Sunday 8 August 2010

taking the long way round

Feliz Dia dos Pais pra todo mundo!
(because Brasilian Português is so wonderful, there is just a hint of ambiguity here, not much, but it could be 'Parent's Day' you see? imagine! :-)
Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.
350 Euro Youth Activists at the Bundestag in July 2009 by Blaine O'Neill350 Euro Youth Activists at the Bundestag by Blaine O'Neill
(source/fonte, and thanks to Christine at 350 or bust)

Waveforms SoundcloudWaveforms Soundcloud
it must have started in the early 70s I guess because I knew about computers by then, maybe I was thinking of machine translation? I can't remember ...

Wheat field fire, Voronezh Russia.Here's to us.and someone said, "oh, Chomsky has proven that computers cannot ultimately translate very well," and I got one of his books, maybe it was Transformational Analysis and read it (or skimmed over it more like) without understanding very much except that, yeah, this Chomsky is a clever guy ... and from the looks of what comes out the back end of Google Translate it is still hit-or-miss, maybe nothing to do with Chomsky, I don't know,

Noam & Carol ChomskyNoam & Carol Chomskyand later came a method of scientifically evaluating print media by measuring column inches that registered with me as being Chomsky's, and then, presto! ... time passes,

and now he is getting to be an old man I guess and I was wondering what he might be thinking about the planet these days, immediately came across Bill McKibben making hay with a sound-byte, and then some recent lectures (these are longer, the links are 45 min. to an hour) When Elites Fail, October 2009 Part 1 & Part 2, receiving an award from the University of Wisconsin in April 2010, and another one, a bit older, being interviewed at Berkeley California in March 2002,

Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadoresmaybe you can see how this dovetails with issues here recently around the Black Bloc and the EDO Decommissioners (and the 'Raytehon 9' and the 'B52-Two' and even the 'Squamish Five' and so on ...) and maybe you can't,

Confederación Nacional del Trabajoin the April 2010 lecture above Chomsky eulogizes Joe Stack, quoting from his suicide note,

Chomsky's bottom line, like Bill McKibben's, like Clive Hamilton's too to a degree, seems to be that no progress is made without community, Chomsky was talking about the factory girls in Lowell, Massachusetts, way back in the 1830s,

Greg AllenGreg AllenStefan BehnischStefan BehnischI took a side-track to see about a Canadian engineer, Greg Allen from HOK, who embraces LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (here is his excellent presentation: The Energetic City - Part 1 & Part 2), and a German architect, Stefan Behnisch, who doesn't, and a bit of a silly discussion at Post-Carbon Toronto on the subject, "Hi, I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."

Gulzar HaiderGulzar HaiderJim StruttJim StruttGreg Allen opens with side-by-each images of a pyramid and a geodesic dome which is unfortunate for me because my mind immediately hares off to IM Pei and his work at the Louvre, and Chris Alexander's thoughts on domes in Pattern Language, and of course I am cutting away at Bucky's web wherever I find it ... and now it's one side-track after another ... Greg Allen's 'excellent presentation' takes me back to other excellent presentations I have seen, by Jim Strutt at Carleton, and Gulzar Haider too, they were thinking things like this in the 70s & 80s, a similar kind of informed comprehensive overview, and what came out of it? not very much that I can see.

Douglas CardinalDouglas CardinalGlen MilneGlen MilneJim was suspicious of Bucky too now that I think of it, and Coxeter was outright dismissive, I think they all saw through the man long before I did ... I can't stray into these spaces without running into Doug Cardinal's Museum of Man aka 'The Museum of Civilization' and associated bureaucracy & correctitude, and the guy who turned me on to Cardinal, Glen Milne ... I walked over the bridge to see it first from far, and then down and around it, and into it, and sat on a bench in the end, staggered, weeping, banged by a billion trillion stars ...

Gladstone HotelI was thinking about what Noam Chomsky was saying at the end of the 2002 lecture above, "the problems you work on are the ones that are right at the edge of your understanding," I know it is simplistic but to me it amounts to gradualism and there is no time ... okokok ... it's time to give up on time too? is that it?

someone said to me recently, "there is no time for arguing," and later denied it, mostly (as should be clear by now from this stupid blog) I don't know what to think?

so I took the 501 streetcar down to the Gladstone Hotel to have a look at some photographs hanging in the hallways there, Bamako in Toronto, the photographer who interested me the most was Uche Okpa-Iroha and his Underbridge Life (or Under Bridge Life, I'm not sure which he likes), but I could hardly miss looking first at Zanele Muholi's eloquent photographs of naked brown lesbians:
Zanele MuholiZanele MuholiZanele Muholi, BamakoZanele Muholi, BamakoZanele Muholi, Being Triptich 1Zanele Muholi, Being Triptich 2Zanele Muholi, Being Triptich 3Zanele Muholi, Being

reality check :-)why is it do you think that Zanele has a much larger web presence than Uche? why is it for that matter that Internet spam advertising Viagra & porn & 'OxieContin' circulates so enormously and so freely? it could be stopped in a heartbeat, did you know that? did you think it was inevitable?

Uche Okpa-Iroha, Under Bridge LifeUche Okpa-Iroha, Under Bridge LifeUche Okpa-IrohaUnderbridge Life is a series of photographs taken under an expressway in Lagos, Nigeria, which was constructed with a space between the lanes, so the reality for those living underneath is visually illuminated & split by an endless bright line, two simultaneously reflected parallaxes ... which got to me, unfortunately the two images I could find on-line are not the best,

in the process I came across Yüksel Arslan, a Turkish exile a few years younger than Chomsky, and what he calls art’ure (arture is not real painting, but a creation combined of painting, writing, philosophy, and poetry), he seems to be looking (in the images I found at least) at another great divide, call it 'the rich & the poor' or 'capital & labour' ... Marxist/Leninist dialectical materialism, whatever:
Yüksel ArslanYüksel ArslanYüksel ArslanYüksel ArslanYüksel ArslanYüksel ArslanYüksel ArslanYüksel Arslan
<< j'ai vécu ce qui est écrit >> (written on the palm of the hand in the last image) feels like a reference to something literary but Google turns up nothing ... (?)

but maybe that's all this is? just a gaggle of dualities? the phony & misleading lenses of ideology?

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?the yam is still striving upwards, yes UP! not across to the maximum light but UP, dig it! reflecting gravity's great rainbow? is that it? and it is all I can do (and more) to keep my hands off it, a great temptation (frequently indulged) to be guiding it into a framework that I arbitrarily compose ...

(but if anyone is tempted at any time to purchase an Olympus Stylus digital snapshot camera - make like Nancy Reagan and JUST SAY NO!)

Stephen Haffspeaking of gardens, here is Stephen Haff turning up again in the news: Former KCI students create oasis of calm in stormy area of New York City, what he calls SWiaS - Still Waters in a Storm, like FRADES (see here) he seems to be looking for a donor so high and wild he'll never have to deal another, what can you say to that I wonder? good luck I guess ... on a closer look 'e 'as both eyes on the same side of 'is 'ead (as we used to say in Placentia Bay) and I think he's alright, just my opinion,

for anyone in New York City, they are preparing a panel discussion What to Read if You're Poor on September 11 - what better way to rebuild whatever it was that was broken on that day?

of the organized deniers Chomsky says, "the executives who are dedicated to this task know as well as the rest of us that the 'liberal hoax' is quite real and that the prospects are pretty grim but they're fulfilling their institutional role ... ," and yes, I believe they do know, so then I find myself wondering what are their private fantasies of the future? I can't quite formulate this thought properly ...

they know, so they must think something right!? could it be that they are just going to pedal-to-the-metal business-as-usual and write off 80 or 90% of the human race? that will stop carbon emissions sure enough, and with all of the 'security' & resources of the planet at their disposal and some number of carefully selected labourers with big tits maybe they think they can survive the generations until the worst is past? is that it?

Fuck 'er Jack, we're from the Pontiac!

You call this thinking? :-)how godawful horrible is that? I know it sounds pretty crazy ... thinking too much about Dr. Strangelove no doubt.

B52-Two Philip Pritchard & Toby Olditchso, I did some research on The Decommissioners as promised, and the Raytheon 9 and so on, and it is all there in Wikipedia and elsewhere, and I thought about them too, but in the end all I did was copy 5 articles into the Appendix just because I think the articles themselves may disappear,

"B52-Two" is a great pun, reminds me of something? ... bombs turning to flowers was it? ... no, it was butterflies:
And I dreamed I saw the bomber death planes riding shotgun in the sky, turning into butterflies above our nation., yeah, worth a listen,

as for the North American mainstream media, I guess hearing Chomsky name the New York Times as the liberal establishment's bum-boy was enough, it's like things you've always known - when you finally accept, then it's just ... over.

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothersmaybe I dream briefly of The Left magically reconstituting, or some kind of revitalized & trustworthy press corps, maybe just a new-and-improved Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic, but I'm not up for smashing machines, not yet anyway, Chomsky's arguments around violence are much in line with my own - yes you can do it but you must make a very strong case, and I would add that for me there has to be some, at least potential or plausible, possibility that you might stop them by running a huge risk of literally sacrificing yourself, and I don't see it.

from a few hitches in his git'along which I imagine that I see in the last lectures, it feels to me like every word of Chomsky's these days is contained in thoughts of his wife, this is entirely presumptuous and unwarranted ... an intrusion ... but that's what it feels like, if the girls in Brasil could read English they would look at this blog and tell me to shut the fuck up!

Ke HuelgaKe HuelgaYuizaYuizaYuizaYuizaYuizaYuiza
KHR FM 102.9 Ke-Huelga, not sure, 'huelga' is 'strike' or maybe 'on strike' ... but Yuisa, Loíza, La Mujer de Caguana all looks sorta like Yemanjá to me, or maybe Oxum or maybe not ... thinking about Cuba, thinking about the Special Period, 'El Periodo Especial en Tiempo de Paz' - maybe it's time to learn Spanish?

Get the right tool for the job :-)Who wants to go to heaven anyway?and I threw in Paul Krugman's latest: Defining Prosperity Down just to show that my notion of ENJOY POVERTY in the last post was not completely off the wall, and to end with a bit of what passes (I guess) for 'comic relief' among the bum-boys, which is about what Krugman is up to as far as I can see, not very far, whatever.

Be well.


maybe I am being unfair to Krugman, I don't think so but in Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, Tim Jackson seems to talk about him with respect, so ... and Jackson's book is exceptional for a number of reasons, and among those reasons is his gracious habit of explaining economic jargon as he goes along so you dont have to feel like a knucklehead, I'm not done with it yet, about 2/3 of the way through, I will have something to say about it when I have finished, something positive I thinks, and I have incurred $1.20 overdue fine so far at the liberry (first ever!) which I will happily pay when the time comes.

even my weekly email from Dicionário inFormal which just arrived defines 'pais' as "O pai e a mãe," so it is more than a hint maybe eh?

"watch the business papers," says Chomsky, they don't distort things quite so much, ok, here's the wheat situation from the Washington Post, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, PBS Nightly Business Report, last and least the NYT, and then the Globe and Mail on August 4, before the Russian export ban and after on August 5,

broad strokes: the last time something like this happened in February 2008 it went to $13.50 a bushel, up from $4.50 the year before (and about $2.50 in 1999) and there were widespread food riots, it is currently $7.25 (down from $8.25 Thursday) up from $4.50 the year before (and at the end of May this year) - all numbers are 'about' ok? - so far I think it goes something like this - Farmers get $ per bushel, Commodities trade in $ per ton, Futures trade in cents per bushel, all designed to be confusing and exclusive.

$ per bushel, April-July 2010
$ per bushel, 1984-2007
$ per ton, 1990-2009
cents per bushel, 2000-2010

Waveforms SoundcloudWaveforms Soundcloud

1. Former KCI students create oasis of calm in stormy area of New York City, Luisa D’Amato, August 3 2010.
2. Green in body, artistic in spirit, Christopher Hume, July 23 2010.
3-1. Military components factory ransacked in Gaza protest, Mark Townsend, 17 January 2009.
3-2. Activists plead lawful excuse for causing damage at arms factory, Rob Evans, 7 June 2010.
3-3. Activists cleared over Brighton weapons factory raid, BBC, 2 July 2010.
3-4. UK factory saboteurs acquitted, Jonny Paul, July 3 2010.
3-5. Inquiry after Hove Crown Court judge's summing up, BBC, 27 July 2010.
4. Defining Prosperity Down, Paul Krugman, August 1 2010.
5-1. Russia bans grain exports because of fire and drought, sending prices soaring, Washington Post, August 6 2010.
5-2. Wheat Extends Rally, May Advance to $10 If Export Bans Spread, Bloomberg, August 5 2010.
5-3. Russian Export Ban Raises Global Food Fears, WSJ, August 5 2010.
5-4. Nightly Business Report NBR Transcripts, PBS, August 5 2010.
5-5. Russia, Crippled by Drought, Bans Grain Exports, NYT, August 5 2010.
5-6. Wheat turmoil hits home on the Prairies, Brent Jang, August 4 2010.
5-7. Russia's export ban chills wheat markets, Brent Jang, August 5 2010.

Former KCI students create oasis of calm in stormy area of New York City, Luisa D’Amato, August 3 2010.

NEW YORK CITY — Two men from Kitchener and Waterloo are working together to bring literacy, calm and hope to a Brooklyn ghetto.

Stephen Haff and Jeremy Ratchford were buddies at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational Institute in the 1980s. They sang in the choir together and were in the school musicals.

Ratchford, from Kitchener, went on to Hollywood and an acting career. He starred on the TV series Cold Case. Haff, from Waterloo, went to Yale to study drama, worked in theatre, and then became a teacher at Bushwick High School, which is in one of the most violent and impoverished parts of New York City.

Haff liked the students. But more and more, he came to dislike the school system’s lack of interest in their life experiences.

And he started Still Waters in a Storm, a quiet, calm place where anyone of any age can come in and read, write, talk and learn.

It’s a room where one high school student comes to get help with math, a middle-aged immigrant from Central America shyly enquires about learning English, and a group of people in their teens and 20s come to eat pizza and write down their feelings.

One young woman increased her reading skills by three grade levels in one year while attending the meetings. Another wrote a play and had it performed. Famous writers like Peter Carey, the Australian novelist who twice won the Booker prize, have been part of the group.

“I have never seen anything quite so moving and heartening in all my years as a writing teacher,” wrote the novelist Richard Price, after a visit there.

More than anything, this group is a kind of family.

Haff, 45, said he thought of the command, “Love one another” and then wondered how he, as a teacher, could put that into practice.

“This is my answer,” he says.

And 5,000 kilometres away in California, Jeremy Ratchford sends money to his old friend so that it can happen.

He and his cast-mates from Cold Case have given about $100,000 to support Haff and pay for the simple room he works in. That’s a major part of the $120,000-a-year budget for the project; the rest comes from individual donations and foundations.

Ratchford has small children and hasn’t yet travelled to New York to visit this project.

He describes his support as “blind faith in a friend.

“My friend found a corner of the world that he wanted to help, so I got his back. I’m so proud of him and what he’s doing.

“The best help on this planet is education. If you lack education, the world is a very tiny place for you.”

** * * * * * * * * *

Bushwick on a steamy summer afternoon is noisy, colourful and packed with people.

Here, the subway comes out from below ground and rattles along on an elevated track that sways and shudders.

In its shadows are shops, cafes, cars blasting rap music, an ice-cream truck, moms pushing strollers with small children, fruit vendors with open cases of mangoes on the hoods of their trucks. Graffiti everywhere. Garbage everywhere.

You can see Manhattan’s elegant skyline from the elevated subway platform at Knickerbocker Avenue. But the stylish, highly educated single professionals of Manhattan might as well be a million miles away.

Bushwick is one of the poorest neighbourhoods of New York, with 75 per cent of children born into poverty, and a sky-high school dropout rate. When Haff was teaching at Bushwick High School, 900 teenagers came into Grade 9 each year, but only 60 to 80 graduated Grade 12.

“Over and over again I hear stories of violence,” Haff says. “A lot of kids talk routinely about getting beaten at home, whipped with electrical cables, having boiling water dumped on them.”

In his English classes, Haff would have to lock the door to keep the students inside. They would often try to leave if they heard a fight in the hallway and wanted to join.

But, in what Haff calls a “complicated weave of feelings,” he sees the neighbourhood as a loving and loyal place too.

“The kids were always hugging me in school,” he said.

And “they’re ready to jump in if anybody threatens me.”

As for the violence from the parents of the children he taught, “I never doubted they love their children. There’s a love that’s fierce,” he says.

Haff left the school system because he thought it didn’t care enough about children.

School administrators were interested in whether the boys wore their baseball hats in class, or whether they understood enough grammar to pass the standardized test for high school graduation. They didn’t seem interested in the kids’ experiences.

As a schoolteacher, Haff had assigned Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He found that students could relate to it better if they could rewrite the play with the characters speaking in their own, urban language. So he did that.

It was a huge success, with students working hard to perform the play, rewritten in a mixture of modern English, Spanish, street slang, and original Shakespeare.

He created a theatre company for his students and others, Real People Theatre, that did other works the same way, and travelled to Chicago, Los Angeles, and even Germany.

It was living proof of how important it is that young people have their own voice.

Now Haff has his own “one-room schoolhouse” as he calls it, and can decide for himself which rules matter.

There are no report cards, assignments or exams. Just learning.

In sharp contrast to the boisterous noises outside, Haff’s room in the main floor of an apartment building at 286 Stanhope St. is cool and quiet. There are no computers. Just some tables pushed together, some chairs, some good books for all ages, and small yellow pads for people to write whatever they want.

In this room, “everyone listens to each other, and it’s not judgmental,” says 17-year-old Reeyaz Bettencourt.

He likes to come to Haff’s room for help with math and to join the writing group. “It gets me out of the house,” he says. “My family is a big pain in the ass. There’s a lot of screaming.”

Like many young men in poor American neighbourhoods, Reeyaz has been approached again and again by recruiters for the U.S. air force who wanted him to sign up for service.

He asked Haff for guidance.

Haff put him in touch with some veterans of the U.S. military, including Haff’s own brother, Kevin, a pilot.

“They all gave me unbiased opinions, unlike the recruiter,” Bettencourt says.

Kevin Haff told Bettencourt that he had seen 28 of his colleagues die, and that “the military kind of robbed him of his innocence.”

So now, Bettencourt is not answering the recruiter’s continuing calls. Instead, he says, he will try to get into college and earn a degree.

He thinks he can manage it, even though his mother is a nursing assistant at a nursing home and doesn’t make much money. If he gets into college, he can probably go for free.

And Haff is helping him with the exams required for entry.

Haff offers individual instruction and also the weekly writing group, which he describes as the heart and soul of the organization.

Haff keeps the group’s values firm. Before they write, they all have pizza together. Eating together cements the sense of family.

They’ll write, and read to each other what they’ve written. No one praises or criticizes anyone else’s work. This rule keeps any elements of competitiveness out of the experience. Each piece of writing is accepted as it is. It’s not about who is the best writer, it’s about listening to one another.

“Real learning happens in the context of loving relationships,” Haff says.

“People have a need to belong to a tribe or a village where they look out for each other.”

One member of the writing group, 22-year-old Tyron Peterson, has graduated high school. He is well-spoken and self-assured. He works in a posh clothing store in Manhattan, greeting customers and taking payments.

But what he loves is acting and writing. He has acted in Haff’s theatre group, and comes to the writing sessions “to release,” he says.

He shows some of his writing. One excerpt is about being black.

“I look at this world as a big box of ------- emptied out on a cold wooden table … soon to be swept up into a small child’s hand crumbled until our colour is no more. Blurred and smudged on each gummy body. Unidentifiable. There that’s better. No one knows which box you’re from.”

He loves the meetings because he gets to meet all kinds of different people, and yet everyone has something in common.

“If I could, I would come here all the time.”

Green in body, artistic in spirit, Christopher Hume, July 23 2010.

German architect Stefan Behnisch is internationally recognized as one of the greenest designers around; but, he insists, much of it is just common sense.

“We have to accept the fact that our lives are affected by the seasons,” he argues. “Our buildings need to be more changeable, more flexible.”

Behnisch’s work takes him from Europe to the U.S. to Toronto, where he’s best known as the co-designer (with architectsAlliance) of the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research on College St. in the University of Toronto campus.

“From Vitruvius 2,000 years ago to the 1950s,” he says, “we built pretty sustainable buildings. Because energy was difficult to obtain, we had to work with natural forces. But since the hubris of the ’50s, we have been able to compensate for our buildings by using more and more energy. We needed only 60 years to ruin the relationship between architectural culture and the environment.

“It’s not a historic thing that buildings aren’t sustainable. But it’s a difficult situation to unravel. But I don’t think it’s very complicated. But we’ve developed very schizophrenic behaviour; we think the interiors of our office buildings should look and feel like the inside of a refrigerator. I’m convinced 60 per cent of our problems could be solved with common sense.”

As has been often observed, there’s nothing common about common sense. Today, however, the price of failure is too high to ignore.

Behnisch talks about the real cost of the ubiquitous air conditioning system, the sort found in literally every office tower in this city, and country. Behnisch understands our desire to stay cool, but insists it can be done a lot less destructively than many realize.

An exhibition on display recently at the MARS Centre hinted simply at what’s possible today, and also how green architecture ranks among the most exciting now being produced. The show, Ecology. Design. Synergy., documented work done by Behnisch and Transsolar, a leading firm of German climate engineers with whom Behnisch frequently collaborates. The best is absolutely remarkable: the Alterra Institute in the Netherlands is an example, as is the innovative RiverParc Development in Pittsburgh.

These new structures resemble nothing before; indeed, from an architectural point of view, the fact these buildings are green barely enters one’s mind. What makes such projects so interesting to look at has nothing to do with environmental intelligence.

The main issues, Behnisch declares, are the basics: fresh air and natural light. He has achieved buildings with 80 per cent natural light; that may be easier in Germany, where there are regulations about maximum distances between windows and workers (which is why many German buildings are organized around a courtyard).

Though Behnisch and Transsolar have developed techniques to clean up the indoor environment, he deplores the obsession with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design) and other rating systems.

“We always drive the discussion down to pure numbers, energy consumption per square foot,” Behnisch claims, “Sometimes it’s distracting how people react to LEED. It’s mostly stupidity and laziness. Quality is hardly quantifiable. So people try to avoid quality discussions.”

Given the success of the Donnelly building, it’s no surprise Behnisch would like to do more work in Toronto. With offices in Munich, Stuttgart, New York, Boston and California, this city isn’t hard to get to. The firm came close in the Ryerson Learning Centre, but that job went to Snohetta from Oslo. Still, the time is right for the Behnisch era to begin in Toronto.

Transsolar, which has also worked with Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg of this city, was heavily involved in the Manitoba Hydro Building in Winnipeg. That building, which opened this year, ranks as one of the greenest in North America. It also happens to be an architectural essay of unusual elegance.

“Canada is slightly easier for us than the U.S.,” Behnisch explains. “I think it’s because it feels a bit more European. Toronto is a very international city. It reminds me of Berlin because of the international architects who come into the city; that contributes to an openness.”

By that standard, Toronto has never been so open.

Military components factory ransacked in Gaza protest, Mark Townsend, 17 January 2009.

Nine people held after break-in at plant near Brighton allegedly making parts for Isareli missiles

Nine people are being questioned by police following extensive damage at an arms factory where protesters claim military components are being made for Israeli warplanes bombing Gaza.

The group, which calls itself Smash EDO, entered the EDO MBM Technology plant in Moulsecoomb, Brighton, in the early hours of this morning. During the incident computers and furniture were hurled from the windows of the Sussex factory. Police described the damaged as "substantial".

Demonstrators said they were "decommissioning" the site in protest against the killings of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military. They said equipment made at the plant was being used in Gaza by the Israeli air force.

DCI Graham Pratt of Sussex police said: "Windows had been smashed and offices turned over in what I would describe as wanton vandalism, but with machinery and equipment so targeted that it could have been done with a view of bringing business to a standstill. The damage is significant and the value substantial."

EDO MBM is the sole British subsidiary of US weapons company EDO Corp. From its Moulescoomb base it manufactures laser-guided missiles that have been used extensively in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Somalia.

The weapons were reportedly used by Israel against Lebanon in 2005, and have also been allegedly used in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Thousands of people gathered this afternoon for demonstrations across the country in a third weekend of protests against the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Organisers of a rally in Birmingham said more than 5,000 people had turned up in the city centre. In London, the former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn was among the speakers due to address crowds in Trafalgar Square.

He said: "It is a moral responsibility for all of us. People are being killed not so far away from here, women and children."

Activists plead lawful excuse for causing damage at arms factory, Rob Evans, 7 June 2010.

Brighton factory 'decommissioned' to prevent civilians being killed by the Israeli military in Gaza, court told

Activists claim they were legally justified in causing £180,000 damage to an arms factory as they were seeking to stop what they believed were Israeli war crimes in Gaza, a court heard today.

Eight activists were accused of conspiring to damage the factory in Sussex at the opening of their trial. All but one are arguing a defence of lawful excuse – that they "decommissioned" the factory to prevent civilians being killed by the Israeli military. They wanted to prevent arms being made there and sold to the Israeli air force.

They admit breaking into the factory in January last year, three weeks into the Israeli offensive against Gaza. The death toll from the offensive, called Operation Cast Lead, is disputed, although one Israeli human rights group estimates that 1,300 Palestinians died, many of them civilians. A United Nations investigation by former South African judge Richard Goldstone concluded last September that Israel, which launched the offensive in response to Palestinian rocket attacks, had committed war crimes by deliberately attacking civilians and firing white phosphorus shells.

The defence of committing an offence to prevent a more serious crime has been used on a number of occasions by peace and climate change activists.

Today Stephen Shay, counsel for the prosecution, told Hove crown court that five activists broke into the Brighton factory, owned by EDO MBM Technology, at night. "There is no issue between the prosecution and seven of the defendants that there was a plan to cause damage at the factory and that each of the seven was party to the plan," he said.

"Five … trespassers gave video-taped interviews prior to the incident stating their intent to cause damage to and 'smash up' EDO. This footage was posted on to a website known as Indymedia shortly after their arrest."

Four of the defendants read statements to police after they were arrested, accusing the EDO factory of aiding and abetting the "unlawful killing" and "slaughter" of Palestinians. They told police they believed that they had not acted illegally, Judge George Bathurst-Norman heard.

The eight who deny they conspired to cause criminal damage are Elijah Smith, 42, on remand in Lewes jail; Robert Nicholls, 52, Tom Woodhead, 25, Harvey Tadman, 44, and Ornella Saibene, 50, all of Bristol, and Rosa Bellamy, 23, Simon Levin, 35, and Chris Osmond, 29, all of Brighton.

Bellamy denies she was part of the alleged conspiracy. She, along with Levin and Osmond, were arrested outside the factory. The jury heard that Levin sent 77 texts shortly after the break-in, saying: "edo's getting trashed don't know who but I love them xxx." Equipment, including furniture, computers, and doors, was damaged. "War criminals" was painted on a wall.

Campaigners have for six years been seeking to close down the factory, which is the target of regular protests.

The trial continues and is due to last seven weeks.

Activists cleared over Brighton weapons factory raid, BBC, 2 July 2010.

EDO MBM Technology The activists admitted breaking in to EDO MBM and damaging equipment

Seven anti-war activists have been cleared of plotting to damage a Brighton weapons factory after claiming to be preventing Israeli war crimes.

During their three-week trial at Hove Crown Court the activists said they were acting with "lawful excuse" during the break-in at EDO MBM in 2009.

Five Smash EDO activists were cleared on Wednesday, with the remaining two acquitted on Friday.

The defendants were from Brighton, Bristol and Islington, north London.

Extensive damage was caused to the EDO MBM Technology building in Moulsecoomb along with computer equipment and precision machinery.

EDO MBM is an approved supplier to the Ministry of Defence and governments worldwide.

The activists admitted they broke into EDO MBM in the early hours of 17 January last year and sabotaged equipment worth about £200,000.

But they said they were acting to prevent further alleged war crimes being committed by Israel against Gaza.

Simon Levin, 35, of Montpelier Place, Brighton; Tom Woodhead, 35, of London Road, Bristol; Ornella Saibene, 50, of Brigstock Road, Bristol; Bob Nicholls, 53, of St Nicholas Broad, Bristol and Harvey Tadman, 44, of Croydon Street, Bristol were all found not guilty of conspiracy to commit criminal damage on Wednesday.

Elijah Smith, 43, of no known address and Christopher Osmond, 30, of Islington Park Road, Islington were cleared on Friday.

The defendants' solicitor, Lydia Dagostino, said: "We are delighted at the result. It sends a clear indication that sometimes direct action is the only option when all other avenues have failed."

Mr Osmond said: "It was the right verdict. During one operation 1,400 people had been killed, 350 children had died, and nobody was willing to take action.
Major demonstrations

"Our politicians and the United Nations were not taking action to support the people of Gaza and it was necessary for ordinary people to take action like we did."

He added that there would no let-up in the six-year campaign against the company.

Sussex Police said that, while they respected the decision of the court, 20 people had been convicted following four major demonstrations or targeted action aimed at the firm over the past two years.

"Sussex Police want to facilitate peaceful protests to ensure the safety of both participants and members of the community and to minimise disruption to the city," said Chief Supt Graham Bartlett.

"When these are not peaceful, we need to fulfil our duty to take action and where necessary investigate and present evidence before the court."

UK factory saboteurs acquitted, Jonny Paul, July 3 2010.

A group of activists who broke into an arms factory near Brighton last year and caused damage costing around £180,000 ($275,000) were found not guilty last week of causing criminal damage.

In a lawsuit filed in October, seven British activists claimed they were legally justified to break in and sabotage the factory of EDO MBM Technology near Brighton, on the south coast of England, in January 2009, at the time of Operation Cast Lead.

Believing that the company was violating export license regulations and sending arms components to Israel, the activists, from a group called Smash EDO, said they wanted to “slow down” the manufacture of components that were allegedly being sold to the Jewish state.

The protesters threw computers and file cabinets out of the factory windows and smashed machinery using hammers, claiming they were seeking to prevent “Israeli war crimes in Gaza.”

The seven admitted breaking in and causing the damage but were acquitted when the jury found them not guilty of conspiring to cause criminal damage, despite video-taped interviews of the activists that outlined their intention to cause criminal damage and “smash up” the factory.

The activists used the “lawful excuse” defense – committing an offense to prevent what they say was a more serious crime because EDO was “complicit in war crimes.”

Judge George Bathurst-Norman told the jury: “You may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered in that time.”

EDO managing director Paul Hills denied in court that the company supplied components to Israel but said it did make parts for F-16 fighter planes.

Judge George Bathurst-Norman said that, despite Hill’s denials, it was clear that there was enough evidence to the contrary and that the certificates required for arms export licenses were “not worth the paper they are written on,” as they can be easily manipulated.

According to The Guardian, the judge highlighted the testimony by Green Party MP and anti-Israel activist Caroline Lucas, who had tried to justify the action by saying, “All democratic paths had been exhausted and, crucially, that their actions were driven by the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza.”

Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor said this was not a great time for the United Kingdom’s justice system.

“After reading the judge’s statement, there is no doubt that this is not a great era of the British justice system. I assume that Sderot’s children, who have lived under thousands of missiles, for years, will be able to enlighten the judge as to the meaning of “hell on earth.

“I am convinced that the judge would have ruled differently had he been sitting in the Sderot youth cultural center, rather than on Brighton’s sunny shores,” the ambassador said.

“What we have here is yet another example of how the hysterical campaign against the State of Israel is not merely resulting in gross injustice against the Middle East’s only Western-style democracy, it is undermining Western-style democracy at home,” said Robin Shepherd, from the London- based Henry Jackson Society think tank and author of A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel.

“Bigotry does not merely cause pain and suffering to its victims, it degrades its perpetrators from within. The rule of law itself is now under threat in Britain, and judges and juries are applauding as it goes,” Shepherd said.

After the verdict, one of the activists, Robert Nicholls, 52, told The Guardian: “I’m joyful really, at being a free man... We just wanted to do something that would make a real difference to the people of Palestine.”

“I’ve felt very peaceful all the way through the trial because I’m proud of what I’ve done. It was the right thing to do,” said another activist, Ornella Saibene, 50.

“We’re very happy that a jury of ordinary people confronted with the facts recognized that our actions were justified,” Saibene told the Bristol Evening Post. “Presented with the facts of what was going on in Palestine, they have backed our action. It’s a victory for justice and for both British and Palestinian people.”

On Friday, two more of the activists were acquitted, Elijah Smith, 42, and Chris Osmond, 30.

Osmond, an activist from a group called Boycott Israeli Goods, said the destruction came because of EDO’s “illegal supply of weapons” to Israel.

Before the attack, Smith said on the group’s Web site, “I don’t feel I’m going to do anything illegal tonight, but I’m going to go into an arms factory and smash it up to the best of my ability so that it cannot actually produce munitions and these very dirty bombs that have been provided to the Israeli army so that they can kill children.

The time for talking has gone too far. I’m not a writer, I’m just a person from the community and I’m deeply disgusted.”

Smash EDO campaign spokeswoman Chloe Marsh accused Israel of committing genocide and called for EDO directors to be tried for war crimes.

“The citizens of Britain are no longer prepared to stand idly by whilst Israel commits genocide with the backing of our own government. Brighton is a peace messenger city. EDO is an obscenity that must be removed from Brighton and the directors of this foul company ought to be tried for war crimes by the International Criminal Court,” Marsh said.

Inquiry after Hove Crown Court judge's summing up, BBC, 27 July 2010.

Complaints that a judge made anti-Israel comments while summing up in the Hove Crown Court trial of seven anti-war activists are being investigated.

It follows a number of complaints to the Office for Judicial Complaints about Judge George Bathurst-Norman.

In the trial, seven activists who claimed to be preventing Israeli war crimes were cleared of plotting to damage a Brighton weapons factory.

Jewish groups objected to comments comparing Israel with the Nazi regime.

A transcript of Judge Bathurst-Norman's summing up to the jury was published on the internet by Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chairman of the Zionist Federation.

'Scenes of devastation'

The transcript said: "I am going to start with the background relating to Israel and Palestine and to the evidence which points to the war crimes being committed by Israel in Gaza, an area over which Israel has imposed a blockade.

"The evidence shows that those war crimes are committed against the civilian population of Gaza and against the property of its residents, including the United Nations by the Israeli Forces.

"Now you have to look at the evidence coldly and dispassionately.

"It may be as you went through what I can only describe as horrific scenes, scenes of devastation to civilian population, scenes which one would rather have hoped to have disappeared with the Nazi regimes of the last war, you may have felt anger and been absolutely appalled by them, but you must put that emotion aside."

President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Vivian Wineman said: "We found the comments pretty offensive, one-sided and very, very unbalanced, but that's not the reason why we complained.

"The reason for the complaint is that they were completely irrelevant to what was before him."

He added: "He was anti-Israel to an extent which I found offensive. I think attempts to compare Israel to the Nazis are totally ludicrous, and that's an offensive thing to Israel which is a democratic country."

Factory break-in

A spokesman for the Office for Judicial Complaints said: "The Office for Judicial Complaints has received a number of complaints in relation to His Honour Bathurst-Norman's summing up in a case at Hove Crown Court on 28 and 29 June.

"Those complaints will be considered under the Judicial Discipline Regulations in the usual way. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage."

During the three-week trial at Hove Crown Court, the Smash EDO activists said they were acting with "lawful excuse" during a break-in at the EDO MBM factory in Brighton in 2009.

The defendants, from Brighton, Bristol and Islington, north London, admitted breaking into EDO MBM and sabotaged equipment worth about £200,000, causing extensive damage to the building, computer equipment and precision machinery.

But they said they were acting to prevent further alleged war crimes being committed by Israel against Gaza.

EDO MBM is an approved supplier to the Ministry of Defence and governments worldwide.

Defining Prosperity Down, Paul Krugman, August 1 2010.

I’m starting to have a sick feeling about prospects for American workers — but not, or not entirely, for the reasons you might think.

Yes, growth is slowing, and the odds are that unemployment will rise, not fall, in the months ahead. That’s bad. But what’s worse is the growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn’t care — that a once-unthinkable level of economic distress is in the process of becoming the new normal.

And I worry that those in power, rather than taking responsibility for job creation, will soon declare that high unemployment is “structural,” a permanent part of the economic landscape — and that by condemning large numbers of Americans to long-term joblessness, they’ll turn that excuse into dismal reality.

Not long ago, anyone predicting that one in six American workers would soon be unemployed or underemployed, and that the average unemployed worker would have been jobless for 35 weeks, would have been dismissed as outlandishly pessimistic — in part because if anything like that happened, policy makers would surely be pulling out all the stops on behalf of job creation.

But now it has happened, and what do we see?

First, we see Congress sitting on its hands, with Republicans and conservative Democrats refusing to spend anything to create jobs, and unwilling even to mitigate the suffering of the jobless.

We’re told that we can’t afford to help the unemployed — that we must get budget deficits down immediately or the “bond vigilantes” will send U.S. borrowing costs sky-high. Some of us have tried to point out that those bond vigilantes are, as far as anyone can tell, figments of the deficit hawks’ imagination — far from fleeing U.S. debt, investors have been buying it eagerly, driving interest rates to historic lows. But the fearmongers are unmoved: fighting deficits, they insist, must take priority over everything else — everything else, that is, except tax cuts for the rich, which must be extended, no matter how much red ink they create.

The point is that a large part of Congress — large enough to block any action on jobs — cares a lot about taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population, but very little about the plight of Americans who can’t find work.

Well, if Congress won’t act, what about the Federal Reserve? The Fed, after all, is supposed to pursue two goals: full employment and price stability, usually defined in practice as an inflation rate of about 2 percent. Since unemployment is very high and inflation well below target, you might expect the Fed to be taking aggressive action to boost the economy. But it isn’t.

It’s true that the Fed has already pushed one pedal to the metal: short-term interest rates, its usual policy tool, are near zero. Still, Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, has assured us that he has other options, like holding more mortgage-backed securities and promising to keep short-term rates low. And a large body of research suggests that the Fed could boost the economy by committing to an inflation target higher than 2 percent.

But the Fed hasn’t done any of these things. Instead, some officials are defining success down.

For example, last week Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, argued that the Fed bears no responsibility for the economy’s weakness, which he attributed to business uncertainty about future regulations — a view that’s popular in conservative circles, but completely at odds with all the actual evidence. In effect, he responded to the Fed’s failure to achieve one of its two main goals by taking down the goalpost.

He then moved the other goalpost, defining the Fed’s aim not as roughly 2 percent inflation, but rather as that of “keeping inflation extremely low and stable.”

In short, it’s all good. And I predict — having seen this movie before, in Japan — that if and when prices start falling, when below-target inflation becomes deflation, some Fed officials will explain that that’s O.K., too.

What lies down this path? Here’s what I consider all too likely: Two years from now unemployment will still be extremely high, quite possibly higher than it is now. But instead of taking responsibility for fixing the situation, politicians and Fed officials alike will declare that high unemployment is structural, beyond their control. And as I said, over time these excuses may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the long-term unemployed lose their skills and their connections with the work force, and become unemployable.

I’d like to imagine that public outrage will prevent this outcome. But while Americans are indeed angry, their anger is unfocused. And so I worry that our governing elite, which just isn’t all that into the unemployed, will allow the jobs slump to go on and on and on.

Russia bans grain exports because of fire and drought, sending prices soaring, Washington Post, August 6 2010.

[a few typos: - 484 acres is probably 484,000, & - jumped to 57.25 cents a bushel, is obviously jumped 'by' but they dont give a price]

Russia announced Thursday that it will ban all grain exports for the rest of the year, sending wheat prices soaring to a two-year high and raising the possibility of inflated food prices that could throw an already fitful global economy recovery off track.

A severe drought and wildfires have destroyed one-fifth of Russia's crop and forced the country to draw from emergency reserves.

In announcing the ban at a cabinet meeting in Moscow, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Russia, one of the world's largest wheat exporters, needs to "prevent a rise in domestic food prices." He said he would decide after this year's harvest whether to extend the ban, which covers exports from Aug. 15 to Dec. 31.

Internationally, wheat prices have increased nearly 50 percent since June, fueling worries about a repeat of the food crisis in 2008 that triggered riots from Bangladesh to Haiti to Mozambique. Wheat prices in the United States are less likely to remain high, experts said, and a bumper crop could put American farmers in a position to benefit from the low supplies elsewhere.

Prices of other crops, including barley, rice and corn, also rose sharply after Russia's announcement.

In an era of free trade, export bans by countries are usually considered a last-resort measure to protect national interests. Indonesia, where whole forests have been leveled by wood processors, banned the export of raw logs. India is considering a ban on exports of iron ore to secure its mineral wealth for its fast-growing economy.

In 2007 and 2008, a number of countries, including Russia, restricted the export of grain as prices began to skyrocket.

While commodities analysts emphasized that there is no reason to fear another global wheat shortage, governments and companies worldwide are preparing for the worst.

In Egypt -- one of the biggest importers of wheat and a nation that experienced deadly violence in bread lines two years ago -- the government assured the public that it has a four-month supply of wheat and urged Russia to honor contracts it signed before the ban. In Europe, the United Kingdom's Premier Foods and Switzerland's two largest food retailers warned consumers that they may increase prices of products that contain wheat, from crackers to beer.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said this week that although the food-price index is 13 percent higher than it was a year ago, it is still 22 percent lower than its peak, in June 2008. "Fears of a new global food crisis are not justified at this point," the FAO said in a report.

Grain harvests around the world have been devastated by unusual weather this year.

The countryside in western Russia, suffering from the nation's hottest summer since recording began 130 years ago, is now battling wildfires that have engulfed 196,000 hectares (about 484 acres) and are continuing to spread.

Heavy rain destroyed much of Canada's wheat crop, and the country is forecasting a 35 percent drop in production. In China, the world's most populous nation, the worst flooding in more than a decade is predicted to cut rice production by 5 to 7 percent. China produces about one-third of the world's rice.

Dax Wedemeyer, a broker-analyst with U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa, said that if forecasts for bumper-crop harvests in the United States and Australia turn out to be true, the impact from the Russian ban could be minimized. But he said any additional complication could pose major challenges for developing countries that depend on imports.

"I'm very uneasy about these supplies," Wedemeyer said.

But Maximo Torero, a researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, said his calculations show that there is a sufficient buffer in the global wheat supply and that the high prices are the result of panic buying, perhaps by importers from the Middle East and Africa who depend heavily on Russian farms.

"It shows how much the grain markets have become linked to the financial markets," Torero said.

Russian wheat makes up about 11 percent of global exports, but as of June there was an "abundance" of wheat inventories elsewhere that was more than enough to make up for the shortfall, Torero said. The United States alone stores more than 26 million metric tons of wheat -- three times the expected decrease in Russian exports.

The United States is one of the only corners of the world that should not be adversely affected by the Russian ban.

The U.S. Agriculture Department is forecasting a surplus of about 1 billion bushels, and the shortage in the rest of the world means a larger profit margin for the industry this season.

As a result, Shawn McCambridge of the Prudential Bache commodities firm in Chicago said he does not think that the recent rise in wheat prices will lead to significant increases in U.S. consumer prices, as it did when commodities spiked in 2008. Back then, fuel costs were also skyrocketing, and the double whammy really hurt shoppers, he said.

Moreover, McCambridge said, that the Russian ban may be a boon to U.S. farmers. In recent years, American wheat farmers increased production, but low-priced wheat from the Black Sea region ate into the U.S. share of the international grain market.

"It will be able to shift some of that export business back to the U.S. exporters at a time that we really need to increase demand," McCambridge said.

In trading on the Chicago Board of Trade on Thursday, the price of wheat for December delivery jumped to 57.25 cents a bushel. That was the highest since August 2008 but still significantly below the record of $13.50 in February 2008.

Zacharia reported from Jerusalem. Correspondents Sudarsan Raghavan in Nairobi and Mandi Mourad in Cairo and staff writer Ylan Q. Mui in Washington contributed to this report.

Wheat Extends Rally, May Advance to $10 If Export Bans Spread, Bloomberg, August 5 2010.

Luzi Ann Javier, Maria Kolesnikova and Jeff Wilson

Aug. 6 -- Wheat extended a rally to the highest price in almost two years on concern other nations may follow Russia’s export ban, and the grain may reach $10 a bushel, a price not seen since the global food crisis in 2008.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Kazakhstan and Belarus should also suspend shipments as Russia’s ban was announced yesterday from Aug. 15 to the yearend. “It’s got $10 written all over it,” said Peter McGuire, managing director at CWA Global Markets Pty, who correctly forecast Aug. 3 the surge to $8.50. Wheat last traded at $10 in March 2008, and a gain to that price would be a 23 percent advance from yesterday’s close.

Wheat has doubled in less than two months as a heat wave in Russia, the third-largest grower, dry weather in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the European Union, and flooding in Canada has ruined crops. Russia’s drought is threatening sowing plans for winter grain, the national weather center has said.

“We believe that the rally in wheat prices is overdone, but would not short wheat,” Morgan Stanley analysts including Hussein Allidina said in a note to investors, referring to making bets that prices may drop. Other wheat-producing countries may opt to limit exports, potentially boosting prices, even though global wheat stockpiles are ample, they wrote.

Wheat for December rose as much as 6.5 percent to $8.68 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, taking gains for that contract to 25 percent this week. The best-performing commodity this year on the UBS Bloomberg CMCI Index, ahead of coffee and nickel, traded at $8.60 a bushel at 10:29 a.m. in Singapore.

‘Driving Lamborghinis’

“When Putin speaks, the world listens,” said McGuire at commodity trader CWA, referring to the possibility other nations may also curb shipments. The biggest gainers would be U.S. farmers because they have the supply to meet demand in the global market, he said. “They’ll all be driving Lamborghinis.”

Halting Russia’s wheat shipments would be “appropriate” to contain domestic prices that jumped 19 percent last week, Putin said. Kazakhstan was forecast to ship 8 million tons of wheat this year, while Belarus was set to export 200,000 tons, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. The two states are Russia’s partners in a customs union.

Wheat reached a record $13.495 in February 2008, part of a surge in prices that sparked food riots from Haiti to Egypt. Still, concern that lower-than-expected wheat output may contribute to a food crisis is “unwarranted at this stage,” the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said on Aug. 4.


“This will be a catastrophe for farmers and exporters alike,” Kirill Podolsky, the chief executive officer of Valars Group, Russia’s third-biggest grain trader said yesterday. Valars will stop exports immediately because shipments may be held at customs until the start of the ban, Podolsky said. “As of today, Russia has no grain market,” he said.

Exporters from the Black Sea, including Ukraine, may have no choice but to halt shipments unless the region gets enough rain, McGuire said. “If it gets hotter for longer, then it’s going to destroy the crop,” he said. Ukraine was forecast to ship 8 million tons of wheat this year, the USDA has said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture may pare its estimate on the nation’s wheat inventory at the end of the 2010-2011 season by 12 percent to 964 million bushels, from 1.093 billion bushels last month, as exporters boost shipments to make up for lower supply from other countries, Allendale Inc., a farm marketing adviser and broker, said in an e-mail today.

That may push the global ending stockpiles to 180 million metric tons, compared with the USDA estimate of 187 million last month, Allendale said.

Cargill Inc., the largest U.S. agricultural company, said implementing trade barriers in response to higher wheat prices and lower yields exacerbates supply problems.

Wheat Stockpiles

“World wheat stocks are higher than they were during the wheat-price spikes in 2008,” said Mark Klein, a spokesman for the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company. “Such trade barriers further distort wheat markets by making it harder for supplies to move from areas of surplus to areas of deficit.”

Putin told a government meeting in Moscow that Russia has “sufficient reserves” of grain, “but we must prevent domestic prices from rising, preserve cattle herds and build up reserves.” The ban also applies to barley, rye, corn and flour.

World wheat stockpiles may fall 2.5 percent to 192 million tons by June as the dry weather hurts the outlook for crops in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the European Union, the International Grains Council said on July 29, reversing a forecast for higher inventories.

--Editors: Jake Lloyd-Smith, James Poole

To contact the reporters on this story: Luzi Ann Javier in Singapore at; Maria Kolesnikova in Moscow at; Jeff Wilson in Chicago at; To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Poole at

Russian Export Ban Raises Global Food Fears, WSJ, August 5 2010.

Wheat Rises 8.3% as Putin Extends Move to Year-End

Wheat prices surged Thursday after Russia announced a ban on grain exports, extending a rally that is driving up the cost of corn and other substitutes and underscoring the risk of a broad shock to the global food supply.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, responding to the country's crippling drought and deadly wildfires, said on Thursday that exports will be banned from Aug. 15 until the end of the year.

Russia has become an increasingly important force in the global supply of grains and the move reignited fears that nervous governments will begin hoarding their own supplies, potentially causing a shortage. Nations that already are struggling to feed themselves are scrambling to lock in deliveries, while food companies are facing costs, as are farmers who need grain to feed livestock.

Memories of the grains shortages and price spikes of 2008, which sparked world-wide food riots, are still fresh. The world's stockpiles are still much higher than two years ago, and prices far lower, but many worry the situation will worsen.

"The situation is very, very precarious. It will have a spillover to everywhere," said Abdolreza Abbassian, secretary of the intergovernmental group on grains at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

"I hope this is the last bad news," he added. "Any negative weather news will simply add to the problem."

The biggest weather-related concern is that the drought will persist into early fall, the planting season for next year's crop.

Wheat prices rose 8.3% in Chicago trading on Thursday, and are up 84% from their June low and 45% year to date. Corn and soybeans, both alternative feed sources for livestock, have gone along for the ride, with corn up 24% from a June low and at a seven-month high.

Russia's worst drought in a decade has produced record-high temperatures and led to forest and peat fires that have claimed the lives of at least 50 people.

For now, the loading of Russian wheat onto trains for movement to its ports has come to a virtual standstill, according to grain industry officials. By some estimates, between four million and five million metric tons of Russian wheat that had been earmarked for export are in now in limbo.

Ukraine, another major wheat exporter, also has canceled several contracts, trading executives said.

The sharp increases have raised fears that food prices could inflate rapidly at a moment when investor fears are focused on the risk of deflation, presenting potentially disruptive warring forces that could whipsaw consumers world-wide.

The wheat price spike has forced the U.N. World Food Program, which helps feed more than 90 million people world-wide, to cut back on purchases, according to a spokeswoman.

Countries such as Egypt, the world's No. 1 wheat importer, which had bought Russian wheat, now must consider other options. The country has six months worth of supplies, said the chairman of its Grain Chamber, Ali Sharaf El Din.

A source at the country's Ministry of Trade said the drought "may put Egypt, and other importers of Russian wheat, in a vulnerable situation, given that Russia has been one of our biggest suppliers." But, the person added, "it is not our only source and the situation is not unrecoverable."

Russia provided 14.5% of global exports from the 2009-10 crop, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Moreover, it has played a key role in meeting rising import demand, exporting 17.5 million metric tons of wheat, up from less than one million in 2000-01.

The price moves also caught many commodities traders flat-footed, because investors were betting agricultural commodities would continue to be market laggards. On June 15, the number of negative bets by those types of investors was near the highest level since 1986, according to Barclays Capital.

Among the winners in the investment community from the rally are big players such as $6 billion Graham Capital Management and $2.5 billion Touradji Capital, according to investors. Traders say a few funds have made big profits by buying wheat at just the right time.

"In July the market reversed and began to climb … we then positioned ourselves long with the new trend and have generated profits for our clients from the moves," says Kenneth Webster President of John W. Henry & Co., the commodity investor. "Wheat has been the best performing market for our programs that trade it in July and month to date in August," he said.

The Russian ban rippled through the stock market, as well, separating winners from losers. Shares of food makers that face rising wheat costs fell, with General Mills Inc. dropping 2.2% and Ralcorp Holdings Inc. losing 3.9%.

But agribusiness giants, which process and ship grains, posted big gains, with Bunge Ltd. rising 5.6% and Archer Daniels Midland Co. up 5.7%. The firms, and closely held Cargill Inc., could profit amid the global scramble to secure supplies by moving grain shipments around the world.

But some also face the risk of disruption due to Moscow's action. In an emailed statement, Cargill expressed concerns about trade barriers following the Russian ban, saying they "further distort wheat markets" by making it harder to marry supply with demand and "preventing price signals from reaching wheat farmers."

But packaged-food companies, many of which hedge their food costs months ahead, could be forced to choose whether to lock in this price spike or hope that prices will fall back.

Switzerland's two largest food retailers—Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund and Coop Schweiz—said Thursday they are considering price rises for goods that contain wheat. Premier Foods PLC of the U.K. made a similar warning Wednesday.

While wheat remains plentiful, not all of it will be accessible to those that need it. The U.S. Agriculture Department estimates that the world will have about 187 million metric tons of wheat stockpiled by next June—tens of millions more than it had in 2007-08, during the last crisis—with about 45% in Russia, India and China, which have an incentive to hold onto stocks.

"In India, from a political standpoint, you can handle anything except food inflation. Wheat is one of the most consumed grains in India," said Jagannadham Thunuguntla, equity head at SMC Capital Ltd. in New Delhi, one of India's largest securities brokerages.

Nesil Staney, Tom Polansek, Ian Berry, Goran Mijuk, Nour Malas and Ira Iosebashvili contributed to this article. Write to Liam Pleven at, Gregory Zuckerman at and Scott Kilman at

Nightly Business Report NBR Transcripts, PBS, August 5 2010.
As you heard, Russia's government banned all wheat exports because of a severe drought. That's pushing not just wheat, but the other grains prices higher. You can see the trend in the agriculture ETF (DBA), up 13 percent since early June. Corn and soybeans commodities posted 13-month highs today. Another winner in Russia's wheat crisis is Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). Some see the company stepping in to sell grain to cattlemen in Europe as Russia's grain exports to that region disappear. But of course, the high grain prices will have to be passed on by cereal makers and food processors to consumers. Shares of Kellogg (K) and General Mills (GIS) getting whacked. Both companies cut profit forecasts last week to boot.

Russia, Crippled by Drought, Bans Grain Exports, Andrew Kramer, August 5 2010.

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday banned all exports of grain after millions of acres of Russian wheat withered in a severe drought, driving up prices around the world and pushing them to their highest level in two years in the United States.

The move was the latest of several abrupt interventions in the Russian economy by Mr. Putin, who called the ban necessary to curb rising food prices in the country. Russia is suffering from the worst heat wave since record-keeping began here more than 130 years ago.

“We need to prevent a rise in domestic food prices, we need to preserve the number of cattle and build up reserves for next year,” Mr. Putin said in a meeting broadcast on television. “As the saying goes, reserves don’t make your pocket heavy.”

During his years as president and prime minister, Mr. Putin has never hesitated to marshal the power of the state to protect Russian economic interests, and this decision showed that this has remained his prerogative even after he stepped down as president.

Mr. Putin has also proved adept at deflecting criticism of the government with grand gestures, and the export ban was widely seen as one of a series of populist moves by Mr. Putin to address rising resentment over the calamitous heat wave and the fires it has spawned.

Pressure was also brought to bear by multinational grain trading companies, which have been lobbying for the ban as a way to escape futures contracts drawn up before the drought, when prices were far lower. A Russian subsidiary of Glencore, the Swiss-based commodities trading company that has close ties to the Russian government, pressed hard as the scope of the drought’s devastation became clear.

Wheat prices have soared by about 90 percent since June because of the drought in Russia and parts of the European Union, as well as floods in Canada, and the ban pushed prices even higher. Exports from Ukraine, another major exporter, are down sharply this year.

Russia, the largest grain-exporting nation before World War I, has largely recovered from failed Soviet agricultural policies, lifted by rising global food prices and economic reforms that encouraged private farmers and companies to once again till the country’s expansive and fertile croplands. Before this year’s drought, yields had risen steadily, and Russian grain exports totaled 21.4 million metric tons last year, about 17 percent of the global grain trade.

But on Thursday, rail cars heaped with fresh grain came to a halt around Russia, stopped in midjourney from the country’s fields to the main exporting ports on the Black Sea. The order covered a variety of grains, including barley and corn, but will have its greatest impact on wheat exports.

Mr. Putin said that the government might extend the ban if the harvest yields even less than the current grim forecasts. The projected yield is about 70 million metric tons of grain, according to the Russian Grain Union, a lobbying group for farmers, about equal to domestic needs and down sharply from last year’s total of 97 million metric tons.

The group was sharply critical of Mr. Putin’s decision. “First of all, you can congratulate American farmers, who are going to take the niche that Russian farmers are leaving” in global markets because of the ban, said Anton V. Shaparin, a spokesman for the group. He added that Russia’s reserves could cover the shortages from this year.

Owing to last year’s bumper crop, Russia currently holds about 24 million metric tons in grain elevators, the group said.

In Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer and a major customer of Russia, officials said only that they hoped current contracts would be honored.

The abrupt ban — just this week, a deputy agricultural minister had said no such measure would be taken — recalled other decisive actions by Mr. Putin. Last summer, he canceled Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization, saying the country would apply only as a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Mr. Putin twice ordered natural gas shutoffs to Europe amid disputes with Ukraine ostensibly over pricing.

The Russian agro-business sector, which has just been emerging here from the ashes of the failed Soviet collective farm system, was also left pondering its future.

Russia, blessed with the greatest reserve of fertile but fallow land in the world, is thought by many experts to have the greatest potential of any country to meet mounting demand for food from a growing global population.

Michel Orloff, the founder of Black Earth Farming, one of the new corporate farming operations that have raised yields by consolidating and reforming collective farms, said Mr. Putin’s ban made sense from the perspective of curbing domestic food prices but would cost companies like his.

“We are on the verge of national need,” Mr. Orloff said. “Of course, the freer the market, the better. But his job is not only to take care of the farmers of this country, but the citizens of this country.”

Kingsmill Bond, chief analyst at Troika investment bank in Moscow, which has studied the revolution in Russian farming, said the ban would damage shares in corporate farming operations like Black Earth, Razgulay and Cherkizov.

Still, he said, “grain is an emotive issue; you want to make sure you have sufficient supplies.”

Wheat turmoil hits home on the Prairies, Brent Jang, August 4 2010.

UN plays down concerns of food crisis, says wheat supply will cover shortfall

On the family farm in Saskatchewan, Dale Johnson marvels at how quickly the price has risen for the crop in his fields.

In three weeks, Mr. Johnson plans to start harvesting 1,000 acres of wheat (ZW-FT757.75-28.00-3.56%), a task that will stretch well into September. But the prospect of new crops hasn’t been enough to halt worries about a wheat shortage on the planet – worries that have driven up world wheat prices more than 60 per cent since early June.

Wheat prices have hit their highest point since the fall of 2008, amid a rally triggered by heavy rains in June that flooded parts of the Prairies to damage fields and a summer drought in Russia that has dampened production forecasts. Those factors helped send benchmark wheat contracts up another 6.7 per cent Wednesday to surpass $7.25 (U.S.) a bushel.

On Wednesday, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization sought to soothe nervousness over a shortfall of wheat, playing down concerns about a repeat of the global food crisis of 2007-08.

“A continuing, devastating drought afflicting crops in the Russian Federation, coupled with anticipated lower outputs in Kazakhstan and Ukraine, have raised strong fears about the availability of world wheat supply in the 2010-11 marketing season,” the UN agency said. “An expected production decline in Canada, another major producer and exporter of wheat, has reinforced market worries.”

But the UN agency said stockpiles remain healthy after two consecutive years of bumper crops and offered assurances that “world inventories have been replenished sufficiently to cover the current anticipated production shortfall.”

In Kipling, about 150 kilometres southeast of Regina, Mr. Johnson surveyed his wheat while talking on his BlackBerry. The 36-year-old farmer managed to seed 80 per cent of his crop, while a less-fortunate neighbour managed only 20 per cent, forced to leave the rest unplanted because of excessively wet soil.

“The higher prices are going to help our family,” said Mr. Johnson, whose great-grandfather homesteaded in the area in 1905. “There are ups and downs, and the trick is to have enough good years to operate through the bad ones.”

Viterra Inc. (VT-T8.55-0.48-5.32%), the Regina-based grain handling and agri-products company, recently estimated that total seeded acreage in Western Canada ranged from 50 to 52 million, compared with the five-year average of 60 million acres. David Boyes, a commodity risk manager at the Canadian Wheat Board, said Canada’s projected export target for volumes of bulk grain for the 2010-11 crop year will be the lowest since 2004-05. The new crop year began Aug. 1.

“Around harvest time, there should normally be lower wheat prices because you will have all the new supplies coming in, so this price increase is unusual,” Mr. Boyes said from Winnipeg. “This latest price spike has caught a lot of market participants by surprise. Two of the world’s largest exporters have experienced production challenges. It has been too wet in Western Canada and too dry in Russia, meaning greater exports from the United States.”

The sharpness of the price jump in wheat stems in part from speculators, say industry experts, who point out that global production is forecast to dip 3.7 per cent this year – a relatively small decline, considering wheat prices have skyrocketed.

“Speculators are adding to the volatility in the wheat trading pits,” Mr. Boyes said. “You have these big commodity funds over the past three to five years, these non-agricultural traders who are participating in wheat futures trading, not just millers, bakers, farmers and grain companies.”

Canadian bakeries say they have yet to be affected by higher wheat costs. But in the 2008 crisis, higher bills for flour translated into price increases of about 50 cents a loaf, raising the retail price to $3 (Canadian). Consumer bread prices fell as the recession hit later in 2008, and wheat prices collapsed from record highs.

“The run-up in wheat was a huge issue in 2008,” said Paul Hetherington, president of the Baking Association of Canada. “The challenge for any business, and baking is no different, is you’re faced with price fluctuations and what costs can be absorbed and what has to be passed along in the price of goods.”


Wet weather in Western Canada destroyed crops or prevented planting.
Drought in Russia and much of Europe’s grain belt.

Biggest wheat exporters:
1. U.S.
2. Canada
3. France
Biggest wheat consumers:
1. China
2. India
3. Russia
Biggest wheat producers:
1. China
2. India
3. U.S.
4. France
5. Russia
6. Canada
Sources: USDA, Spectrum Commodities

Russia's export ban chills wheat markets, Brent Jang, August 5 2010.

Importers will have to find short-term supplies elsewhere, including Canada and the U.S.

Russia will suspend grain exports amid a devastating drought, sending wheat (ZW-FT752.75-33.00-4.20%)prices soaring to a two-year high and sparking fears of another bout of serious inflation in global food prices.

The skyrocketing price of wheat has generated concerns about a repeat of the global food crisis of 2007-08, when flour costs surged, pushing the price of a loaf of bread in Canada up roughly 20 per cent.

Premier Foods PLC warned Thursday that higher bread prices are in store for British consumers, but Canadian bakeries and pasta makers have yet to sound the alarm.

“The increase in wheat prices will probably translate into some increase in Canadian bread prices, but the magnitude this time around is hard to determine,” David Boyes, a commodity risk manager at the Canadian Wheat Board, said.

A commodity rally beyond wheat has added to worries that the price of groceries could jump. Other food commodity prices have climbed this summer, including coffee, sugar, barley and pork bellies, which are used for making bacon. Commodity markets remain volatile, with sugar slipping Thursday, taking a breather from a four-month ascent.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s announcement Thursday that grain shipments from the world’s third-largest wheat exporter will be halted from Aug. 15 until the end of 2010 sent shock waves through commodity trading pits.

Wheat contracts surged to surpass $7.85 (U.S.) a bushel, an increase of 60 cents – the daily limit allowed by the Chicago Board of Trade. World wheat prices have surged more than 70 per cent since early June, bolstered by a wet spring that scaled back seeding in Western Canada, with prices further fuelled by a severe drought and wildfires that scorched crops in Russia this summer.

The Canadian Wheat Board, which markets wheat on behalf of Prairie farmers, said it will continue its export program to take advantage of escalating prices. Canada is the world’s second-largest wheat exporter, trailing only the United States.

On Wednesday, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization had played down fears about runaway food inflation, at least this year.

“The latest downgrading of world wheat production forecast for 2010 points to a tighter supply situation and increases the likelihood of higher wheat prices compared to the previous season. However, fears of a global food crisis are unwarranted at this stage,” the UN food agency said.

“On the other hand, should the drought in the Russian Federation continue, it could pose problems for winter plantings in that country with potentially serious implications for world wheat supplies in 2011-12.”

Even if the temporary ban is isolated to Russia, the fear of an expanded curb on exports will be enough to unnerve wheat markets through August and September, said Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

The question now is whether two other major Black Sea wheat producers facing lower harvests, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, will join Russia in slapping a ban on grain exports for the rest of the year to conserve grain for domestic consumption.

“Russia is a big player, and its announcement will contribute to the volatility in commodity markets and uncertainty in the agricultural community as to where prices will settle out,” Mr. Bonnett said. “We’ll have to see how other Black Sea countries respond.”

Mr. Boyes of the Canadian Wheat Board said Russia presold some wheat in the export market, but certain contracts totalling more than three million tonnes now won’t be filled until next year, meaning importers will have to find their short-term supplies elsewhere, including buying from Canada and the United States.

“By shutting off exports, Russia will be increasing the amount of wheat available inside the country. Russia is artificially increasing the amount of its domestic supply, and that is designed to lower prices for Russian consumers because the wheat is stuck in Russia,” Mr. Boyes said.

Russia’s ban also covers exports of rye, corn, barley, maslin and rye flour, according to the Prime-Tass news agency.

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