Turning lawns into gardens

Jason and Jennifer Helvenston’s front yard garden in Orlando, Floriduh

The seed catalogs have arrived, and for the roughly 15 percent of Americans who appreciate the joys and rewards of growing some of their own crops, this is a more encouraging sign than Groundhog Day or even the reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training.

Yet several times a year we hear of a situation like the one in Orlando, where the mayor claims to be striving to make his city green while his city harasses homeowners like Jason and Jennifer Helvenston for planting vegetables in their front yard, threatening to fine them $500 a day — for gardening. The battle has been raging for months, and the city’s latest proposal is to allow no more than 25 percent of a homeowner’s front yard to be planted in fruits and vegetables…

But when it comes to the eye of the beholder, weeds are the same thing as beauty: to a gardener, grass is a weed; a row of lettuce surrounded by dark, grassless soil a thing of beauty. To some gardeners, including me, dandelions are a crop.

The situation, then, is not black-and-white. A yard is not either unproductive and “beautiful” — as a lawn — or, as a garden, productive and “ugly.” Many of us can thrill to the look of dead stalks, and even enjoy watching them rot. This is a matter of taste, not regulation.

And small-scale suburban and urban gardening has incredible potential. Using widely available data, Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International estimates that converting 10 percent of our nation’s lawns to vegetable gardens “could meet about a third of our fresh vegetable needs at current consumption rates.”

Ten percent is optimistic; even 1 percent would be a terrific start, because there is a lot of lawn in this country. In fact it’s our biggest crop, three times as big as corn, according to research done using a variety of data, much of it from satellites. That’s around a trillion square feet — 50,000 square miles — and, since an average gardener can produce something like a half-pound of food per square foot (you garden 100 square feet, you produce 50 pounds of food), without getting too geeky you can imagine that Doiron’s estimates are rational.

Gardening may be private or a community activity; people garden together on common land, and most gardeners I know share the bounty freely. (In parts of England and France, people grow vegetables in their front yards and encourage their neighbors to take them.)

…I recognize that turning lawns into gardens isn’t a panacea, but I also recognize that hounding people for growing vegetables in their front yards is hardly the American way.

Florida seems to be out to achieve special leadership in the “dumb as a hoe handle” school of reactionary politics. I posted about some other stupidity earlier today. In fact, one of the blogs I contribute to has a special graphic header just to illustrate “wacky news from Florida” – originally contributed by one of our editors who lived in Florida.

Palestine is the number one global issue says President Morsi

Egypt’s new president on Wednesday hit out at Israel over its veiled threats to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and the deadlock in the Middle East peace process.

President Mohamed Morsi received a rousing ovation for his first speech to the 193-member UN General Assembly since becoming Egypt’s first civilian, democratically elected leader in June.

Without specifically mentioning Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal, Morsi said the Middle East “no longer tolerates” any country’s refusal to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “especially if this is coupled with irresponsible policies or arbitrary threats.”

“The acceptance by the international community of the principle of pre-emptiveness or the attempt to legitimize it is in itself a serious matter and must be firmly confronted to avoid the prevalence of the law of the jungle,” Morsi said…

Morsi also put the Israel-Palestinian conflict ahead of the Syria war in the list of priorities he laid out before the General Assembly.

“The first issue which the world must exert all its efforts in resolving, on the basis of justice and dignity, is the Palestinian cause,” Morsi said.

He said that UN resolutions on the conflict had not been implemented and that Palestinians “must also taste the fruits of freedom and dignity” that other countries in the Arab region have won in the past year.

“It is shameful that the free world accepts, regardless of the justifications provided, that a member of the international community continues to deny the rights of a nation that has been longing for decades for independence,” Morsi said.

“It is also disgraceful that settlement activities continue on the territories of these people.”

The Palestinians have refused to hold direct talks with Israel for the past two years because of Israel’s refusal to halt settlement activities in the occupied territories.

It’s election time in the United States; so, the mindset of our out-of-date politicians demands statements and a belief that American Jews will vote in a bloc on questions regarding Israel. I don’t think that has been true for decades.

Given that our foreign policy hasn’t strayed from the side of dictatorships, lebensraum for Israel, guaranteed profits for Big Oil since the late 1940’s — I don’t expect principled changes from Congress or the White House anytime soon. Arm-twisting from American citizens is as necessary here as it ever has been for peace and civil rights.

17 bodies found along Mexican road – and your point is?

Seventeen mutilated bodies were found along a road in west-central Mexico’s Jalisco state, authorities said Sunday…No one had claimed responsibility for the slayings, the Organizacion Editorial Mexicana reported.

Witnesses said they saw men in two black trucks stop and unload boxes containing the bodies along the highway to Morelia. Police determined they were the bodies of 17 young men who had been shot to death and dismembered…

The newspaper El Universal reported the remains would be sent to the Jalisco Institute of Forensic Sciences for identification.

In other news from Mexico:

Mexicans celebrated their country’s 202 years of independence Sunday with President Felipe Calderon calling on them to join together to transform their nation…”Mexico needs all of us,” Calderon said in a post on his Twitter account.

The day also was an opportunity for Mexico’s military to parade.

“May the strength of feeling and the legacy of our founding fathers always inspire us to be better and give [our] all for Mexico,” the president said in another post on the social media service following an elaborate military, federal police and civilian parade outside the National Palace in Mexico City.

The Organizacion Editorial Mexicana news service said thousands of people attended the parade with no incidents reported.

Anyone see any contradictions here?

Yeah, yeah, I know. Decades of corrupt government allowed gangsters to achieve prominence, safety, sufficient participation in the day-to-day administration of governance that even a very public and deadly war has apparently changed nothing.

Which means the contradictions that brought this corruption to significant control of all life and livelihood in Mexico – still haven’t been addressed or changed.

Imagine the Federal Reserve Bank — as run by Congress!

Click to enlarge

Increasing political encroachment on the Federal Reserve, particularly from the Republican Party, could threaten the central bank’s hard-won independence and undermine confidence in the nearly 100-year old institution.

That was the pervasive sentiment among economists gathered at the Fed’s annual monetary policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Against the dramatic backdrop of the Grand Teton mountain, many said a closely-contested presidential race has turned the monetary authority into a political football…

The primary topic of conversation at the rustic mountainside resort was whether or not Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues would deliver another round of monetary stimulus soon.

But, when probed on the issue on the sidelines of the meeting, many participants voiced concern about the heated political rhetoric aimed at the Fed, including a bill that would audit the conduct of monetary policy that is gaining increasing traction among Republicans.

The Fed is already subject to regular audits, but congressman Ron Paul’s bill would remove an exemption for monetary policy deliberations.

Ironically, the complete political gridlock that characterizes U.S. fiscal policy has left the Fed in the difficult position of being “the only game in town.”

Both the Fed and the independent Congressional Budget Office have said a looming “fiscal cliff” of spending cuts and expiring tax breaks at the end of this year could shove a fragile economy into a new recession.

Given the track record of Congress as a whole – and Congressional Republicans as leading incompetents – can you imagine the disaster of having a central bank beholden to the political clown show? Our nation’s credit rating would be lower than Bangladesh.

The worst of it would be losing the so-called dual mandate in place since 1977. Republicans couldn’t care less about the lot of American unemployed and the first thing they’d remove would be that portion of the mandate. And, of course, like journalists and politicians alike, they don’t know there actually is a triple mandate. Basic monetary policy and balanced employment is joined with moderating interest rates throughout our economy.

Cripes! Congress has an approval rating of 16%. Congressional Republicans are even lower. Would you hire someone like that to run a bank?

Basque country has economic lessons for Spain

Spain’s dash into tourism in the 1970s and its property boom last decade largely passed by the Basque region, a cool, damp corner of the north with a reputation for separatist violence. Instead the Basques stuck with industry, by force of circumstance.

Euskadi, the Basque name for the hilly province of 2 million bordering France, now outshines the rest of Spain with a better credit rating than central government, the lowest regional unemployment and borrowing costs half those of other areas…

The Basque region’s secret has been in sticking to manufacturing over the property and tourism industries that ended in economic misery elsewhere in Spain when a real estate bubble fuelled by easy credit burst in 2009…

The Basque Country is Spain’s fifth largest regional economy, with a gross domestic product of 66.1 billion euros, meaning it accounts for around 7 percent of national GDP. The region’s exports are more or less evenly balanced between the rest of Spain and markets beyond Spanish borders.

Its deficit-to-GDP ratio is just 0.25 percent, compared with nearly 90 percent for the central state. It has the lowest unemployment rate in Spain at 13.55 percent, compared with 24.4 percent nationally…

The region, at Spain’s border with continental Europe, is rich in natural resources. A cradle of the iron and steel industry, it was an obvious choice as a manufacturing base.

“There was a clear bet on industry here, a bet on those traditional sectors, such as iron, steel, energy and small and medium-sized companies that make all those components for the energy and car sectors, that make things that you can hold in your hand,” Jose Luis Curbelo, director general of the Basque Institute for Competitiveness, said.

That is the secret of the Basque economy,” he said. “Basque industry immediately internationalized, whether that was by producing components and gadgets for overseas companies, or by setting up shop and manufacturing abroad.”

“That process was much faster and much more committed than in the rest of Spain, so the collapse in the domestic market hasn’t affected Basque companies as much. A lot of their sales are global and they can withstand the crisis in better shape.”

RTFA for details, anecdotal tales and reasonableness of a people oppressed by fascists and democrats alike – who survived both.

Yes, you should expect a cranky Celtic geek like me to feel a bit extra love for a cranky Celtic people. The Basque nation is as independent-minded as a highlander — often as intolerant of their own species of Sassenach as well. Fortunately, arguing with the central government in Madrid never brought dedicated self-sufficiency to a halt.

George Galloway hails ‘Bradford spring’ as he kicks Labour butt

Here’s George Galloway sticking a finger in the eye of our Congressional liars and hypocrites
George Galloway has said his surprise victory in the Bradford West by-election showed the “alienation” of voters from the main political parties. The Respect Party politician said his win also reflected concerns about jobs and the economy – and was not just based on the support of Muslim voters.

Labour’s Ed Miliband said the loss of the seat was “incredibly disappointing”…he said “local factors” were partly to blame but pledged to “learn lessons” from the defeat.

But the BBC’s chief political correspondent Norman Smith said the poll, coming at the end of a difficult week for the coalition government, should have been a “stroll in the park” and that there were questions whether the Labour leadership could connect with its core supporters.

Mr Galloway, expelled by Labour in 2003, won the by-election by 10,140 votes, in the process of overturning a Labour majority of more than 5,000 at the 2010 general election.

He told the BBC that his win represented a “peaceful democratic uprising” against the established political parties and their leaders…

How did he win? Firstly, he appears to have galvanised some who feel ignored, even disenfranchised by the main political parties…

For others, in a multi-ethnic constituency, the call for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan was appealing.

For others still, this was a mid-term by-election. It wasn’t about choosing the next government, but sending a powerful message, selecting a noisy, high profile advocate to represent them.

Handing George Galloway a 10,000 vote majority certainly does that

The Conservatives, who came third in the by-election with 2,746 votes, also saw their vote fall by more than 20%…

The Lib Dems came fourth and lost their deposit.

Bravo, George. One of the noisier independent voices for ordinary working people in British politics. Someone who stuck to his guns during the years of Blair/Bush bedsitters.

About half of Americans trust the White House, hardly anyone trusts Congress — how many trust the Supreme Court?

An overwhelming majority of Americans think that the Supreme Court justices’ political views will influence how they vote on the Obama health care reform cases…

Respondents were asked “The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide the constitutionality of the health care reform law signed by President Obama in 2010. Do you expect the Court will make this decision based solely on legal merits, or do you expect politics will influence how some justices vote? ”

The poll found 75 percent of Americans think politics will influence the justice’s votes, while 17 percent think they will vote solely on the legal merits, and 8 percent aren’t sure.

Respondents who described themselves as politically independent were most skeptical of the justices’ ability to keep politics out of their decision making process; 80 percent of independents thought politics would influence the justices. Of Republicans, 74 percent thought politics would play a factor, while just 65 percent of Democrats thought politics would influence the outcome.

This is the result of decades of Republicans making revision of the Supreme Court a central task of every Republican presidency – and Democrats lacking the backbone to fight for an independent judiciary. While we’ve seen dry academic polls lay out this change starting with the Reagan years — till now, there was some conviction that the conservatives on the bench would continue to spell the word with a small “c”. This poll demonstrates that the American people have no belief in that being true at all.

We all know the level of contempt felt for the corruption factory that is Congress. And the nation – divided as it is in response to the ideologues of the Right and Religion who preach division – stays divided over the residents of the White House. But, it is a new state of affairs when the third branch of our tripartite government has plunged to the same depths of perceived crony corruption as the rest of government.

I guess we can give special thanks to the Republican Party, once again, for the reintroduction of class warfare to the United States.

From the archive, 1 February 1948 — An interview with Gandhi

Interview by Alan Moorehead

It is the violence of Gandhi’s death, this complete and contemptuous negation of everything he lived for, which is the shocking thing. Yet paradoxically, this is the aesthetic end to a life of non-violence, the end which, one imagines, the old man would have chosen for himself.

I remember, in the very middle of the war, I went as a war correspondent to interview him in Delhi. It was an excessively hot afternoon and I sat cross-legged on the floor sweating through my army uniform. Gandhi leaned back on a white bolster, wearing nothing but a loincloth, and he said amiably: “What is the good of our talking? You and the people you represent are committed to violence. I am interested only in non-violence. We have nothing to say to one another.”

I asked him if he was prepared to see the Japanese invade India (they were then very close in Burma) “Why not?” he said. “They can’t kill us all.” He went on to propound his famous doctrine: never oppose violence with violence. “Non-violence,” he said, “requires an even higher kind of courage than violence. You must be just as prepared to lay down your life – even more so.” I remember how cheerful he was that afternoon, how healthy with his great brown barrel of a chest, and how wittily he talked.

Nor was he much changed when I went to one or two of his prayer meetings in Delhi this winter. He was still getting up at four in the morning to exercise, he was still the nimblest (and I think the gayest) good brain in India, and he was still talking in parables on precisely the same theme.

Of course he becomes a martyr now; more than that – a mystical legend and a god. It is probably a waste of time trying to assess him in western terms. Inevitably, the mysticism and the fatalism intervene, blocking out all logic. I do not think Jawaharlal Nehru and the others ever expected practical politics from Gandhi, but they were inspired by him just the same. They loved him passionately.

I never met anyone in India who came away from a meeting with the old man without being captivated and in a slightly elevated condition of mind. He had an overpowering charm under that humility. He talked hard common sense as a rule and the mysticism ran between the lines.

What happens now? It seems almost impossible to be optimistic. The country has lost its figurehead, its living public conscience. Who is to speak against racial hatred now with that authority? The British kept the peace with police and prestige and Gandhi did it with love. Now, within six short months, both police and love have vanished together. Perhaps enough of his followers will obey his creed of non-violence. Whatever the immediate effect may be, at least his influence in the long run can only be for the good.

He has been missed in so many ways.

Pic of the Day

Looks like the Brits – and especially the Tories – are getting worried about for-real devolution, this time. This is a fiery topic with old mates of mine in Progressive politics in the UK coming down on both sides of the question. As a “child” of the Highland Clearances, I’m a supporter of sovereignty for Scotland. Causes more pub rows than an Auld Firm derby.

Netherlands apologises to Indonesia for 1947 Rawagede massacre

Dutch Ambassador Tjeerd de Zwaan throws petals over graves at the Rawagede Hero Cemetery

The Dutch government formally apologised Friday for a 1947 massacre on Indonesia’s Java island, in an emotional ceremony on the anniversary of the executions by its colonial army.

Dutch troops swooped into a village in the town of Rawagede during Indonesia’s fight for independence and executed men and boys as their families and neighbours looked on. Dutch officials say 150 people were killed, but a support group and the local community say the death toll was 431.

“In this context and on behalf of the Dutch government, I apologise for the tragedy that took place in Rawagede on the 9th of December, 1947,” the Netherlands ambassador to Indonesia Tjeerd de Zwaan said.

He then repeated the apology in the Indonesian language, to the applause of hundreds of people attending the ceremony, some of whom broke down in tears as they listened in front of a marble monument commemorating the dead.

In a landmark ruling, a Hague-based civil court in September found the Dutch state responsible for the executions and ruled in favour of eight widows and a survivor of the massacre who lodged the case. Two of the widows have since died, and so has the survivor, Saih Bin Sakam, who passed away in May at the age of 88…

One of the widows, 93-year-old Anti Rukiyah, said she was relieved to finally receive an apology, and would use the compensation money to help her children buy a home…

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa praised the Dutch government for making the apology.

I live in a land where fools in one political party condemn members of the other as unpatriotic cowards for “apologizing for America”. Slavery and genocide never happened in this Land of Liberty – if you listen jaw agape to the pronouncements of Republicans, Kool Aid Partygoers and the Blue Dog flavor of spineless Democrat.

Someday, no doubt when I will have shuffled off this mortal coil for a century or two, American education will have progressed sufficiently to produce a generation or two of adults who embrace an ethical view of history.