Archive for August, 2013

If you’d like to help the Vallecitos workers, read on

August 30, 2013

August 13th, 2013

Call for investigation into abuse of the Vallecitos 9 by spiritualist bully

WBI is tracking closely experiences of the Vallecitos 9, former employees of a spiritual New Mexico retreat subjected to years of bullying at the hands of co-founder Grove Burnett. One worker, Mary Reed, staged a 7-day hunger strike as protest.

Those displaced employees now call for a neutral investigation of their charges.

Please help by signing their change.org petition.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 at 10:48 am and is filed under Hear Ye! Hear Ye! 2. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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A Very Different Post

August 30, 2013

For those of you who read this blog and don’t know me personally, I’d like to take a moment here and state that my spirituality is my “ground.” I am a non-denominational pagan, which, in the old sense of the word, means I’m from the countryside, and find my solace and deeper meaning in what surrounds me in nature. It is not a glamorous undertaking…and is often full of sadness as I see the loss of so much health and beauty in the world. That doesn’t stop me from being passionate about being an agent of change, in both my own and others’ lives. We really do have so much power to make a difference, and often so little confidence in our selves, or in our path (if we even believe we are on one).

 

A major reason I moved to northern New Mexico was the deep connection to the land I experienced the first time I looked out the window at the Lama Foundation dome. That was 25 years ago…and I am still learning what it means to “see.” I have been connected to Lama over the years, and have many friendships that originated there via workshops and retreats. A week ago I ran into one of those friends, and heard a story that deeply saddened me, about workplace bullying. She has firsthand experience of what is to follow. I told her I would put this on my blog in honor of all those service workers (and I did my time in this arena) that have put up with  bullying, and now, are speaking out about their experience.

Starving for Love

When the weapons of fear and intimidation used in my spiritual workplace became powerfully wounding, the best defense I could think of was powerful love.  This idea nearly cost me my life, and what’s more, it didn’t work.  Yet.

Grove Burnett, the lawyer and Buddhist dharma teacher who co-founded the spiritual retreat center Vallecitos Mountain Ranch, is known to have trouble consistently practicing the “mindful speech” he teaches.  I and the other eight staff who abruptly left Vallecitos July 13 – that’s nine of ten employees – refer to this trouble as workplace bullying.  In an environment intended to foster peace, the irony of this term cuts deep.

VMR for blog

The professed compassion-based values of Vallecitos belie a cruel history of profane tirades and demoralizing personal attacks that have long been hushed in insider circles.  In 2004, a brave board of directors tried to remove Burnett but failed after mediation by a Council of Elders that included Burnett’s longtime friends and teachers, Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, founders of Spirit Rock and Insight Meditation Society, respectively.  In the ten years since, the path of emotional, psychological and economic injury has been long and tragic.

In November 2012, Vallecitos staff and volunteers voiced their concerns unequivocally through anonymous surveys on workplace quality of life.  Across the board responses were damning.  They included terms like “unsafe workplace” and “hostile work environment” and specifically named Burnett as the reason.

Current board members – eight hand-picked friends of Burnett’s – reacted to these survey results in the same way they reacted to the numerous emails and face-to-face meetings requesting help to stop the abuse: they took no action at all.

Things finally came to a head in July when Burnett was returning from a sabbatical and the executive director (15 years at Vallecitos), the widely adored ranch manager (17 years at Vallecitos) and I said we would resign if Burnett was allowed to return.  We could no longer accept the board continuing to force staff and volunteers to be subjected to bullying.  The board responded by firing all three of us on the spot.  This prompted the immediate resignation of all other staff save for one newly hired cook.

VMR strike for blogThe next day I set up camp outside the gates of the ranch and began a hunger strike; it was the greatest act of love I could think of.  Besides the fact that nothing says “I love all beings” quite like starving to death to end some measure of their suffering, I wanted to bring attention to the severity of the abuse without resorting to the loveless tactics of lawsuits and retaliations.

Every day I sat alone by the side of a muddy mountain road and focused peacefully on love.  I envisioned the unraveling of the thread of destruction and pain now tightly woven through the lives of so many people sincerely dedicated to compassionate awakening.  I envisioned Vallecitos free of the relentless energy of conflict and deception.  I envisioned love replacing all fear, not just for the victims and witnesses of abuse but for Burnett and the entire board of directors.

On day five of my hunger strike, medics were called in and reported I was within hours of certain death.  I have chronic hypoglycemia, so by then my blood sugar was critically low and my vital signs were bleak.  The medics shouted angrily at me insisting I be taken to the hospital.  “There’s no bully in the world worth losing your life over!”  As I signed the form refusing to be taken away, I said, “My death would not be for the bully.  It would be to try to stop the very real suffering he causes others.”  With all my heart, my love for all beings was and still is this committed.

While I was on the hunger strike, other former staff were reaching out for help in the community.  As responses began to come in, no one expected what began to happen next: healing.  Victims as well as witnesses who had silently watched the abuse began to talk of their long-held secrets of shame and trauma.  Former board members, staff and longtime friends of Burnett’s came forward with their difficult personal stories, and in doing so uncovered old wounds of guilt and grief and let the balm of compassionate dialogue begin to soothe their pain.

I had bet my life that love was the best option left to try to end years of suffering, and this opening for healing was a small measure of unexpected validation.  But it was much smaller in scope than I had hoped.  In the call for love to stop a “spiritual” man in a position of power from abusing workers, only one nationally recognized leader engaged victims in dialogue and took action.

eric kolvigEric Kolvig, a long-revered dharma teacher, immediately wrote to the Vallecitos board telling of his years of witness to the chronic conflict centered around Burnett, and the rancor with which Burnett reacts instead of utilizing peaceful dialogue.  “Will you allow such pain and human suffering to cycle into the future, as it has cycled through the past and present?” Kolvig asked.  “How much conflict would be enough?”

The response from other leaders, most notably Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, was decisively neither urgent nor expressive of concern for past or future victims.  Instead, without responding to a single victim or witness, Kornfield, Goldstein and eight fellow teachers wrote a public letter attesting to Burnett’s character and integrity, and dismissed all accusations entirely as hearsay.  This stunning lack of willingness to engage victims is eerily reminiscent of the famous closed-door strategies to keep hushed the abuse within the Catholic Church – strategies that ended in suicides, scandal and widespread mistrust of leaders.

workplace bullyingMust it take headlines of scandal and suicide to raise genuine concern about a spiritual teacher’s bullying and the complicit tolerance of this kind of abuse within the compassion-professing Buddhist community?  Are our leaders, too, so focused on defending one of their own or so shielded by power that they dare not engage “lesser” people than teachers?  Surely I am not alone in believing that actions of love for all are called for in this important matter, not the same denial, indifference and fear that foster and further suffering.

Surely well documented reports of bullying in a spiritual workplace are compelling enough hypocrisy to warrant love.  Surely years of job losses, depression, betrayal of sacred trust and crushed dignity among dedicated peacemakers is enough hardship to warrant love.  Surely courage to tell difficult truths openly is enough risk to warrant love.   Is it not?  I and the other eight people who gave up our livelihoods – jobs we treasured – to stop this abuse say resolutely: yes.

I survived seven days before stopping my hunger strike.  By then my former colleagues were exhausted from stress and worry, and Burnett and the board had begun a smear campaign to discredit accusers, making false claims of harassment, financial mismanagement and rampant mental illness.  In the wake of this added layer of humiliation my death would have made my former colleagues feel far more defeated than rallied.

But I honestly wonder if I did the right thing in stopping.  In this situation, starving to death for love seems both an appropriate metaphor and an appropriately strong message.

My only remaining hope is that others realize there has been enough starving for love now.  Past and future victims of a dharma teacher’s bullying need the nourishment of authentic metta, and this is my plea for leaders within the Buddhist community to step up and begin compassionately dishing it out.  I bow respectfully in love to all of you here and beg you: engage with all parties.  Get all the facts.  And together let us finally break this cycle of human suffering.

 

You Can Help Win GMO Labeling

August 30, 2013

ACTION ALERT

Calling All Volunteers . . . Let’s Win GMO Labeling in Washington!

One of the most critical food policy fights of our lifetimes will be decided in less than 10 weeks. I-522, the initiative to require mandatory labeling of GMOs in food products in Washington State, is our next best shot at forcing food manufacturers to label GMOs in all of their products in all 50 states.

All of us, no matter what our zipcode, will either win or lose on Nov. 5. That’s why we need everyone’s help to pass this initiative.

Do you have time to help persuade Washington State voters to cast their ballots on Nov. 5 in favor of I-522? One of the easiest, and most effective ways you can help is to become a phone banker. All you need is a phone and an internet connection. It won’t cost you a dime. We’ll supply training, scripts – everything you need. You can make the calls anytime that’s convenient for you, from your own home. The first training session is tonight at 7 p.m. PST. Can’t make it? No worries. Training sessions will happen every Thursday at 7 p.m. PST from now until voting day. There will also be two 4 p.m PST trainings, one on Sept. 5 and one on Sept. 19.

We lost in California last year by a razor-thin 1 percent. Your phone calls to Washington state voters could make all the difference this year.

Sign up to call Washington voters

Advertising Works..That’s Why Big Business Advertises

August 30, 2013

ACTION ALERT

Tell Coke: End Your ‘Killer’ Ad Campaign

We know. You don’t drink Diet Coke.

But half of Americans  drink diet soda, and they consume about 4 billion gallons of it every year. Diet soda is a $10-billion industry. It’s making people fat. And sick. Which makes it all the more appalling that Coca-Cola is running public service-style ads aimed at promoting aspartame as a “healthy alternative” to sugar, and Diet Coke as a weight-loss strategy.

Coca-Cola is testing its deceptive ads in Chicago and Atlanta. Want to help us convince the company to end the campaign, before it expands to other markets? Sign our letter below to CEO Muhtar Kent, and other top executives. Then call the company. Then share your thoughts on their facebook page.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Coke: Stop Running Ads Claiming that Diet Coke and Aspartame Are Healthy

Call Coca-Cola: 1-800-438-2653

Diet Coke on Facebook

A Great Visual To Ponder / Forward

August 28, 2013

Action To Help Protect Bees

August 20, 2013

I am raising a rather larger garden than usual this year…and have noticed that, even here in relatively pristine northern New Mexico, there just aren’t very many bees! Several plants failed to set fruit due to lack of pollination. Scary! Below is an action to help stop the bee die off.

 

Bees can’t wait five more years for EPA action

Bees Need You!

Bees need help now

Tell EPA’s new leader to step up and protect bees!
Take Action

Dear friend,

In honor of National Honey Bee Day, people across the country are celebrating the pollinators responsible for much of our food. But as you know, bees are in serious trouble.

These vital pollinators are still dying off at unprecedented rates. And while EPA has taken little action to protect bees from harmful pesticides, the agency’s new leader can step it up. Join us in calling on Gina McCarthy to make pollinator protection a priority under her leadership!

Tell Gina McCarthy, bees need action now» The science is increasingly clear: neonicotinoid pesticides, alone and in combination with other pesticides, are a key factor in declining bee populations. Neonics have been linked to massive bee kills, and at non-lethal doses they can interfere with critical brain functions that bees need to navigate, forage and reproduce.

Make bees a priority» As head of EPA, it’s up to Gina McCarthy to protect bees. The agency’s current plan is to finish reviewing neonics by 2018…and then decide what to do. But with beekeepers reporting losses of 40-70%, it’s clear bees can’t wait five more years.

Help send the message to Administrator McCarthy: It’s time to step up and protect bees. We rely on them for one in three bites of food we eat, and they need help urgently.

Thanks for adding your voice to the swell!

Intriguing Idea

August 14, 2013
Winds of Change
Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.
In three days, most people in The United States of America will have this message.
This is one idea that really should be passed around
*Congressional Reform Act of 2013
1. No Tenure / No Pension.
A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they’re out of office.
2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.
3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 12/31/13. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women.
Congressmen/women made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.
If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive the message. Don’t you think it’s time?
THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!
If you agree with the above, pass it on. If not, just delete.
You are one of my 20+ – Please keep it going, and thanks.

Please Help Family Farms Stay In Business

August 6, 2013

 

 

Those of us who grow vegetables and herbs are again at risk because of the politics of fear: fear of organic, fear of raw, fear of anything other than corporate-run ” logo’d food.” It is already very difficult to be a farmer in today’s world: wacky weather, amazing amounts of hard work, and now, ridiculous regulations. Please take the time to read this article and respond. Your access to healthy sustainable local food may depend upon it!

 

What Does the Government Have Against Small Farmers?

August 6, 2013

farmer hands holding a plantlet.Three years ago you won major concessions for small farmers. Now it’s all in danger. Action Alert!

When the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was originally proposed in 2010, we and many other organizations were troubled. Small-farm and organic food advocates warned that the legislation would destroy their industry under a mountain of paperwork and other requirements.

Working with the natural health community, ANH-USA helped win the inclusion of an amendment from Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagan (D-NC), which exempted producers making less than $500,000 a year in sales who also sold most of their food locally. This wasn’t easy. Big farms and processed food companies and their allies at the USDA and FDA did not like it, because they feel threatened by competition from natural food producers.

Now, through the rulemaking process, the FDA is trying to change the law in such a way that the hard-won exceptions provided by the Tester-Hagan Amendment are endangered.

In January we reported that the FDA had proposed two troubling FSMA rules:

  • The first one concerned standards for the growing and harvesting of raw agricultural produce, and exempts foods that are sterilized by irradiation, even though “nuking” it harms the food’s nutritional value, can cause a wide range of health problems, and masks filthy conditions in slaughterhouses and food processing plants. Obviously, organic foods cannot be irradiated, so they will never be exempted.
  • The second amended the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) guidelines by creating hazards analysis requirements and risk-based protections with lots of detailed recordkeeping. Most farmers will likely need a team of lawyers to make sure they’re complying with the new rule properly.

Farmers who make less than $500,000 should be off the hook because of the Tester-Hagan Amendment, right? No! At the last minute, a provision was added to the FSMA allowing the FDA to revoke the exemption for small farms or facilities under specific conditions.

And now, new FDA rules interpret those conditions in a way that completely undermines the intent of the Tester-Hagan amendment. The FDA now gets to revoke the exemption if a foodborne illness outbreak might possibly be linked to the farm, even if there is no proof that the farm is the cause of the outbreak, and even though there may not be an immediate threat to public health!

The standard is now very low indeed: FDA can revoke the exemption for any reason if it will “protect the public health and prevent or mitigate a foodborne illness outbreak based on conduct or conditions associated” with a farm. Talk about vague language! This rule is just the excuse the agency needs to run roughshod over the rights of the small farmer.

It gets even more unfair. If the FDA decides to revoke the exemption, the small farmer or facility has a mere sixty days to come into compliance after being notified of a problem. This will put the farm out of business immediately—which is especially unjust considering the fact that bigger farms and facilities have between one and six years to come into compliance and will no doubt get lots of help from the government.

Even worse, a farm or facility that wishes to contest FDA’s decision has only ten days to put together supporting facts and documentation and send it to the FDA. On top of that, there is no formal hearing process in which to contest the decision—and no way to re-qualify for the exemption. Once it is revoked, it’s game over.

As we’ve pointed out in the past, organic food is often the first to be blamed for foodborne illness. Remember the European E. coli outbreak? Organic farms were blamed with no evidence to support the contention. And now there is no need to prove that a farm is the source of the illness. Their exemption can be revoked on mere suspicion.

In addition, the proposed rules discriminate against small farmers and food producers who wish to diversify. The rules now say that all foods sold by farmer or food processor fall under the $500,000 cap, instead of just the food that is under the FDA’s jurisdiction and therefore subject to the FSMA. Produce is, of course, under their jurisdiction. But meat and poultry products fall under the USDA’s jurisdiction and should not be subject to these rules.

So a farmer who has $500,000 sales in poultry and $10,000 sales in organic fruit could never get an exemption, because the farmer exceeds the $500,000 total food sales limit. This will discourage diversification by farmers to include the small-scale production of fruits and vegetables, which is contrary to the intent of the Tester-Hagan amendment. It doesn’t make sense to treat small-scale production of produce the same as large-scale production, just because the same farmer is producing other types of food—as many small farmers must, in order to survive.

We warned earlier that the FDA should not be put in charge of our farms. It did not make sense because the FDA knows absolutely nothing about farming and also has demonstrated its bias again and again against small and natural operations in favor of large and powerful companies. The FDA was given authority over farms anyway through the Food Safety Modernization Act, and now we see that it is proceeding exactly as we feared.

Action Alert! The FDA has extended the comment period for the new rules to September 16—which gives us an opportunity to provide additional comment. Write to the FDA and ask them to create a clear and justifiable standard for revoking exemption for small farms and facilities, not the vague language that is currently used; allow for due process to contest the decision; provide a pathway to re-qualify for the Tester-Hagan exemption; and limit the definition of food in the $500,000 sales ceiling to those products under the jurisdiction of the FSMA and the FDA. Please take action immediately!

Take-Action1

A Bit On Biochar

August 3, 2013

ORGANIC TRANSITIONS

No Small Thing: Reversing Climate Change through Sustainable Agriculture and Biochar

For the past five years, OCA has been passionately talking and writing about how organic farming, ranching, and forestry practices can potentially reverse global warming and save us from climate catastrophe.

There were times when we thought we were preaching only to the choir. But now a growing number of leading food and environmental writers, including Michael Pollan and Mark Hertsgaard, are joining the chorus and educating the public on how we can use sustainable farming, ranching and biochar practices to exponentially increase plant photosynthesis and soil carbon sequestration on hundreds of millions of acres of farmland, pasture, and rangeland.

This Great Transition has the potential to bring our current greenhouse gas pollution down from our 400 ppm of CO2 to 350 ppm – the number scientists say we need to achieve if we’re going to survive. If we can achieve this, we can stabilize our dangerously out-of-control global climate. And in the process, we’ll dramatically increase soil fertility, biodiversity, and moisture retention.

As Pollan puts it, moving away from factory farms and industrial/GMO agriculture to organic no-till farming and rotational grazing  “gets us out of one of the worst aspects of environmental thinking – the zero sum idea that we can’t feed ourselves and save the planet at the same time. It also raises our spirits about the challenges ahead, which is not a small thing.”

Read Michael Pollan on agriculture and climate change

Read Mark Hertsgaard on how biochar, composting and biochar energy production can reverse global warming

I have a recipe for making this lovely compost, and will post it as soon as I can find the paper on my desk! Two WWOOFers  (workers on organic farms) are joining me this coming week, and we’ll be making this and taking photos, which I will also post. Last year a group of WWOOFers and I made some, which we added to a newly rejuvenated garden spot, and holy guacamole di it ever make a difference! HUGE gorgeous greens.

 

A 2 Minute Video For Those Who Still Don’t Know About GMO Food Dangers

August 3, 2013

 Why GMOs Were Created by Monsanto, by Jeffrey Smith (2-Minute Video) Why GMOs Were Created by Monsanto, by Jeffrey Smith (2-Minute Video)

Jeffrey Smith is an expert in genetically modified foods. In this video he explains how an expiring Monsanto Patent was the cause for the practice starting and what some of the potential dangers are of GMOs. Watch Now