles in Florida.

$4 billion- the amount that BP has payed so far in response costs

4.9 million - the number of gallons of oil which have been spilled into the gulf.

ZERO- the number of offshore oil spills in history
which have been bigger than this one.

This data was compiled by NPR Staff, and comes from BP, restorethegulf.com, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


It has happened!

It has happened! Despite the powerful neoliberal protestors, the United Nations has made an historic decision to recognize water as a fundamental and universal human right!

The resolution was brought to the U.N. general assembly several weeks ago from Bolivia, a country which has been fervently involved in issues of water rights for years. Countries like Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, which see water as a commodity rather than a human right, spoke out against the movement to no avail, as 144 nations voted last Wednesday that water should be viewed as a public trust, not a market commodity. There were 41 abstentions, and zero votes of "no." Abstaining was clearly the safer way to dissent for the opposers of this resolution, since voting against human rights is surely no historical record to boast.

Still, the outcome of this debate could not have been better! The right to safe drinking water and sanitation are now part of the guiding language for governments around the world, and we have all taken a huge step forward in the way we perceive and acknowledge human rights, particularly in regard to health and access to those resources which are a fundamental part of a healthful life. As Ms. Maude Barlow, water activist extrodinaire, put it last week on Democracy Now!: "[The resolution] is a moral statement, a guiding principle of the countries of the world, that they have taken a step in the direction of saying that water is a human right and a public trust, and that no one should be dying for a lack of water."

For more information about the vote, and to watch Ms. Barlow's full interview with Amy Goodman, click here.


From Where?

You've heard of brainwashing, brandwashing, and even greenwashing. But just as the corporate world never ceases to come up with ways to lead us on and deceive us, out comes a new form of eco-hypocrisy: localwashing. You see, Corporate America is very clever, and they begin to pick up on things when grassroots movements start growing organically within communities- then they hijack our ingenuous principles, beat them and pulverize them, turn them into some public relations vomit, and- voila! You have a warped, vaguely familiar message that leaves you feeling confused, slightly disturbed, and somehow taken advantage of.

So, in one way or another, these marketing behemoths have caught word that buying local is apparently a good thing, and they've jumped on that bandwagon with guns blazing, ready to take over our minds and use our own good intentions against us. McDonald's, of all companies, is now touting boastful ads that give the impression that the poisonous entity actually cares about our environment- and that they use local ingredients. Ahem... excuse me... what? McDonalds?! Local?? It's as if our brains cannot digest such a blatant oxymoron. But this, dear reader, is what they would like us to believe.

The "From Here" Campaign is in full effect now in the greater Seattle area and in most of Washington state which, interestingly enough, was already the primary supplier of most of McDonald's industrial-grade "food" products. So, in order to boast a local initiative, McDonald's choose the one place in America where their "food" production is already most concentrated. Wow! How convenient.

Not to appear fully benevolent however, each of McDonald's new ads feature a lovely little disclaimer at the bottom: "participation and duration may vary." Oh! Excellent. So not only has McDonald's chosen its most convenient location for localwashing, but they also can't guarantee that what you're buying is local- even there. So the billboards all contradict themselves, and the conscious consumer is left feeling... a bit confused at best.

The truth is that most companies spend more time, money, and energy into creating an eco-friendly facade than they do to actually support environmental movements. There are some who genuinely strive to improve their business to reflect an environmentally stable future, and those that do deserve recognition. But a savvy consumer must learn how to weed out the fradulent actors from the honest ones, and unfortunately I think we can all discern on which side McDonald's falls.

It really is quite appalling, but I'm sure the fatburger corporate executives are sitting around a table somewhere, chuckling and patting themselves on the back for once again foiling the intentions of good-hearted Americans trying to make the world a better place. And I'm sure that after they do that, they break out into a chorus of evil-villain inspired laughter: "mwa-ha-haaa!"


Flower of the Week

Tiny, lovely, little shiny Marigolds. Where would our gardens be without them? These little plumes of firey-colored flowers sit low in the soil and attract all sorts of beneficial insects to your garden- the kind that will keep other bugs from nibbling on your crops. They are but one approach to maintaining an organic garden free of pesticides, and they make the whole lot look a bit prettier too. How wonderful!


Protecting NYC's Gardens

Since 2002, most community gardens in New York City have been covered by a memorandum established between the State Attorney General and the Bloomberg Administration which established certain ground rules and protections for the gardens under the jurisdiction of several city agencies. Namely, the GreenThumb program, a subset of the Department of Parks and Recreation, has been principally responsible for the oversight and management of city gardens, and those gardens have been provided with a certain amount of security and protection from the government. However, that memorandum is expiring this coming September, and the document which has been drafted to replace it seems to provide much less protection than its counterpart, while at the same time increasing regulation on community gardens, threatening the future of urban gardening in NYC.

While not fully designated as city park land under the original regulations of 2002, community gardens were at least protected as "open space", and were placed under the jurisdiction of the Parks department for their preservation as community gardens. The use of their land for purposes other than gardening was subject to environmental review as well as a land use and disposition review. This meant that if any development were to be planned upon the site of an existing community garden, there would be a protocol in place to ensure the responsible use of that land, in order to fully understand the environmental and community impact of removing a garden in lieu of a new development of any kind. Among other enforcements, these rules sought to ensure that neighborhood gardeners could operate with security, knowing that their gardens would be protected by the city.

The new proposed regulations, however, contain none of the language from the original document which set gardeners' minds at ease. To the contrary, the future of community gardens is being threatened by these new rules which do not provide any sort of preservation guarantee, nor do they ensure the protection of garden land in the face of urban development. The key language excluded from the draft, which contained in the 2002 memorandum and was a major point of satisfaction for gardeners, states that lots designated as community gardens will be "offered to the Parks Department for preservation as community gardens or open space." This statement is integral to the protection of urban gardens, and its exclusion is the cause of much grief in NYC community gardening circles.

The city is currently accepting public comments on the drafted material, and it is highly recommended that those with an interest in NYC's urban gardens read the draft and make their voices heard. A local garden blogger has included on their website instructions for how to do so. In addition, a public hearing is to be held on August 10th at the Chelsea Recreation Center in Manhattan, to which any and all with an interest in community gardens should be present. The New York City Community Garden Coalition has listed great resources for those who are interested and want to get involved, including a letter which summarizes the situation and calls on community members to take action.

The community of gardeners in New York City are not allowing these new regulations to pass quietly. In fact, the buzz circulating throughout city organizations, parks, and neighborhoods is such that the potential response of individuals -whether it be at the hearing, over the phone with 311, in writing to the Parks Department, or on the web in public commentary- is enormous. These regulations have not been passed yet. There is still time for NYC communities to rally around the gardens that keep them healthy and safe, to make absolutely sure that these spaces of growth and harvest, of teaching and learning, of sharing, laughing, and loving, will remain in their neighborhoods for generations.


No Farms, No Food

The farmland protection organization American Farmland have launched a fun new contest across the states to find the best farmer's markets in the U.S.A. The initiative is bringing more attention to farmers and farmer's markets by providing individual consumers with the power to recognize the good work that their local farmers are doing, the good people who support them, and the good food they provide us with every day.

On the American Farmland website, you can vote for your favorite farmers market, see what the current top 5 markets are in your state, as well as learn startling facts about the loss of farmland in your area. For example, according to their site, the state of Texas loses about 360 acres of farmland per day, while overall in America we lose about an acre of farmland every minute. These are quite disheartening statistics for those of us who enjoy eating food.

The friendly farmers we meet at our local markets work so hard to bring us the fresh foods that we enjoy so much, yet their livelihoods are being threatened by land misuse, development, and the oppressive presence of large-scale agro-businesses and GMOs. Up to 91% of agricultural products in America are harvested in areas of urban influence, emphasizing the incessant threat of urban sprawl, while large agricultural corporations such as Monsanto continually bully our farmers and monopolize our food market, making it increasingly difficult for them to be successful. That is why, if we want to continue having access to fresh, healthy food at an affordable rate, and to ensure the future of small farms in America, it is absolutely imperative to invest in our local economies and support our local farmers.

Farmer's markets are a great way to preserve our traditional American agriculture by keeping our small farmers in business, and therefore ensuring the preservation of rural land and keeping urban sprawl at bay. We have the power as consumers, and with the abundance of farmer's markets all over the country, exercising that power is easy and convenient. There are even many markets which stay open all year round, providing you with fresh produce, meat, an dairy through the winter months.

This contest is an exciting way to recognize not only the farmers, but also the people who organize these markets and work so hard to ensure that we consumers have access to the bounty of healthy food being grown and raised all around us.

What's your favorite farmers market, and why? Vote Here, and then share your thoughts on Pea's Peace!


Flower of the Week

There is nothing that better captures the color and energy of summertime than a sunflower. Standing almost awkwardly tall over home gardens, or dancing neatly in rows of hundreds of his peers, the sunflower's bright faces always seem to be smiling with the joy and warmth of celebrating the summer.


That's Alotta Compost!

GROWNYC, a recycling and waste prevention organization that operates in New York City, put together a great visualization this week about what exactly is in the city's residential waste.

The site is meant to showcase the high number of recyclable items that New Yorkers, inadvertently or otherwise, discarded into landfills over the course of a year. And it provides excellent resources on how and where to recycle certain hard to sort items, or items that are ambiguously recyclable. It also offers some information about composting, and tips on composting yard waste and food waste, which together account for almost 750,000 tons of trash each year!

One thing that this awesome website failed to mention, however, is that recyclable paper, which according to the table accounts for nearly a quarter of New York City's landfill waste, is also often compostable! Things like shredded paper, of which copious amounts may be found in any NYC office buildings or home offices, and newspaper are excellent contributions to building compost.

This means that, recyclable papers included, New York city residents are throwing away over a million tons of compostable materials a year, all of which could be used to make rich, hearty soil for growing food, flowers, and other garden treats. Now that's a lot of compost!


Flower of the Week

The Evening Primrose is a true a vespertine delight. The bright, vibrant colored petals sit wound up in a succession of spikes throughout the day, and only as the sun is setting do the top few flowers on each tall stem start to open up. As bees dance around them in eager anticipation of their late-night pollen snack, these timid blossoms reveal themselves in truly magical movement, all at once. The event lasts just a few moments, but it is a truly magical show to witness. By the next morning they will have wilted, and the next round of evening flowers will be ready to bloom in a never-ending assembly line of flowers that come alive.


Water for Life

According to statistics collected by the U.N., there are approximately 880 million people worldwide who live without access to a safe drinking water source. EVERY DAY about 5,000 children die from water-borne illnesses related to poor sanitation and a lack of access to clean drinking water, and every year 2.2 million people die from the same cause. By 2030, the number of people living in areas of severe water stress could rise to 4 billion. This enormously detrimental predicament is being addressed by human rights advocates, development and aid agencies, and local initiatives which fight to have water declared as a human right, implement reliable water system infrastructures, and to promote sustainable water use, so as to stifle and prevent further suffering related to this dire human need. The problem is also being addressed by private companies, who seek to earn large profits from the growing global scarcity of fresh water drinking supplies. It has already been estimated that the global water market is worth nearly 250 billion dollars, and that figure is set to rise to a staggering 660 billion by 2020.

Since 2008, Maude Barlow, outspoken activist and author of the bestselling book Blue Covenent: The Global Water Crisis, has been serving as the Senior Advisor on Water to the United Nations, taking enormous strides towards guaranteeing the right to access safe drinking water for all people. These efforts include the draft of a universal resolution to recognize water as a global human right, expected to be presented to the general assembly later this month by Bolivia, a country which has experienced its own social uprisings in the face of poor sanitation, unclean water, and private water companies. If this resolution is passed, says Barlow, "It would be one of the most important things the United Nations has done since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Still, this historic resolution is facing strong opposition, mostly from Western powers with vested interests in the privatization of water. According to Barlow, countries like Canada, the United States, and Great Britain have shown considerable resistance to the resolution being passed. Developing countries around the world, on the other hand, have a dire interest in seeing this motion adopted by the U.N., as these states suffer most from the effects of climate change, draught, and water commoditization. And as the European Union recognized water as a basic human right in March of this year, it becomes clear that support for this issue is growing rapidly around the world.

Water is the basic ingredient to life everywhere, and for a state or private entity to deny humans their right to access clean and safe drinking water is clearly a violation of international human rights. In order for this moral precedent to become a regulation, it is necessary to have the explicit language put down in an official capacity by the United Nations, By the end of July, this draft should be submitted, and in upcoming months the decision will be made whether to adopt the resolution, and provide people around the world with safe water, and a secure standard of living that includes this most fundamental part to the whole of living a safe and healthy life.


This is Funny...


If It Were My Home

For many of us, the lack of a direct or personal connection to an issue or event can too often lead to feelings of apathy and disregard. As long as it's happening over there, not here, we seem not to mind too much the travesties of the world that we read on the front page with our morning coffee, never to address again during the course of our days. Of course, this is not because people are inherently bad. On the contrary, as long as our media sources are sustaining interest in an issue, we might donate money, canned goods, people power, and picket signs in order to combat the evils that we see on T.V. But then again, once the problem is not longer in the news, too often it is no longer on our minds.

But for the people who are affected by these "stories" we hear and read, the struggle does not end when the camera crews up and leave. Especially in developing countries, natural disasters, wars, and famine, are issues that often bear consequences for a lifetime or more.

For the people who are living along the gulf coast, the life that they knew before the BP oil spill will be forever changed now in the wake of our biggest environmental catastrophe. While the damaged well will eventually be repaired, and over the upcoming months and years we will find new sensational news to divert our attention, these people, these ecosystems, will be living with the aftermath of the BP disaster for decades to come.

And unlike the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti, and the people of the ninth ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the people of the gulf must not be forgotten. For a frightening and somewhat jarring dose of reality, the website IfItWereMyHome.com allows its visitors to visualize the size of the oil spill by superimposing its image over their home town. This gives us a perspective on the disaster that we might not have previously had, and perhaps a glimpse of the severity of the problem, by showing us how this disaster might impact our own familiar grounds.

It is worth noting that even this shocking image is based only on surface oil, and does not take into consideration the unknown mass of oil underwater. It is also based on a rough estimate of the size of the spill, which could be larger or smaller depending on the source. Still, having a visualization of the spill's physical size might help imprint this disaster in our minds, and help us to call for sustained accountability and clean up throughout the entirety of this disaster- at least until life in the gulf is restored to normalcy. Because although it might seem as if we who do not live near the gulf are unaffected by this problem, it is something for which everyone in our country will face ramifications for years to come.


NYC Going Solar?

The city that never sleeps burns a lot of energy to stay up, keeping those dazzling skyscraper lights shining all night long. Energy use in New York City is enormous, not because of the irresponsibility of its residents, but due to the sheer size of its population, and its consequent demand for energy. The intense hydropower energy provided by NYC's extensive upstream river system allows for a slight ease on the consumption of non-renewable resources such as coal and oil, but a further investment into more sustainable energies is undoubtedly necessary to keep this blazin' city burning at full speed.

That is why the creation of what are being dubbed "solar empowerment zones" within city limits has such exciting implications for the future of New York City's energy use. In conjunction with the Office of the Mayor, the Power Authority, and several other entities, New York's Infrastructure Task Force has identified three distinct zones in New York City which offer optimal potential for the use of solar power. Those three zones are in Downtown Brooklyn, along the border of Brooklyn and Queens by Greenpoint-Gateway, and part of my own island hometown- Eastern Staten Island.

These three zones currently benefit from what is known as "day-peaking" potential for solar reception, a significant amount of rooftop space, and a moderate need for capacity upgrades. Because of these desirable traits, they offer a viable space for solar power to be implemented in order to offset the growing energy demand facing NYC.

A focused program intended to offer support, guidance, and initial policies to these areas will be implemented in order to prepare for the process of scaling up solar power in the city. The Smart Solar City project will provide technical assistance to operators and property owners in these areas, incentive assistance to increase solar investment and to cut costs, streamlined permitting to simplify navigation of government processes for those who are interested in solar energy, educational programs to promote the use of solar systems, and more.

In the face of a growing energy crisis, and with the consequences of climate change within a generation of foresight, the New York City government is taking great strides to improve energy use and to concentrate more heavily on renewable energies. As non-renewable energy sources dwindle and become more expensive in the upcoming decades, the burden falls on NYC to identify and capitalize avenues to keep the vibrant city and its 8 million residents running 24/7. This is not only an economic investment on behalf of the city, which will find itself increasingly energy independent, but an investment in the survival of its unique vivacity.


Capitol Rates

Living in the United States in 2010, it is hard to believe that we face any real threat from the effects of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. After all, we have modern medicine. We have treatment. We have countless prevention campaigns that tell us safe sex is great sex, to know our status, and if you ask any one person on the street, chances are they'll be able to reiterate those same catch phrases to you as if by script. But yet, with all of these supposed advancements in understanding of HIV in the U.S., we don't seem able to practice what we preach. With all of the gimmicky rhymes, regurgitated catch phrases, and memorized fact sheets, HIV transmission is still at an enormous rate in the U.S., and is a problem faced by too many of our citizens.

This problem is starkly geographically disproportionate. Out of 50 states, 55% of AIDS cases come from just 5. And the nation's capitol, where the HIV prevalence rate is over 3%, is now said to have surpassed many developing nations in West Africa in the severity and number of new AIDS cases. As of 2007, D.C.'s reported cases of AIDS are higher than any state in the U.S., at 148 cases per 100,000 residents. This is especially high when compared with other high-prevalence states: Maryland and New York, which each have about 24 cases per 100,00, and Florida, which has 21.7. This means that D.C.'s AIDS rate as of 2007 was higher than the top three states combined.

But Washington, D.C. got some good news this week, with a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control which shows that the spread of the disease is slowing in the district. Compared with 167 cases per 100,000 in 2004, the AIDS rate dropped to 148 cases in 2007, and has now dropped again to 107 cases per 100,000 residents as of 2008. Over a four year period, this change in AIDS prevalence represents a 22% decline, which is a major step forward for D.C. public health. The same report also indicated a 4% increase in the percentage of residents who went for HIV testing in D.C., up from 15% in 2005 to 19% in 2008.

Still, with a reported 81% of the D.C. population not being tested, and with the AIDS rate being 10 times higher than in most U.S. states, HIV continues to serve as a major threat to our nation's capitol, and this problem is not to be taken lightly. Prevention efforts which have become gimmicky and tired must be re-evaluated, and the perception of susceptibility must be emphasized to the public. Hopes are that if these efforts continue in Washington, D.C., then the number of AIDS cases will begin to drop. And with new studies being done to link the efficacy of treatment with the efforts of prevention, the horizon for halting the spread of HIV in D.C., and in the world, looks brighter and more focused every day.


Flower of the Week

Water Lily. Floating ever so gracefully to adorn your favorite pond like a rooted barrette, she is a prized feature of the somewhat obscure world of water gardening. Changing color throughout the course of her bloom, and having enough charm to inspire the likes of Claude Monet, there is no denying that this aquatic muse is something special.


Boycott BP!

After all, they are the face of the largest and most devastating environmental disaster in U.S. history. We, as citizens, have the power to reflect a clear message that those profligate companies who recklessly pursue profit without a measured consideration for our environment and our livelihoods will face certain consequences as a result of their actions. Already BP's shareholders are pulling out of the company, who's stocks are plumeting because of a perceived lack of trust in its dealings. And the more customers BP looses, the more BP's future will be compromised, and a significant directive will be implied to other negligent corporations: your lack of environmental consideration and sustainability will result in the uncertain sustainability of your business goals. We have this power as citizens, and as consumers.

Of course, it is important to recognize the context of the situation, and that BP is not the sole offender in this crime against the earth. A lack of government regulation , a culture addicted to oil, and the unchecked power of the corporate complex have resulted in a situation that both fuels and encourages such behavior as was brought to light with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig. It is important to examine the systematic infrastructure that prescribes these types of disaster, and to hold accountability at all levels: the government, the corporate, and the individual.

Still, it is up to us whether we explore all the avenues of our power to get the message across that this type of destruction is not o.k. with us. Public Citizen has put together a great petition to show BP and the world that this type of behavior does not reflect our choices as consumers. It features the haunting live-feed video images of the surging oil spill, as well as all of the products and companies that fall under the BP umbrella. Sign the petition here, and let your dissent be heard.

Public Citizen's Boycott BP Petition


10 Ways to Stay off Oil [Condensed]

In light of the recent tragedy of the BP oil spill, I feel as if it's imperative to draw attention to the true root of this environmental catastrophe, which lies in our unbridled and seemingly interminable dependence on oil for our daily lives. It is so embedded in our consumer culture that we are often not fully aware of the plethora of functions in which it plays a role.

And since the original post I had written about staying off oil was probably the longest blog post I have written to date, I thought it would be helpful for a condensed list that would provide the integral information to help raise awareness about oil consumption, but that wouldn't require taking a day off from work just to get through it.

So, if you would like to improve your personal independence from oil, here are a few suggestions:

1. If you don't absolutely have to, don't drive cars (duh!)

2. If you MUST drive, then actively look for ways to improve your gas mileage and get more bang for your buck.

3. Halt the unnecessary use/production of plastic bags.

4. Buy local, in-season produce and other agricultural products.

5. Get yourself a reusable water bottle, and stay away from harmful plastics.

6. Choose bulk items and fresh foods which require little to no packaging.

7. Instead of wearing synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester, choose natural fibers like cotton, wool, and hemp.

8. Choose makeups and other skin care products that are not made of petroleum.

9. Weatherize your home.

10. Call for accountability at all levels. This means putting pressure back on our representatives to enforce strict regulations, push for policies that are less detrimental to our environment and our well-being, and to hold the energy giants responsible when they cause incalculable damage.

For a complete description of why all of these points are so important, and to get some suggestions and help for how to implement them on your own, you can read the full article here.



SPC Bradley Manning was arrested two weeks ago at his post in Iraq, and is currently being held in custody in Kuwait with no formal charges. His arrest came after a supposed admission that Manning was responsible for the release of confidential military materials to the whistleblower site WikiLeaks; namely, a video portraying U.S. soldiers firing on and killing innocent civilians and members of the press from an Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007.

WikiLeaks released the video this past April, and was generally responded to with outrage. Shot from an Apache helicopter, the video clearly shows a shameless act of unprovoked aggression, an act that WikiLeaks has come to refer to as "Collateral Murder." It shows 22 year old Reuter's photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his colleague, Saeed Chmagh, walking down a Baghdad street carrying their equipment, when they were gunned down and killed along with 10 other civilians by U.S. soldiers inside the helicopter. Two small children were also wounded in this attack.

The video had been kept under wraps, despite many attempts by Reuters to obtain it through the Freedom of Information Act. The military had also supposedly performed an investigation into the killings, and deemed the actions of its soldiers justified. According to a military official, "no innocent civilians were killed on our part deliberately. We took great pains to prevent that. I know that two children were hurt, and we did everything we could to help them. I don't know how the children were hurt." If you watch the video, it is clear that these comments are false (Warning: this video depicts murder, and is quite graphic and traumatic; it is NOT for the faint of heart).

The soldiers who shot and killed twelve innocent people for no good reason were never prosecuted nor were they formally reprimanded for their actions. BUT, the man who releases a video revealing these actions is being held for breaching confidentiality? What type of message is the U.S. military sending? That it is o.k. for soldiers to murder civilians, but not o.k. to talk about it? That revealing an embarrassing truth is a criminal act?

Whether or not these soldiers were acting on good faith intentions, they were blatantly indecorous, and should be treated as such. In contrast, I hope that Private Manning is punished in a manner that is reflective of the severity of his actions, and not of the corresponding dishonor that the military has experienced as a result of this embarrassing leak. But despite the internal conflicts this may have created for military personnel, the event was in any case an utter and unnecessary tragedy. My last thought goes to the families of Chmagh and Noor-Eldeen, of the other 10 victims, and all of the victims of collateral murder in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in unspoken wars around the world.


Wings of Hope

The other night, while watching a great documentary about dirt, I heard for the first time the amazing story of the humming bird, and how she never lost sight of hope. Have you heard it? It's a simple tale, but quite inspirational, and it goes something like this:

One day, not so long ago from now, in a place not so different from here, a terrible fire broke out in a forest. All at once, the trees were engulfed in flames, and the woodlands which had been home to so many creatures were suddenly at the mercy of this raging blaze.

Terrified, all of the animals fled their homes as fast as they could. They ran out from the forest, and far away to safety. Once they were far enough, they turned to watch the forest ablaze.

Hopeless, they began to cry and bemoan the destruction of their homes. They felt powerless to stop this monstrous fire which was ravaging the forest that they loved so much. They were sure that there was nothing they could do, no force they could display which would be strong enough to put the mighty fire out.

Every one of them thought there was nothing they could do about the fire, except for one little hummingbird.

This particular hummingbird decided she would do something. She flew up above the heads of the towering beasts around her, and found a stream nearby. She flew over to the stream, swooped down and scooped up a few drops of water in her tiny little beak. She held the water there and flew as fast as she could back to her forest, where she let the water fall onto the fire.

Then she went back to the stream to pick up a few more drops of water, and she flew back to the forest again. And she did it again, and again, and again, each time carrying just the tiniest bit of water to the flames.

All the other animals watched in disbelief. If the giant elephants and the soaring eagles could not stop the flames from destroying their home, surely this pipsqueak hummingbird would not succeed.

They doubted her strength. They thought eventually she would tire, or be burnt by the flames, or just give up hope as they already had. "Don't bother," they said, "the flames are too big and you are too little. You will not be able to stop that fire."

But still, the diligent hummingbird persisted. She noticed how hopeless all her friends looked, how resigned and afraid they were to loose their homes, and how sad. She wondered why they did not join her. But she did not stop bringing drop by little drop from the stream to the forest, in a seemingly endless effort.

As the fire blazed ferociously upon their beloved forest, one of the animals called up to her: "Hummingbird, why do you waste your time? That fire is too powerful for you. What do you think you are doing?"

And the hummingbird, without turning back or losing a beat of her wing, called back: "I am doing what I can."

Let's all be like the hummingbird, shall we? And do what we can, however small, to save our home.


Flower of the Week

Complicata: a deceiving name for this simple 5-petaled, single-bloom rose. I found it this weekend in Brooklyn, NY, and immediately noticed there was something very special about its deep, silky texture and its sprinkle-like bright yellow anthers, which make it a stunning sight. It has no thorns, and is so delectably scented that it makes itself vulnerable to honey bees and flower-pickers alike. Luckily, the shrub is a hardy one. It is very robust and reliable through the winter months, flowering in summer for a fantastic display which lasts for 6 to 8 weeks. Highly recommended for your garden at home!


"No-Good Grime Gone Fast"

This is sure to bring a smile to your face. Brought to you by Pick Up America, it's a sweet video featuring a bit of what they've been up to as they traverse our lands. Featuring music by the lovely and talented Allison Chang, and pickup artist Jeff Chen.


10 Ways to Stay off Oil

As more and more oil pours into the waters, beaches, and wetlands, poisoning the ecosystems and crippling the communities around the Gulf of Mexico, a feeling of outrage emerges. Citizens around the country are becoming enlivened with a need to take action, to help mediate the unfathomable disaster of the massive BP oil spill, and to make sure it never happens again.

The truth is, while it is impossible at this point to undo the terrible tragedy in the gulf, it is entirely possible to prevent similar spills from happening in the future. The global demand for oil is effectively fueling the drive for offshore drilling (no pun intended). Unless something changes in the public demand for oil, then oil will continue to be drilled with enormously volatile consequences, such as the one we are now witnessing every day in our waters. In order for that demand to change, some changes must first be made in our day-to-day lives. Below you will find 10 simple ways to reduce your personal consumption of oil, to make the individual impact that is necessary for large-scale change to occur:

1. If you don't absolutely have to, don't drive cars. This is perhaps the simplest and most well-known item on most "reduce your dependence" lists, but it is the also the most important. I know we all have hard-ons for autos in this country, but seriously. Just think about how many unnecessary trips you make in your car to destinations that are less than a mile away, when you could just as easily hop on a bike or take a peaceful stroll to get to that same place. It's so important: Get outside! Move your body! Interact with the community around you! Plus, with the abundance of public transportation in our world, the necessity of personal cars is becoming increasingly difficult to justify.

2. BUT, if you absolutely MUST drive (I know those summer road trips are hard to pass up), be a little smarter about your gas use. This means that you should A.) Coast as often as possible, instead of constantly breaking and then accelerating again (don't be an auto-spaz). B.) Drive slow (not like grandma- just keep to the speed limits). According to Fueleconomy.gov, driving at faster speeds reduces your fuel efficiency between 5 and 23 percent! C.) Check your tire pressure and air filter regularly to make sure they're up to standard. Dirty air filters reduce your miles per gallon by 10%! You don't want that. D.) Don't idle your car. It's just silly. Basically, turning your car off and then back on again uses about the same amount of gas as idling for 10 seconds. So, if you know you'll be sitting for longer than 3 deep breaths, turn that engine off.

3. Eliminate plastic bags from production. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce and distribute the amount of plastic bags used in the U.S. each year, since they are not only shipped using petroleum, but made with petroleum as well. Not to mention that they are non-biodegradable, highly toxic, and one of the top polluters of our oceans and shorelines. So, we're faced with a no-brainer here: eliminate use of plastic bags, and instead switch to handy re-usables! It is completely possible to do this, when we stop to think about how unnecessary plastic bags are. I mean really, truly, sincerely, profoundly unnecessary. Reusable canvas bags are sturdier, often prettier and more interesting, and... oh yeah! They are reusable!

4.Buy Local! This means eating seasonal produce and other food items that have traveled no more than 100 miles to get to your plate. Preferably, these items should be bought from a Community-Supported Agricultural project, or from your local farmer's market. Ideally, they could be grown in your backyard! The heavy environmental burden of transporting out-of-season fruits and vegetables from other parts of the world is largely due to the amount of oil used to ship and truck these food items around. Plus, think about how much better the incredibly fresh food will taste, knowing that you're supporting local farmers.

5. Buy yourself a nice stainless steel water bottle. Just the production of plastic water bottles alone uses 1.5 million barrels of oil each year- enough to run 100,000 cars uninterrupted for a year. And that's not to mention the oil used in the transport of our simplest resource within these plastic containers over thousands of miles, when we could just turn on our tap and have the same crisp cool water, minus the oil. Staying away from plastic water bottles is also a nice way to guarantee BPA-free drinking.

6. Loose the Packaging: Buy products that are loose and not unnecessarily wrapped in excessive packaging. Food items such as bulk grains and fresh fruits and vegetables are always available at the grocery store, and don't involve overwhelming layers of plastic packaging. For other products, buying items second hand definitely helps to cut down on packaging and production, two aspects of our consumer culture which heavily intensify our dependence on oil.

7. Say no to nylon and polyester, since both items are petroleum based. Instead, choose natural fibers and textiles such as cotton, wool, and hemp. Or just go naked, whatever.

8. Don't be putting petroleum on your face. What? Ew! Well, it's true that many skin care products such as makeup and moisturizers are made from compounds extracted from the same refineries that your auto fuel is coming from. For help deciphering which products are safe, use the Environmental Working Group's database, Skin Deep, and make sure your products aren't oil-based.

9. Weatherize your home, and cut down on home energy use! Home energy audits are a great way to figure out what your home consumption looks like, and to pinpoint solutions for making your home more environmentally sustainable. For every million homes weatherized, three million barrels of oil are saved. Not to mention, it's a great way to cut down on your utility bills!

10. Call for accountability- at all levels. Sure, it might be a great idea to boycott BP. After all, they are the face of the largest and most devastating environmental disaster in the U.S., and directing our outrage at them seems almost instinctual. However, it's important to remember that BP's misbehavior took place within the context of limited government oversight and a lack of direct accountability. It's as if BP is the onerous young child who is never disciplined for his misbehavior, and so acts out destructively, and all you can wonder is... where are the parents?! It has been revealed in the month since the gulf oil spill that the government showed a sickening lack of regulation over the issuance of a multitude offshore drilling permits, and that BP's Deepwater Horizon project was one of those lucky ones that squeaked by without a full review. And still, in the face of this disaster, and despite a temporary moratorium on offshore drilling permits, the Obama administration has issued 7 new permits in the past month. So it's important to remember that our responsibility lies not only with our own personal behaviors and lifestyle choices, but with our power as a people to influence our leaders, keep the pressure on to hold them accountable for their actions, and demand that our future not be compromised by short-sight and greed.