Friday, 21 November 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Speakout

SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

Contractors, lobbyists and officials attending the Homeland Security Congress in Washington DC yesterday did a "traditional" Native American circle dance to celebrate a fictitious new US government plan, the "American Renewable Clean-Energy Network" (AmeriCAN), to convert the US to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

The conference attendees—including a retired Navy Admiral, a retired USAF General, a former Seal Team Seven leader, an aspiring Republican Congressman, lobbyists, and many homeland security contractors—applauded frequently during the stirring announcement by the US Department of Energy's "Benedict Waterman" (actually Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men), as well as the eloquent speech by "Bana Slowhorse" of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (actually Gitz Crazyboy, a youth worker from the Athabascan Chippewyan First Nations, whose land includes the Alberta Tar Sands).

WASHINGTON, DC - In the wake of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the past three years, consumers, workers and others harmed by unfair fine print in contracts are increasingly being shut out of the courthouse, a new Public Citizen and National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) report shows.

The report identifies 140 cases affecting thousands of consumers or employees over the past three years where a court enforced an arbitration clause and barred the claimants from participating in class actions. A Pennsylvania federal court last December enforced an arbitration clause and class-action ban against restaurant employees who sought redress against their employer for allegedly underpaying them. The court called its own ruling "lamentable" and "an unappetizing result." But it felt compelled to follow the law set by AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion in 2011 and American Express v. Italian Colors in 2013.

When Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 it included an important buffer assuring the organic community that we would never lose control over the true meaning of the organic label: a diverse 15-member stakeholder board that had true statutory authority and power — the National Organic Standards Board or NOSB.

Citizens and farmers created organics as an alternative to industrial-scale agriculture and food production. As companies like Dean Foods, General Mills (hiding behind the façades of WhiteWave and Small Planet Foods respectively), Smucker's and other agribusiness giants invested in gobbling up organic brands (Silk, Horizon, Cascadian Farms, Knutson, etc.), they sent their lobbyists and the Organic Trade Association to Washington.

I unfriended another Facebook friend this week. It may seem to be a trivial matter, but for me, it is not. The reason behind my action was Syria. As in Egypt, Syria has instigated many social media breakups with people whom, until then, were regarded with a degree of respect and admiration.

But this is not a social media affair. The problems lie at the core of the Syrian conflict, with all of its manifestations, be they political, sectarian, ideological, cultural, and intellectual. While on the left (not the establishment left of course) Palestine has brought many likeminded people together, Egypt has fragmented that unity, and Syria has crushed and pulverized it to bits.

Washington - The Campaign for America's Future has thrown its support behind the student loan relief bill introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

CAF co-director Robert L. Borosage released the following statement:

"There are nearly 40 million Americans with outstanding student loan debt, which now averages $29,400 per graduate. That total increases with the rising costs of tuition, even at public colleges and universities, and by the failure of our own government to address college affordability."

On Friday, Uruguay released its long-anticipated regulations accompanying the law that was signed into effect last December, which made Uruguay the first country in the world to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of marijuana for adults. The government will now embark on the implementation of the legal marijuana market, which is expected to be up and running by the end of 2014. The regulations for medical marijuana are to be released later this summer.

The Uruguayan marijuana regulation system will allow Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 to choose between three forms of access to non-medical marijuana: domestic cultivation of up to 6 plants per household; membership clubs where between 15 and 45 members can collectively grow up to 99 plants; and sales in licensed pharmacies of up to 10 grams per week. Those operating outside the regulated and licit system will face penalties.

Negotiations to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to fruition are expected to come to an end by January 2017, with all 12 countries involved signaling an interest Monday to conclude talks as soon as possible.

U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y. Yun said Monday that January 2017 would be a realistic deadline for the stalled regional trade deal as it matches the end of President Barack Obama's presidential term.

Glenview, Illinois – During its annual meeting of shareholders today, Kraft Foods Group, Inc. will face a resolution filed by the Green Century Equity Fund urging the company to refrain from using corporate funds to influence any political election campaign. Kraft Foods spent millions last year to oppose legislation for labeling food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which shareholders argue exposed the company to significant brand and reputational risks without generating value for shareholders.

"Companies that spend millions to undermine key environmental and consumer protections put both our democracy and shareholder value at risk," said Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for Green Century Capital Management. "American consumers widely disapprove of corporate money in politics, and shareholders urge Kraft Foods to listen to its customers and keep money out of high-risk political gambles."

This is an opportunity to explore a vexing but significant topic in the field of human rights: self-determination. The right of self-determination has been celebrated for ages. It is a basic principle of the United Nation Charter which has been reaffirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and applied countless times to the settlement of international disputes. The concept played a significant part in the post-world war I settlement, leading for example to plebiscite in a number of disputed border areas, even though no reference was made to self-determination in the League of Nations Covenant.

The concept seems to be as old as Government itself and was the basis of French and American revolutions. In 1916, President Wilson stated that self-determination is not a mere phrase. He said that it is an imperative principle of action and included it in the famous 14-point charter. This gave a prominence to the principle.

In February 2013, I visited Old and New Delhi, India. I went to see several important places such as the Red Fort (Lal Qila) and the Raj Ghat - which is the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi was cremated at Raj Ghat on 31 January 1948). I also visited the India Gate[1] which commemorates the more than 70.000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during the First World War. I was impressed seeing all the names of Indian soldiers who gave their lives during WWI. I immediately made the comparison with the Menen Gate[2] in Ypres, Flanders where 54.389 names of persons from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Countries are written on the walls.[3] More names, and unknown soldiers, are mentioned on the thousands and thousands of graves in the different cemeteries in Flanders Fields. Chemical weapons have been first used in Steenstraete, nearby Yper. That is why that weapon got the name "Yperite."

The main reaction after WWI was: No more war ever again! Several initiatives were launched right after WWI, working for stronger international solidarity and disarmament. What does this mean for the European Union and the European continent at large? What lessons can be learned by the international community?

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Speakout

SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

Contractors, lobbyists and officials attending the Homeland Security Congress in Washington DC yesterday did a "traditional" Native American circle dance to celebrate a fictitious new US government plan, the "American Renewable Clean-Energy Network" (AmeriCAN), to convert the US to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

The conference attendees—including a retired Navy Admiral, a retired USAF General, a former Seal Team Seven leader, an aspiring Republican Congressman, lobbyists, and many homeland security contractors—applauded frequently during the stirring announcement by the US Department of Energy's "Benedict Waterman" (actually Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men), as well as the eloquent speech by "Bana Slowhorse" of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (actually Gitz Crazyboy, a youth worker from the Athabascan Chippewyan First Nations, whose land includes the Alberta Tar Sands).

WASHINGTON, DC - In the wake of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the past three years, consumers, workers and others harmed by unfair fine print in contracts are increasingly being shut out of the courthouse, a new Public Citizen and National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) report shows.

The report identifies 140 cases affecting thousands of consumers or employees over the past three years where a court enforced an arbitration clause and barred the claimants from participating in class actions. A Pennsylvania federal court last December enforced an arbitration clause and class-action ban against restaurant employees who sought redress against their employer for allegedly underpaying them. The court called its own ruling "lamentable" and "an unappetizing result." But it felt compelled to follow the law set by AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion in 2011 and American Express v. Italian Colors in 2013.

When Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 it included an important buffer assuring the organic community that we would never lose control over the true meaning of the organic label: a diverse 15-member stakeholder board that had true statutory authority and power — the National Organic Standards Board or NOSB.

Citizens and farmers created organics as an alternative to industrial-scale agriculture and food production. As companies like Dean Foods, General Mills (hiding behind the façades of WhiteWave and Small Planet Foods respectively), Smucker's and other agribusiness giants invested in gobbling up organic brands (Silk, Horizon, Cascadian Farms, Knutson, etc.), they sent their lobbyists and the Organic Trade Association to Washington.

I unfriended another Facebook friend this week. It may seem to be a trivial matter, but for me, it is not. The reason behind my action was Syria. As in Egypt, Syria has instigated many social media breakups with people whom, until then, were regarded with a degree of respect and admiration.

But this is not a social media affair. The problems lie at the core of the Syrian conflict, with all of its manifestations, be they political, sectarian, ideological, cultural, and intellectual. While on the left (not the establishment left of course) Palestine has brought many likeminded people together, Egypt has fragmented that unity, and Syria has crushed and pulverized it to bits.

Washington - The Campaign for America's Future has thrown its support behind the student loan relief bill introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

CAF co-director Robert L. Borosage released the following statement:

"There are nearly 40 million Americans with outstanding student loan debt, which now averages $29,400 per graduate. That total increases with the rising costs of tuition, even at public colleges and universities, and by the failure of our own government to address college affordability."

On Friday, Uruguay released its long-anticipated regulations accompanying the law that was signed into effect last December, which made Uruguay the first country in the world to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of marijuana for adults. The government will now embark on the implementation of the legal marijuana market, which is expected to be up and running by the end of 2014. The regulations for medical marijuana are to be released later this summer.

The Uruguayan marijuana regulation system will allow Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 to choose between three forms of access to non-medical marijuana: domestic cultivation of up to 6 plants per household; membership clubs where between 15 and 45 members can collectively grow up to 99 plants; and sales in licensed pharmacies of up to 10 grams per week. Those operating outside the regulated and licit system will face penalties.

Negotiations to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to fruition are expected to come to an end by January 2017, with all 12 countries involved signaling an interest Monday to conclude talks as soon as possible.

U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y. Yun said Monday that January 2017 would be a realistic deadline for the stalled regional trade deal as it matches the end of President Barack Obama's presidential term.

Glenview, Illinois – During its annual meeting of shareholders today, Kraft Foods Group, Inc. will face a resolution filed by the Green Century Equity Fund urging the company to refrain from using corporate funds to influence any political election campaign. Kraft Foods spent millions last year to oppose legislation for labeling food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which shareholders argue exposed the company to significant brand and reputational risks without generating value for shareholders.

"Companies that spend millions to undermine key environmental and consumer protections put both our democracy and shareholder value at risk," said Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for Green Century Capital Management. "American consumers widely disapprove of corporate money in politics, and shareholders urge Kraft Foods to listen to its customers and keep money out of high-risk political gambles."

This is an opportunity to explore a vexing but significant topic in the field of human rights: self-determination. The right of self-determination has been celebrated for ages. It is a basic principle of the United Nation Charter which has been reaffirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and applied countless times to the settlement of international disputes. The concept played a significant part in the post-world war I settlement, leading for example to plebiscite in a number of disputed border areas, even though no reference was made to self-determination in the League of Nations Covenant.

The concept seems to be as old as Government itself and was the basis of French and American revolutions. In 1916, President Wilson stated that self-determination is not a mere phrase. He said that it is an imperative principle of action and included it in the famous 14-point charter. This gave a prominence to the principle.

In February 2013, I visited Old and New Delhi, India. I went to see several important places such as the Red Fort (Lal Qila) and the Raj Ghat - which is the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi was cremated at Raj Ghat on 31 January 1948). I also visited the India Gate[1] which commemorates the more than 70.000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during the First World War. I was impressed seeing all the names of Indian soldiers who gave their lives during WWI. I immediately made the comparison with the Menen Gate[2] in Ypres, Flanders where 54.389 names of persons from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Countries are written on the walls.[3] More names, and unknown soldiers, are mentioned on the thousands and thousands of graves in the different cemeteries in Flanders Fields. Chemical weapons have been first used in Steenstraete, nearby Yper. That is why that weapon got the name "Yperite."

The main reaction after WWI was: No more war ever again! Several initiatives were launched right after WWI, working for stronger international solidarity and disarmament. What does this mean for the European Union and the European continent at large? What lessons can be learned by the international community?