Monday, June 2, 2008
NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico (Reuters) - U.S. customs officials have seized a statue of Jesus Christ made from plaster mixed with cocaine -- the latest sophisticated attempt to smuggle drugs from Mexico.
Sniffer dogs at the border crossing in Laredo, Texas, alerted officials to the smell of narcotics in the 6.6 pound (3 kilo) statue, which was in the trunk of a car being driven by a Mexican woman into the United States last week.
"The statue tested positive for cocaine," Nancy Herrera, an official at the U.S. Attorney's Office Southern District of Texas said on Friday.
U.S. border police arrested a 61-year-old Mexican man accused of offering the woman $80 to carry the statue to the bus station in downtown Laredo.
The woman escaped back to Mexico, Herrera said.
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The gadfly candidate is still pulling heavy support away from McCain
by John Nichols
After Hillary Clinton wraps up her campaign and Barack Obama stakes his uncontested claim on the Democratic presidential nomination -- something that could happen as soon as next week -- John McCain will still have a race on his hands for the Republican nod.
Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who is running an anti-war, libertarian-themed challenge to the GOP establishment,refuses to quit.
Indeed, Paul is running better now than when the media was paying attention to the race for the GOP nod.
In Idaho, which held its primary Tuesday, Paul won almost a quarter of the vote -- his best percentage so far this year.
Final returns give Arizona Senator McCain just 70 percent support from Idaho Republicans -- not a very impressive figure for a man who has been the presumptive party nominee since February.
Paul, who has made it clear that he does not intend to endorse McCain, took 24 percent.
Six percent picked "uncommitted" -- in other words, nobody -- over McCain.
Paul gains five delegates from Idaho, adding to the base his campaign hopes to use to force platform debates at this summer's Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
And Paul's not done yet.
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By MAUREEN DOWD
They say that every president gets the psychoanalyst he deserves. And every Hamlet gets his Rosencrantz.
So now comes Scott McClellan, once the most loyal of the Texas Bushies, to reveal "What Happened," as the title of his book promises, to turn W. from a genial, humble, bipartisan good ol' boy to a delusional, disconnected, arrogant, ideological flop.
Although his analytical skills are extremely limited, the former White House press secretary — Secret Service code name Matrix — takes a stab at illuminating Junior's bumpy and improbable boomerang journey from family black sheep and famous screw-up back to family black sheep and famous screw-up.
How did W. start out wanting to restore honor and dignity to the White House and end up scraping all the honor and dignity off the White House?
It turns out that our president is a one-man refutation of Malcolm Gladwell's best seller "Blink," about the value of trusting your gut.
Every gut instinct he had was wildly off the mark and hideously damaging to all concerned.
It seems that if you trust your gut without ever feeding your gut any facts or news or contrary opinions, if you keep your gut on a steady diet of grandiosity, ignorance, sycophants, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, those snap decisions can be ruinous.
We already know What Happened, but it feels good to hear Scott say it.
I've been trying for some time to find a way to include this in a broader, more substantive piece, but then I thought -- really, about what? What could I possibly say about the larger implications of NBC's hyper-hyped and comically panderous "All American Summer" schedule that hasn't already been considered by anyone with an IQ bigger than a hamster's?
Every time I see another bombastic commercial for Nashville Star -- now inexplicably moved from, ironically, cable's "USA" network to NBC proper -- I have to fight the urge to throw something heavy at my television. If you've been fortunate enough to miss the full ads because all that flashing red, white and blue has caused you to go into an immediate epileptic seizure, they foist the likes of brand new Nashville Star host Billy Ray Cyrus (now with stronger blonde highlights!) on you -- calling him "America's Dad," which would apparently make all 300 million of us overly-exploited teenage tarts. Beyond that, NBC's motley collection of smarts-deprived shows includes American Gladiator, America's Got Talent (see a pattern developing here?) The Baby Borrowers -- the premise of which reads like a pro-abstinence counselor's wet dream -- and of course, Celebrity Circus, which stretches the already tenuous definition of "celebrity" in our culture to new lengths by slapping the label on Antonio Sabato Jr., Stacey Dash from Clueless and that doofus Chris Knight (now in his second pop cultural resurrection, the reality of which officially and non-negotiably drops him back six or seven places into the realm of K-list has-beens).
If you're searching for someone to blame for the lowest-common-denominator Foxification of the peacock's once-great primetime lineup, look no further than Ben Silverman, the co-chair of NBC Entertainment and NBC/Universal and the world's most successful overgrown frat-boy douchebag (with the exception of maybe Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance). Silverman is actually the executive producer of Nashville Star, hence why it's being moved up from NBC/Uni's farm league at USA to the majors in what would appear to be a trade for Law & Order: Criminal Intent and, one would imagine, two really shitty shows to be named later. The fact that Silverman is not only successful but has become so via the control of so much NBC programming is all the proof you need of both the existence and virility of pacts with Satan.- more -
To mark a double anniversary celebrating Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, his supporters are taking the fight to their opponents
The rise of creationism in Britain to the point where four out of 10 Britons believe it to be the literal truth – as well as the idea being taught in state-approved schools – has spread alarm throughout the scientific community.
But this week sees the start of a concerted fightback, as an 18-month celebration of evolution and its greatest proponent, Charles Darwin, gets under way, marking the 150th anniversary of the unveiling of his theory and the 200th anniversary of his birth.
People all over Europe will take part in a mass experiment to discover evolutionary changes to a species of snail; a major series of programmes is to be shown by the BBC; several books are to be published; and the Open University plans a new course on the subject.
Entries for a competition to design "Darwin's Canopy" – a piece of art to cover a ceiling in the Natural History Museum – will be unveiled this week, and the museum will hold a major exhibition on Darwin beginning in November.
Dr. Bob Bloomfield, head of special projects at the museum and a key figure in the "Darwin200" project, said he was concerned by the prevalence of creationist ideas.
"The statistics in this country are quite frightening. If you add up the percentages that either believe in creationism or intelligent design, it is approaching 40 per cent," he said.
"I don't think society can be complacent when ideas which are unsound are perpetrated. We are trying not to compromise people's faith views, other than where they are absolutely inconsistent with science."
He said the teaching of creationism in schools was "very problematic".
Professor Jonathan Silvertown of the Open University, who is writing a book entitled 99% Ape: How Evolution Adds Up, said the OU would be running a course called Darwin and Evolution. "The idea is to give people a feel for the modern evidence," he said.
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By Tim Shipman
Hillary Clinton will be offered a dignified exit from the presidential race and the prospect of a place in Barack Obama's cabinet under plans for a "negotiated surrender" of her White House ambitions being drawn up by Senator Obama's aides.
The former First Lady would get the chance to pilot Mr. Obama's reforms of the American healthcare system if she agrees to clear the path to his nomination as Democratic presidential candidate.
Senior figures in the Obama camp have told Democrat colleagues that the offer to Mrs. Clinton of a cabinet post as health secretary or to steer new legislation through the Senate will be a central element of their peace overtures to the New York senator.
Mr. Obama said on Thursday that he believed he would have secured the support of enough delegates to make him the standard bearer of his party in November.
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By Penny Coleman,
The stink leaking out of Ira Katz's office at the Veterans Affairs just doesn't stop. Every day some callous new email shows how little he cares that the stunning statistics about soldier and veteran suicides he is trying to suppress represent real lives that were his responsibility; some flat-footed attempt is made to convince Congress -- again -- that he didn't mean to "mislead." As the widow of a Vietnam vet who took his own life after coming home, all the skullduggery and frightening indifference that agents of this government have exhibited in its attempt to keep it all out of sight has been particularly hard to take. But even given my deep personal connection to these stories, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to sustain an appropriately high-decibel level of outrage. I am so very tired of it all. A little good news would go a long way.
This must be the dreaded scandal fatigue.
But just when I was feeling tempted to settle for the paltry encouragement in something as entirely meaningless as the demise of yet another administration enabler like Katz, who, for all his weasely ways, is finally only the dull instrument of his boss's heartlessness, a story came my way that gave me a moment of hope.
But first, the bad news. The bad news is that this hopeful story -- one that illustrates a constructive and effective direct action for change -- was reported only in the Bangor Daily News. Period.
The good news, which that paper reported on April 30, is that six peace activists were acquitted on charges of criminal trespass for failing to obey a police request that they abandon their sit-in outside U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' office in the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Maine.
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"You're the problem," a male friend told me sternly a few weeks ago. I'm why the rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer, why political apathy abounds, why environmental catastrophe looms. Because I, and people like me, read pop culture stories -- celebrity ones in particular. And because that's what more and more media are covering instead of what they "should" be (i.e. politics, the economy and international affairs). Hence, society is going to hell in a hand basket.
His criticism is equivalent to what gets posted in the comments sections of The Tyee and other news sites after almost any pop culture story. After blogging celeb Emily Gould's article "Exposed" ran in this weekend's New York Times Magazine (about the emotional trauma she experienced as a result of sharing too much of her and her friends' and boyfriends' lives online) many comments were variations on these ones: "Why is this important to me???????" and "I expect more from the New York Times."
Sure, it's true that there's no shortage of real, crucial issues right now. And I do read "serious" stories about them every day. But I am proud to say my reading diet includes far more stories that are considered to be the journalistic equivalent of genetically modified, non-organic candy corn.
I'm hardly alone. The readership numbers for pop culture stories -- which I count as celebrity, social trend, TV, music and film pieces in both blogs and traditional media -- are skyrocketing as readership of traditional news and newspapers is on the decline.
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by Andrew Tobias
STOP THE PRESSES!
From the New York Times yesterday: "Two monkeys with tiny sensors in their brains have learned to control a mechanical arm with just their thoughts . . . "
My conception has long been that technology is on such an astonishing exponential trajectory – we've begun mapping the human genome, for crying out loud! Oh, look, we've finished! – that one day soon we'd be able to download our consciousnesses into a brain bank, basically, where we'd be able to do almost all the things we do now . . . email our friends, watch Seinfeld reruns, order movies on demand, play web boggle, go for virtual treks to Machu Pichu . . . a world in which the big addiction would be not cocaine or meth but the orgasm button.
(In a brain bank, you wouldn't literally press buttons. But how far are we now from being able to send electrical impulses from our brains? Not very far.)
Class warfare would be primarily between the virtual humans, like me, with 500 years of compound interest enhancing my vast fortune, and the physical humans, like some 25-year-old with an actual screw driver. I'd have $50 trillion (a good chunk of it in Borealis stock); but he would have the ability to disconnect me.
F Well, it seems we are not so far at all from "being able to send electrical impulses from our brains," thereby to control our TiVos. (And if Ray Kurzweil is right, as I wrote in that same column, we might not even need to surrender our bodies.) I know this is a tiny bit creepy. But consider the alternative.
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Nobody can predict exactly where the bottom will be, but it's clear that we're not even close to hitting it.
The United States accumulated a massive, $8 trillion housing bubble during the decade from 1996-2006. Only about 40 percent of that bubble has now deflated. House prices are still falling at a 20 percent annual rate (over the last quarter). This means that the worst is yet to come, including another wave of mortgage defaults and write-downs. Even homeowners who are not in trouble will borrow increasingly less against their homes, reducing their spending.
President Bush says we are not in a recession. One commonly-used definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of declining output (GDP). The first quarter of 2008 came in at 0.6 percent, although it would have been negative if not for inventory accumulation. So by this definition we cannot say with certainty that the recession has started, although it could well have started this quarter. Of course, for most Americans it has felt like a recession hit some time ago, with real wages flat since the end of 2002, and household income not growing for most of the six-and-a-half year economic expansion.
The National Bureau of Economic Research will eventually decide on the official onset of the recession, but even its definition is arbitrary. All the indicators of a serious recession are swirling around us. The economy has lost jobs for four months in a row, which has never happened without a recession. Consumer confidence has dropped to a 28 year low -- a level not seen since Jimmy Carter was president. Home foreclosure filings are up 65 percent over last year. And now commercial real estate prices are heading south, dropping 6.2 percent in the first quarter.
With oil prices hitting record highs, and the Fed beginning to worry more about inflation, more restrictive lending practices and other fallout from the credit crunch, the near-term economic future looks even dimmer.
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by David Swanson
Adios Hillary. Puerto Rico has voted, handing Senator Clinton 38 delegates and Senator Obama 17. That gives Clinton a grand total thus far of 1,618 pledged delegates, and Obama 1,728. While, technically that still leaves Obama with "the lead," there are 31 pledged delegates remaining to be awarded in Montana and South Dakota. This means that Clinton can still pull it out if she picks up 358 percent of the remaining delegates.
The above calculation doesn't count the 19 delegates whom John Edwards has encouraged to back Obama, or the delegates pledged to Clinton who have begun flipping for Obama. It also doesn't count the super delegates, with whom Obama holds a substantial lead, but who I do not believe should have any say in a democratic election.
You know who should have a say? Active citizens, including citizens who speak up for others at home and abroad, including the peace movement, the labor rights movement, and all of those whom Clinton effectively credited with her defeat back in April. She was speaking specifically about her losses in caucuses, when she disdainfully referred to us as "the activist base of the Democratic Party." According to Clinton, these activists "turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of [my] positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them."
You're damn right, and we defeated you, and we'd like you to leave now. We've had more than enough. Get out of the "race" now! Got an exit strategy? Use it.
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by The Edge Of Madness
Going out to Düsseldorf for work.
Flying British Airways, leaving from terminal 5.
Go through security, get pulled to the side. I'm wearing a French Connection Transformers t-shirt. Bloke starts joking with me is that Megatron. Then he explains that since Megatron is holding a gun, I'm not allowed to fly. WTF? It's a 40 foot tall cartoon robot with a gun as an arm. There is no way this shirt is offensive in any way, and what I'm going to use the shirt to pretend I have a gun?
Now here's the stupid part. I was only taking carry on luggage, so my clothes were in my bag, so I said I'd get changed. So I stripped off at security and changed t-shirts, putting the "offensive" t-shirt in my bag. Now I haven't been a dick so far, I've done what they've said. No point in arguing with the drones.
The supervisor comes over and is now a dick to me, telling me if I put the shirt on I'll be arrested. I then told him that I wasn't going to waste time arguing with him and he wasn't worth the effort and didn't have any power to change anything anyway. With hindsight I should have said, yeah arrest me, great publicity for you guys to arrest a bloke wearing a transformers t-shirt.
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Richieville News Service - BOYNTON BEACH, FL
In retirement communities and delicatessens across this state, Jewish voters expressed grave reservations over the news of Israel's peace talks with Syria. The outpouring of criticism raised the possibility that Israel might be losing the support of one of its core constituencies, Jews.
"They're talking to terrorists!" said Bernie Kupferstein, 74, as he leaned on his shuffleboard stick at the Aberdeen Country Club. "I can't believe Israel would betray Israel like that."
Maury Lefkowitz, 91, nodded in agreement. "I heard that Turbowitz is a Muslim," he said, grimacing over his plate of cheese blintzes, "like Obama."
He was referring to Yoram Turbowitz, one Israel's chief negotiators in the talks. Mr. Turbowitz is Jewish. Senator Barack Obama is a Christian.
At Izzie's Genuine New York Deli, in Boca Raton, Shirley Goldenfarb, 83, shared Mr. Kuperferstein's sentiments. "It seems like Israel doesn't have Israel's interests at heart," she said, vigorously waving her bagel with a schmear. "And to think of all the trees I paid for over there. Appeasers! Feh!"
The reaction was much the same across Florida, where elderly Jews, usually stalwart supporters of the Jewish state, echoed the words of President Bush, who just last week made a speech to the Israeli parliament, comparing those who would talk to "terrorists and radicals" to the politicians who appeased Hitler before World War II. It is now clear that Mr. Bush knew of the peace talks at that time.
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By Ecological Internet, http://www.ecologicalinternet.org/ and Forests.org, http://forests.org/
Ecological Internet (EI) welcomes news that ANZ Bank of Australia will not fund the Gunns Tasmanian pulp mill. In a statement ANZ announced it will not provide finance for the AU$ 2 billion project to pulp ancient forests for throw-away paper products, but did not provide a reason for withdrawing. International environmental protest spearheaded by Ecological Internet, in support of local protests, certainly played a major role.
ANZ Bank, and the Australian and Tasmanian governments, have been targets of environmental protest in country and from Ecological Internet and other overseas groups for years. Most recently, in early April, nearly 3,000 EI Earth Action Network participants from 87 countries sent a quarter of a million protest emails to ANZ and the Australian government asking that ANZ withdraw funding. The Australian national government was also called out for their hypocrisy in supporting protection of forests overseas to address climate change, but not in Tasmania. The archived successful alert can be found at: http://www.climateark.org/alerts/send.asp?id=australia_tasmania_climate
"Thankfully, ANZ Bank has finally listened to its customers and global citizens sickened by their profiteering from ancient forest slaughter. They should be commended for withdrawing from the ecologically disaster Gunns pulp mill. Now perhaps ANZ will reexamine their lending to notorious rainforest destroyer Rimbunan Hijau in Papua New Guinea as well. And Australia end its logging shame by pulling Gunns' pulp mill environmental approvals, ending this ghoulish project once and for all," says Ecological Internet President Dr. Glen Barry.
"It is amazing what global citizens, through participation in a strong network anchored by a reliable hub, can achieve together for ecological sustainability. As Ecological Internet continues to raise funds to meet basic costs for our unique brand of biocentric activism on the net, we hope this latest in a string of victories will lead to increased individual and foundation support for our campaign to end ancient forest logging."
Ecological Internet stands alone as the only major international forest campaigning group working to end ancient forest logging and all industrial destruction of relatively intact natural ecosystems. We seek permanent protections for all remaining primary and old-growth forests (with appropriate compensation and continued small scale use for local peoples), advocate for ecological restoration and certified management of regenerating and planted natural forest ecosystems, and promote local peoples' pursuit of small-scale, community-based eco-forestry projects based upon regenerating secondary and standing ancient forests. This is the true path to global forest sustainability.
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I'm becoming a devoted fan of Seth Roberts, one of the great champion of self-experimentation. Roberts, an emeritus professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, has spent many year studying himself, and, even better, offering many practical clues about how to construct your own "experiments of one." I first found out about his work in the most obvious way: searching on "self-experimentation" in Google.
This lead me to Roberts paper: "Self-experimentation as a source of new ideas: Ten examples about sleep, mood, health, and weight." The problems he describes are so common, and his solutions so counter-intuitive, that you can't help being intrigued. One of the great things about reading Roberts is getting a feeling for how different self-experimentation is from other forms of self-knowledge. While Roberts often begins his experiments with a hypothesis, using his stock of common knowledge, suggestions from friends, and categories of analysis typical of a well-trained college professor, this first idea is usually proven, through experiment, to be wrong. Not superficial, or too narrow, or distorted by delusion or prejudice; simply incorrect, provably irrelevant. So then Roberts has to come up with new ideas. The data, expressed as charts, no longer merely test his hypotheses; the data becomes the source of his theories. And the theories bear the mark have having emerged from data. Often, they seem very, very odd. They seem to have no link to received wisdom, to folk knowledge, to intuitive "rightness." To me, they seem like the kinds of theories a computer might have about a person. (A confession: this biases me in their favor.)
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Stealth growers seed or plant on land that doesn't belong to them. The result? Plants that beautify or yield crops in otherwise neglected or vacant spaces.
By Joe Robinson
Scott planted the garden on the median early in the morning to avoid detection. He continues to weed and clean. Residents encourage his work.
BRIMMING with lime-hued succulents and a lush collection of agaves, one shooting spiky leaves 10 feet into the air, it's a head-turning garden smack in the middle of Long Beach's asphalt jungle. But the gardener who designed it doesn't want you to know his last name, since his handiwork isn't exactly legit. It's on a traffic island he commandeered.
"The city wasn't doing anything with it, and I had a bunch of extra plants," says Scott, as we tour the garden, cars whooshing by on both sides of Loynes Drive.
Scott is a guerrilla gardener, a member of a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts who plant without approval on land that's not theirs. In London, Berlin, Miami, San Francisco and Southern California, these free-range tillers are sowing a new kind of flower power. In nighttime planting parties or solo "seed bombing" runs, they aim to turn neglected public space and vacant lots into floral or food outposts.
Part beautification, part eco-activism, part social outlet, the activity has been fueled by Internet gardening blogs and sites such as GuerrillaGardening.org, where before-and-after photos of the latest "troop digs" inspire 45,000 visitors a month to make derelict soil bloom.
"We can make much more out of the land than how it's being used, whether it's about creating food or beautifying it," says the movement's ringleader and GuerrillaGardening.org founder, Richard Reynolds, by phone from his London home. His tribe includes freelance landscapers like Scott, urban farmers, floral fans and artists.
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by John Mark Ockerbloom
On June 1, 1908, 100 years ago today, the US Supreme Court decided Bobbs-Merrill v. Straus, a case that established what would become known as the "first sale doctrine". This doctrine, now codified as part of the US Copyright Act, says that in general the owners of books or other copyrighted works have the right to dispose of them as they see fit (such as by reselling them, giving them away, or lending them out). The copyright holder can still control the right to make copies, make public performances, or other derivative works. But once a reader has bought a book, they can pass it along as they see fit. (Or keep it, or fold it into little origami shapes for their own amusement. They own it, after all.)
This right exists even in the presence of notices to the buyer that claim to conditionally license the work, rather than sell it. Indeed, those kinds of licenses, familiar now to most computer users, were also at issue in the Bobbs-Merrill case. (For historical background, including some examples of old-time "end user license agreements", see a post of mine from a few months ago, "The right to read, circa 1906.")
Despite attempts by many software, music, and ebook publishers to extend control over their products to their buyers, the first sale doctrine is still salient today. Just last month, for example, a federal judge cited the first sale doctrine to uphold the right of an eBay merchant to resell used software. An article in Ars Technica has a link to the decision, and an excellent explanation of the case and the importance of the principles it upholds. Ultimately, as the article points out, the first sale doctrine is what "makes libraries and used book stores possible" without needing the permission of publishers to exist or carry out their missions.
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ALERT: Unilever Threatens Côte d'Ivoire's Primary Rainforests, Showing Promises of "Sustainable" Palm Oil Meaningless
TAKE ACTION! Leading global consumer products company poised to destroy Ivory Coast's rainforests as both investor and customer, just after its commitment to rainforest protection and certified oil palm was much heralded by some.
One of Côte d'Ivoire's most important primary rainforests [search] is to be cleared by global consumer product company Unilever and others, despite Unilever's recent promises to buy only "sustainable" palm oil [search] from lands not cleared of rainforests for their production. Tanoé Swamps Forest in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is one of the last remaining old growth forests in the country and the last refuge for three highly endangered primates -- the Miss Waldron Colobus, the Geoffroy's colobus and the Diana roloway -- as well as home to many endangered plant species. The palm oil company PALM-CI has just begun destroying this 6,000 hectare forest to convert it to oil palm plantations, despite local and international protests. Unilever is one of the main companies behind PALM-CI and the destruction of the Tanoé Swamps Forest. After sending the first protest email to Unilever, you will be forwared to a second protest email asking the government of Côte d'Ivoire to ensure that the forest and the communities that depend on it are fully protected. TAKE ACTION!