Friday, August 28, 2009

Concerning Rachel Wood's Costa Rica Piece

Read the original article here

This is an excellent corrective, much appreciated, so don’t take the following comments as scholarly nit-pickings. But a few points.

One, the NEF study actually put Costa Rica’s ecological footprint–not its carbon footprint–above the sustainable level in terms of global per-capita hectares. In their study, the NEF researchers themselves admit that the measuring system is probably overly-generous to humanity [perversely, then, anti-generous in a funny way], not allowing for how much of the biosphere needs to be totally fallow in order for it to re-generate. I don’t mean to suggest that you wrote the contrary, but someone could get that impression.

Two, tree-farming construed in its most generous terms is a variant of carbon-farming, e.g. taking carbon out of atmospheric circulation and placing it into the biosphere. As part of a systematic approach to carbon draw-down, such efforts can be effective. Planting trees is less effective than building up carbon reserves in the soil through agro-ecological practices, but one thing you seem to miss is that planting trees can actually allay or stop desertification–the most extreme form of soil destruction. I can’t cite chapter and verse, but as an integrated approach, converting a given patch of land from, say, an input-heavy agricultural production unit ["farm" is the euphemism we use for such chemical food factories, I think] or brown-lot to forested land or pasture saps a great deal of carbon from the atmosphere and locks it in both biomass above ground–where it may be vulnerable–or below-ground, where it often isn’t. Soil’s total carbon-storage capacity is unknown, but far higher than the amount of carbon it currently holds. The issue isn’t merely “soil quality,” as you put it, but soil’s ability to draw-down carbon from the atmosphere.

Three, obviously, this shouldn’t be taken to mean industrial trash-tree plantations are defensible. They’re ecologically indefensible, and I’ve seen nothing to the contrary. In a similar vein, the REDD programs are enormously flawed, often privatizing indigenous or communal land for the purposes of carbon “offsets.”

Four, the amount of carbon the industrial revolution added to the atmosphere is usually measured starting at c. 1750, and you’re correct when you note that the majority of that carbon is the result of the burning of fossil fuels. However, there’s a bit more to the story. It’s not clear to what extent massive desertification is a “natural” occurrence; the destruction of Mesopotamia’s fertility essentially ripped the carbon from the soil and dumped it into the atmosphere. This may be the case in many deserts across the world. Merely restoring as much carbon as we can to the ground through re-vegetation or re-forestation schemes could put a great deal of that carbon back where it belongs. While that wouldn’t have an effect on the fossil-fuel-based carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, it would draw down carbon. I’m unaware of efforts to measure the effects of desertification or pre-industrial but-intensive farming practices on ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but I’m sure there’s some effort to do so.

Five, I expect you’ll respond, rightly, that this is a dangerous path to go down–because such reversals of what are effectively pre-industrial carbon emissions [but remember the Dust Bowl] can be used to offset current industrial carbon emissions, thereby staving off the point at which we need to make fundamental changes in the political economy of energy consumption in Western industrialized countries. That’s correct–it’s a dangerous path to go down. But we will need to both draw-down current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide as well as radically reduce emissions levels to avoid the worst. I don’t think it’s either/or. The offset issue is in that sense a red-herring. Perhaps offsets can be made to work, perhaps not. Personally, I suspect the latter. But simply because carbon offsets are used to avoid necessary changes in our energy and industrial systems doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to create incentives to pull carbon from the atmosphere via bio-mass. Such incentives shouldn’t be the “offset” systems. Pulling carbon into soil or soil-based biomass has excellent effects for soil fertility and productivity, and can massively add to farmers’ outputs–agro-ecology is then its own incentive, which is as it should be.

I don’t mean to suggest that you’re unaware of all this. You write, “the idea of offsets could be telling society a dangerous lie: that current consumption patterns are sustainable, and that businesses can continue more or less normally. This idea is highly contrary to the real goal, which should be to permanently shift the world economy away from its addiction to fossil fuels,” which I agree with. But as a fellow young writer, you’ll agree, too that we’re running out of time. The permanent shift has to go hand-in-hand with an effort to turn the biosphere into a carbon-farm. That idea is getting short-shrift, and it looks like Costa Rica’s efforts are a pretty pallid version of the more substantive effort that I’d like to see, perhaps so much so as to be worse-than-useless. But the idea behind bio-mass based carbon cultivation shouldn’t be thrown out along with Costa Rica’s misrepresentations of its own efforts.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ad Hoc Memorandum by Honduran Human Rights Activists

Attorney General of Honduras August 7, 2009
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Luis Alberto Rubi
Attorney General

As the fourth consecutive International Human Rights delegation present in the country since the coup d’état, we are writing to express our deep concern regarding the grave and rapidly deteriorating situation of human rights in Honduras, beginning with the events which occurred early in the morning of June 28th. In the name of the human rights observation groups which have visited (The Bi-Regional European Network Linking Alternatives in Latin America and the Caribbean, The Human Rights Delegation Headed by Rigoberta Menchu, The Center for Justice and International Law, and the Quixote Center/Quest for Peace), we ask that you provide us information about the following cases, and indicate what your office has been doing regarding the troubling human rights situation in Honduras.

We are arranging a continuing presence of delegations for the foreseeable future, and among their principal roles will be following up on these cases on the national level with your office, as well as on the international level. They will monitor your response to this communication, as well as new cases of human rights abuses which may occur.

· What are the investigations which you have initiated and at what stage are the cases of the kidnapping and expatriation of José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, President of the Republic, and the Foreign Minister, Patricia Rodas? What have you done to investigate and hold accountable the military and the intellectual authors of these illegal actions?

· We are concerned about the multitude of reports of violations of the right to information which we have heard about. What is the state of investigation of who ordered the temporary cancellation of the program of Hedras Amado Lopez on channel 36, Edgardo Castro from channel 27 as well as the suspension of the radio program “Voices to assure we don’t forget”? Who gave the order for the suspension of Radio Global? We ask you to clarify who is behind the shooting of Radio Juticalpa and Channel 23 in Olanchito. We are also interested in what you have discovered related to the threats being received by journalists in Santa Rosa de Copan. We would encourage you to begin an investigation of these cases if you have not already done so.

· We are also concerned about the suspension of freedom of movement and other constitutionally guaranteed liberties.

· What actions will the public ministry undertake to investigate and prosecute the police and the military given their serious violation of the sovereignty and autonomy of the National University of Honduras, and physical aggression of the rector of the university on August 5th 2009? Police also threatened students, saying that “for every visa that gets revoked, one of you will die.”

· What actions will the public ministry undertake to investigate the forced disappearances of civilians, especially the case of Samuel David Flores Murillo, age 24, of San Pedro Sula?

· What actions will the public ministry undertake to investigate the deaths of, and prosecute those responsible for the deaths of the following nine people:

1. Isis Obed Murillo Mencias, 19 years old
2. Gabriel Fino Noriega, journalist from Radio Estelar, in the department of Atlántida, killed by 7 bullets on July 3rd, as he left his work.
3. Ramón García, leader in the Democratic Union (UD), forced off of public transport when he was coming back from a protest, and riddled with bullets in the area of Santa Bárbara
4. Roger Iván Bados, former unión leader of the textile sector and current member of the UD and Popular Bloque (BP), threatened with death immediately after the coup, and shot to death after being pulled from his own house on July 11 in San Pedro Sula.
5. Vicky Hernández Castillo (Sonny Emelson Hernández), member of the LGTB community, dead in San Pedro Sula from a gunshot to the eye.
6. Alexis Fernando Amador, dressed in a “4th Urn” T-shirt, found dead on Saturday July 3 in the “Agua Blanca” area of Tegucigalpa
7. Roger Abraham Vallejo Soriano, killed on Julio 29, 2009
8. Martin Florencio Rivera Barrientes
9. Pedro Magdiel, killed in El Paraíso

· We’re concerned about the case of Osman Fajardo, the judge assigned to follow up with the writs of habeus corpus filed on behalf of those detained illegally in San Pedro Sula on August 3rd 2009, who was threatened and assaulted by police when he appeared at the police station. What actions will the public ministry undertake to investigate this case and to ensure the safety of all public officials, especially those working to see that the rule of law is upheld in Honduras?

· We are concerned about the case of David Murillo, who was detained after leaving the COFADEH office where he was filing a legal denunciation of the murder of his son at an anti-coup demonstration (listed above). Mr. Murillo is imprisoned in Juticalpa, which he believes is for political reasons. What actions will the public ministry undertake to investigate this case and to ensure that all citizens have access to an efficient and effective justice system?

· A teacher in San Pedro Sula showed us eight anonymous death threats received on his cell phone, including threats against his children. These threats mentioned his past and present political work. He and others believe their names to be on a “death list,” and believe that they are targets for disappearance or assassination. We understand that the staff of the Honduran Institute for Rural Development (IHDER) has also been threatened. What actions will the public ministry undertake to investigate and prosecute those making these threats, as well as to ensure the safety of those threatened for their nonviolent work?

· What actions will the public ministry undertake to investigate and prosecute the police and the military for their attack on the life of Carlos H. Reyes, especially given that he was under preventive measures under the Interamerican Human Rights Commission with its headquarters in DC?

· Have you begun investigations into the various people who have received death threats, like Xenia Sagrado Flores Hernández, who is publicly known, of the teacher Sergio Rivera, who is also publicly known, of the youth Ricardo Antonio Medida, as well as Osman Montecino, to mention just a few.

· What has the Public Ministry done with respect to the torturous treatment suffered by those detained at the 3rd Cell of the Comoyagua Regional Police headquarters and who will be held responsible for the violent eviction?

Thus, Attorney General Luis Alberto, we will be very attentive to your actions regarding the investigations which you undertake in accordance with the pertinent legal requirements should you find sufficient evidence. We are giving you an enormous opportunity for proving your capacity to do your job with objectivity and Independence.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Additional Commentary on Microsoft and Its Abandonment of Cuba

While I'm no Microsoft apologist, when you factor in that Google also yanked services (and they're in direct competition with Microsoft for everything now that they've announced they're building an operating system and very pro open source), and that the ban extended to Iran, Syria, Sudan, etc., it makes it seem more about government intervention. Also the few tech blogs I've read about on this subject and I don't know if these are all interlinked or what say it's a result of Export Administration Regulations, i.e.:

While Cuba is listed as an American "Enemy," it is more to the point about exporting software to "evil" countries and less about Microsoft or the US government specifically targeting Cuba. I have also read rumors that Skype may be following suit too.

Of course it very well may be the other way around as well, it really wouldn't surprise me since Microsoft has used those tactics before, it is just a bit odd that Google would follow suit considering they're directly directly in competition now and I can't imagine them working on anything together.

Interesting as well:

David Birns

**For revised version of this article:

Monday, August 03, 2009

Timerman's commitment to democracy

Perhaps you do not see Ambassador Timerman clearly while sitting in his lap. Or perhaps it was the free food. In any case, your aria in the service of the ambassador omitted details that might have helped the reader to form a more accurate picture of those with whom you courageously ate and drank in support of Honduran democracy.

The Argentine government so faithfully served by Timerman is led by a woman who made every effort to accept an $800,000 “contribution” from the leader of another country that was attempting to the influence the electoral outcome in her country. While accepting such funds might be within the cultural bounds for the Latin American left, it is illegal, and is generally considered a disqualifier for leaders who wave the democratic flag. Of course, the case could be made that an ambassador is meta-political, that he serves his country despite the bought-and-paid-for aspect of the national leader. Fair enough.

Fair enough, that is, until the ambassador goes political by defending the transparently dishonest economic data produced by Argentina’s INDEC, as Ambassador Timerman has done. A government that so vigorously and consistently attempts to hide the effects of its policies from the electorate must be seen as anti-democratic. When a putatively meta-political figure such as Ambassador Timerman goes out of his way to defend the government’s systematic lies – even after the electorate has so roundly rejected them – he must be seen as increasingly meta-democratic rather than meta-political. Surely, even you can see past a tray of canapés, however well stacked, to notice his diminished stature as a democrat.

Of course, you might have been distracted by the presence of that other great democrat, Venezuelan ambassador, Alvarez. His employer is stands guilty – and proven so repeatedly -- for its active hostility toward free speech and democratic governance, both at home and abroad. Free speech advocates throughout the world have watched in outrage as the Venezuelan government has seized offending radio and TV stations, barred opposition expression, and as the head of that government has commandeered hundreds of broadcast hours per year to promote his “revolution”.

Neighboring nations that do not satisfy Venezuelan standards of socialist devotion have found that anti-democratic criminal gangs within their borders receive financial and military support from Venezuela.

Surely, if countries with records such as Venezuela’s are democratic champions, the concept of democracy is infinitely elastic.

Bernard McElhone

Readership Dissent on COHA's Piece, "Nicaragua Under Daniel Ortega's Second Presidency: Daniel-style Politics as Usual?"

What is going on with COHA regarding Nicaragua and Honduras? You have recently published some very shabby articles. I critiqued an earlier article by Frank Kendricks about Nicaragua and now fee the need to critique the most recent by Nidy Sarria.

I am going to lift up some quote from the article and comment on them. The quotes are in italics as follows:

“A close examination of Ortega’s second presidency also reveals crude manipulations of the Nicaraguan electorate, shameless seizures of power and under-the-table deal-making”

No such close examination has been made by COHA. What are you talking about?

“(The first Sandinista government [1979-1990] was also marked by corruption and controversy, including human rights violations and numerous scandals”

Those were allegations that came from the Reagan administration, but independent observers found much less corruption in the Sandinista government than in Costa Rica or the other countries of Central America. Human rights violations of the period were almost exclusively by the Reagan-sponsored (illegally) contras.

“Ortega lost the 1990 presidential election to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, with some help from the CIA”.

The Bush administration put more than $10 million into Violeta’s campaign, in violation of both US and Nicaraguan law. President Bush declared in a press conference after his invasion of Panama and shortly before the 1990 elections in February: I hope the people of Nicaragua are paying attention. A clear threat to the people of Nicaragua about what they could expect if they did not vote correctly.

“Ortega came up with the devious scheme to devote his efforts to lowering the minimum percentage of votes required to win an election””

The scheme was originated by Aleman and accepted by Ortega. While all Sandinista supporters would have preferred that Ortega not even speak to a slimebag like Aleman, his strategy worked, as, much to the dismay of Aleman, it provided the Sandinistas with a victory in 2006. Without the pact, Ortega would have won the first round of the election and lost the second, as the Embassy would have, as it did in every election since 1984, forced all of the opposition parties into a coalition to defeat the Sandinistas.

“The breakaway Sandinista faction MRS, directly suggested that Ortega’s pact with former President Aleman manipulate the election by gaining control of the electoral council responsible for conducting the election”.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which supervises all elections as an independent entity, had exactly the same makeup in 2006 when Ortega was declared the victor, as it had in 2000, when Bolaños won for the Liberals. The pact did not change that at all.

“Consistent with Marxist ideals, social spending in Nicaragua is under the control of the Sandinista party”.

Why is the ruling party’s control of social spending a “Marxist ideal”? The Republicans and Democrats have done that for generations in the US.

“this has infuriated Nicaraguan voters who had been convinced that Ortega had made significant shifts to the right”

None of these folks voted for Ortega. His 38% of the vote was from the very solid block of Sandinista voters. None of the Liberals or Conservatives voted for him.

“This emphasis on state control of public finances was espoused by the Sandinistas in the 1980s”

In what country does the state not control public finances? What is the point here?

“Many Nicaraguans, most notably swing voters, recall Ortega’s past history of distributing private property among loyal Sandinistas and now fear that they will be witnessing future nationalization of privately held businesses and property

There are virtually no swing voters in Nicaragua. What is Orgega’s “past history of distributing private property among loyal Sandinistas”? From 1990 to 2006, Nicaragua witnessed a shameless sellout of publicly-held entities, like the power company, to private and foreign corporations for virtually nothing, which resulted in major increases in the cost of electricity. Most Nicaraguans would deeply appreciate the nationalization of such formerly-owned utilities.

“His grab for power is most evident through the massive allegations of voter fraud in the 2008 municipal elections”

This could have been written by the American Embassy. The “massive allegations” were just that. Massive allegations are not evidence. No evidence has been presented to date to support such allegations. How can COHA simply repeat these allegations as though they were fact?

“Some parties were not allowed to field their candidates, creating a situation in which many voters were forced to choose between parties they did not necessarily support”

This is the allegation made by the MRS, a dissident group led by former Sandinista Vice President Sergio Ramirez. He tried to take over the Frente Sandinista in 1993 and was soundly trounced by the rank and file. He formed the MRS to support his candidacy for the presidency ever since. The MRS has never managed to get more than 7% of the popular vote. The Electoral Law that was passed by the Bolaños government in 2004 has a requirement that in order to be on the national ballot, any party has to field a majority number of candidates in every part of the country. The Supreme Electoral Council gave the MRS an extra year to meet that requirement, but they never did, so by the law that was passed before the Sandinistas came to power, the MRS was blocked from fielding candidates, for lack of candidates, not by any political manipulation by Daniel Ortega. And it was Wilfredo Navarro, the Liberal Party’s legal representative, who made the denunciation about the illegal activities of MRS, which led to their exclusion. The Sandinitas were only spectators in this activity.

“the FSLN decided not to accredit independent local observers as well as most international monitors, including observers from the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Carter Center, preventing them from effectively overseeing the actual election process”.

Having watched many of these international groups give approval to openly fraudulent elections in 1995 and 2000, the Sandinistas were rightly skeptical about allowing them to observe again. Around 150 election observers monitored the elections and agreed they were well-organized, free and fair. These were professional electoral specialists from the Protocolo de Tikal group, the Protocolo de Quito group and the Council of Latin American Electoral Experts. Together they represented observers from the electoral authorities of around a dozen Latin American countries.

“The opposition claims that marked ballots were dumped after the November 9 election, that non-FSLN party members were refused access to some of the vote counting sessions, and that some of the tallies from polling places could have been altered”.

Such allegations without any evidence ever being presented are totally specious and should not be repeated by a group that professes to be somewhat objective, like COHA.

a segment of the Nicaraguan media has been a steadfast critic of the Ortega administration, criticizing the shortcomings of his government by exposing the government’s multiple acts of corruption as well as frequently condemning the administration through other means. Students, too, represent a significant segment of the anti-Ortega opposition, organizing through online social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and assembling through marches, protests, and other forms of recalcitrant behavior”” .

Virtually all of the Nicaraguan media, with the exception of the Sandinista TV channel, is engaged in what can only be called pamphleteering. Very little of their publications could come anywhere near the basic standards for journalism. Unfounded allegations and outrageous “spins” are the mainstay of La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario. So-called scandals are frontpage news, without any evidence ever being presented. In the USA these papers would have gone broke years ago from lawsuits for libel and slander. In so-called dictatorial Nicaragua, they publish such junk daily.

The students who oppose the Sandinista government are nearly all from middle and upper-middle class groups. What else is new?

“it seems that for the moment, his (Ortega’s) hold on power is firm. Bolstered by his core base of supporters, as well as his proclivity for matching broad social moves with shameless political manipulations

What are these “shameless political manipulations”? More allegations without evidence.

“Ortega has even called for changes in the constitution in order to extend term limits and eventually allow him to run for reelection

At the 30th Anniversary celebration of the Sandinista victory over Somoza, Daniel Ortega suggested that the Constitution be changed to allow reelection (as in the US, for instance; or in France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Brazil, etc., etc.), with the addition of a Recall Referendum mechanism that would allow the people to recall a president if they became dissatisfied with his/her performance in office. Sounds pretty good. We could have used something like that around 2005 in the US.

Throughout the article the use of the terms “Marxist”, “Marxist-inspired”, etc., is sprinkled, without any suggestion of what they mean. This is normally called yellow journalism, and is not worthy of publication by COHA.

“This public appeal has been condemned by Nicaraguan opposition lawmakers, although this initiative is the least of his malfeasances.”

When COHA refers to “the least of his malfeasances” without reference to anything specific, I fear you are leaving yourselves open to a lawsuit for libel under US law. Out of respect for your more-than-thirty years of excellent work, I suggest you be more careful about editing such articles.

Fred Morris