Homeless but harmless, and probably smarter than you are.

12 02 2010

For today’s post, I’d like to take a brief trip down memory lane…

Tuesday, May 29th 2007

Today I met a bum. He was a nice guy… and he made me laugh. He was one of those Montreal classic twenty-something homeless punks, with the battered leather jacket and the dog.
As I walked past he called out “Have my dog read your tarot cards, miss?”
I laughed, but I had somewhere to be like everyone else, so I kept on walking.

Later, I was at home and I realized that I’d be heading back up that street later. So before I went out, I cut a piece of the banana bread I’d made, buttered it, wrapped in some plastic wrap and stuck it in my bag. When I saw him again, I handed it to him and said I was sorry that I didn’t have any money…. I’m a student, I said.

He understood. He said he’d also been a student… graduated with a bachelor degree, majored in ethnobotany (useless nowadays unfortunately) and a minor in English Literature. Said he’d just finished paying off his debts, short of a hundred bucks, which isn’t bad.

We talked some more, and I relaxed a little – we talked about the times each of us had spent in South America… how different it was from here, and the good and bad times. I learned that he had grown up with his mum in Vancouver – learned to read tarot cards from her crazy gypsy family…. I asked about his dog – Koko, eleven months old, who he had stolen from a crackhead down in San Diego. He said he had to get out of there… you spend time just wasting your life, doing drugs… etc. So he had left.

He used intruiging phrases like “pretty ladies” for the women think they’re so damn gorgeous as they’re walking down the street – deeming themselves too good to talk to strangers. He called himself belligerent, which most average citizens can’t even spell, let alone use properly in a sentence…

He asked about me, politely of course – just as you would exchange information with any other stranger you might meet. He introduced himself : Andrew, he said, as he held out his hand for me to shake, fingers blackened with life. I gripped his hand, and found him gentle and kinder than I’d imagined him to be – with his chains and studded jacket, his dog wearing a fake muzzle and a spiked collar. I’m glad I met you, Andrew, I said. I’ll see you around.

– Sarah Topps

*Note: Photograph is not of Andrew. It was obtained from homelessworldcup.org

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Land Grabbing

6 06 2009

Yesterday I received an email from the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID) about a new website being launched by GRAIN a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.

The new website, http://farmlandgrab.org,  was launched last week to serve as an open forum to discuss the growing problem of out-sourced food production.

African Charter Article# 21: All peoples shall freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources for their exclusive interest, eliminating all forms of foreign economic exploitation.

The new website has news, reports, videos, and audio interviews to help people track and understand what is going on. Anyone can register and upload material. The site serves as an active forum for debate and proposals on how to turn things around, with free and open space to write your own piece, comment on someone else’s, or create new sections.

20 million hectares of good cropland worldwide has already been signed off to foreign investors.


One article that I read on the site mentions an article written by the Economist in their previous edition (May 30th 2009 ed.) but unfortunately I couldn’t find the story they referenced. Here is the article – on Food Security or Economic Slavery? – written on June 1st.

More on this topic to come soon, as I find it quite interesting, but would like to spend more timing forming my opinion.

******************************************************************************************************

(The following is an excerpt from the email I received on the CASID listserve)

“This new site is an improved version of the site initiated by GRAIN last year which provides an open, up-to-date, and easy to search library of over 800 articles, interviews, and reports on farm land grabs around the world – published since the outbreak of the food crisis in 2008.

The global trend to buy up or lease farmlands abroad as a strategy to secure basic food supplies, or simply to get rich, is not slowing down – it is getting worse. The scale is becoming more apparent now, with researchers counting some 20 million hectares of good cropland already signed off to foreign investors, or soon to be, worldwide. More countries and corporations are getting involved, from Sri Lanka to Congo or Hyundai to Varun. Farmers’ organisations, human rights groups and other social movements are agitating against this obscene approach to feeding their countries, while at least one government, the Ravalomanana regime in Madagascar, has been brought down because of its involvement in such a deal.

Next month, through a move by the Japanese government, which has a direct stake in locking down its own outsourced food supply, the Group of Eight most powerful countries are going to release a set of criteria to make these deals look “win-win”. The words will be smooth, but people won’t be fooled.

Like its predecessor, this new website contains mainly news reports, videos and audio interviews to help people track and understand what is going on. However, its role as a public clearinghouse on otherwise secret deals will be stronger:

  • The new site is open-publishing, meaning anyone can register and upload material.
  • The website will contain as many land grab contracts as possible, releasing them into the public domain because the secrecy surrounding these deals is unacceptable. (Please contact us if you have any such documents to share. Anonymity will be respected.)
  • The website will serve as an active forum for debate and proposals on how to turn things around, with free and open space to write your own piece, comment on someone else’s or create new sections.

This land grab blog is an open project. Although currently maintained by GRAIN, anyone can join in posting materials or developing it further.”
************************************************

*In October 2008, GRAIN published “Seized: The 2008 land grab for food and
financial security“, one of the first overall analyses of this new trend. It is
available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Bahasa Indonesia.
http://www.grain.org/briefings/?id=212

*GRAIN also maintains a landgrab resource page bringing together GRAIN materials,
other organisations working on the issues, and relevant actions & events. There
are also a number of land grab maps from various sources.
http://www.grain.org/landgrab/
*********************************************

Post written by Sarah Topps





Farmer Suicides

5 05 2009

Recently I was horrified to learn that mass suicide due to debt is not uncommon in some parts of the world. Some 1500 farmers committed suicide last month in India due to their debt from crop failure. A further 200 000 have died since 1997, a mere 12 years ago.

The article goes on to talk about Australian farmer suicides – they’re killing themselves at the staggering rate of one farmer every four days! I am blown away by these numbers – surely in a developed country such as Australia there must be other options for these people? I feel I have to question a system where individuals are driven not only to debt and unemployment, but actual suicide over their crop failures.

vandanashiva1Vandana Shiva is a well-known activist in this area, working mostly in India, she gives hope to the people, helping to organize countless protests and demonstrations against everything from major-scale dams and hydro-electric projects funded by the World Bank, to the maltreatment of individual squatters in the cities.

– Sarah Topps





1125 Billionaires ($US), 3.25 Billion with $2

4 04 2009

There are 6.74 Billion people on the planet – according to census data gathered over the last ten years.
The global economy, or world GDP currently sits at an estimated 70.65 Trillion US dollars.

Let’s do some basic math…

:              6 740 000 000 human beings on the planet
: 70 650 000 000 000 dollars floating around the world today

In 2003, the world owed $5 Trillion ($5 000 000 000 000) in debt globally.

Where do you think the greatest debts are found? The media would lead us to believe that the poorest countries, in Africa, Asia and Latin America would be the culprits. But take a look at this map, provided by Jeremy at Make Wealth History:

Global Debt by Country

Global Debt by Country

The darker the colour, the more heavily indebted that country is.

External debt is made up of both personal and public debt – that is, credit cards and mortgages AND government loans. External debt is the total amount owed to someone OUTSIDE of the country.

When you look at global external debt, the results look like this:

Top Ten Countries by External Debt (October ’08)

  1. United States – $13,703,567 million
  2. United Kingdom – $10,450,000 million
  3. Germany – $4,489,000 million
  4. France – $4,396,000 million
  5. Netherlands – $2,277,000 million
  6. Ireland – $1,841,000 million
  7. Japan – $1,492,000 million
  8. Switzerland – $1,340,000 million
  9. Belgium – $1,313,000 million
  10. Spain – $1,313,000 million

Not exactly poor countries are they?

This compares to:

169. Equatorial New Guinea – $338 million
183. Fiji – $127 million
194. Kiribati – $10 million     …. side note: it is actually pronounced “Ki-ri-bas” according to this book (very funny read)
202. Palau – $0

– Sarah Topps








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