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Protected: D.C. drum circles march to their own beat

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Live blog: “Peeling Back the Labels: Black Women in America”

Hi folks! I’ll be live blogging The Washington Post’s Behind the Headlines discussion forum, “Peeling Back the Labels:  Black Women in America,” a panel discussion exploring the lives, outlook and goals of black women in American. Hosted by Howard University in Washington, D.C., topics include career success, raising families and romantic relationships. Read the story and survey results that prompted the forum here.

What does it mean to be a black woman in America? Check back here on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. EST for answers to this question and more.

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Protected: DC public schools go to the head of the lunch line

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Occupy DC proposes a way ahead

In a shift, activists solidify economic grievances and share a plan for budget reform.

Occupy DC activists plan to release a proposed set of budget solutions for the economic crisis by the end of next week.

The report spans from decreases in taxes and military presence to increases in job creation and entitlement programs.  It’s one of the first of its kind among Occupy demonstration groups to organize grievances and promote policy changes.

At what organizers called an Occupy supercommittee, policy experts and activists examined how to create a fair American economy Wednesday at the group’s Freedom Plaza home base in downtown Washington.

Solutions centered on reducing personal tax liability in place of higher taxes for industries that emit greenhouse gases and individuals who have large personal wealth portfolios.

The release of the report coincides with the Nov. 23 due date for the Congressional supercommittee, a bipartisan committee charged with reducing the federal deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade, to issue its final recommendations.

Kevin Zeese, an attorney and organizer of the district’s occupation movement, said solving the deficit crisis is a “critical ingredient” of creating more jobs and reversing the economic downturn.

However, Occupy DC will not send the report directly to Congress. The group will send the report to media outlets and the group’s email list serve as well as publish it on their public website.

“Congress is so corrupt and won’t do anything for the 99 percent,” Zeese said in an interview.  “I’m not expecting anything from them.”

Instead, Zeese said he hopes the proposed solutions bring clarity to the economic landscape and spark a national conversation.

Likening the future of the Occupy movement to the Arab Spring’s revolutionary wave of demonstrations last year, protesters said the report precedes the “American Spring” set to start on March 30 as occupation movements across the country converge in D.C.

Still, activists cautioned against viewing the proposal as a list of demands for the entire Occupy movement and rather as a short-term fix for the budget deficit.

Many – supporters and detractors alike – have criticized the movement as disorganized and lacking a clear message.

The meeting was part of an ongoing series of nonviolent demonstrations across the city, in what has become a global resistance movement.   Occupy protesters draw attention to social and economic inequality, corporate greed and government corruption.

Carl Conetta, a panel member and co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives, which analyzes military policy and operations, advocated a foreign policy that relies more on traditional diplomacy and less on growing militarism.

He recommended cuts to the Pentagon’s budget, which has swelled to more than $700 billion with more than half of that going toward private contracting firms.

“We need to be less concerned with running the show and trying to be indispensible,” Conetta said.

Andrew Fieldhouse, a federal budget policy analyst at the nonprofit think tank Economic Policy Institute, added that the United States needs a more progressive tax code to temper wealth inequality and alleviate poverty.

Since 2000, the median American household income has dropped by ten percent, said Fieldhouse.  But it would cost the country $3.8 trillion in revenue to continue the Bush-era tax cuts, which many have condemned as unfair to the middle class.

To that end, Fieldhouse advised reducing the tax burden on employment income and raising taxes on income derived from investments and personal wealth.

“Taxation is the price we pay for a civil society,” Fieldhouse said, “but that price must be borne fairly.”

View a slideshow from the supercommittee meeting here:

Sustainable farming: healthy people, healthy planet

As population growth and climate change stress the global food supply, agriculture research declines.

By Monica Arpino

Source: Beth Rankin

Monetary and political support for sustainable food research is dropping as public health worsens, according to a panel of environmental policy experts Wednesday.  The group explored new models of growing environmentally friendly food for a booming global population.

Government funding for agriculture research has dropped because of ongoing congressional budget battles.  Where private organizations typically filled the public sector gap, many companies are finding that there is no incentive to invest in research.

“I sincerely hope we do not use research as a place of fiscal reduction,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The world’s population is expected to grow from seven billion to nine billion people by 2050.  In order to satisfy the world’s food needs, agriculture production will need to increase by at least 40 percent amid a tangle of environmental and economic challenges.

With the 2012 Farm Bill’s renewal and proposed $23 billion budget cut on the minds of many, Vilsack said there is an almost direct correlation between agricultural research and farming production.  He said investing in sustainable agriculture could be an opportunity to rebuild America’s middle class.  Many agribusiness companies have factories in rural parts of the United States that are enduring high levels of unemployment.

“This is not just a farm bill,” Vilsack said, “It’s a food bill, it’s a jobs bill, it’s a research bill and an agricultural bill.”

School Nutrition Association spokeswoman Diane Pratt-Heavner said in an interview that the nonprofit association is concerned with potential cuts to national school lunch subsidies as a result of next year’s Farm Bill.  Many recipients of the association’s benefits are low-income families who might not be able to afford healthy food without assistance.

Vilsack credited 2010’s Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act for making national school breakfast and lunch programs more healthy by reducing salt, sugar and fat content.  Pratt-Heavner said an increased number of schools are offering organic, local and meat-free meals as a result of that legislation.

Many panel members agreed that developing healthy eating habits early in childhood was one of the best ways to reduce stress on the food supply.  But a 2007 Associated Press survey of 57 federal nutrition education initiatives found that only four programs showed promise in curbing childhood obesity and promotion healthy eating.

Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said that organic food is lucrative for farmers compared to conventional crops because it brings in $30 billion annually.  However, a lack of federal funding has led to under investment in organic crops.

Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said that even mass-market companies such as Walmart are offering organic food.  He encouraged consumers to demand organic and local food from their neighborhood grocery stores.

“What the Walmarts of the world have shown us is that if consumers want something, they can drive the agenda,” Glickman said.

More than one billion people are undernourished and an equal number are overweight or at risk of being overweight, according to panel host Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, a research institute and division of the eponymous Italian pasta company.

Listen to Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman expand on how Walmart influences agriculture and healthy eating here:  [audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/37203554/Glickman%20audio-%20Walmart.mp3]

Anchors aweigh! Jamestown settlement ship docks at Virginia marina

In honor of Columbus Day, a recreation of one of three ships that brought the country’s first permanent English colonists to America in 1607 hosted public tours at the Alexandria, Va waterfront.  The Jamestown settlement ship Godspeed served as a living history museum about 17th-century sailing, navigation and shipboard life.

Veggies are the main course at DC VegFest

Thousands gather for the third annual vegetarian celebration.

Click to listen to the audio story.

[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/37203554/VegFest.mp3]

Click to read the audio transcript.

Local vegan bakery Sticky Fingers recruited 10 hungry people for a contest to eat five cupcakes in 60 seconds – with hands tied behind their backs – at the D.C. VegFest.

Mark Peters doesn’t mind questions about his vegetarianism.  Rather, he invites it.  Wearing a t-shirt challenging you to ‘Ask Me Why I’m a Vegetarian,’ Peters volunteered at the third annual D.C. VegFest on Sept. 24.

“At the very least, it gives you something to think about,” Peters said.

Hosted on the grounds of the George Washington University, the two-day festival attracted thousands of curious potential vegetarians as well as committed ones.

The Vegetarian Society of DC and Compassion Over Killing, a non-profit animal protection organization, co-sponsored the event to promote a vegetarian lifestyle.

Dozens of vendors sold food ranging from Indian and Ethiopian cuisine to protein juices and vegan baked goods. Cooking demonstrations and information booths dotted the university lawn.

A Baltimore resident, Peters said the D.C. region is vegetarian friendly because of the variety of healthy meat-free choices. Peters attributes his perspective to his Buddhist faith, though he said it took him a while to widen his compassion for people to all creatures.

“It only takes another step to extend compassion to all living beings and see that they have the same five senses we do – they feel pain and joy,” Peters said.