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Monday, November 30, 2009

Agribusiness going on Trial?

Hi guys I received this email today and thought it VERY appropriate to add the ole' blog archives.

If you are compelled I highly recommend reading on, and if inspired please take the time to take action and write.

Chances like these are rare and though they are a step in the right direction the fight for good food on our tables is far from over.



This is the biggest opening in 30 years. The Department of Justice is on a fact finding mission about agribusiness and they need to hear from us!

Are you concerned about where your food comes from? Do you care about the working conditions of farmers and food workers? Is it inconvenient to get to the store? Do you have access to fresh produce in your neighborhood? Are you concerned about meat and poultry packing conditions that threaten your health and that of the workers? Are you worried that corporate giants like Monsanto control a large share of our seed supply?

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are seeking our comments on consolidation in the food system by December 31, 2009. We have just five weeks to tell them what's wrong in our food system and make suggestions for how to fix it.

Please take the time to e-mail your comments to agriculturalworkshops@usdoj.gov.
Or you can submit two paper copies of your comments to Legal Policy Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 5th Street, NW, Suite 11700, Washington, D.C. 20001. All comments received will be publicly posted.

Please forward this e-mail to friends who may also like to submit comments. Thank you.

Five workshops will be held in 2010 in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin. But the best way to get your concerns heard is to submit your written comments.

For specifics about the workshops:http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/workshops/ag2010/index.htm#overview

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Article of a Fallen Soldier

Hi guys, it is with a heavy heart I am posting this article. It was taken from USA Today and goes into detailed account surrounding how Patrick McCaffrey was murdered in Iraq. He is the son of our Gold Star Mother and inspiration behind the Valley Forge Village.

By Scott Lindlaw, Associated Press
TRACY, Calif. — He'd trained as a combat lifesaver. Now Spc. Patrick McCaffrey lay gravely wounded, his blood pooling on a street in Balad, Iraq.

Eight bullets had found flesh between the heavy body-armor plates meant to protect the California National Guardsman's torso. They sliced into his lungs, liver and other organs and struck two vital arteries, including his aorta.

Lt. Andre Tyson sprawled next to him, a round having pierced his forehead. He was gasping for breath.

Despite medics' frantic efforts, McCaffrey, 34, and Tyson, 33, soon died. But with their deaths a strange subplot in the Iraq war was born — a legal case still quietly unfolding today, as the U.S. Army pursues a murder trial.

McCaffrey and Tyson were slain by enemies posing as "friendly" Iraqi national guardsmen, according to Army investigators. The Iraqis patrolled alongside the Californians, then betrayed them when they turned their backs, investigators say.

While the notion of "murder" in a war zone may be counterintuitive, the slayings of McCaffrey and Tyson were so brazen and brutal that the U.S. military has pursued a murder trial for almost as long as it has waged the war itself.

One suspect has been in custody since July 2005. But putting him on trial has thus far proven impossible amid the bloody chaos of Iraq. Prosecutors have been hampered by murky Iraqi allegiances, conflicting stories, inconclusive fingerprint evidence, and witnesses who have gone missing.

Operation Deliberate Action

It was the spring of 2004, just after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal ignited outrage in the West and across the Arab world. Tensions between the Iraqis and Americans were running high.

"We are constantly under attack by these people," McCaffrey, a father of two, wrote his mother in a May 16, 2004, e-mail. "I love the little kids though ... they remind me of my own, and I always give them food and water even though we are not supposed to."

Five weeks later, McCaffrey and the other soldiers of A Company, 579th Engineer Battalion, linked up with a unit from the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, or ICDC. Created by the United States, the ICDC was the country's main internal security force, meant to battle insurgents.

A supply hub known as Logistical Support Area Anaconda, 85 miles north of Baghdad, had been peppered with rocket and mortar fire for days, including an attack that killed two Americans and wounded 25.

Those attacks lent fresh urgency to the joint unit's hunt on June 22, 2004, for weapons stashed in villages, farmlands and woods.

"We're walking through brush neck high, trying to keep our footing, and hoping our next step doesn't land us falling in a canal," Tyson's driver, Spc. Chris Murphy, said later in a sworn statement to investigators. "'It's like Vietnam,' is the running joke."

Of the Iraqi troops being trained by Americans, he added: "I've heard on the news that they're more than ready to take over after we've left. But from what I've seen, they couldn't be more wrong."

Some of the territory the Guardsmen patrolled that day as part of "Operation Deliberate Action" was lush and ablaze with sunflowers. But the summer sun was infernal, and McCaffrey administered first aid to several soldiers for heat exhaustion.

"Patrick would burn the candle at both ends to get the job done," his father, Bob McCaffrey, would say later.

Patrick McCaffrey, who managed two auto-body shops in Palo Alto while he and wife Silvia raised two young children, had told his family that "something happened to me" on Sept. 11, 2001; the terror attacks summoned him to a new duty. In his journal, he wrote of waking up that night, seeing his sleeping wife holding their daughter in her arms, and thinking of "those fathers and mothers that were taken from their children (who) will never be able to hold and kiss their children again."

A month later, he was sworn in as a member of the California National Guard. Protecting the homeland was his aim, not shipping overseas — and when the call came he didn't want to leave. But, his father said, "he had signed up and given his word, and he always kept his word."

By 2004 he was fighting in Iraq, and aching for his family.

"I have sent a box home, and it has T-shirts for you, dad and Silvia and a teddy bear and hat for junior and Janessa," he wrote his mother in May. "I'll try to be home for Janessa's birthday, I have put in for leave for 15 days."

Tyson had just finished officer-candidate school and was managing a Costco store in Glendale when he was called up for duty.

This day, as ranking officer in the search party, Tyson decided to split his squad so his men could cover more ground. He, McCaffrey, Spc. Bruce Himelright, three or four Iraqi soldiers and an interpreter marched through fields and farm villages in search of weapons.

Shot from behind

As the Americans and Iraqis paused to get their bearings and locate the other American search party, Tyson worked the radio on McCaffrey's back while Himelright monitored the area for ambushers.

At 12:04 p.m., the Iraqi trainees pounced, according to American investigators.

None of the U.S. soldiers had a chance to fire back. Tyson's M-16 was still on the "safe" position when he fell. His comrades apparently never saw it coming: Multiple bullets struck McCaffrey and Himelright, most of them from behind.

"I recall the gunshots being loud and I started feeling them hit me in the back," Himelright told investigators. He never saw the shooters, but was certain it was the ICDC who had done the firing.

Himelright tumbled into a canal, where he discovered he was bleeding. "I started to get up and turn around when I felt that I was being shot again," he said. When the firing stopped a few moments later, Himelright crawled out of the canal and found his fallen comrades. Three ICDC soldiers had vanished; one remained, along with the interpreter, he said.

The Army swept into action, ringing the village with Humvees, interrogating any Iraqi man they saw — swiping several for gunpowder residue — and questioning local leaders.

After a headcount at the base, American officers focused on two ICDC soldiers who shared a common tribal name, Talib Kareem Musleh Al Hishmawi and Sabah Kareem Muhammed Al Hishmawi. The pair, who had been patrolling with the Americans, had not returned more than a week after the shootings. Moreover, a third Iraqi guardsman identified Talib as the shooter.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID, reported its official findings in September 2005: ICDC patrolling with the U.S. soldiers had shot the Americans.

CID found probable cause to believe a member of B Company, 210th ICDC "committed the offense of murder when he shot and killed Spc. McCaffrey during a joint U.S. Iraqi patrol."

The CID report continued: "The shooting occurred from within the patrol element." The suspect's name was redacted in a copy of the report reviewed by The Associated Press.

Not everyone agrees with CID's conclusion.

Sgt. Travis Nease, a medic who was first on the scene to assess casualties, believes Tyson, McCaffrey and Himelright were shot by off-duty ICDC troops who ambushed the Americans at close range, then fled.

Nease was on a sniper "overwatch" team assigned to protect Tyson's platoon and other units, monitoring their movements from atop a hill about 400 to 700 meters away. While he did not actually witness the shootings, he had seen the search party in the moments before and after. Given the positions of the Americans and the Iraqis, he disputes the CID account.

"The guys that were walking with them did not shoot them," Nease said in a telephone interview. Nease theorized that the assailants drove up in a vehicle, fired, and sped off, leaving little evidence such as shell casings, which likely dropped onto their truck.

Internal documents show Army investigators did find fresh tire tracks nearby, but rejected Nease's theory, because of Himelright's statements about the ICDC troops. "They were the only ones around prior to me hearing gunfire," Himelright told CID. He added that the interpreter told him the ICDC had shot him.

On the CID report, the cause of death for both McCaffrey and Tyson is listed as "murder."

Courts 'overwhelmed'

Thirteen months after the shootings, the Army captured a suspect without incident, said Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, spokesman for detainee operations in Iraq. Another was killed in a firefight with Americans, Nease was told. The military said it could not confirm that.

Curry declined to identify the suspect in custody, citing Army policies in keeping with the Geneva Conventions, which bar the use of detainees "for propaganda or other prohibited purposes."

Supporting the murder charge, military lawyers said, were ballistics tests that allegedly linked the suspect to the AK-47 used in the attack. U.S. forces had seized the weapon from a different Iraqi, and an Army criminal lab in Forest Park, Ga., said it tied bullets removed from McCaffrey's chest to that same AK-47. An ICDC ledger says the suspect was issued that weapon on the day of the killings, according to military documents. Fingerprint tests on the weapon were inconclusive.

There was not enough evidence to tie a particular suspect to the shootings of Tyson or Himelright, military lawyers concluded. Chris Grey, CID spokesman, said "no other positive forensic links made with any other weapons and victims" were confirmed.

But even the case of McCaffrey, who was promoted posthumously to sergeant, now seems to have sputtered.

The interpreter who witnessed the slayings disappeared after saying he'd been threatened by one of the shooters. Investigators have not tracked him down.

Other witnesses have also vanished and are being sought, Curry said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "It is anticipated their testimony would be critical in a criminal prosecution."

Although there was not yet enough evidence to go to trial, according to a Navy officer who serves as military legal adviser in the McCaffrey case, the case remains on the Long Term Threat List, "a compilation of exceptionally important cases which require further intensive investigative attention."

The case underscores the enormous challenges of prosecuting a murder case in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, which has jurisdiction over terrorist and insurgent crimes.

The difficulty of meshing different languages, cultures and legal systems is magnified by the crushing case load, said Michael A. Newton, a former State Department war crimes lawyer who recently returned from his fourth trip to Iraq, where he has served as a legal adviser to Iraqi judges. Often, evidence must be gathered from Iraqi and American military sources who have since deployed elsewhere, he said.

"The reality is they're overwhelmed," said Newton, now a professor at the Vanderbilt University Law School. "What they've tended to do is take cases that are relatively clean, evidentiary-wise. The evidence is available, they know they can use it, and they get them done."

In just one case has an Iraqi soldier been convicted of murdering a U.S. serviceman, Curry said. Amir Alawi Owaid was convicted Aug. 30 of fatally shooting Marine Pfc. Brian M. Taylor and wounding another Marine.

Owaid was sentenced to life in prison.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Are we in the Land of Plenty?

There is a wise saying that "You can have food and lots of problems, but you don't have food, you only got one problem.

Though for many American's we don't think of hunger and food shortages in our land of plenty.

The solution isn't finding more means to fill food pantries, and hand outs; though greatly needed.

The solution is more farmers and gardeners to supplement diets, creating new work opportunities and strengthening the bonds of community through mutual work and experiences.

I have been on the road for a year and half getting my hands dirty and evaluating the needs of communities and those specifically of veterans who are in need of work, and time and places to decompress after deployment.

Please read the following article and please remember hunger and famine is not only confined to remote developing world communities.

Report: More Americans going hungry
By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 16, 2009; 3:14 PM

The number of Americans who lack dependable access to adequate food shot up
last year to 49 million, the largest number since the government has been
keeping track, according to a federal report released Monday that shows
particularly steep increases in food scarcity among families with children.

In 2008, the report found, nearly 17 million children -- more than one in
five across the United States -- were living in households in which food at
times ran short, up from slightly more than 12 million youngsters the year
before. And the number of children who sometimes were outright hungry rose
from nearly 700,000 to almost 1.1 million.

Among people of all ages, nearly 15 percent last year did not consistently
have adequate food, compared with about 11 percent in 2007, the greatest
deterioration in access to food during a single year in the history of the

Taken together, the findings provide the latest glimpse into the toll that
the weak economy has taken on the well-being of the nation's residents. The
findings are from a snapshot of food in America that the U.S. Agriculture
Department has issued every year since 1995, based on Census Bureau surveys.
It documents both Americans who are scrounging for adequate food -- people
living with some amount of "food insecurity" in the lexicon of experts --
and those whose food shortages are so severe that they are hungry.

"These numbers are a wake-up call for us to get very serious about
food security and hunger, about nutrition and food safety in this country,"
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a briefing of reporters.

The report released Monday is the first produced during the tenure of
President Obama, who pledged during his campaign for the White House last
year to eliminate hunger among children by 2015, a goal that no previous
president has set.

The administration has not produced a full-fledged plan
to meet that objective, but White House and Agriculture officials said in
recent interviews that they are developing policies.

Among the first is a decision to use $85 million freed up by Congress as part of a recent appropriations bill to experiment with ways to get food to more children
during the summer, when subsidized school breakfasts and lunches are

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack attributed the marked worsening in Americans' access to food primarily to the rise in unemployment, which now exceeds 10 percent, and in people who are underemployed.

"It's no secret. Poverty, unemployment, these are all factors," he said. Vilsack acknowledged that "there could be additional increases" in the 2009 figures, due out a year from now, although he said it is not yet clear how much the problem might be eased by the measures the administration and Congress have taken this year to stimulate the economy.

The report's main author at USDA, Mark Nord, noted that other recent
research by the agency has found that most families in which food is scarce
contain at least one adult with a full-time job, suggesting that the problem
lies at least partly in wages, not just an absence of work.

The report suggests that the main federal programs intended to help people
struggling to get adequate food are only partly fulfilling their purpose.

Just more than half of the people surveyed who reported they had food
shortages said that they had, in the previous month, participated in one of
the government's largest anti-hunger and nutrition programs: food stamps,
subsidized school lunches or WIC, the nutrition program for women with
babies or young children.

The government's next significant forum for debating how to improve access to food is likely to come next year, when Congress is scheduled to renew the country's main law covering food and nutrition for children. In the meantime, the White House has been convening frequent meetings with officials from several federal departments --
including Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban
Development, in addition to Agriculture -- that deal with youngsters'

Last year, people in 4.8 million households used private food pantries,
compared with 3.9 million in 2007, while people in about 625,000 households
resorted to soup kitchens, nearly 90,000 more than the year before.

Food shortages, the report shows, are particularly pronounced among women
raising children alone. Last year, more than one in three single mothers
reported that they struggled for food and more than one in seven said
someone in their home had been hungry -- far eclipsing the food problem in
any other kind of household.

The report also found that people who are black or Hispanic were more than twice as likely as whites to report that food in their home was scarce.

Poverty and food shortages are linked but are not the same thing, according
to the report. Just half the households in which food is scarce have incomes
at or below the official poverty level, the data show, while most of the
rest live at less than twice the poverty level.

Around the Washington area, the extent of food shortages varies

In the District, an average of 13.7 percent of households between 2006 and 2008 have had at least some problems getting enough food,although the problem in the District is not as severe as it was from a three-year period a decade earlier, according to the report.

In Virginia,the prevalence of food shortages also has fallen in the past year to less
than 9 percent. In Maryland, the problem has grown slightly worse,
increasing to an average of 9.6 percent the past three years from 8.7
percent a decade before.

Overall, the data show that people who do not consistently have enough food
experience the problem repeatedly, but not all the time. On average,
households with such scarcity had the problem seven months out of the year,
while about one-fourth said the problem occurred almost every month.

In the survey used to measure food shortages, people were considered to have
food insecurity if they said that answered "yes" to several of a series of

Among the questions were whether, in the past year, their food
sometimes ran out before they had money to buy more, whether they could not
afford to eat nutritionally balanced meals, and whether adults in the family
sometimes cut the size of their meals -- or skipped them -- because they
lacked enough money for food. The report defined the degree of their food
insecurity by the number of the questions to which they answered yes.

My heart breaks for Niger

November 19, 2009

Last night I heard wind of this news in Niger and it breaks my heart because once again the Peace Corps is shutting down specific zones where we have operated for decades. Currently PCV's from the Konni region have been evacuated and forced to either call it quits and return home or be reassigned to another region to continue their service.

My heart really goes out for those there now. As a volunteer who had to leave post due to being badly injured (broken back) and never having the chance to say good bye to my village is a deep void in my heart that will certainly never be filled...well until I return.

Without further adieu the State Department memo on the events that transpired.

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the risks of travel to Niger due to threat of kidnapping, and recommends against all travel to Niger at this time. This Travel Alert expires February 28, 2010.

On December 14, 2008, two United Nations officials, former Canadian diplomats, were kidnapped by the terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) while returning to Niamey after a visit to a Canadian-operated gold mine.

On January 22, 2009, four Europeans were abducted by AQIM operatives along the Mali-Niger border as their tour group returned to Niamey from a cultural festival in the Malian town of Anderamboukane.

On November 14, 2009, heavily armed individuals attempted to kidnap U.S. embassy employees in Tahoua.

In addition to the threat of kidnapping posed by extremists, a State of Alert is in effect for the region of Agadez, including the cities of Agadez, Arlit, and Iferouane.

The State of Alert means that all travelers require Government of Niger permission for travel in and around these cities, and are liable to be stopped and held for questioning.

Moreover, the Nigerien military has the authority to hold individuals for questioning, without cause, beyond the standard 48 hours that local law enforcement is authorized to hold an individual for questioning before rendering charges.

Conditions of insecurity persist throughout northern and western Niger, and armed groups operate with relative impunity throughout these border regions. In addition, conflict zones in northern Niger are strewn with landmines, further impeding travel.

Please note that due to security concerns, U.S. government employees and official visitors are not permitted to travel outside of Niamey at this time.

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens traveling to or remaining in Niger despite this Travel Alert to take responsibility for their own safety and security. American citizens should keep abreast of local events, monitor local news sources, and maintain heightened situational awareness at all times.