Monthly Archives: August 2009

Let’s not forget an American Classic-Buffy Sainte-Marie ‘My Country ‘Tis of thy People You’re Dying’

Buffy Sainte-Marie – her song of the 1960’s
“My Country ‘Tis of thy People You’re Dying”,
surely one of the permanent masterpieces of American
Here is a performance on YouTube

and here are the words
Buffy Sainte-Marie 1966

Now that your big eyes have finally opened,
Now that you’re wondering how must they feel,
Meaning them that you’ve chased across America’s movie screens.
Now that you’re wondering how can it be real
That the ones you’ve called colorful, noble and proud
In your school propaganda
They starve in their splendor?
You’ve asked for my comment I simply will render:

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Now that the longhouses “breed superstition”
You force us to send our toddlers away
To your schools where they’re taught to despise their traditions,
Forbid them their languages, then further say
That American history really began
When Columbus set sail out of Europe, – then stress
That the nation of leeches that conquered this land
Are the biggest and bravest and boldest and best.

And yet where in your history books is the tale
Of the genocide basic to this country’s birth,
Of the preachers who lied, how the Bill of Rights failed,
How a nation of patriots returned to their earth?

And where will it tell of the Liberty Bell
As it rang with a thud
over Kinzua mud,
And of brave Uncle Sam in Alaska this year?

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Hear how the bargain was made for the West:
With her shivering children in zero degrees,
Blankets for your land, so the treaties attest,
Oh well, blankets for land is a bargain indeed,
And the blankets were those Uncle Sam had collected
From smallpox-diseased dying soldiers that day.
And the tribes were wiped out and the history books censored,
A hundred years of your statesmen have felt it’s better this way.
And yet a few of the conquered have somehow survived,

Their blood runs the redder though genes have paled.
From the Gran Canyon’s caverns to craven sad hills
The wounded, the losers, the robbed sing their tale.
From Los Angeles County to upstate New York

The white nation fattens while others grow lean;
Oh the tricked and evicted they know what I mean.

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

The past it just crumbled, the future just threatens;
Our life blood shut up in your chemical tanks.
And now here you come, bill of sale in your hands
And surprise in your eyes that we’re lacking in thanks
For the blessings of civilization you’ve brought us,
The lessons you’ve taught us, the ruin you’ve wrought us —
Oh see what our trust in America’s brought us.

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Now that the pride of the sires receives charity,
Now that we’re harmless and safe behind laws,
Now that my life’s to be known as your “heritage,”
Now that even the graves have been robbed,
Now that our own chosen way is a novelty —
Hands on our hearts we salute you your victory,
Choke on your blue white and scarlet hypocrisy
Pitying the blindness, that you’ve never seen
that the eagles of war whose wings lent you glory
They were never no more than carrion crows,
Pushed the wrens from their nest, stole their eggs, changed their story;
The mockingbird sings it, it’s all that he knows.

“Ah what can I do?” say a powerless few
With a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye —

Can’t you see that their poverty’s profiting you.

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.



Coffee in Chiapas

1. Voices of Coffee Growers in Chiapas
When the Coffee Crisis Hits Home
Laura Carlsen and Edith Cervantes | February 2004
Americas Program, Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC) The Americas Program is launching a new series of briefings called Voices from the Countryside that aims to provide a forum for the often unheard voices of the rural population throughout the Americas. Through interviews and testimonies, farmers and peasants describe the effects of top-down economic policies on their daily lives. Their stories show the human struggles and suffering behind many of the issues we analyze in our other articles.
This first installment brings us the voices of small coffee growers in Chiapas, Mexico.

Coffee is not native to Mexico, yet since it arrived on Mexican shores in 1796, it has evolved into a central aspect of social, economic, and cultural life. Today 320,000 growers produce coffee in twelve states of the republic. From bush to brew, the coffee industry employs over three million people. Nearly 6% of the economically active population of Mexico depends on the crop for their livelihoods, and in the countryside the figure rises to a quarter of the population.
The current crisis in international coffee prices has hit rural Mexico hardest where people are poorest and living conditions most precarious. Of Mexico’s coffee-growing townships, 84% register high or very high levels of poverty. In contrast to the large plantation farming common in other parts of the world, in Mexico most coffee growers are smallholders and 65% are indigenous.
Prices to Mexican producers have plummeted over the past few years and hit historic lows in 2002. Mexican coffee growers cannot break even in today’s market, but the lack of other options keeps them trapped in a downward spiral. Failure to solve the current crisis could not only destroy the livelihoods of thousands of growers, but also lead to massive out-migration, cultural disruption, and serious environmental threats to some of the nation’s most valuable and vulnerable regions.
The current price to the producer ranges between 28 cents/lb to unorganised growers and 41 cents/lb for members of growers’ cooperatives. Costs of production vary but average around $1.00/lb.
At the same time, the crisis in producer prices has created a buyers´ market that offers spectacular profits to large intermediaries, particularly transnational roasters and branders. Transnational corporations have expanded their presence in the Mexican market as buyers, processors and retailers. Since Mexico exports 85% of its coffee, the sector is highly dependent on the
vagaries of the international market and the interests of transnational actors. Several factors have converged to distort the market: oversupply, a lack of product differentiation on the global trading level, defective and low quality coffee in the market and high concentration among roasting and branding companies.
The crisis in international prices has also affected the Mexican crop and its perspectives for future production. In the past two seasons, many small growers could not afford to harvest their coffee beans. The National Coalition of Coffee Organizations (CNOC) reports that an estimated 20% of last season’s crop was left to rot in the fields last year.
Producers have few defences in the present global context. Since 1989 when the government dismantled the national production-processing-marketing board
(Mexican Coffee Institute-Inmecafe), they have had to struggle to take over former state functions. Faced with huge deficits in all areas of basic infrastructure– transportation, processing facilities, financing, and market information–most growers must still sell their unprocessed coffee at below cost to any intermediary who has a vehicle and offers ready cash.
But some have been able to build up strong grassroots growers’ cooperatives that can collectively negotiate higher prices, develop new markets and directly export their product. The cycle of crises since 1989 has compelled small growers to seek alternatives and opened the way to the creation of independent peasant cooperatives and small-producers groups. Under adverse conditions, many of these have consolidated their organizations over the years and taken on the difficult tasks of collectively processing and direct-marketing their members´coffee. Their efforts result in producer prices often 20% above the going market price.
These organizations have made important inroads in solidarity and fair trade markets by establishing direct links between consumers and producers. They have increased the quality of their coffees to access gourmet and specialty markets worldwide. Mexico leads the world in the production of organic coffee. The grassroots growers´ organizations pioneered organic production in the country and continue to convert to organic to save money on costly chemical inputs, avoid short and long-term environmental damage and take advantage of the premium paid for these coffees.
By combining coffee cultivation with basic foods production and protection of some of the earth’s richest biodiversity areas, peasant growers’ organizations have marked a path toward socially and environmentally sustainable coffee production in Mexico. Their experiences offer elements for modifying the global
model based on principles of equitable trade relations and conservation of cultural and biological diversity.

Chiapas Coffee Growers Speak Out
Manuel Gómez Ruiz, a small grower from San Miguel, El Bosque in the northern part of Chiapas belongs to the Majomut Cooperative. He describes the advantages of being organized and how the chain of coyotes (intermediary buyers) erodes the price to isolated producers. The price of coffee has been going down a lot, but the price that the cooperative pays is always better than the price that the coyote gives you. We’ve been struggling to sell our coffee on the fair trade market but we haven’t been able to. But at least in the Cooperative we get a better price than if we sell to the coyote. That’s why we stay in the organization.
“There is a coyote that goes house to house in the community. Then he can sell the coffee to the bigger coyote in the municipal seat. The one in the municipal
seat then sells in Bochil, to the regional coyote. And the one in Bochil sells it to the other coyote that’s a business in Tuxtla Gutiérrez (state capital).
That’s where the coffee is processed. The business is a representative of an even bigger business that exports the coffee. The producer ends up with very little for his work.
“I got ten quintals of green coffee from my coffee farm of one hectare (2.47 acres). I received around 3,500 pesos for it (a little over $360). We did it all with family labor, we didn’t hire anyone to help in the harvest. The hectare takes about ninety work days. My only consolation is that our money doesn’t go to a coyote. But the price is still lower all the time and covers less and less of the family’s needs& The only possibility we have now is to grow organic coffee, because the price doesn’t get hammered like the conventional price does. It’s been many years now that I haven’t used chemicals
Pedro Guzman Lopez is a small coffee grower from Majosik, Chiapas . He does not belong to a cooperative:
This year the coyote paid seven pesos a kilo. I sold four bags (60k) at seven pesos–1,680 pesos for my whole harvest of a hectare of coffee. Money from coffee was scarce; I could only buy a little food. I bought a little corn and beans, but I didn’t have anything for clothes. No money left to save, to spend on food later when the family needed it. All my family’s work in the coffee
plot amounted to almost nothing.
“I had to borrow money since the coffee didn’t pay. I borrowed 2,000 pesos at 5% monthly. I borrowed the money in May because the coffee money ran out and I
didn’t have anything for food. I’ll pay the loan next coffee harvest. If the coffee price goes down, I don’t know what I’ll do about the debt.
“Two of my children went off to look for work in Mexico City . They’re 15 and 16 years old. Maybe they found work, but they haven’t sent any money. Last year they didn’t have to leave to look for work outside Majosik; they stayed here and helped with the coffee. Until they saw that the coffee price was too low to afford food so they decided to go. He notes that twenty boys have left in the past three months and says the girls are leaving to work outside the community too; they go to Jovel (San Cristóbal de Las Casas) to work as servants. At least they can come back to visit their families once in a while, he says, the boys–who knows if they’ll ever come back.”
Lucia Giron Guzman is Pedro’s wife. She tells her story:
I work in the coffee plot with my husband and children, the whole family works. Right now I’m coming back from cleaning the fields. We had to do the job with just the two little boys, my husband, and me because the other boys went to look for work in Mexico City . It’s more work for us, but we don’t have any alternative. I hope the price goes up. If it goes down two or three pesos, I don’t know what we’ll do. It’s a pity all that work that doesn’t get paid if the price goes down. At harvest, we get up at two or three in the morning to reach the field and pick the coffee by 6.
“Now I don’t have anything left from the coffee– I can’t buy a new dress or clothes or shoes or corn. I have to look for work: clearing cornfields, weeding the coffee or carrying wood. I have to earn something to buy a little food for the family. I earn the same as my husband, 15 pesos ($1.60) a day.”

For many members of the Majomut Cooperative, organic coffee growing has meant not only financial salvation but a new (or rediscovered) ethos of ecological
We had lost our respect for nature–instead of feeding and caring for the earth, we used to poison her. If we had kept on like that we would be much poorer now, with unproductive fields, under the illusion that only by spreading chemicals could we increase productivity. with no future for our children.”
– Rosario Gutiérrez Villarreal, 48 years, from Ejido Vicente Guerrero.
To do the organic program we had to look back, to rescue the ways of our grandparents who worked the coffee. Government extension workers (Inmecafe) said that we could only increase production with fertilizers, but we use compost without contaminating the earth. The composts and the living terraces are made with local materials, we don’t have to spend money to improve production.
When the organic program began, we exchanged plants between communities to diversify the coffee lands. There are many kinds of different plants in the coffee plot because they are well arranged. First are the trees that serve to shade the coffee, then there’s the coffee with other plants, and below that the herbs. There are the living hedges that serve to prevent erosion. We get food and medicine and sometimes wood from the trees, the plants and the herbs.
That’s the way my grandparents did it, and that’s the way we still do it. Everything in the coffee plot serves to conserve the coffee or to fulfil our needs.
– Juan Luna Pérez, 40 years, works in Polhó, Chenalhó.
When I die my children will continue on the path of organic agriculture. Making the compost (that’s like food for the earth) planting living walls so the soil isn’t lost doing the work, cultivating organic coffee. Caring for the earth, without putting poison on it. This is the plot I inherited from my grandparents, from my father. It is the land my children will receive from me.
– Pablo Vázquez from Naranjatik, Chenalhó.

Edith Cervantes conducted the interviews. Cervantes is an agronomist and adviser to the Majomut Cooperative in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas


Mountain Groan
Resource Center of the Americas


Hours after sundown, Lucía Gonzáles Ruiz watches anxiously out the door of her dirt-floor house in this highland municipality of Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. She wonders why her husband, Lucio Gonzáles Ruiz, hasn’t returned home to El Bosque since leaving this morning on the three-hour bus ride to the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. His only task there, she explains, was to withdraw money from the bank for Mut Vitz, a coffee-growing cooperative the family helped form in 1997.

Lucía recalls the last time she waited up this late for him to come home. Police had arrested him the afternoon of August 2 and thrown him in jail for the night on spurious charges of starting a fight. The bail cost $120, a considerable sum for a family whose annual income is $800. The police also confiscated checks and documents the co-op needed to register with authorities as a business.

“I just want to know he’s safe,” Lucía says. Her husband finally arrives home in the middle of the night. Today’s holdup was not police harassment; it turns out, but bureaucracy at the bank.

Running a farmer co-op is not easy in Chiapas, where the government is waging a low-intensity war against an indigenous movement called the Zapatista National Liberation Army. Since the Zapatistas launched a 12-day armed campaign January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect, rebel sympathizers among the state’s nearly 1 million indigenous inhabitants have faced unrelenting intimidation by police, paramilitary groups and federal troops.

Mut Vitz, which means “Bird Mountain” in the Mayan language Tzotzil, has made no secret of its affiliations. Putting Zapatista self-sufficiency tenets into practice, the co-op’s 780 farmers are part of a global “fair trade” movement that connects Third World producers to northern consumers, bypassing profiteering intermediaries. Mut Vitz leaders say foes of this self-sufficiency are behind a string of vicious attacks here, including seven murders this year. Regardless of their affiliations, farmers everywhere in Chiapas feel the impact of such large-scale attacks as the December 22, 1997, paramilitary massacre in the village of Acteal.

The violence heightens barriers to market access facing peasants throughout the Third World. The barriers range from language differences to unreasonable organic-certification costs to lagging consumer demand for fair-trade products. Last year Mut Vitz produced more than fair-trade importers could buy, forcing the co-op to sell for a pittance to local hustlers known as coyotes who gather beans for the corporate-dominated global industry.

To the Chiapas farmers, fair trade means something more than economic independence. “We are not only in the process of organizing to export coffee,” says Mut Vitz farmer Mariano Gonzáles Gonzáles. “We want to show consumers that indigenous people have dignity.”


Generating $18 billion in annual sales, coffee is the world’s second-largest legally traded commodity after oil. Each year the United States, the largest coffee importer, consumes about a fifth of the total. The bean is the most important agricultural export for dozens of Third World countries, including Mexico, the chief U.S. supplier.

Coffee has been a cash crop since colonial times, when serfs planted and harvested the bean on feudal estates. In Mexico, Porfirio Díaz’s 1876-1911 dictatorship transformed the industry, heaping financial incentives and technical assistance on international coffee entrepreneurs that allowed them to set up large plantations, some covering more than 1,200 acres. In Chiapas, the incentives attracted investment from French, U.S., German and Spanish interests. The foreign control meant that most profits left the country instead of spurring local development.

Peasants, pushed off the most fertile land, have tried to compete against the plantations. But their efforts invariably fail, owing to a lack of credit, processing infrastructure and access to stable international markets. The vast majority of the world’s 25 million coffee farmers live in desperate poverty.

Their lives revolve around a volatile world price set by a Wall Street commodity exchange. Since an international coffee pact collapsed in 1987, this price has hovered around $1 for a pound that retails for as much as $10. Compounding the exploitation are intermediaries who charge farmers exorbitant rates for financing, equipment and transportation.

The small-scale farmers sometimes end up with as little as $0.30 per pound, less than a third of what it costs to produce the coffee. Few make more than $600 a year (the annual cost of a daily latté in the United States), and most are trapped in an endless cycle of debt. In 350 of the 411 Mexican municipalities where coffee is cultivated, according to government figures, farmers live in extreme poverty. Chiapas, Mexico’s leading coffee producer, is the nation’s poorest state.

Here in El Bosque, a rugged 30 miles north of San Cristóbal, small-scale farmers had only one option for selling coffee until fair-trade co-ops formed. The coyotes would arrive at harvest time with pickup trucks and crooked scales, purchasing 140-pound bags the farmers had hauled to the roadside on their backs.

“The coyotes would always tell us our coffee was poor quality, even though we knew otherwise,” recalls Gonzáles Ruiz, the Mut Vitz member. “We knew that the coyotes were not paying us well, but we had no other place to sell it.”

The coyotes sell the beans to exporters who supply four food conglomerates that roast, package and market most of the world supply. The firms are Cincinnati-based Procter and Gamble (Folgers), New York-based Philip Morris (Maxwell House), Chicago-based Sara Lee (European brands) and the largest, Swiss-based Nestlé (Hills Brothers).

Of the price U.S. consumers pay for coffee, the small-scale farmers receive roughly 10 percent. About 30 percent goes to the coyotes and exporters, and 25 percent to retailers. The largest share, 35 percent, goes to the four corporations.


Throughout the Third World, the early 1980s saw an increasing number of small-scale coffee farmers organizing themselves into cooperatives. In most co-ops, the farmers continued working their own plots, usually less than 10 acres, but joined together to process the beans (remove the pulp, allow fermentation, and wash and dry them) and to market and export the yield.

Their success hinged on a new breed of international importer concerned about the economic plight of Third World farmers. The U.S. pioneer was Equal Exchange, based in Canton, Massachusetts, which formed in 1986.

In 1988, when the world price for unroasted beans dropped more than 50 percent to $0.60 per pound, the Dutch-based nonprofit Max Havelaar began certifying fair-trade coffee and licensing a retail logo so consumers could identify it. The organization agreed with the co-ops on a uniform coffee price that would remain constant no matter how low the market dropped. The floor price would cover production costs and provide a modest return for the co-ops. The co-ops had to run democratically and invest the return into production upgrades, quality improvements and development projects such as schools and health clinics. Certified importers, for their part, had to pay the floor price, provide the co-ops with credit and long-term contracts, and deliver the coffee directly from farmers to retailers, arranging for shipping, roasting, packaging and distribution.

By 1992, as the world coffee price plunged to $0.48 per pound, interest in fair-trade coffee was spreading fast across western Europe. In the mold of Max Havelaar, certifying agencies in other northern countries were taking root. TransFair USA, the U.S. certifier, formed in 1995.

The fair-trade movement leaped forward with the 1997 founding of the Fairtrade labeling Organizations. Based in Bonn, Germany, the FLO develops international licensing criteria, ironing out differences between Max Havelaar, TransFair USA and 15 other national initiatives. On the production end, the FLO runs a registry of 200 certified coffee co-ops, representing 500,000 farmers in 18 countries. The FLO monitors the co-ops at least every two years. (Besides coffee, the FLO sets criteria for tea, cocoa, honey, sugar, bananas and orange-juice concentrate. In the United States, coffee remains the only certified product.)

By 1999, the FLO was certifying some 25 million pounds of fair-trade coffee annually, still a tiny fraction of the 13 billion-pound worldwide yield, but rising fast. Today’s FLO-maintained floor price, $1.26 per pound, has kept farmers above water as market prices have dropped as low as $0.68 this year. When the market price exceeds the floor, certified importers must pay the going rate plus a $0.05-per-pound premium. The FLO also requires importers to pay the co-ops 60 percent of the cost prior to shipment.

One of the world’s most successful fair-trade cooperatives is just west of Chiapas in the state of Oaxaca. The 2,200-family Isthmus Region Indigenous Communities Union (UCIRI) has used its surplus to establish a farm supply center, health-care services, cooperative corn mills, an agricultural extension and training program, the region’s only secondary school and its only public bus line.

A few plantations claim to have joined the fair-trade cause, but there is no certification to verify how they treat their workers. The 1,000-acre Finca Irlanda, a German-owned coffee plantation in southern Chiapas, seems to provide workers decent wages, hours and safety protections. It employs some farmworkers permanently, instead of just for the harvest. And it provides amenities such as a children’s playground and a garden that produces employee food.

Some plantations “genuinely care for their workers, and some are paternalistic city-states run by benevolent dictators,” explains Bob Thomson, managing director of the Ottawa-based TransFair Canada. “There is no way of telling them apart at this point without actually visiting them unannounced and having sufficient local background and coffee experience to sift out truth from greenwashing.”

Even certification does not guarantee labor conditions. In a fair-trade co-op, the bigger farms often must hire harvest labor even though they lack decent housing, bathrooms, meals and child care. The hired hands often live in squalor.


Chiapas elders can remember a time when all farming was organic. Most coffee grew on shaded mountains and hills without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

In recent decades, corporate-backed plantations across Latin America have converted to high-yield varieties that grow in direct sunlight. Cutting down shade trees for this coffee has contributed to severe soil erosion, deforestation and destruction of habitat for migratory songbirds and other animals. And the high-tech crops depend on chemicals that contaminate soil and groundwater. In the 1970s, the U.S. Agency for International. Development pumped more than $80 million into this “modernization.”

Since 1990, when the Mexican government’s Coffee Institute was dismantled and world coffee prices were plummeting, most small-scale Chiapas farmers have not been able afford chemicals. Many have decided to pursue organic farming-composting, using natural enemies against unwanted insects, and fighting erosion by building terraces or planting tree rows known as “living fences”-simply because it’s cheaper than the high-tech method.

By 1998, Mexico had 111,000 acres under certified organic coffee cultivation, rivaling Peru, the hemisphere’s other leading organic producer. Certification means the coffee can carry an “organic” logo when retailed. The farmers usually receive an extra $0.15 per pound.

But while most fair-trade coffee farms are organic, only about 15 percent have completed an organic certification process. One reason is that it tends to limit them to a single national retail market. The segmentation owes largely to northern ministries of agriculture and consumer protection that prefer their own national certifying agency, such as Germany’s Naturland or the U.S. Organic Crop Improvement Association. Until recently, northern governments didn’t trust Third World certifying bodies.

Another hurdle to going organic has been the cost of certification. Including transportation, food and lodging for inspectors, the bill for a co-op the size of Mut Vitz can run more than $1,800. Many in the Chiapas coffee industry describe an “organic mafia” that dominated the certification process until a few years ago. Monika Firl, a technical adviser for Mut Vitz when the co-op formed, said the certification inspectors were unreasonable. “They wouldn’t stay in cheap hotels and eat tacos in the streets,” she says.

Organic certification also requires farmers to carry and store coffee in expensive burlap sacks instead of plastic bags, and it forces them to devote scarce resources to building cement patios and fences to keep chickens and other animals away from the drying beans.

Yet another obstacle is a three-year wait before a farm is certified as organic. The requirement is supposed to ensure that chemical residues in soils have broken down and deactivated, but it seems pointless on farms that haven’t been able to afford chemicals for years, if ever. “It guarantees a market for inspector services, but it doesn’t necessarily make the products any more organic,” Firl says. “Suddenly paperwork is more important than the work in the field.”

A step forward was the 1998 creation of Certimex, a Mexico-based agency that certifies coffee for the Naturland logo. The agency uses local inspectors and relaxes some of the unreasonable standards.

Even farmers who have jumped through all the hoops may fall short of organic standards. The Mexican government backs mass aerial sprayings of malathion to fight the Mediterranean fruit fly in citrus fields. Careless spraying has harmed coffee and shade trees. In Tziscao, a village near the Guatemalan border, members of a 30-family farm co-op called Lagos de Colores say an unidentified crop-duster sprayed a chemical that killed some of their coffee plants last year.

Plantations have an easier time with organic certification than do cooperatives of poor farmers. The bigger the business, the more likely it is to have telephones, computers, vehicles, roads and multilingual staff members. And decisions can be made more quickly by a single owner than by a co-op aiming for democracy among hundreds of members. A German organization certified Finca Irlanda, the southern Chiapas plantation, as organic in 1962.

Certified fair trade, similarly, requires considerable paperwork and deft communication with overseas agencies. Such organizing is usually beyond the means of small-scale Chiapas farmers, most of whom lack the communication and transportation infrastructure. Many can’t read or write, moreover, and many speak only their Mayan language fluently, not Spanish, let alone German or English.

For these reasons, many cooperatives rely on outside funding and technical assistance to secure fair-trade and organic certifications. In 1991, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexico City office financed the transition for Unión Majomut, a co-op of 1,500 farmers north of San Cristóbal that sells primarily to European importers.


Most Majomut farmers support the Zapatistas, and the co-op bars its members from belonging to paramilitary groups, the government-backed rightist bands that attack rebel supporters. But Majomut claims neutrality in the Chiapas conflict. Co-op technical adviser Víctor Pérez Grovas notes a FLO requirement that farmer co-ops admit members regardless of political and religious differences. (It’s unclear how the requirement affects certification.)

Mut Vitz, another FLO-certified co-op, identifies itself with the rebel movement. Its U.S. buyers include Peace Coffee, the St. Paul-based Cloudforest Initiatives and the Human Bean Company, based in Denver, Colorado.

Some in the fair-trade movement call it unwise to pitch the coffee primarily as a means for consumers to express solidarity. Pérez Grovas points to Café Sandino, the Nicaraguan coffee marketed in the 1980s as a way to support that nation’s 1979 revolution. He says the brand went belly up amid quality problems and waning consumer loyalty after the 1990 electoral defeat of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. “Solidarity works only for a year or two,” he says. “After that, you need high-quality coffee.”

Human Bean director Kerry Appel counters that his company, founded in 1996, has flourished based on consumer preference for coffee that supports indigenous rights. “It tastes good to their palate and it feels good to their social consciousness,” he says.

Appel visited Mut Vitz regularly until August, when Mexican authorities revoked his business visa for the second time, saying his statements in support of indigenous rights had “violated the sovereignty of Mexico.”

Appel sees it differently. “If the Mexican government were not committing human rights violations, then I would not be speaking of murders and war,” he says. “I would really, really like to be telling our customers that there is democracy, liberty and justice in the area where our coffee is produced.”

Politically neutral or not, fair trade in Chiapas has received no government support. On the contrary, the low-intensity war against the Zapatistas spreads terror through farm cooperatives. With peace talks stalled since 1996, Mexico City has concentrated 70,000 army troops in the state. Paramilitaries have killed hundreds of farmers and forced thousands to abandon their crops and seek shelter in squalid refugee camps.

After the farmers flee, the soldiers and paramilitaries often steal or burn the crops. Such pillage followed the notorious attack in Acteal, 20 miles north of San Cristóbal, where paramilitaries slaughtered 45 unarmed indigenous people. The village produced coffee for Majomut.

The intimidation also takes subtle forms. Co-op leaders are arrested on specious charges. Troops and police stop farmers in their fields, demanding identification. Military vehicles roar past coffee villages. Farmers stumble upon soldiers sleeping under their coffee plants.

The army occupation makes it difficult to do the weeding, compost application and pruning necessary for an organic crop. More than 150 Majomut members had to drop out of the co-op’s certified-organic program last year because they feared soldiers stationed near their plots.

Conditions are similar on Mut Vitz farms. Co-op leaders describe the seven murders in the area this year as “assassinations.” The atmosphere resembles Guatemalan terror in the 1980s, when that nation’s military slaughtered coffee cooperative leaders.

Farmers hope the attacks will subside now that elections have ousted the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) from control of both the federal and state governments. Vicente Fox of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) took the presidential reins December 1, and Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía of an eight-party alliance took over as Chiapas governor a week later. An encouraging sign was the October 27 arrest of leaders of a feared paramilitary group called Peace and Justice. It remains to be seen whether the new rulers will ease the pressure on coffee farmers who sympathize with the Zapatistas.

Regardless of what the Mexican government does, the farmers will be more secure if more U.S. consumers choose fair trade. “It’s very important to us that consumers understand our work, how it feels to suffer beneath the sun as a campesino,” says Gonzáles Ruiz, the Mut Vitz farmer. “Knowing what our lives are like, they’ll purchase our coffee.”

more than 1000 members. The video was shot and digitally edited by two video makers who are members of the collective. Over a year in the making, The Strength of the Indigenous People of Mut Vitz traces the entire organic coffee production process: from seedling to transplant, from cultivation to the roasted bean. The video shows us the challenges that the collective faces in processing their coffee for market and their achievements using a Fair Trade model of distribution. (Tzotzil and Spanish, with English subtitles, 27 minutes, 2000)


The coffee cooperative Sociedad de Solidarid Social Mut Vitz (Society of Social Solidarity Mut Vitz) is a cooperative of indigenous Mayan small coffee producers from six municipalities in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico which was organized and legally registered in 1998. My name is Kerry Appel and I am the director of The Human Bean Company, a fair trade coffee company located in Denver, Colorado. I have been buying coffee from indigenous coffee cooperatives in Chiapas since 1996. ?I met the directors of Mut Vitz in 1998 and became the first to buy coffee from these coffee producers under fair trade terms. Until this purchase of coffee the producers who make up the coffee cooperative have historically had to sell their coffee to local coffee buyers, referred to as “coyotes”, people who pay the coffee producers a fraction of the world market coffee price. The formation of the coffee coop was an attempt by the coffee producers to escape this system of economic exploitation, to raise themselves from the poverty that they have endured as a result of this system, and to begin the process of the self-development of the infrastructure of their communities. ?Even though the coffee coop members live in the midst of military occupation by the Mexican Federal army and the paramilitary groups associated with the army and the state Public Service police, they managed to succeed in finding direct markets for their coffee in the United States and in Europe. The economic picture began to improve. In 1999 the future looked good for Mut Vitz.

The very first hours of the New Year of 2000 begin to change this view. At 5:00am on January 1sst, 2000, I was detained at an army roadblock while leaving an indigenous New Year’s cultural celebration and then expelled from Mexico and banned from returning. This was on top of having previously been denied a renewal of my business visa. This does not stop me from continuing my work on behalf of fair trade and human rights but it certainly makes it more difficult. ?On January 13th there began a series of murders and assaults and a campaign of dubious arrests of members of the Mut Vitz cooperative. Including the January expulsion of myself, here is a chronology of the campaign against Mut Vitz.

* January 1st, Kerry Appel, buyer of Mut Vitz coffee,detained
* January 3rd, Kerry Appel, expelled
* January 13th, Martin Sanchez Hernandez, from Chavajebal, killed.
* February 1st,
o Martin Gomez Jimenez, Chavajebal, killed (widow, Rosa Sanchez Perez, 2 children)
o Lorenzo Perez Hernandez, Chavajebal, killed(widow, Rosa Sanchez Nunez, 1 child)
o Rodolfo Gomez Ruiz, Chavajebal, killed (widow, Petrona Gomez Sanchez, 8 children)
o Mateo Jimenez Nunez, gravely wounded by gunfire (wife, Maria Gomez Sanchez, 1 child)
* – February 16th, Manuel Nunez Gomez, Bochil, La Lagunita,—– killed
* – July, Kerry Appel, Mexican courts overturn expulsion, free to travel again
* – July 26th, Salvador Lopez Gonzalez, arrested
* – July 27th, Pascual Sanchez Gomez, Chavajebal, killed (widow, Magdalena Hernandez Gomez, 5 children)
* – August 2nd, Lucio Gonzalez, President of Mut Vitz,arrested
* – August, Kerry Appel, Mexican Immigration issues another expulsion order and ban
* – September 9th, Marcos Ruiz Gomez, San Antonio el Brillante,killed

Note: I have been informed by Mut Vitz that Marcos Ruiz Gomez had previously been a member of the coffee coop but had left the coop some time previous to his murder.

In August I was given a letter written by Mut Vitz. The original text in Spanish is below followed by my English interpretation.


Mut Vitz, Sociedad de Solidaridad Social Avenida Ignacio Allende #4, Centro Historico San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico Tel. 00-52-961-25095, 00-52-967-82104

R.F.C. MVI-980813-DA5, Registro de Exportar 2335

Chiapas, Mexico a 20 de Agosto


?Por este medio les daremos a saber por parte de la Sociedad Mut Vitz S: de S.S. denuncia a los medios de comunicacion y a derechos humanos, a la sociedad civil nacional y internacional y a los negociantes de comercio justo y al Gobierno de Mexico y Estados Unidos de America lo que ha estado pasando en estos meses. ?En enero mataro un socio de Chavajeval, municipio de San Juan de la Libertad, en febrero murio otros 3 en el camino de la misma comunidad, en junio otro uno, en julio llevaron a la carcel 2 de Union Progresso, agosto llevaron a carcel el presidente de la Sociedad Mut Vitz. Esto esta pasando en las comunidades en resistencia. ?Esto es parte de guerra sucia de Gobierno de oprimir a las indigenas que luchan por democracia, justicia y libertad para todos.

English translation:

?By this medium we inform you, on the part of the Society of Mut Vitz: S.S., of the denouncement to the mediums of communication and to human rights groups, to the national and international civil society and to fair trade businesspersons and to the Mexican and United States governments, of that which has been happening in these months. ?In January an associate was killed from Chavajeval, municipality of San Juan de la Libertad, in February 3 others died in the road of the same community, in June another (was killed), in July 2 people from Union Progresso were taken to jail, in August they jailed the president of the Society of Mut Vitz. This is happening in the communities in resistance. ?This is part of the dirty war of the government to oppress the indigenous communities, which are struggling for democracy, justice and liberty for everyone.

(end of letter)


?It is obvious that these expulsions, arrests and murders are part of an intentional campaign against the communities in resistance in general and specifically against members of the coffee cooperative Mut Vitz. For one thing, all of these murders are happening to members of the autonomous communities in resistance and none are happening to the members of the pro-government (PRI) communities. The level of violence is also far higher than what statisticians might call a “normal” level of violence. Another indication that this is an intentional campaign of violence is that these murders are happening in the midst of a massive military occupation. There are several paramilitary groups operating in Chiapas who have direct ties to the army, police and the government of Chiapas. There is one paramilitary group right in the midst of the area where these murders are taking place called “Los Platanos”. I have stood with members of Mut Vitz on more than one occasion while they pointed out to me the paramilitary training taking place with the state Public Security police on the hill across the valley. As proof that the Mexican army and the paramilitaries might collaborate in murder, all one has to do is recall June of 1998 when the army and the paramilitaries invaded Chavajebal and Union Progresso. They killed three members of the autonomous communities outright and then killed five more after they arrested them. It is also very worrisome to note that there are also many similarities between the events occurring now in the communities of the Mut Vitz members and those that preceded the massacre of 46 indigenous persons at Acteal in December of 1997.

The Human Bean Company, citizens of the cities of Denver and Boulder, Colorado, members of Businesses for Human Rights and Equitable Trade in Chiapas (BETHRIC), and even fair trade groups in Europe have been participating with the members of the coffee cooperative Mut Vitz in many projects. These projects range from chicken coops to hog pens, from reforestation to bathrooms, from health clinics to ovens for baking bread. And for the efforts of Mut Vitz and of all of their friends and allies who are working together toward fair trade that respects the rights of indigenous peoples what we get in return is expulsions, arrests and murder.

We call on the President elect of Mexico Vicente Fox and on the new governor of Chiapas Pablo Salazar to recognize San Andres Accords and the COCOPA Initiative on Indigenous Rights and Culture, to disarm the paramilitary groups and to withdraw the army to their barracks. And we call upon them to stop the murder of the members of Mut Vitz. And we call upon the citizens and the media and the governments of other countries to pressure the Mexican government to end this campaign of violence.

With all of the talking that Vicente Fox and Pablo Salazar are doing right now about the benefits of trade and investment and the supposed democratization of Mexico and the alleged improvements in the human rights record of Mexico, we have to ask, “Do not these benefits extend to indigenous peoples and to fair trade businesspersons as well?”

Kerry Appel

The Human Bean Company


The statements included in the above document are not without extensive documentation. I have video documentation, police reports, newspaper articles, testimonies, personal observation and reports by the thousands (literally) to confirm all of the allegations made.

8-18-09 What is education in the world of today?

 What is education in the world of today?
 The bare essentials – words, math, some sense of where we are in time and space
  – and in this last there is no ‘objectivity’ to be achieved.
 The teachers who rarely know the power of words. This is a world where someone who has the power to read Shakespeare that Gwynneth Paltrow does, carefully lays those skills aside as not further profitable in the world she works in.
  And Math is rarely loved.
  And History is tied in knots by ideology and religion and the lack of philosophy in people.
The Democratic sense that there is a wisdom in the people is only occasionally true.
Mostly the lies are perpetuated.

And then the other skills of our time – not the street skills, which indeed are the wisdom of the people, nor the skills of fighting and sports which are taught and passed on outside of schools or in schools – but those skills which, like words, have to do with media – technological, visual and sound skills, and self-presentation. And how to relate to our self-presentations to these and to ourselves. Do we begin to know how to teach such matters without sacrificing what we know about the older skills of words and numbers and thinking, or how to combine them all?

Who can design a curriculum?
I watch a TV program by Christiane Amanpour,
– and who can ‘learn‘ to become what she is: clear thinking, articulate, graceful, courageous, dedicated to communicating experience (even when she gets the questions wrong) –
– a program about young girls in Afghanistan risking their lives to go to school,
or as they put it, to get an education.
And what can a school possibly offer them in return for such risks?
They say it is a chance for a career-doctor, statesman, whatever those words mean to the girls. Certainly in that world what the school offers is not able to do that. What they learn is a little smattering, reading and writing, and some other bits.
But what, perhaps. they do get is the POSSIBILITY of being the person who can use these bits to go further. But where do these few learn the character and purpose and goals in all this to go further? We don’t know.

One English theorist of education, in a long English tradition, said the aim of education was to hold up models of excellence.
Another – American – said it was to learn the open-mindedness of a ‘scientific’ approach to the world. Doubting and testing.
This is not often learnt – and many great people have got on without it.
But Science – which I have only touched on as mathematics and technology, is clearly the background which is all we have available at the back of our minds – that explain and come to some understanding of the world – gravity, the solar system, the universe, the evolutionary process of life, as well as the most general facts about human life – what we can know about time in history, the changes in economy and society – to give us some perspective, if we are to leave the indoctrinated prescriptions of the holy books.
The ‘religious’, the fundamentalists and some others of those religions that came out of the ‘middle’ east, want to put the writings of their ‘God’ back in the center of that education, rather than the beliefs and processes that guide our search for information about the world and ourselves that come by investigation and evidence.

Evidence – crucial but how can we teach that. We do, but only to a few. And our politics and the world do not seem to follow the evidence. Should or can education teach us to value “evidence”?

Clearly our thinking needs to be shaped by some values, some excellence of spirit, or we are all whores and hypocrites – as so many are.
For some these values are felt to come from a book – a holy book, or some other books. But clearly values by rote and tradition are too narrow for real living in our complex and changing and pseudo-abstract world. We can’t even teach people to defend themselves from the lies and abstractions that are now flung from every corner.

So what can the school do? Should we risk our lives for it?
If we say ‘yes’, what is driving us to this conclusion? Are we deceiving ourselves? Or is some form of education the only hope?

And again, what is the curriculum and understanding and syllabus that will use the time well.
(Clearly also, the answer is not in the mechanical language of – what is that horrible educationist term – “behavioral objectives”.)
At the present in this country – education is presented as learning to think technologically and otherwise sufficiently well to out-compete the Chinese and Japanese and Koreans, and the Europeans.
Or have a pool of workers available with these kinds of skills – mathematics and words and languages – so companies can do their work efficiently here. This is a narrow vision – but in the present times it looks like the promised land.

Keith Olbermann “Think, please. Think, before something horrible happens.”

“Finally as promised a Special Comment on this terrible moment in American history, and those unfortunate and irresponsible Americans who have brought us to it.

“The America I know and love,” the quitter governor of Alaska Sarah Palin began, “is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

Of course it is, Ms. Palin, and that is why it does not exist, has not existed, and would never, under this president, nor any other president, ever exist, in this country.

There is no ‘death panel.’ There is no judgment based on societal productivity. There is no worthiness test. But there is downright evil, and Ms. Palin, you just served its cause. You shouted “fire” in a crowded theater — a hot one — and then today tried to roll it back with “no, no, sorry, not fire, I meant flashlights.”

Too little, too late, too obvious. Madam, you are a clear and present danger to the safety and security of this nation. Whether the ‘death panel’ is something you dreamed, or something you dreamed-up, whether it is the product of a low intellect and a fevered imagination, or the product of a high intelligence and a sober ability to exploit people, you should be ashamed of yourself for having introduced it into the public discourse, and it should debar you, for all time, from any position of responsibility or trust in the governance of this nation or any of its states or municipalities.

But it will not. Because a percentage of America does not want explanations nor serious conversation. It wants panic and the guilty thrill of chaos and an excuse to bash skulls and hang people in effigy. Or not in effigy. Ms. Palin, what, in spirit, is the difference between this monstrous image of a congressman hanged in effigy and the indefensible smile of pride on the idiot’s

And this image with not one murderer in the mob even feeling the need to hide his face for fear of justice that would never come? They are both, to use your phrase, “Death Panels.” Ms. Palin, you might as well have declared that the government is being run by a coven of witches with fake Kenyan birth
And you might as well have told the vast unthinking throng that mistakes your ability to wink for leadership, that they should start shooting at Democrats. There would be no need to tell them to bring guns. Others have done that. Somebody left his at an Arizona Town Hall.

And incidentally, Madam, you have forfeited your right to be taken seriously the next time you claim offense at somebody mentioning your children. You have just exploited your youngest child, dangled him in front of a mindless mob as surely as if you were Michael Jackson. You have used this innocent infant as an excuse to pander to the worst and least of us in this nation. You have used him to create the false image of ‘death panels.’

The only ‘death panels,’ Ms. Palin, are the figurative ones you have inspired with such irresponsible, dangerous, facile, vile, hate speech. The death of common sense. The death of logic.The death, perhaps, of Democracy, at the hands of mob rule. If someone is hurt at one of these Town Halls, pro-Reform, anti-Reform, or, most likely, as these things tend to play out in the real life you know so little about, Ms. Palin — if the hurt befalls an innocent bystander —you will have contributed to the harm.

You might very well become, Ms. Palin, the very thing you have sought to create in the lurid imaginations of those spoiling for a ight, waiting for an excuse, looking for a rationalization of their own hatred, their own racism, their own unwillingness to accept Democracy. You, Ms. Palin, may yet become the de facto chairman of a Death Panel. Your higher calling, Ms. Palin. God forgive you, Ms. Palin.

It is hardly all Sarah Palin. She is in fact a relative newcomer to the orgy of fantasized violence and imagined revolution, whose fires have been stoked, for weeks, for months, for years, by Conservatives — but more often by mere mercenaries, men and women who believe nothing, who are in it for the game, or the profit, or the sheer kick of bending masses to their will. Glenn Beck, who recoils when somebody actually readies for an attack on one of the “FEMA
internment camps” he so cavalierly invented, who so cowers at the thought that he might get blamed, or might lose his precious and well-earned gold, that he actually has to plead with his viewers not to become new Timothy McVeighs.

Glenn Beck, says that and then comes back three days later and jokes about — poisoning the Speaker of the House.
It is irresistible to you, isn’t it? It’s the same thrill of irresponsibility, of caveman thought, of the drug addict who suddenly and joyously cares nothing about self-restraint. Sobered momentarily into realizing the prospective outline of the horrible shape on the horizon — soldiers wounded, shooter says she was liberating FEMA camp, says she saw Glenn Beck tell her to rise up and fight back’ — awakened to the idea that words you say on television have consequences which you cannot control, you plead, almost cry, for non-violence.

And yet within 72 hours the thrill again rises up in your blood and you cannot resist it, you must fantasize about murder, and by the very action of speaking it aloud, you enable others to join you in this neanderthalian ritual of violence to overcome the enemy — whether the enemy is real, or imagined, or whether the enemy really isn’t an enemy at all, just your neighbor, with a different point of view, who wants to talk about it, who wants to involve you in the decision even though it is his turn to steer and not yours, and even though you both know that some day our system will give you another turn to steer.

But ranting and crying and playing with toys on television, does not work, if you are advocating compromise and dialogue and thought. It works only for a mountebank making the promise of magic and power, with the underlying inherent threat of carnage and chaos. And now you add you believe ‘death panels’ are real. An idea so insane, which mainlines so directly back to the mercenary fantasies of the pathetic Betsy McCoy, that even Sarah Palin backed quickly away from them.

But what a scare tactic! The big lie in the flesh. Your dream come true. Which
is probably why, Mr. Beck, we have not lately heard much of your “9/12” groups. Because there you had the germ of an idea, exploitative perhaps, but at its core, beneficial, calming, unifying, thoughtful: restore the sense of September 12th, 2001 — not of dread or threat, but of collaboration, of meeting in the middle, of standing together under one flag and trying to improve the conditions of all Americans.

And then somebody from your 9/12 group told its members they should all go to the Health Care Reform Town Hall in Tampa, and break it up, and shout down anybody who disagreed with them, and scuffle with the police, and demand not discourse but disaster. Your work, Mr. Beck.
Your contribution to this.
God forgive you.

There are other instigators free in the land, nearly all of them, in effect, un-true believers. Men intelligent enough to work their way up the political ladder in this country into the Senate of this nation, and yet suddenly foolish enough, or suddenly opportunistic enough like Mr. Cornyn of Texas, to float conspiracy theories about the White House using Health Care Reform to try to compile an enemies list, one e-mail address at a time, when four years ago the same Senator was saying that the previous White House’s pernicious, warrantless, illegal consumption of everybody’s e-mail address, and everybody’s e-mail, and everybody’s websites, was defensible and justifiable because, quote, “none of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead.”

And now pushing — is Mr. Cornyn — the supposedly independent analysis of the proposed Health Care reform by “The Lewin Group” that 119 million people would have to change their insurance — Mr. Cornyn not knowing, or being paid not to know, that “The Lewin Group” is wholly owned by an Insurance Company, the way the Lewin Group gave Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor 60-thousand dollars apiece.
Wholly owned!

Then there are the birthers, laughable from the moment they opened their mouths, proffering a conspiracy that somehow began with the placement of birth notices in two Hawaiian newspapers 48 years ago this month. But people who do not want this president to be president will believe anything, and that is meat for fading commentators like Lou Dobbs, whatever he actually believes.

Because the birther movement touches another essential part of the defective soul — the need for an excuse. For they need to convince themselves of an immense conspiracy, and place that conviction as a barrier between their actions, and the sad reality that they are not the victims of intricate machinations against freedom, but are just garden-variety, ordinary, racists — that they can handle the most limited of integration only in theory.

They will take anything that will let them pretend that — when they burst into tears and cry that they want their America back — they are not asking for White Power, not asking that somebody make the black man in the White House go away.
There are other instigators, of course, so obvious, so careless — knowing so well that anybody who desperately wants to believe lies, will not even notice the truth standing next to them wearing a big red sign.

Like the “just a Mom from a few blocks away” at the Wisconsin town hall, who didn’t think anybody might google her name and find out she was really the ex-vice-chairman of the county GOP and part of the campaign of the Republican who lost to the Democrat whose town hall she was at that moment, helping to disrupt. Like the smooth-talking hospital corporate titan, spreading millions around to enable the hate, knowing that none of the haters will ever realize that they have become prostitutes for the health care industries.

Like the people who propagated this widely-cut-and-pasted quote “line by line analysis” of the Health Care Reform Act —one that saves Right Wingers the trouble of actually reading the bill.
This is where the fictions come from: that it’s funding ACORN, that it guarantees free health care for illegal immigrants, mandates abortions, demands euthanasia. If you read it without knowing the truth, you might shove the right-wingers out of the way at the Town Halls and start screaming yourself!

It seems to have been created by “The Liberty Counsel” — an off-shoot of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University — whose other big policy concern is the attack on Christmas. And maybe the most brazen of them all. That man at the Town Hall in Connecticut, carrying the “We don’t want government run health care” sign, while still wearing his Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield shirt.

You might think it was because he was too stupid to wear something a little less corporately-slavish. But given what those around him have read, they not only wouldn’t care, they might even take comfort from the logo; that he could boast, and that they could hate under the auspices of, an actual, caring, friendly, ruthless insurance company. My words of course, are nothing to Mr. Anthem, or Mr. Cornyn or Mr. Dobbs or Ms. Blish or Mr. Scott or the others.

This is a job to them, and since we have placed a price tag on everything in this country, there is no soul-searching involved. You have a job. If it involves stirring up frightened people to defend the corporation against the citizen, well, you have a salary to earn and a family to feed. The same rationalization that enables mob hit men to sleep at night.

But somewhere in those crowds of genuinely angry people, people who listen to
Cornyn or Dobbs, or fantasize with Beck about poisoning their way to a Democrat-
free world, or salivate like Pavlovian dogs at the sound of the shrill whistle from Sarah “Death Panel” Palin, somewhere in those crowds are some actual people with some actual brains still working and thinking and evaluating. For God’s sake, trust your instinct to think.

There are no death panels, there could never be. Were there steps taken towards them, I, and 99.9 percent of the people in this country, from the fiercest liberal to the most apolitical blob, would be standing next to you preventing their creation. There are no plans to take your insurance away from
you. There will be no rationing of care.
There will be no Health Choices Commissioner and he will not be able to transfer money electronically out of your bank account.

There will be nobody coming into your house and telling you what to eat. There will be no euthanasia. And the people to whom you are listening with half an ear, are telling you half the truth — on a good day! The euthanasia scare comes from something as benign as a proposal to let you put in for insurance if you have to consult a doctor about what to do if you or a loved one are fatally ill.

If you are where I was last March — when I sat down with the doctors to talk about my mother, fatally ill, not awake, not aware — the health care reform will now pay you back for the doctor’s fee for that conversation. And it will pay, whether you decide to let your loved one go, or you insist to the doctor that they keep that dear one alive at all costs, to treat them for months or years or decades more.

And this part of this bill was originally co-sponsored by a Republican congressman. And from that caring bi-partisan starting point, through her own paranoia or for her own political gain, Sarah Palin has invented the boogeyman of “death panels.” Think, please. Think, before something horrible happens. As you move to bellow that which you know not to be true. As you try to shout down a Congressman who is there to answer your concerns. As, God forbid, you think there has been enough talking and not enough of something else.

Think of how Lincoln closed his first Inaugural address, and remember that wise words stand the test of time.

‘If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute, there is still no single good reason for precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way, all our present difficulty. In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being you yourselves the aggressors. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’ ”

George Nakashima-a statement
In 1962 George Nakashima wrote:

Our approach is based on direct experience – a way of life and development outward from an inner core; something of the same process that nature uses in the creation of a tree – with one addition, the aspiration of man to produce the wonder and beauty of his potentialities – no “statements,” no “pillars of design,” no personal expression, no frivolity, but an outlook both severe and spontaneous. A firm design, based on principles as universal as possible, producing objects without “style,” is real and utilitarian. The subtlety of the evolvement of the finest materials shaped with intense skill, inadequately termed craftsmanship, can produce a basic sensitivity.

In a world where manual skills are shunned we believe in them, not only in the act of producing a better product, but in the sheer joy of doing or becoming.
We feel that pride in craftsmanship, of doing as perfect a job as possible, of producing something of beauty even out of nature’s discards, are all homely attributes that can be reconsidered.

It might even be a question of regaining one’s own soul when desire and megalomania are rampant – the beauty of simple things.

It is not entirely sentimental for us to think in terms of devoted men – hands shaped differently after generations of woodworkers – who can make a perfect ten foot shaving from a ten foot board. It is dedication which is traditional, but is fast being lost – a tough skill that becomes increasingly valuable as it becomes rarer.

To look for clues, we can go into the past: the moss garden and tea house at Sai Ho Ji, the wonders of stone and glass at Chartres, the dipylon vase. These are all examples of excel-lence that can go unchallenged but also unno- ticed. They are all formed inwardly with a nearly impersonal experience. Compared to our day, with its arrogance of “form-giving,” the shallowness of slogan design such as “less is more,” “machine for living,” or even “form follows function.” the earlier examples are certainly intellectually uncluttered and organically sound.

All the tortured and elaborate educational devel- opment might be legitimate if the results were good. In proportion to the flood of consumer goods, we are probably at one of the lowest ebbs of design excellence that the world has seen. It requires a genuine fight to produce one well designed object of relatively permanent value. One of the difficulties is the lack of integration between the designer and the producer – the evolvement of material and method into a well conceived idea. Big city architecture has reached such a profound
state of boredom that man might unwittingly destroy it in one last tragic
gesture – without humor. Sentimentally again, we can look back to the thirteenth century, when almost every hinge was a museum piece. Where there was a touch of greatness in the majority of acts and conceptions.

As the practical skills needed for this type of work are almost extinct in this country, most of our workers are young men with European training and experience who are basically interested in craftsmanship. It is a synthesis of old traditions with modern requirements, quite opposite to the usual art or design school in that the fundamental techniques of good workmanship are first
resolved and then integrated into pieces designed for contemporary use.

Over the years we have built up a collection of extraordinary lumber; in a sense priceless, as many items are now unobtainable. From this material, we start the making of useful objects to fulfill man’s life – again we hope, in a manner akin to the disciplined way by which nature produces a tree… or a flower.

George Nakashima, 1962

Lawrence O’Donnell on false arrest – with a note from Simone Weil

Lawrence O’Donnell Jr. MSNBC Time Magazine

Gates: You’re not the boss of me!
Crowley: I am the boss of you.
Gates: You are not the boss of me!
Crowley: I’ll show you. You’re under arrest.

“There is no crime described in Crowley’s official version of the way Gates behaved. Crowley says explicitly that he arrested Gates for yelling. Nothing else, not a single threatening movement, just yelling. On the steps of his own home. Yelling is not a crime. Yelling does not meet the definition of disorderly conduct in Massachusetts. Not a single shouted word or action that Crowley has attributed to Gates amounts to disorderly conduct. That is why the charges had to be dropped.

But tonight, I‘ll explain why the president was right to call the arrest stupid and all you need for proof of that is Sergeant Crowley‘s police report—which just happens to be a written confession of false arrest.

Full disclosure: I was arrested for disorderly conduct by Boston police a long time ago. As in the Gates case, the charges had to be dropped immediately because I had done nothing to provoke the arrest. I then sued the police in federal court for false arrest and civil rights violations. I won, including attorneys fees.”

Lawrence O’Donnell Jr. MSNBC Time Magazine

Maybe I should add the following from
Simone Weil –
“The human soul never ceases to be transformed by its encounter with force
— is swept on, blinded by that which it believes itself able to handle, bowed beneath the power of that which it suffers.
Force makes a thing of its victims. There where someone stood a moment ago, stands no one.”

Religion and Reason

You know Christianity is a mischigas. Woody Allen got some of it right in Annie Hall when he goes to visit her family.
Otherwise – Love. Give. Imagine being crucified, with all the blood, or your love not being understood – so you can hate those you tried to love, and making it to heaven so you can send everybody else to hell.

Judaism is a mischigas, not only in all the rules, and the general middle eastern, South Asian need to be pure or uncontaminated,
but in the choice of a God-forsaken strategically awful place for a homeland – God’s gift. Sufffer.
Everybody has walked through Israel for 6000 years. Israel origninally only managed a couple of Kings. Why couldn’t they have chosen, or God have chosen, Bhutan, or Switzerland. Someplace where people would leave you alone to do your thing.

No one will give you any other homeland. Then Give it up.
Well they tried that.
You can’t live with em and you can’t live without em.

Why do so many people want to put their head on the ground 5 times a day?
And use loudspeakers to wake everybody else up.

So Jews can see that everybody else is nuts. Is that a religion?

“In the name of the former and of the latter and of their holocaust. Allmen.”
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce 419.10