Crowdsourcing the world

INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson

Jeff Howe, who coined the term “crowdsourcing,” defines it as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent – usually an employee – and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call.”

When Vancouverites gathered for the second Fresh Media ReMixology event, I, along with other event organizers, expected a conversation focused on crowdsourced media making. What we didn’t entirely foresee is that people have a hunger to learn not just about this new form of media making, but also about what this form of production means for other spheres of society.

We shouldn’t have been surprised considering several of us organizers conceptualized the ReMixology series as being, in part, about remixing our roles and society at large – society as an open platform – but it was a surprise nonetheless.

Crowdsourcing media

The Fresh Media discussion began with a focus on media with UBC journalism professor Alfred Hermida introducing the topic of crowdsourcing. Hermida noted, “News organizations are exploring more collective, collaborative approaches, often around the edges of their news operations.” He talked about using the crowd for observation, breaking news and investigative work.

Leigh Cristie of the eatART Foundation talked about how he uses the web to crowd-cast – calls for participation – for specific project needs and to bring a community of contributors together. David Asher from Mozilla Foundation talked about how they have millions of people testing and thousands contributing to Mozilla software like the well-known Firefox web browser.

From what I could glean from the discussion, both of the roles involved in online media –production and the technical tools required to make sense of what’s out there in terms of content – still need to be full developed. But our conversation made clear that the process of figuring all this out is well underway.

It’s not about media

While it was interesting surveying the role of crowdsoucing in the world of media, art and software, the ReMixology conversation quickly moved to broader questions about the role crowdsourcing – and specifically twitter – plays in social movements and its role in the broader offline world. Reilly Yeo asked a question about the role of social media in social movements, citing a recently widely circulated article on the subject by Malcolm Gladwell. Perhaps the best response came from twitter user Miraj Khaled (@asterix), who said, “Twitter is only a platform & crowdsourcing a process. Movements are built by real people i.e. “influencers” with the aid of these tools.”

As Miraj suggests, crowdsourcing is a process or mode of production that bases the production of media – and anything else – and decision-making within a community of people. As Asher notes, we’re at an “early stage of shifting form hierarchal control structures to much more organic, free form” ways of operating. Why not move the behaviours associated with crowdsourcing – collaboration, free sharing, promiscuous creatively – to the offline world?

In his appropriately titled book Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe goes through a diverse array of examples where people have put crowdsourcing to use with everything from tracking birds to NASA’s tracking changes in the surface of Mars to making T-shirts. The open Internet has lowered the barriers for participation in all facets of life, not just media production.

This brings us back to the exciting moment we’re at now pertaining to media: it’s not just the content of media that can inspire change; it’s also the process of media making itself. As the boundaries and roles of the industrial era break down before our eyes, one thing is certain: it’s a good time to engage.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I did crowdsource this column about crowdsourcing.

The next Fresh Media ReMixology takes place November 6 at the W2 Media Arts Centre. Details at http://freshmedia.me/

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.
steve@democraticmedia.ca
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The local food access puzzle

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

The conclusion of another fast-paced year approaches, one in which I have been immersed in discussions about food security issues and also witnessed many inspiring initiatives to jumpstart a local food revolution. It’s no wonder so many British Columbians are concerned about food security; you only have to read the daily papers to realize that the situation has sunk to an all time low. Below are some key facts I gleaned from newspapers recently, which shed further light on the current puzzle about access to local food.

Fifty years ago, Vancouver Island farmers produced 85 percent of the Island’s food. Today, Island producers provide only about five percent of the food consumed; the rest is imported at economic and ecological expense to us all. The cost to produce local food is much higher than that of foods imported from countries that are unfairly subsidized and/or where labour and environmental standards range from questionable to non-existent. In many communities around the world, local economies have been decimated, as local food production supply chains have withered – the people who grow our food cannot feed themselves.

According to a 2010 study conducted by the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, on average, Prairie farmers receive about 27 percent of every dollar spent on food, but for grain products, such as bread, farmers keep only about four percent, a figure that has not changed in two years. The middleman gets more of the food basket price while the farmer stays at 2008 levels.

 

Now a proposed trade agreement between Canada and the European Union could make it harder for public institutions like schools, hospitals and universities to buy local food. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) would allow Canadian companies to export to the EU without meeting EU standards and regulations and vice- versa. The National Farmers’ Union has launched a campaign against CETA, warning it will make it even harder for Canadian farms to stay viable. “CETA would mean many changes, but none more negative than its effect to extinguish farmers’ rights to save and re-use seeds,” stated NFU president Terry Boehm. “With powers such as those proposed in the CETA, seed companies will gain significant power over who farms and how.”

According to the report Growing Up in BC, released on October 18, in 2008 the BC child poverty rate was 10.4 percent, 1.3 percent above the national average. (It has exceeded the national average since 2000). The poor continue to experience the impact of food with low nutritional value as well as rising food costs. We need to rebuild the social safety net with a fair minimum wage and a proper old-age pension so that people can afford to buy healthy food. We should also provide cooking classes on how to use fresh produce.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked the weight of citizens of the world’s richest countries. Canadians rated the sixth fattest people on the planet, behind Americans, Mexicans, the British, Australians and New Zealanders. Nearly one in three Canadians is overweight and about one in four is obese. The reason? Food is cheaper than in the past, especially unhealthy fast food, and people eat out more because they devote less time to preparing meals at home.

BC’s Auditor General John Doyle warned that the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) must make changes so it does a better job of protecting farmland. Vancouver Island has seen shrinkage of 13 percent in land covered by the ALR in the past 36 years. In BC, as a whole, there was a six percent increase; this pertains to land situated up north, which is hardly prime land for farming and there is no fair trade-off for losses in the south. The ALC is swamped with proposals from developers and it needs more support to do its job, which includes land mapping and enforcement. The ALC also needs adequate funding. Doyle notes the ALC’s budget this year was 30 percent below funding in 2002.

In August of this year, BC Statistics released its PEOPLE 35 (Population Extrapolation for Organizational Planning with Less Error) population projection. By 2036, BC’s population will be almost 6.1 million and almost one-quarter of BC residents will be aged 65 or older. As a result of the dramatic increase in the proportion of seniors in the population, the ratio of elderly dependents on working-age people (18 to 64) will double to four dependents for every 10 potential workers by 2036.The growth in the senior population will place heavy demands on societal institutions, not the least of which are healthcare and housing. In 2009, seniors 80+ accounted for four percent of the population; by 2036 this age group will account for more than seven percent.

It does not take a crystal ball to realize that we need to invest in small-scale, diversified local food production, both on organic farms and in dense urban areas. The next question is how to provide the next generation of farmers access to land to grow the food to meet the demands of the future.

Carolyn Herriot is the author of The Zero Mile Diet – A Year-round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food. (Harbour Publishing).earthfuture.com/gardenpath/

Harvest photo by Peter Sircom Bromley

Evolving beyond pain

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

You are responsible for your life. You can’t keep blaming somebody else for your dysfunction. Life is really about moving on. – Oprah Winfrey

Life is such an interesting journey and part of being human is the attempt to understand the meaning of it all. The meaning we ascribe to our experiences depends on our perspective. Think of viewing something under a microscope. Imagine we have a blade of grass. It looks green and solid to our naked eye. Put it under a microscope at a low 2power and what we now see looks quite different. If we were not aware of any other viewing powers, we would think we knew the structure of that blade of grass. Of course, we know that, with the right equipment, we can see things at the atomic and subatomic levels.

In examining our lives, there are many different levels of awareness and understanding, each allowing a different perspective. The perspective we choose will determine our reality. The perspective of ego tends to be narrow and inflexible. Think of a child who wants a particular toy or treat. The parent says “no,” intending to act in the best interests of the child. The child sees only that the parents thwarted his desire so he is mad and they are bad parents. He is really not interested in any of their reasons.

Imagine a man a few months before his wedding telling his partner he cannot go through with it. He has realized there are major areas that just do not fit. Perhaps what worked when they first met five years ago no longer does. Hard as it is, he thinks it better to be honest than to go through a charade only to divorce later.

Of course, there will be strong emotions on the part of the woman. She is devastated. The ego perspective is in the forefront, which is natural. The question is with time, will she be able to look at things from a different perspective. The ego perspective is “You jerk! How can you do this to me? You made a promise. The invitations are out, the facilities booked and the photographer and flowers are arranged; it’s too late to back out. This is so embarrassing!” Her ego tries to convince him to change his mind and when that does not work, her anger escalates. She may not consider his perspective at all because, at this point, it is all about what he has done to her.

If, in time, she is able to expand her perspective, she may realize there were things in the relationship that were not really working for her. But she had convinced herself that things would get better after they married and she was all caught up in the drama and excitement of wedding planning.

She may eventually reach a more expansive perspective, feeling thankful that he had the courage to do something so difficult because he knew he had to live his truth. She may come to understand that, when we act in accordance with our highest good, it serves the highest good of all involved, whether they see it at the time or not.

Contrast this with someone who never moves beyond the initial perspective, remaining hurt and bitter, deciding never to trust a man again. We can see this same kind of limiting perspective in people who blame their parents for all their adult problems, reliving all the hurts from childhood as if they just happened yesterday.

Ego can hold on to its position, refusing to forgive and unable to move on. When we take a more expansive perspective and assume responsibility for our own lives, we think of how our experiences, however difficult, can make us stronger. We also reflect on the kinds of wisdom we can gain and perhaps even use that wisdom to give something to the world that raises the consciousness of others. This is how we evolve. We can either choose to stagnate in the swamp of blame, recrimination and victim consciousness or we can pull ourselves out of it, climb to higher ground and perhaps even fly.

Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist in private practise and author ofGrowing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For more articles, permission to reprint and information about her books and “Deep Powerful Change” personal growth/hypnosis CDs, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

Inside Job a horror story

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

The face of the financial crisis has taken many forms, from people lining up outside banks desperate to get at their savings to the dilapidation of newly built suburban homes that have been foreclosed on. Inside Job, a punch-packing documentary by Charles Ferguson, the director who previously picked through the wreckage of US Iraq policy in No End in Sight, goes straight to the top. It homes in on the architects of the unfinished credit crisis and asks how such a precarious financial edifice came into being and why its collapse reverberated around the world causing widespread grief and mayhem.

Inside Job is not really an exposé since many of the details of the financial debacle have been drip-fed to us over the years in the media and even in a few quick-out-of-the-stalls documentaries. Yet it feels like an exposé partly because it offers a uniquely succinct explanation of the events that led to what economist Nouriel Roubini calls “a cardiac arrest of the general financial system” in September 2008. But more importantly, director Charles Ferguson shows a willingness to challenge the ruling elite in a way that you rarely see in run-of-the-mill news reports.

Considering there are many talking heads, this is a gripping shocker of a story, involving shady deals, backhanders, unfettered greed, mass delusion and mind-boggling amounts of money. It’s also put together in an elegant package, from a snappy opening montage set to Peter Gabriel’s Big Time to the slick cinematography of the final credits with its aerial shots of Manhattan. Matt Damon’s jargon-free narration and user-friendly graphics also help.

Inside Job starts in Iceland where flashy and unscrupulous private bankers managed to bankrupt a whole country. It goes on to explain how a steady erosion of US market regulation, going back to the Reagan era, got us into the deep doo-doo. The object of Ferguson’s carefully channelled ire is not so much the system, but the men who pushed it to the breaking point and walked away from the mess with billions in their pockets.

Here, Ferguson’s pointed interview style – and the merciless editing of those interviews – comes into its own. Yet not all are tarred with the same brush. The likes of billionaire financier George Soros and former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker (glass of scotch in hand) provide sage analysis. The disgraced Eliot Spitzer, who built a gleaming career fighting Wall Street crime until the prostitution scandal broke in 2008, is given a fair shake; a Manhattan madam tells us bankers were using her high-end brothel on the company payroll. It was common knowledge, but the law turned a blind eye.

But Ferguson pounces on evasion. Fred Mishkin, who quit as Governor of the Fed at the height of the crisis to edit a textbook, comes across as a bumbling twit. Elsewhere, Ferguson, who is only heard but not seen, stops former Bush advisor David McCormick in his tracks with a “You can’t be serious” and McCormick demands the camera be turned off. When Ferguson pushes Glenn Hubbard, the Dean of Columbia Business School, the former Bush chief economic adviser fixes him with an icy glare and tells him, “You have three more minutes. Give it your best shot.”

Academia, like government, is shown to have been bought out. We learn that Mishkin and UK economist Richard Portes, for example, accepted six-figure fees for glowing reports that led to further de-regulation of the Icelandic financial system.

Many of the key targets of Ferguson’s ire – Larry Summers, Hank Paulson, Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, the heads of ratings agencies and investment banks – were sly enough to refuse interviews, which is a pity, but not damaging to the film. There’s sufficient info on the public record and insiders’ anecdotes to reveal their role in the crisis.

Having laid out a catalogue of horrors, the film notes that, under Obama, it’s “business as usual.” As Roubini points out, there’s been no investigation into the crisis “because then you’ll find the culprits.” Hopefully, Inside Job will change that.

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike Alone.www.youneverbikealone.com. He writes at www.2020Vancouver.com.

Shady growing good for coffee

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, after oil. And as with oil, the massive scale of production necessary to meet our insatiable demand for coffee results in an enormous ecological footprint. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, more than seven million tonnes of coffee will be produced worldwide this year.

The thirst for coffee is growing rapidly in developing countries, like Indonesia, where coffee beans are grown and exported. And while citizens of wealthier nations are cutting their coffee consumption, people in Africa and South America are drinking more – thanks to increasing household incomes, population growth, changing tastes, and successful marketing. The US-based Starbucks coffee chain has even announced that it will open a shop in post-conflict Algeria, with plans to expand to 30 stores in Africa over the next two years.

With so many people drinking coffee (63 percent of Canadians drink, on average, 2.6 cups per day), growers have industrialized production to meet demand. They’ve done this by establishing high-yield monoculture plantations, spraying toxic pesticides and even developing genetically modified varieties that allow traditionally shade-grown coffee, like arabica, to be grown under more economically productive conditions in partial or full sunlight.

These industrial agricultural practices have proven successful in ensuring a steady supply of beans to world markets, but the environmental costs associated with much of the coffee consumed worldwide is too high, according to many scientists.

Most coffee sold in Canada is grown in open plantations on land that was once tropical or subtropical forest. Since the early 1970s, huge swaths of natural rain forest have been cleared in coffee-producing nations such as Mexico, as the industry has shifted from traditional shade production to “sun-grown.” A sun-grown variety such as robusta can be planted at more than three times the density of arabica shade coffee; most of the mass-produced and instant coffees you see on supermarket shelves are grown in this way.

According to Bridget Stutchbury, an internationally renowned bird expert who has studied the impacts of coffee production on neotropical birds, “Sun coffee is not a self-sufficient ecosystem – it can only be grown with large amounts of fertilizer, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides. There are no trees to shade the coffee plants and soil from the downpours of tropical rains; soil erosion and leaching is a big problem in sun coffee farms.”

Troubled by the considerable environmental and social footprint of their favourite beverage, many consumers are looking for coffee that has been certified as organic, fair trade, or otherwise sustainably grown. But with so many choices and confusing and difficult to verify environmental claims by businesses, experts recommend you choose coffee that has been triple certified: organic, fair trade and “shade grown.”

Although it won’t replace natural forests, growing coffee in shade using agro-ecosystem techniques does provide extensive understory and canopy cover from a diversity of tropical trees, providing a refuge for butterflies, birds and other wildlife. Studies have shown that shade coffee plantations can provide habitat approaching natural conditions. For instance, a study in the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in southern Mexico found the number of migratory bird species inhabiting a heavily shaded coffee plantation (30 to 35 species) approached that of a natural rain forest (35 to 40 species). In contrast, sun coffee plantations were used by fewer than five species.

As with food labelled organic or fair trade, consumers need a credible certification system to guarantee their cup of coffee has been produced in a way that doesn’t harm bird and other wildlife habitat. One credible certification system for shade coffee is the “Bird Friendly” eco-label, which is awarded to producers who follow a rigorous audit and verification process by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Switching to certified shade-grown coffee won’t save the planet on its own, but it is one more simple way to lessen your environmental impact.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

NEWSBYTES – consumers paying more for food

Consumers are paying more for food at the grocery store with a sizeable percentage going to processors, marketers and other middlemen. That’s the finding of a study commissioned by three Prairie farm organizations: Keystone Agricultural Producers of Manitoba, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan and Wild Rose Agricultural Producers of Alberta.

This is the third year of a study examining the cost of a healthy food basket for a family of four. The food was purchased at a Winnipeg Safeway in May. This year, the total food cost before taxes was $198.95. That compares to $194.23 in 2009 and $188.22 in 2008. The farmers’ share of the food basket is 27.1 percent. That’s the same as 2008 and one percent higher than last year.

The table below shows that depending on the food group, the farmers’ share ranged from just over four percent for grain products and up to 51 percent for milk. The study found that less-processed foods like vegetables often show a greater return to the farmer. In the case of bread or other grain products, the actual return to the farmer is extremely small. For example, a loaf of bread cost $1.29. The farmers’ share was 7.8 cents.

Percentage of farmers’ share of four food groups:

  2008 2009 2010
Vegetables & fruit 29% 25% 25%
Grain products 4% 5% 5%
Milk & alternatives 47% 53% 51.1%
Meat & alternatives 28% 22% 25.1%

Source: British Columbia Agriculture Council (BCAC) www.fcc-fac.ca/newsletters/en/express/articles/20100917_e.asp#story_1


Greens call for legal protection of BC coastline

Elizabeth May and the federal Greens have called for a multi-partisan, legislated ban on oil tanker traffic in BC’s Coastal Waters. In solidarity with Vancouver activists raising the alarm over oil tankers servicing the Alberta tar sands ploughing through BC’s southern coast into Vancouver Harbour, the Green Party of Canada renewed its call for a legislated ban on oil tankers along the entire BC coast.

Since 2007, the federal government has quietly allowed up to 700,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil to be shipped from Kinder-Morgan’s Burrard Inlet terminal in Vancouver each week, through the Strait of Juan de Fuca by Victoria and the Strait of Georgia by Saanich and the Gulf Islands. Plans are underway for a five-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the region in coming years in order to service the expansion of the Alberta tar sands to access Asian and international markets.

“In the House, the Minister of Natural Resources has described the oil tanker ban as voluntary. And under cover of loose terminology, oil tanker traffic on BC’s coast is on the rise. Since they came to power in 2006, the Harper Conservatives and Saanich – Gulf Islands MP Gary Lunn have shown themselves to be the strongest proponents of increased oil tanker traffic and expansion of the Alberta tar sands that is driving this whole process along,” stated Elizabeth May, national leader of the Green Party of Canada. “We must reverse this trend with multi-partisan cooperation for a federal, legislated ban on oil tanker traffic along Canada’s entire West Coast. I will be working to mobilize the Green Party membership and approaching the other parties to see that this happens.”

www.greenparty.ca


Grizzly bears threatened by major ski resort

The Jumbo Valley is smack in the middle of one of North America’s most important transboundary wildlife corridors and the BC government is about to decide whether or not to allow a major ski resort to be developed here. Grizzly bears use the Jumbo Valley, in the Purcell range to get to and from the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy. The conservancy is a safe place for wildlife like grizzlies, with good habitat, food and, most importantly, no human development.

Please take 60 seconds to write to Premier Campbell (go to http://www.keepitwild.ca/act) insisting that the BC government reject the development of the Jumbo Glacier Resort and keep the Jumbo Valley wild forever. For two decades now, Kootenay residents, including the Ktunaxa Nation, have opposed the Jumbo Glacier Resort, which would convert thousands of hectares of wild land into real estate and boost human recreation at the expense of species protection.

Source: www.davidsuzuki.org


Donate old computers to charity

The Electronic Recycling Association (www.era.ca) is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the impact electronic waste has on the environment. The organization collects old computers and electronic equipment from various companies, individuals and government organizations.

If the equipment is reusable, ERA refurbishes it and donates it to various charities and non-profit organizations. If the equipment can definitely not be reused again, it is recycled at government-registered recyclers. Currently, ERA is trying to fill thousands of outstanding charity requests. The non-profit provides a full range of secure data destruction or data removal upon request and provides a pick-up and drop of service at various locations. The organization has offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal, with partnerships in every major city in Canada.

The three biggest donors annually win an all-inclusive, fantasy getaway to Fairmount Chateau, Lake Louise.

www.era.ca


HST Recall Recruitment Campaign continues to build momentum across BC

As of October 25, fight HST lead organizer Chris Delaney said the biggest gain was made in Don McRae’s Comox Valley riding, which shot up from 90 to 140 canvassers in one week putting them solidly in fourth place behind Oak Bay Gordon Head in first place with 189 canvassers, followed by Cariboo-Chilcotin in second place with 174 canvassers and Kamloops North in third with 162 canvassers.

“Most of the ridings with big numbers saw an even larger jump this past week probably due to voter anger over the Basi-Virk deal made by the government,” said Delaney. “That only fuelled the anti-HST fire. People are furious with the government and there can be no question that is adding momentum to our Recall campaign.”

Delaney says Boundary-Similkameen with 139 volunteers and Saanich North with 132 are in a tight three-way race for 4th place with Comox Valley. He says Parksville-Qualicum and Maple Ridge Mission are in 5th and 6th place, with 132 and 106 volunteers respectively.

“It is very competitive right now in eight of the 18 ridings. The other 10 all have a solid base of canvassers that even now could launch successful Recalls with the right strategy. For example, Kelowna has a collective total of 135 canvassers signed up and there is talk of pooling their resources and targeting one candidate instead of three there,” said Delaney. “With three weeks left to go it is anyone’s race to win, except the Liberals’ of course,” he concluded.


“Fox News North” abandons push for forced access

by Ricken Patel, www.avaaz.org

We’ve won an amazing victory against crony-media in Canada! “Fox News North” abandoned its push for forced access to our cable fees; 83,000 of us signed the petition, 25,000 sent letters to the CRTC and 4,000 donated over $115,000 and [in the first week of October] SunTV, seeing it could not win, dropped its request to the government to force cable companies to carry them. A huge congrats to everyone on this amazing victory for Canada.

It wasn’t easy. The Sun media empire threw everything it had at us – smear pieces, legal threats, even insider knowledge of sabotage of our campaigns – but our united voices proved more powerful than even a Harper-allied corporate giant. In late September, our campaign caused the resignation in disgrace of SunTV chief and former Harper spin-doctor Kory Teneycke, after we pressed for an RCMP investigation into the sabotage of our petition by people linked to Teneycke. While significant, Teneycke was replaced by another scandal-ridden spin-doctor for another conservative Prime Minister.

But the decision to abandon the forced access to our fees is a huge deal. “Fox News North” (SunTV) has admitted that, if given a free choice, Canadians won’t watch it enough to make it profitable. That’s why it sought a special licence from the CRTC that would force cable companies to carry it and why the press warned the CRTC was under pressure from the Harper government to grant this licence. So the success of our people-powered campaign could mean the end of this attempt to bring a poisonous brand of crony-media to Canada. Hooray!

Harper’s radical-right clique has launched a full scale assault on our democracy – forcing out top civil servants for refusing to be politicized, controlling press access to government like never before, even shutting down our Parliament when it suited them. A 24-hour propaganda news channel that backed their every move, no matter how outrageous, could have been a headshot to our country’s democratic character. This victory is Canadian democracy’s resilient response, and it’s beautiful. Thank you. With gratitude and excitement for all we can achieve together in the future, Ricken, Emma, Laryn and the whole Avaaz team.

Support the Avaaz community; we’re entirely funded by donations and receive no money from governments or corporations. Our dedicated team ensures even the smallest contributions go a long way.

Donate at www.avaaz.org

shopping cart photo © Piksel | Dreamstime.com

Banned no more – George Galloway speaks in Vancouver

by James Clark

Eighteen months ago, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney blocked then-British MP George Galloway from Canada, labelling him a terror supporter and a national security risk. At the time, Galloway was scheduled to appear in four Canadian cities on a speaking tour called “Resisting War: From Gaza to Afghanistan.”

Galloway and his supporters protested, saying the move was a crass political attempt to silence criticism of Canadian foreign policy on Afghanistan and Palestine. Weeks before the ban, Galloway had led a humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza as part of an international campaign to break Israel’s illegal blockade.

In September, after Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley issued his 60-page decision on the matter, Galloway and his supporters were fully vindicated. But you’d never know it from reading mainstream media’s response to the decision. Most headlines declared that Galloway “lost” his appeal because the judge dismissed the case. Justice Mosley ruled that, since Galloway had not been denied entry into Canada at the border, a final decision on his admissibility had not been made. This meant that Justice Mosley had no decision to overturn. Consequently, Justice Mosley dismissed the case, but not before agreeing with every other claim made by Galloway and his supporters. This is what most mainstream media seems to have missed.

The ruling is a victory for three reasons:First, it exposes and documents the Conservatives’ attacks on Canadians’ free-speech rights. Galloway and his supporters argued that Kenney’s decision was purely a political one that had nothing to do with national security. Justice Mosley agrees: “[T]he evidence is that the government wished to prevent Mr. Galloway from expounding his views on Canadian soil. I agree with the applicants that, based on the evidence of the e-mails and public statements in the record, the concern with Galloway’s anticipated presence in Canada related solely to the content of the messages that the respondents [the government] expected him to deliver.”

Justice Mosley also acknowledges that the “highest levels of government” tried to influence the outcome of a potential admissibility assessment by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) at a Canadian port of entry: “It is also clear that the preliminary assessment was prepared with the intention that it be used to justify a CBSA officer’s determination that Mr. Galloway was inadmissible should he appear at the border.”

This vindicates Galloway’s concerns that he would be deemed inadmissible at the border, which is what he was told in a letter from the Canadian High Commission before he left the UK. Galloway was right to worry about the possibility of being detained indefinitely at the Canadian border or, worse, being returned to the US (where he was conducting a speaking tour at the time) for being a “national security risk” in Canada – an event that would have jeopardized his status on American soil.

The second reason the ruling is a victory for Galloway is because it paves the way for his return to Canada. Should Galloway turn up at a Canadian point of entry – something that Galloway is expected to do very soon – a CBSA officer will have to rule on his admissibility. In light of the decision, it will be impossible for an officer to deem Galloway inadmissible based on the politically compromised preliminary assessment. The ruling should be seen as a warning to the government to end its political interference to block Galloway’s entry to Canada.

The ruling unequivocally dismisses the government’s claims that Galloway is a national security threat or a supporter of terrorism. Justice Mosley writes: “From the evidence on the record, the question of Galloway’s admissibility was never an issue of national security. As indicated above, CSIS was consulted prior to the writing of the CBSA assessment and had no national security concerns about his visit.”

During the Federal Court hearing, it became clear that Jason Kenney’s director of communications, Alykhan Velshi, the staffer who set the ban in motion, did not include CSIS’s findings in the preliminary assessment.

Justice Mosley also slams how the government made its assessment: “The assessment is not reasonable, in my view, as it overreaches in its interpretation of the facts, errs in its application of the law and fundamentally fails to take into account the purposes for which Galloway provided aid to the people of Gaza through the Hamas government. I think it necessary to discuss my reasons for this conclusion in some detail to assist the parties should the question of Mr. Galloway’s admissibility arise again.” In addition, Justice Mosley dismisses the government’s familiar refrain that Galloway’s humanitarian support for the people of Gaza is the same as support for terrorism.

By these criteria, even though the application was ultimately dismissed, the ruling sides overwhelmingly with Galloway and his supporters. The government and its backers in the press may try to spin it as a defeat for Galloway, but they really have nothing to cheer about: the government’s political interference has been exposed and condemned, the door is now open for Galloway to return to Canada and the government’s unfounded allegations against Galloway have been dismissed.

Galloway returns to Canada for a 10-city tour (November 17-28) to deliver the message he was prevented from delivering in person 18 months ago. It is up to us to hold Kenney to account for this most recent abuse of government power. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

James Clark is a member of the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and an applicant in the case brought by supporters of George Galloway against the Government of Canada. Originally published at rabble.ca. Reprinted with permission.


George Galloway speaks in Vancouver

Nov. 22, 7:30pm
St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church (Burrard & Nelson). 
Tickets $15 or $10/unwaged or low-income. Available at People’s Coop Bookstore (1391 Commerical Dr). Organized locally by the StopWar.ca Coalition, co-sponsored by the Seriously Free Speech Committee and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights UBC. National tour sponsors include the Canadian Peace Alliance, the Canadian Boat to Gaza, the Canadian Arab Federation and Independent Jewish Voices. Toronto talk: November 20. Calgary talk: Nov 23. For a complete list of speaking engagements, visit www.rabble.ca. Search for George Galloway November 2010. For more info, email stopwar@resist.ca

Trade agreement with Europe threatens Canada’s farmers

by Terry Boehm

The fourth round of negotiations over a new trade agreement between Canada and Europe – CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) – took place in Ottawa last month and yet few Canadians have even heard of this trade deal. Many Canadians might expect a trade deal with Europe to be a progressive step forward, but, in this case, the opposite is true. The trade deal threatens to give biotech, pharmaceutical, pesticide and seed and grain companies powerful new tools to force farmers to buy gene-patented seeds at high prices. Worse, it will almost entirely eliminate the rights of farmers to save, reuse, exchange and sell seed.

This so-called bilateral agreement between the European Union and Canada is, in reality, a deal between Canada and the 27 member states of the European Union and, as such, it is hardly bilateral. That being said, the European Commission is negotiating this trade deal on behalf of EU member states and aggressively pushing an extreme right-wing agenda. Coupled with strong Canadian leanings in the same direction, the agreement is providing a platform for our government to bring forward legislation that would likely never pass on its own. Essentially, CETA is a “lets get it in the back door” approach from both sides of the Atlantic. This is exacerbated because the negotiation process is semi-secret where the “parties” have agreed not to disclose the content of the text while negotiations are in progress.

The National Farmers Union was able to obtain a leaked draft text of the CETA agreement in March and the scope and reach of the agreement is breathtaking. The deal would require compliance from all levels of government, including provincial and municipal. It is clear that the Europeans want access to our resources and access to all government procurement (purchasing) actions down to the municipal level, as well as all public institutions like hospitals, public utilities, provincial insurance schemes, etc. This agreement is really a re-colonization of Canada, with our federal government laying down the welcome mat. However, it is not just a re-colonization by Europeans, but colonization by international business interests via the European Commission.

Agriculture is subjected to a wide range of measures in this agreement. The procurement provisions would open up any agreement to access local food made by public hospitals, universities and all other government institutions. In addition, decisions to favour local businesses or disadvantaged sectors of the population would be severely handicapped by the procurement provisions of the CETA.

This trade deal could stop farmers from saving seed. The Europeans are calling for Canada to conform our legislation to The International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants 1991 Act (UPOV 91). This is a highly restrictive and powerful form of Plant Breeders Rights legislation. Canada is likely to agree to this demand because past Canadian governments have already tried to introduce these measures. It is only because of the National Farmers Union and its citizen allies that UPOV ’91 is not already in place in Canada. Canada currently has Plant Breeders Rights legislation that is based on the much less restrictive version called UPOV 78. This is sufficient to live up to all of our trade agreement obligations. UPOV 91 would severely limit and could outright prevent a farmer from saving, reusing, exchanging and selling seed. This would be accomplished by the breeder, or their designate, having the exclusive ability to control the conditioning (cleaning and treating) and the stocking (storing or warehousing) of the seed. Control of seed is control of the food system and it concentrates immense power in a few hands. Farmers will find their precarious financial situation even more tenuous if they are forced to buy all their seeds, rather than saving some.

In addition, the provision of a cascading right in UPOV 91 would allow the collection of royalties at any point in the food system. The so-called farmer’s privilege is dependent on governments and is trumped by the above UPOV ’91 provisions.

In those crops (and in the future, animals) with intellectual property rights attached as in Plant Breeder’s Rights or gene patents, the EU is calling for the most chilling enforcement procedures ever seen. These provisions would apply to all patents, copyrights, etc. They are calling for the right to issue an interlocutory injunction to prevent infringement and to the right of precautionary seizure of all assets of an alleged infringer. This would mean that farmers could be issued an order to prevent planting a crop with their own seed. And if a farmer was alleged to have infringed, he/she could be subjected to the seizure of crops, land, equipment and the blocking of bank accounts before the court hears the case.

If these provisions are adopted, they will put every farmer at great risk of being accused of patent infringement, with the probable result that the farmers will buy all their seeds (instead of using saved seed) to avoid these measures. Even if the accusation were unfounded, the average farmer could not fight back because of the costs involved. The agreement also calls for extending patents and Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) by the length of time of time it takes for a regulatory body to approve a product for use or sale. If a minor use is found for the product (not originally claimed), the IPR/patent term would be extended again. This would add to the lifespan of patent rights for corporations and increase farmers’ costs for everything from seed, pesticides and drugs.

Our healthcare budgets are comprised of nearly 50 percent drug and medical supply expenditures and anything that adds to those costs, as this will, is a direct transfer of funds from taxpayers to big pharmaceutical corporations. Interestingly, public healthcare costs skyrocketed after extended drug patents were granted in the early 90s. The data provided for regulators to base their decisions on would be confidential as well. Public oversight agencies will not be able to disclose the basis upon which they make their decisions. They will also not be able to use this data for their own research.

The CETA trade agreement aims to harmonize regulations, such as food inspection regulations, so that products must be accepted by the other Party without verification (except in exceptional circumstances or new trade in that item). Therefore, something inspected in Europe must also be accepted by all provinces and territories in Canada. The same applies for Europe with regard to our food inspection services, except in exceptional circumstances.

The European Commission is hostile to Canada’s supply management systems – supply management is a unique system where dairy products, poultry and eggs are produced for domestic Canadian supply only and have a negotiated price with processors that insures a fair return to Canadian farmers. The Canadian Wheat Board will likely be attacked and jeopardized through this agreement as well.

European regulations on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are exempted from the terms of the agreement so the agreement will not open up European markets to our genetically modified crops as those who grow them hope. In a briefing call however, Canada’s chief negotiator, Steve Verheul, stated that Canada was asking Europe to increase the acceptable level of GM contamination or “adventitious presence” in products coming from Canada.

The threats to Canadian agriculture and farmers are clear in this agreement and the broader scope of the agreement will affect all Canadians. The CETA goes beyond the World Trade Organization and the derailed Multilateral Agreement on Investment. What is particularly vexing is the speed at which the negotiations are proceeding and their relative secrecy. These governments and negotiators are our governments and negotiators and yet they have agreed to withhold the text from us. We must demand to be informed of all aspects of the negotiations and the text and that the public interest be respected and enhanced. Too often, our governments confuse their role as acting for us and in the public trust, with that of making sure they get out of the way of corporate interests, no matter how short-sighted they are.

The National Farmers Union has organized a campaign to stop this trade agreement. We will need all of our tools, allies and commitment to derail this and its content. We ask all Canadians to take the time to call and write our politicians at all levels and to fight on behalf of all Canadians. Join the fight for our seeds, hospitals, local food systems, local businesses, public utilities, supply management, the Canadian Wheat Board and our autonomy, in the face of corporate domination. We have little to gain and everything to lose if this agreement proceeds. Visit www.nfu.ca for more information.

Terry Boehm is president of the National Farmers Union, www.nfu.ca

Fraser Valley photo © Mhryciw | Dreamstime.com

A neural pathway to peace – The Saltspring Centre

by Bruce Burnett

Your cell phone won’t stop ringing and those emails, each demanding an immediate response, keep piling up. You become an adrenaline and cortisol factory and that malevolent duo of stress hormones is further fuelled by that double-double you gulped in the car. “The brain is a wonderful organ,” wrote American poet Robert Frost. “It starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”

We live in hectic times. According to studies at the US National Institutes of Health, approximately 90 percent of all illnesses are caused or aggravated by stress. And stress annihilates brain cells. Little wonder we are increasingly turning to Eastern contemplative traditions to assuage the slings and arrows of anxiety. By a wide margin, yoga tops the list of Eastern meditative practices in North America. According to NAMASTA, the North American Studio Alliance, 1.4 million Canadians now practice yoga, an increase of 45.4 percent from 2003. Furthermore, the Print Measurement Bureau, a Canadian non-profit agency measuring consumer behaviour, reports that about 2.1 million Canadians say they intend to try yoga within the next 12 months.

Yoga, however, is not new to Canadians, especially on the West Coast. In 1981 the Dharma Sara Satsang Society opened the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga on Salt Spring Island, itself a haven of rural peace and quiet. The Centre, housed in a renovated, 100-year-old farmhouse on 28 hectares of beautiful meadows, forest and organic gardens, offers a peaceful, positive environment for the instruction and practice of classical Ashtanga Yoga as taught by yogi Baba Hari Dass.

The name Dharma Sara means “the essence of right living; through the paths of selfless service, devotion and self-study.” A guiding principle of the Salt Spring Centre is karma yoga, or the performance of duty with an attitude of selfless service and enthusiasm. To this end, the Centre is staffed mostly by volunteers. Among its many goods works, this registered, non-profit charitable organization provides both financial and volunteer support to the Sri Ram orphanage in India.

There is no doubt about the healing power and therapeutic value of yoga and meditation, both of which have been practised for thousands of years. Modern psychiatry is animated with the new buzzword, neuroplasticity, substantiating that mental activity sculpts neural structure, meaning that changes in your mind can trigger enduring changes in your brain. As a survival mechanism the brain is predisposed to negativity. Just one unsuccessful encounter with a predator would mean the end for a prehistoric human. Palaeolithic man or woman had to be constantly alert and prepared for the worst. Unfortunately, as humans, we are still genetically programmed with this flight or fight mechanism and it is killing us. When stuck in a traffic jam or confronted with a hostile and intransigent boss or customer, we can neither fight nor flee. The result: unbridled stress, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, insomnia, irritability and eventually cancer, heart disease and other diseases of modern society. It takes mindful effort to undo a million years of inherent programming. Studies show that one of the most effective methods is meditation, which yoga incorporates. An article published in the 2009 edition of the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy about the long-term benefits of meditation, states, “Meditation is believed to cultivate the tendency to observe and label present moment experiences nonjudgmentally and nonreactively and to lead to improved psychological functioning.”

According to neuropsychologist and meditation teacher, Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain: the Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, “Meditators have a thicker anterior cingulated cortex and insula (a part of the brain that tracks the internal state of the body); a thicker cortex indicates more synapses, capillaries (bringing blood) and support cells.”

Yogacharya (yoga teacher) B.K.S. Iyengar tells us, “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” The Salt Spring Centre of Yoga offers a venue to do just that.

Based in Ladysmith, BC, Bruce Burnett is a chartered herbalist, an award-winning writer and author of Herb Wise: Growing Cooking Wellbeing. For more information about the Salt Spring Centre, visitwww.saltspringcentre.com

Healthy Habits

 

Your life depends on Omega-3s

Omega-3s are one of the most researched supplements in the world, with numerous studies indicating their function and importance in cholesterol management, joint pain, skin health, cognitive function, vision, mood regulation, hormonal health, immune system functioning, digestion and… the list goes on.

There are 3 main types of Omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA and ALA. EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid), found in fatty fish oils and in certain nuts and seed oils, can be readily utilized by our bodies. Conversely, ALA (alpha-Linolenic acid), once consumed, requires conversion by our bodies into EPA and DHA before it can be utilized. Because the body does not produce these healthy fats, we must get them from diet and/or proper supplementation.

International studies show wild, fatty fish oils such as anchovy and sardines provide the best, most potent sources of Omega-3s (EPA and DHA), more so than oil from salmon and superior to Omega-3 from nuts and seeds. This is because there is no conversion required by the body in order to reap the benefits of EPA and DHA contained in fish, unlike ALA found in other sources such as walnuts and flax seed oil. In fact, it’s estimated one would have to consume 10 times the amount of flax seed oil to get the equivalent EPA and DHA contained in fish oil.

Find your balance

Be warned; you may be over consuming Omega-6 fatty acids. Studies show the typical North American diet is too heavy in Omega-6 fatty acids, promoting free radical production and inflammation in the body, an underlying cause of many health issues. Although Omega-3s can be obtained from dietary sources such as wild fatty fish, raw nuts and seeds and leafy green vegetables, supplementing with high quality Omega-3 fish oils from sardines and anchovies, ensures that the proper balance of fatty acids is maintained, keeping inflammation under control not to mention helping to prevent other health conditions.

Pump it up and live longer

Keeping fit is essential for cardiovascular health. Incorporating running, stretching and weight training into your daily regime supports muscle strength, flexibility and a strong heart. A diet low in sodium, rich in a variety of fresh vegetables and emphasizing “good fats” like Omega-3 is also important.

The GISSI-Prevenzione Trial, a groundbreaking study of the effects of Omega-3s on 11,324 subjects over three years, established that supplementation with 900 mg/day of DHA/EPA (Omega-3) in a 2:1 ratio resulted in a 30 percent decreased risk of cardiovascular related death, and a 20 percent decreased risk of total mortality in post–myocardial infarction patients. (See

The un”comfort”able truth

Our favourite highly refined, sugar and fat laden “comfort” foods we instinctively reach for during times of stress as a short-term boost actually have a long-term, damaging impact due to the acidic effect on our bodies. Instead, try to reach for alkalinizing foods during these times; fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts and seeds. These powerful foods nourish and calm the body in order to better handle any situation. And a naturally energetic body is a happy one. The use of hard-hitting stimulants like coffee and “energy” drinks provide a false and temporary boost that inevitably leaves us low and can take a toll on our health in the long term.

Turn your world upside down

Oxygenation of the body is of vital importance and provides many health benefits for the body and mind. Practicing deep breathing and regularly inverting your body for increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain results in increased mental clarity and energy, decreased stress and depression and also provides pain relief. It’s as easy as doing a headstand, lying head down on a slanted board or elevating your feet on a few pillows while lying down.

The body loves routine

Did you know that the body not only likes, but it needs routine? Establishing a positive, healthy routine instils stability, reliability and calmness to daily life. Create a list of habits that are important and of value to you and begin to add them into your life. Examples may include practicing 10 minutes of deep breathing each day. In time, they will become an effortless ritual that you cannot live without.

Aging and your skin

Regardless of your age or the climate you live in, over time, your skin loses essential lipids and nutrients causing dryness and wrinkles. Dry skin is more susceptible to damage from UV rays, pollution and other harsh chemicals, further accelerating the aging process.

For years, synthetic ceramides have been a staple in the topical cosmetics industry, yet recent research shows orally consumed ceramides, naturally derived from whole grains, can improve the epidermal barrier and significantly enhance skin hydration (Asai 2007).

According to leading naturopathic doctor, skin expert and author Dr. Alan Logan, “Ceramide levels decline with age and lower levels of ceramides lead to visibly dry and inflamed skin. Discovering that all-natural ceramides in supplement form have the ability to lower inflammation and maintain an optimum level of hydration is one of the most significant precedent-setting advances made in skincare in recent years.”

Skin care – naturally

As you know, a healthy internal system equals a beautiful exterior. To help you achieve it, here are five easy steps guaranteed to provide noticeable results – naturally.

1) Drink water with fresh lemon first thing in the morning to immediately boost pH alkalinity. Too much acid in the body is linked to dry, aged-looking skin.

2) Dry brush daily. Brush your limbs and body in an upward motion towards your heart using a natural dry bristle brush (available at most health food stores). This helps remove dry skin cells while increasing circulation – both important for healthy skin.

3) Consider infrared sauna. Studies show this kind of sauna penetrates your skin more deeply due to its warming effect. The sauna opens pores while releasing uric acid and ammonia among other harmful toxins.

4) Include herbs and spices such as dandelion, red beet, parsley and ginger to your meals. Besides adding flavour, they are well known to support liver function and to promote natural cleansing.

Tomatoes, cocoa powder and oranges all contain important antioxidants, help reduce inflammation and protect skin against UV damage.

5) Reduce stress with daily meditation, yoga or tai chi. Studies show all of these help reduce inflammation and cortisol levels, both linked to problem skin, including redness, breakouts and increased signs of aging.

According to researchers from Bangalore, India, regular yoga practice is a beauty sleep must. In adults with insomnia, those who practiced yoga fell asleep 30 minutes faster and added an extra hour to total sleep time.

Your bone health

Research shows that regardless of gender or family history, we naturally begin to lose bone mass starting in our early 30s. If not corrected by diet or supplementation, our bones become weaker over time, impacting our posture, mobility and longevity – along with our hair, nails and teeth. Whether you are 34 or 94, follow a diet that’s rich in phytonutrients and alkalinizing foods, as they are proven to promote a neutral pH level (the more acidic your pH, the greater your risk for poor health, including low bone mass), promote osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) and reduce your risk for calcium loss from your bones.

And calcium is only part of the solution. According to Dr. Leticia Rao, director of the calcium research laboratory at St. Michael’s Hospital and University of Toronto, “Much of my research has shown that dietary antioxidants including polyphenols and carotenoids such as lycopene found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables may play a very important role in bone health, including increased bone density, development and repair.

Source: www.genuinehealth.com

photo © Pryzmat | Dreamstime.com