Monday, June 28, 2010

The Mystery of Obama’s Relationship with Power ANS

This is an article about Obama written by Andy Schmookler.  It's a rather different perspective.  Very interesting.  About power....
Find it (and comments) here:

* The Mystery of Obama's Relationship with Power

Nobody becomes president of the United States without being highly motivated to have power. "The most powerful man in the world" is a position that attracts those who want power –for whatever reason– strongly enough to work extremely hard, and make great sacrifices, to achieve it. Obama's route to the Oval Office was not as long and arduous as many who have been elected president –and the many, many others who have pursued that goal for a lifetime, but without success– but seek it he did, and with great energy.

So we may assume that power is something that Obama was highly motivated to possess.

But something strange happened pretty much as soon has he gained that power he sought: he began to give it away. Not all of it, of course: Obama has used power to achieve a number of goals, and the list of his accomplishments in a year and a half is becoming more impressive all the time. But, as I've been arguing here in various ways –first tentatively, and then with conviction– Obama COULD have been far more powerful a force on the American political system than he has been. And if one looks at how he's conducted his presidency since he was inaugurated, one discovers a mystery: a man who worked very hard to gain power has seemed, since he acquired it, to have a strangely ambivalent relationship with that power.

The evidence for that ambivalence lies in the ways he's given that power away. I will note three major ways in which he's done so.

First, when it came to the most urgent order of business he faced upon assuming office –the stimulus package– he assumed a very hands-off posture, handing the task over to Congress along with a few general principles. Instead of asking Congress to work with him to pass HIS bill, he hung back and ended up signing Congress's bill. Aside from the fact that the bill he signed was likely inferior to one that he could have achieved by taking more of a leadership role in the process, what one sees here is that OBAMA GAVE AWAY HIS POWER TO HIS ALLIES. And he has continued to do this with subsequent important legislation, including especially the health care reform bill.

Not every president defers this way to Congressional initiative. Why did Obama?

Second, consider Obama's response to the approach taken to his presidency by the Republican opposition. From the very outset, the Republicans decided that making him fail was their overriding political goal, and they pursued that goal without principle or scruple. No lie, no accusation, no misrepresentation, was off-limits, if the Republicans beileved it would advance their goal of discrediting, weakening, and defeating the president. So how did President Obama respond?

This is the subject on which, more than any other, I've felt called to speak as forcefully as I can. This is the subject which was at the heart of that piece of mine –posted here as "If I Could Give President Obama a Message, in 800 Words" at– that was published in December in the Baltimore Sun as an open letter to the president. For it was here more than any other single place that Obama surrendered power.

By almost completely ignoring and almost completely failing to punish his opposition's atrocious, dishonest, immoral, and destructive conduct, President OBAMA SURRENDERED A HUGE AMOUNT OF HIS POWER TO HIS ENEMIES.

(Hence it is that despite the stimulus having created around two million jobs, the American people don't think it has worked; that despite more than 95 percent of Americans having been given a tax cut by Obama, less than 15 percent believe they've gotten one; that despite the health care bill being an important step forward for a country that's been paying twice as much as anyone else in the world for health care that is less good, the bill has been unpopular.)

He gave away power to his allies. He forfeited power to his enemies. And finally, there's a third way he's surrendered his power: this has been the topic of my recent series on how "Transformational Leadership Requires the Power of Inspiration."

The man who rode to power by connecting with millions of the American people at the feeling level stopped doing so once in office.

Once in a while he'd deliver a speech that showed that he still had his rhetorical gifts. But for the most part, once he was IN power, President Obama cut himself off from the force of the emotional connection that had been the SOURCE of his power.

Why? Why would a man who wanted power strongly enough to drive toward it with a single-minded passion for several years then, once the power was his, manifest this pattern of forfeiting the power that had been handed him?

Within mere weeks of assuming office, all three of these power-surrendering moves on the part of the president had become established as part of his pattern of operation. Why, having achieved the pinnacle of power, did this man –I believe a fine and intelligent man– undertake a course that would diminish the scope and power of his leadership?

In this piece, it is not my intention to venture any answer to that question. For now, it is enough simply to present the mystery.

And also to add this thought: it is my guess that the solution to the mystery does not lie in the rational realm –where political strategies get calculated, or where policies get designed– but rather in the psychological realm, i.e. in that realm of emotional feelings and meanings, of desires and ambivalences, of identities and vulnerabilities, where reason and even self-awareness can be overpowered by the unconscious forces arising from the core of a human being's inevitably fractured self.

This entry was posted on Sunday, June 27th, 2010 at 11:08 pmand is filed under Articles. 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.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Talk Green to Us - City of Vancouver ANS

Guess what?  Vancouver, BC has decided to go Green in a really big way:

Sara Robinson says:
A reminder to Americans that it all comes down to political will: Vancouver has committed to being the greenest city on earth by 2020 -- and is actually making and executing concrete plans to do it.

We all know what needs to be done. We just have get busy and DO IT.
Talk Green to Us - City of Vancouver
By 2020, the City of Vancouver plans to be the greenest city in the world and it invites people to share their ideas on how to achieve this goal.

and we were just talking about how much we would like to live in Vancouver.....

Fwd: Hands Off Social Security ANS

Hi-- Here are today's articles from Truthout.  So many of them were important, that I thought I'd just send it along.  there are links to the full article with each summary. 
Don't let them cut Social Security -- it should be raised not cut. 

Saturday 26 June 2010

Hands Off Social Security: There Are Better Ways to Cut the National Debt
Robert Weiner and Jonathan Battaglia, The Palm Beach Post: "The Social Security Trustees' Annual Report on the program's finances comes out Wednesday, delayed from March by the health bill. It will be turned into a marketing tool by advocates of cutting Social Security to reduce the national debt. Among those, the president's newly appointed National Commission on Fiscal Reform (the 'debt commission') is threatening to strangle the economic lifeblood of seniors by denying the solvency of Social Security and then using the solvent funds for other purposes."
Read the Article

USSF: The Control of Public Media as a Social Justice Issue
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "The control of public media is a life-or-death struggle fought by diverse communities working toward social change against corporate-owned or undemocratic, government-sponsored media and professional journalists. The participation of marginalized and oppressed communities in shaping media systems is the only way forward for a democratic system of communication, and experiences from South America show this to hold true not only on the page, but in the field as well."
Read the Article

Speaker Pelosi, More War Funding Next Week Is No "Emergency"
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is committed to passing an emergency war supplemental before the July Fourth recess, Roll Call reports. Let us be perfectly clear, as President Obama might say. There is no 'emergency' requiring the House to throw another $33 billion into our increasingly bloody and pointless occupation of Afghanistan before we all go off to celebrate the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from foreign occupation."
Read the Article

Calling for Accountability on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "Today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, established by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1997, to mark the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on June 26, 1987. As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan explained on June 26, 1998 (when the day was first marked), 'This is a day on which we pay our respects to those who have endured the unimaginable. This is an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable....' At the time, Annan lamented that, although over 100 States had ratified the Convention, the use of torture was 'still reported' in many of those countries."
Read the Article

Big Banks Escape Toughest Limits in New Regulation Bill
Kevin G. Hall and David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "Like a hard-fought draw in a World Cup soccer match, consumers won sweeping new protections under a revamp of financial regulation that lawmakers agreed to Friday but large banks dodged the biggest hits that had been coming their way. The sweeping regulatory revamp affects everything from credit cards and mortgages to the structure of large global banks and who regulates the financial sector and how."
Read the Article

What to Expect at G20: Lots and Lots of Cops
Sandro Contenta, GlobalPost: "If you want to see more police officers than you've probably ever seen in your life, come to Toronto this weekend. Downtown, particularly in the area around the iconic CN Tower, they're everywhere. They hang out like gangs on practically every street corner.... It was revealed Friday that Toronto's chief of police, Bill Blair, requested and secretly received from the provincial government extraordinary new powers for the G20."
Read the Article

Maslow's Pyramid Gets a Makeover
Tom Jacobs, Miller-McCune: "Abraham Maslow's Pyramid of Needs is one of the iconic images of psychology. The simple diagram, first introduced in the 1940s, spells out the underlying motivations that drive our day-to-day behavior and points the way to a more meaningful life. It is elegant, approachable and uplifting. But is it also out of date?"
Read the Article

North Dakota Farm Becomes Lab for Growing Food in Dry Times
Frederick Kirschenmann, Yes! Magazine: "Although the science of ecology has been evolving for decades, it has barely begun to influence agriculture in the 21st century. We still manage farms as if all of their parts, including water, are separate entities. However, that method of farming is becoming increasingly dysfunctional, and the philosophy that informs it is being questioned more rigorously."
Read the Article

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Tuna’s End ANS

Here is a rather long, but quite interesting, article on the Bluefin Tuna, sustainable fishing, and sushi.  Say goodbye to tuna....
Find it here (New York Times):
Did you know Bluefin Tuna are warm-blooded?

Advertise on

Tuna's End

Kenji Aoki for The New York Times


Published: June 21, 2010

On the morning of June 4, in the international waters south of Malta, the Greenpeace vessels Rainbow Warrior and Arctic Sunrise deployed eight inflatable Zodiacs and skiffs into the azure surface of the Mediterranean. Protesters aboard donned helmets and took up DayGlo flags and plywood shields. With the organization's observation helicopter hovering above, the pilots of the tiny boats hit their throttles, hurtling the fleet forward to stop what they viewed as an egregious environmental crime. It was a high-octane updating of a familiar tableau, one that anyone who has followed Greenpeace's Save the Whales adventures of the last 35 years would have recognized. But in the waters off Malta there was not a whale to be seen.


Enlarge This Image

Kenji Aoki for The New York Times
The dorsal fin of a Pacific bluefin tuna.
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Kenji Aoki for The New York Times
The pectoral fin of a Pacific bluefin tuna.
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Bryan Christie
PURSE-SEINING IN TUNA FISHING Industrial fishing fleets often use "purse seine" nets equipped with buoys and weights. 1 A fast skiff encircles a school of tuna with a line whose other end is attached to the mother ship. Once circled, the fish cannot escape. 2 When the line is pulled, the net cinches around the fish, just as an old-fashioned purse closes around a handful of coins.
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Kenji Aoki for The New York Times

Enlarge This Image

Kenji Aoki for The New York Times

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Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

What was in the water that day was a congregation of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a fish that when prepared as sushi is one of the most valuable forms of seafood in the world. It's also a fish that regularly journeys between America and Europe and whose two populations, or "stocks," have both been catastrophically overexploited. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of only two known Atlantic bluefin spawning grounds, has only intensified the crisis. By some estimates, there may be only 9,000 of the most ecologically vital megabreeders left in the fish's North American stock, enough for the entire population of New York to have a final bite (or two) of high-grade otoro sushi. The Mediterranean stock of bluefin, historically a larger population than the North American one, has declined drastically as well. Indeed, most Mediterranean bluefin fishing consists of netting or "seining" young wild fish for "outgrowing" on tuna "ranches." Which was why the Greenpeace craft had just deployed off Malta: a French fishing boat was about to legally catch an entire school of tuna, many of them undoubtedly juveniles.

Oliver Knowles, a 34-year-old Briton who was coordinating the intervention, had told me a few days earlier via telephone what the strategy was going to be. "These fishing operations consist of a huge purse-seining vessel and a small skiff that's quite fast," Knowles said. A "purse seine" is a type of net used by industrial fishing fleets, called this because of the way it draws closed around a school of fish in the manner of an old-fashioned purse cinching up around a pile of coins. "The skiff takes one end of the net around the tuna and sort of closes the circle on them," Knowles explained. "That's the key intervention point. That's where we have the strong moral mandate."

But as the Zodiacs approached the French tuna-fishing boat Jean-Marie Christian VI, confusion engulfed the scene. As anticipated, the French seiner launched its skiffs and started to draw a net closed around the tuna school. Upon seeing the Greenpeace Zodiacs zooming in, the captain of the Jean-Marie Christian VI issued a call. "Mayday!" he shouted over the radio. "Pirate attack!" Other tuna boats responded to the alert and arrived to help. The Greenpeace activists identified themselves over the VHF, announcing they were staging a "peaceful action."

Aboard one Zodiac, Frank Hewetson, a 20-year Greenpeace veteran who in his salad days as a protester scaled the first BP deepwater oil rigs off Scotland, tried to direct his pilot toward the net so that he could throw a daisy chain of sandbags over its floating edge and allow the bluefin to escape. But before Hewetson could deploy his gear, a French fishing skiff rammed his Zodiac. A moment later Hewetson was dragged by the leg toward the bow. "At first I thought I'd been lassoed," Hewetson later told me from his hospital bed in London. "But then I looked down. " A fisherman trying to puncture the Zodiac had swung a three-pronged grappling hook attached to a rope into the boat and snagged Hewetson clean through his leg between the bone and the calf muscle. (Using the old language of whale protests, Greenpeace would later report to Agence France-Presse that Hewetson had been "harpooned.")

"Ma jambe! Ma jambe!" Hewetson cried out in French, trying to signal to the fisherman to slack off on the rope. The fisherman, according to Hewetson, first loosened it and then reconsidered and pulled it tight again. Eventually Hewetson was able to get enough give in the rope to yank the hook free. Elsewhere, fishermen armed with gaffs and sticks sank another Zodiac and, according to Greenpeace's Knowles, fired a flare at the observation helicopter. At a certain point, the protesters made the decision to break off the engagement. "We have currently pulled back from the seining fleet," Knowles e-mailed me shortly afterward, "to regroup and develop next steps." Bertrand Wendling, the executive director of the tuna-fishing cooperative of which the Jean-Marie Christian VI was a part, called the Greenpeace protest "without doubt an act of provocation" in which "valuable work tools" were damaged.

But the main damage that took place that day was indisputably to the bluefin. After the encounter, the fishermen aboard the Jean-Marie Christian VI transferred the fish alive into a holding cage and slowly towed them away. Soon those tuna would be brought to feeding pens where they will spend at least several months putting on weight. Afterward, they will be slaughtered and sent to Japan, where 80 percent of the world's Atlantic bluefin tuna are eaten with oblivion.

THERE ARE TWO reasons that a mere fish should have inspired such a high-strung confrontation reminiscent of Greenpeace's early days as a defender of whales. The first stems from fish enthusiasts who have for many years recognized the particular qualities of bluefin tuna ­ qualities that were they land-based creatures would establish them indisputably as "wildlife" and not just another "seafood" we eat without remorse. Not only is the bluefin's dense, distinctly beefy musculature supremely appropriate for traversing the ocean's breadth, but the animal also has attributes that make its evolutionary appearance seem almost deus ex machina, or rather machina ex deo ­ a machine from God. How else could a fish develop a sextantlike "pineal window" in the top of its head that scientists say enables it to navigate over thousands of miles? How else could a fish develop a propulsion system whereby a whip-thin crescent tail vibrates at fantastic speeds, shooting the bluefin forward at speeds that can reach 40 miles an hour? And how else would a fish appear within a mostly coldblooded phylum that can use its metabolic heat to raise its body temperature far above that of the surrounding water, allowing it to traverse the frigid seas of the subarctic?

Yes, bluefin tuna are warmblooded.

That bluefin can be huge ­ 10 feet and more than a thousand pounds ­ is a side note. For those of us who have seen their football silhouettes arise and vanish in less than a blink of an eye or held them alive, their hard-shell skins barely containing the surging muscle tissue within, they are something bigger than the space they occupy. All fish change color when they die. But with tuna the death shift feels more profound. Fresh from the water, their backs pulsing neon blue, their bellies gleaming silver-pink iridescence, they seem like the ocean itself.

And in a way they are, which explains the second reason bluefin have come to possess such totemic power. For bluefin tuna and all species of tuna are the living representation of the very limits of the ocean. Their global decline is a warning that we just might destroy our last wild food.

In prehistoric times, the hunting of fish began close by, in freshwater rivers and lakes and coastal ocean waters. But as human populations grew, easily accessed grounds fell short of demand. By the late Middle Ages, European stocks of freshwater fish and near-shore ocean species proved insufficient. By then, Basque and Viking fisherman had already moved on to the continental shelves off Canada, ushering in the Age of Cod ­ an age that escalated until the late 20th century, when some of the largest fishing vessels ever built devastated the once-two-billion-strong stock of cod on the Canadian Grand Banks. But there were still new places to fish. In the 1980s and '90s, virgin fishing grounds were found in the Southern Hemisphere, and supplies of replacement fish like New Zealand hoki and Chilean sea bass helped seafood supplies keep pace with demand.

But appetites continued to outstrip supply. Global seafood consumption has increased consistently to the point where we now remove more wild fish and shellfish from the oceans every year than the weight of the human population of China. This latest surge has taken us past the Age of Cod and landed us squarely in the Age of Tuna. Fishing has expanded over the continental shelves into the international no-man's territory known as the high seas ­ the ocean territory that begins outside of national "exclusive economic zones," or E.E.Z.'s, usually 200 nautical miles out from a country's coast, and continues until it hits the E.E.Z. of another country. The high seas are owned by no one and governed by largely feeble multinational agreements. According to the Sea Around Us project of the University of British Columbia's Fisheries Center, catches from the high seas have risen by 700 percent in the last half-century, and much of that increase is tuna. Moreover, because tuna cross so many boundaries, even when tuna do leave the high seas and tarry in any one nation's territorial waters (as Atlantic bluefin usually do), they remain under the foggy international jurisdiction of poorly enforced tuna treaties.

The essentially ownerless nature of tuna has led to the last great wild-fish gold rush the world may ever see. The most noticeable result of this has been the decline of the giant Atlantic bluefin tuna. But the Atlantic bluefin is just a symptom of a metastasizing tuna disease. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 7 of the 23 commercially fished tuna stocks are overfished or depleted. An additional nine stocks are also threatened. The Pew Environment Group's tuna campaign asserts that "the boats seeking these tuna are responsible for more hooks and nets in the water than any other fishery."

Tuna then are both a real thing and a metaphor. Literally they are one of the last big public supplies of wild fish left in the world. Metaphorically they are the terminus of an idea: that the ocean is an endless resource where new fish can always be found. In the years to come we can treat tuna as a mile marker to zoom past on our way toward annihilating the wild ocean or as a stop sign that compels us to turn back and radically reconsider.

"WE FIND OURSELVES in a precarious situation." So wrote Ritchie Notar, a co-owner of the internationally acclaimed Nobu restaurant chain, to Greenpeace U.K. back in 2008 after Greenpeace intensified its tuna-defense efforts and put forward the idea that bluefin should no longer be served at Nobu's establishments. "We are dealing with thousands of years of cultural customs," Notar continued in correspondence Greenpeace forwarded to me. "The Japanese have relied on tuna and the bounties of the sea as part of their culture and history for centuries. We are absolutely appreciative of your goals and efforts within your cause, but it goes far beyond just saying that we can just take what has now all of a sudden been declared an 'endangered' species off the menu. It has to do with custom, heritage and behavior."

Many nations have contributed to the Atlantic bluefin's destruction. Europeans and North Africans do most of the catching and ranching of the fish in the world today. The United States continues to allow bluefin fishing in its waters even though the Gulf of Mexico-spawned stock is considered by many scientists to have entered into full-scale collapse. But it is Japan, the world's largest bluefin importer, that has taken perhaps the most aggressive pro-tuna-fishing position, sometimes assisted by Westerners like Ritchie Notar, who declaim the country's long tuna-eating tradition. But history shows that Japan's stake in tuna fishing is recent and, more important, part of the same endgame that has dragged all of humanity into the Age of Tuna. Before 1800, Japanese tuna sushi didn't even exist.

Trevor Corson is an East Asia scholar turned popular nonfiction writer and author of the 2007 book "The Story of Sushi," and for select groups he will act as a "sushi concierge," hosting dinners often at the Jewel Bako Japanese restaurant in Manhattan's East Village, one of which I attended this past winter. A Corson-guided meal aims to reveal the historical truth of tuna and to represent the very different fish that were the staples of sushi in earlier times. Plate by plate I watched as Corson walked a group of Manhattan professionals through a traditional Edo-period meal of snappers, jacks and other white-fleshed, smaller fish that most definitely did not include "red" tuna. Afterward, Corson sent me an excerpt from a 1999 Japanese anthology titled "Fish Experts Teach the Secrets of the Deliciousness of Fish" to further underline his point. "Originally, fish with red flesh were looked down on in Japan as a low-class food, and white fish were much preferred," one of the book's contributors, Michiyo Murata, writes. "Fish with red flesh tended to spoil quickly and develop a noticeable stench, so in the days before refrigeration the Japanese aristocracy despised them, and this attitude was adopted by the citizens of Edo [old Tokyo]." Other Japanese scholars like the sushi historian Masuo Yoshino confirm this. Murata, meanwhile, goes on to note that tuna were introduced into sushi only 170 years ago, when a large catch came into Edo one season. On that day a local sushi chef marinated a few pieces of tuna in soy sauce and served it as "nigiri sushi." The practice caught on. Occasionally a big bluefin became sushi, but Corson notes these fish were nicknamed shibi ­ "four days" ­ because chefs would bury them for four days to mellow their bloody taste.

By the 1930s, tuna sushi was commonplace in Japan, but demand could be met by local supplies of tuna, including the Pacific bluefin species, which dwells in Japan's coastal waters. It was World War II that took tuna fishing to the next level. "To recover from the devastation of the war," Ziro Suzuki, formerly of the Japanese Far Seas Research Laboratory, wrote me, "Japanese fishermen needed more tunas to secure food for domestic demand and also to earn more money by exporting tunas for canning industries in Europe and the U.S. Those needs urged the expansion of fishing grounds outside of the historic grounds of the western Pacific." But this next fishing expansion was technological as well as territorial. Throughout the postwar period, the Japanese perfected industrial long-lining, a practice that employs thousands of baited hooks. In the 1970s Japanese manufacturers developed lightweight, high-strength polymers that were in turn spun into extensive drift nets that could be many miles long. Though drift nets were banned in the high seas by the early '90s, in the 1970s hundreds of miles of them were often deployed in a single night. When drift nets and long lines were coupled with at-sea freezing technology invented around the same time, Japanese fishermen were able to fish the farthest reaches of the oceans while keeping their frozen tuna sushi-ready for as long as a year.

A major yield of all of this Japanese fishing effort was yellowfin tuna. Though they ate bluefin, Japanese did not hold them in high regard before the 1960s, and it took a confluence of socioeconomic factors in both Japan and the West to bring bluefin to the fore. By the late 1960s, sportfishing for giant bluefin tuna was starting in earnest off Nova Scotia, New England and Long Island. Like the Japanese at the time, North Americans had little regard for bluefin on the plate, usually discarding them after capture.

Bluefin sportfishing's rise, however, coincided with Japan's export boom. In the 1960s and '70s, Japanese planes stuffed with electronics unloaded in the U.S. and returned empty ­ a huge waste of fuel. But when a Japanese entrepreneur realized he could buy New England and Canadian bluefin for a song, he started filling up all those empty cargo holds with tuna. Exposure to beef and other fatty meats during the U.S. occupation had already drawn the Japanese to appreciate bluefin's fatty belly (otoro, in sushi terms). The Atlantic bluefin, the biggest bluefin, became the most favored of all. This appreciation boomeranged stateside when Americans started to develop their own raw-fish habit in the late 1970s.

Added to the already significant fishing pressure from the tuna canning industry, Japan's and now the West's sushi jones has come to stress populations of large tuna around the world, starting with the most environmentally sensitive Atlantic bluefin but with the risk of spreading to other species. In fact, one subpopulation of Atlantic bluefin has already vanished after heavy fishing by Japanese long-liners: The bluefin that used to congregate off Brazil disappeared in the early bluefin boom of the 1970s. The remaining Atlantic bluefin stocks are trending similarly, and the two other species of bluefin ­ the Pacific, which ranges between California and Japan, and the southern bluefin, which plies the waters around Australia ­ are not far behind. In the United States, the direct fishing pressure on bluefin continues ­ but perhaps a larger problem is that a large quantity of North American bluefin are caught accidentally as "by-catch" when industrial long-liners deploy their legions of hooks in search of yellowfin tuna over the bluefin's spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico. By law, nearly all bluefin caught as by-catch must be dumped back into the sea. Usually by that point they are already dead.

All of this has led the bluefin to become a cause célèbre among conservation groups and the target of several organized "save the bluefin" campaigns. None of them have influenced Japanese consumers. In the case of Nobu, after numerous exchanges with Greenpeace, the sushi restaurant's owners remained unpersuaded of the need to stop serving the fish. Their only concession was a haiku-esque warning on the menus of its London eateries:

"Bluefin tuna
Is an environmentally threatened species
Please ask your server for an alternative."

Willie Mackenzie of Greenpeace U.K. responded angrily in a note to Ritchie Notar: "Despite the assurances that you take these issues seriously and that you want Nobu to be a leader in this field, you have essentially tried to abdicate responsibility by suggesting that it is down to your customers to decide if they want to eat an endangered species."

AWAY FROM RESTAURANT menus and the entree preferences of individual consumers, more far-ranging choices are presenting themselves to humanity than picking a California roll or a sliver of otoro. These are choices that will shape the fate of not just Atlantic bluefin tuna, not just all tunas, but all the great sea creatures ­ sharks, swordfish, marlin, even whales. For every one of these animals is highly migratory and roams the high seas, the vast, ownerless seascape that makes up some 60 percent of the oceans.

Until the 1970s, fishing in the high seas tended to be based on the principles of Hugo Grotius's 1609 treatise "Mare Liberum" ­ a document that advocated free use of the oceans by all. But in the last 40 years, Grotius's "free sea" has grown progressively more circumscribed. Today, high-seas and highly migratory fish are overseen by 18 regional fisheries-management organizations. These "consensus-oriented" institutions, in which each member nation has equal status, can be guided more by political horse-trading than by sound science. A former chairman of the scientific committee of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (or Iccat), the body responsible for Atlantic bluefin, told me, "Even though scientific advice says you should stick to a specific catch number, in order to negotiate a deal they tend to nudge that number over a little bit." That little nudge can be enough to put a population of tuna in jeopardy.

In 2008 Iccat set Atlantic bluefin catch limits that were nearly double what its own scientists recommended. Conservationists howled, and the quotas were reduced sharply. But by the time Iccat met again, in November 2009, environmentalists had come to home in on the historic mismanagement of Atlantic bluefin, many of them arguing that a simple reduction in catch quotas for the coming fishing season was not enough ­ that in fact a zero-catch quota was the only thing that would stave off the fish's extinction. Iccat rejected the zero-quota idea. This in turn forced a much more high-pitched confrontation this spring between parties like Japan, which seems to feel that fishery-management problems can be resolved within the status quo, and those who are looking to take the high seas in a profoundly different direction.

The debate was joined when delegates gathered this past March in Doha, Qatar, for a meeting of the United Nations Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, or Cites (pronounced SY-tees). It was a meeting that, for fish, could have been as important as the 1982 meeting of the International Whaling Commission that voted to establish a moratorium on commercial whaling worldwide. For if conservationists got their way, Atlantic bluefin would be included in the Cites treaty's Appendix One ­ a result that would ban the international trade of the tuna and put them under the jurisdiction of the same U.N. body that oversees tigers, white rhinos and giant pandas. It would be the beginning of a process that would transition Atlantic bluefin tuna from seafood to wildlife.

It is precisely this kind of recasting that happened with whales in the 1980s, and Japan was intent on avoiding a similar recategorization with Atlantic bluefin tuna. As Masanori Miyahara, the director of the Fisheries Agency of Japan, put it to me: "Cites Appendix One is too inflexible . . . once a species is listed in a Cites appendix, it will never be delisted or down-listed as the history of Cites clearly shows." In other words, once a fish becomes wildlife, it will stay wildlife. A Cites treaty would also allow those countries that happen to have bluefin in their territorial waters to continue to catch them for their own market while excluding all the other treaty member nations ­ a result that Masanori would surely find not only unfair but also capable of leading to further overfishing. (The European Union has indicated it will continue to catch its allowable quota even if a Cites resolution is passed.)

Japan's touchiness about fairness on the high seas is understandable given its dependence on seafood. Its per capita seafood consumption is among the highest of any industrialized country. And Japan has not been blind to the problems that come with overfishing and excessively large fishing fleets. Indeed, in the last few years it has tried to rein in its industrial fishing effort, decommissioning vessels, literally pulling hooks out of the water. But this has failed to resolve another problem of the Age of Tuna. Just as the industrialized countries are starting to realize the need for more sensible management of the high seas, developing countries are heading in the opposite direction. "Developing countries firmly believe they have a right to expand their fisheries and that developed countries should reduce their fishing effort to compensate," Ziro Suzuki wrote me. "In the process of trying to resolve the conflict of interest, the stocks become overfished, and overall fishing effort grows to an unacceptable level. . . . It's really just another example of the North-South problem, just like CO2 emissions."

The conflict between the developing and developed world plays an increasingly greater role in tuna negotiations, and at a certain point it is hard to figure out who is manipulating whom in an intrigue involving 175 countries, each trying to game the system. Representatives from both the WWF and the Pew Environment Group told me of a curious imbroglio as the Qatar Cites meeting neared its vote on bluefin. Japanese delegation members supposedly told African representatives that European bluefin fleets would relocate to the coast of Africa and catch African yellowfin tuna if the Cites bluefin motion passed. This despite the fact that European vessels are geared up specifically for bluefin fishing and lack the capacity to pursue yellowfin. Masanori Miyahara of the Fisheries Agency of Japan dismissed this claim as "completely wrong and unfounded. We never told such a thing to anybody. We even haven't thought such an idea, ever."

True or not, African nations lined up with Japan. After Libya and Sudan forced a vote, the Atlantic bluefin's Cites Appendix One listing was rejected by a large majority.

Delegates flew away from Qatar with the status quo in place. The monthlong bluefin purse-seining season set earlier by Iccat for the Mediterranean would stand as it was with quotas above what many scientists had recommended. A month after the Cites meeting, BP's Horizon Deepwater oil rig collapsed into the sea and spewed oil into the only bluefin spawning ground in the Americas just as the few remaining North American stock giant bluefin were preparing to mate in the Gulf of Mexico. Though the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service has been deeply critical of the Mediterranean bluefin catch ­ in 2007, it went so far as to call for a moratorium ­ it has been noncommittal about the American fishery. When I asked the Fisheries Service if it would consider closing the bluefin season on the heels of the BP spill, I was offered a statement, part of which, recast in verse form, has an almost Nobu-type haiku quality:

"N.O.A.A. Fisheries is carefully monitoring

The spawning of bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico

By collecting larval samples and analyzing reports from scientific observers."

It seems then that no single nation is ready to commit to a sustainable future for the fish. Some would argue that extirpation might just have to be the bluefin's fate. Other, smaller tuna might be better suited to industrial exploitation. The bigeye and yellowfin tuna generally grow faster and spawn earlier. And indeed these lesser tuna are already starting to fill in for the bluefin's absence. In the United States most Americans usually end up eating bigeye when they order otoro ­ the fatty zebra-striped flesh that fetches the highest price on most sushi menus nowadays. But major populations of bigeye tuna are also declining. Should they go away, it's hard to say what would come next.

How then do we get ourselves out of the Age of Tuna with our moral center and our food supply intact? Can we develop a civilized hunter-gatherer relationship with tuna and indeed with all other fish and reach a point of equilibrium with our last wild food? Can the management bodies that have overseen the collapse of the most magnificent food fish we've ever known be trusted to manage what is left in its wake?

The answer depends on where you fall on the fairly broad political spectrum of the world's different tuna watchers. The Fisheries Agency of Japan maintains that "Japan is committed to ensure the recovery" of the Atlantic bluefin and has stipulated it will support a complete shutdown of the bluefin fishery at next fall's Iccat meeting, should the scientific committee recommend it. Greenpeace meanwhile has punted on the bluefin political process. "Others have failed our oceans," Oliver Knowles told the press as he prepared his mini armada off Malta, "so Greenpeace will act." Greenpeace is calling for a radical realignment of the high seas, to take stewardship away from regional fisheries-management organizations and establish 40 percent of the world's ocean territory as a marine reserve, a kind of Antarctica-style agreement with shades of whale, where nations, instead of bargaining over quotas, would simply not be able to do any fishing at all in large areas of the oceans. Most other environmental organizations are behind the marine-reserve idea, but they vary in opinion on how big those reserves should be. The Blue Ocean Institute calls for a five-year moratorium on Atlantic bluefin fishing everywhere. The WWF further advocates that the industrial fishing methods that spread during the Age of Tuna ­ the drift nets, long lines, purse seines and spotter planes ­ be done away with. In their view, the "artisanal" single-hook-and-line fishing practices of old are the only way to sustainably hunt big and naturally scarce predators like bluefin.

But if we are to embark on a global project of ramping down tuna fishing, what are we to eat?

Until the modern era, the response to wild-game decline has been a primitive one: widespread destruction of the animals that can't stand up to our hunting followed by the selection of a handful of ones that we can tame. Out of the many mammals that our forebears ate before the last ice age, humans selected four ­ cows, pigs, sheep and goats ­ to be their principal meats. Out of all the many birds that darkened the primeval skies, humans chose four ­ chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese ­ to be their poultry.

And indeed, this is a process that is taking shape rapidly with fish. Atlantic salmon are now commercially extinct throughout almost the entirety of their range but have become one of the most widely farmed fish in the world.

But while leaps have been made in taming marine fish, tuna, particularly bluefin tuna, may not make very much sense for the farm. Bluefin ranching as it is practiced in the Mediterranean, and with the Pacific bluefin in Japan and the southern bluefin in Australia, rightly faces strong environmental criticisms since it relies on catching juveniles from the wild and denies those baby bluefin a chance to reach adulthood and breed. Now, however, the final steps of fully taming or "closing the life cycle" of bluefin tuna are under way, which will make it possible for bluefin to be grown from an egg in a laboratory to a full-size adult. In such a system, an isolated "domestic" family of bluefin can be established that need not have any interaction with the wild at all. For several years Japan has been producing small amounts of closed-life-cycle Pacific bluefin (known as Kindai tuna in the market). In Europe and Australia, scientists have used light-manipulation technology as well as time-release hormone implants invented by the Israeli endocrinologist Yonathan Zohar to bring about the first large-scale captive spawning of Atlantic and southern bluefin.

But there are considerable complications ahead. As Richard Smullen, an Australia-based feed-company specialist working to come up with a suitable diet for farmed bluefin, explained: "The thing is the metabolic rate of these fish is very high compared to other fish; they swim fast, they heat their brains and vital organs and are warmer than the surrounding water, so this is energetically expensive. An analogy is like trying to feed an ultramarathon runner ­ they have the potential to eat a lot and not put on any weight." Though Smullen says that it is possible to bring feed-conversion ratios for bluefin down, currently it may take 15 pounds of feed to produce a single pound of tuna, roughly 10 times as much as is needed for farmed salmon.

As fisheries decline globally, more and more countries are trying to replace their wild fish with farmed ones. Today 30 million tons of small forage fish are removed from the oceans yearly, with the majority of it going to feed farmed fish. If we end up farming bluefin on the same scale as we now farm salmon, the tuna, with its poor feed-conversion rate, may end up taking the food of the remaining wild fish that we haven't yet got around to catching.

In addition there is little evidence to suggest that taming a species saves its wild forebear. Tiger farms in China have not halted tiger declines in the wild. Hundreds of millions of farmed Atlantic salmon have not stanched wild Atlantic salmon's continued decline. Just because we can tame something doesn't mean we should. The example of whales again rises. As the science historian D. Graham Burnett points out in a coming book on the Save the Whales movement, collaborations between American nuclear scientists and marine biologists were once proposed in the 1960s whereby tropical atolls, leveled by nuclear testing, could be used as giant corrals for the commercial farming of cetaceans. But fortunately for the whale ­ and I think for us too ­ we have come to see the whale not as something we fish for, not as something we farm, but as something we appreciate and maybe empathize with. Instead of expanding our stomachs or our wallets, whales have expanded our consciousness, our very humanity. So we have to ask ourselves, is there any rational argument for humans to eat bluefin tuna, wild, ranched or farmed? Is the fish really so special that no substitute will do? If the Japanese adapted to a higher-fat diet in half a century, could they and all sushi lovers not shift gears again and adapt to a sustainable diet?

It was in answer to these questions that I went looking for a farmed fish that could satisfy tuna-eaters at the sushi bar. A fish that had the dense "bite" of tuna but with a smaller ecological footprint ­ a Volkswagen instead of a Hummer.

My search led me to the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, where I motored with a tall, optimistic Australian named Neil Anthony Sims. As we donned wetsuits, fins and scuba tanks, Sims rejoiced in telling me tales of his adopted land. Eventually we spat in our masks, adjusted our regulators and dived into the water above Sims's farm ­ a huge underwater ziggurat that is the center of his company, Kona Blue Water Farms.

Until recently, most of the fish we've chosen to domesticate have been accidents. Salmon, striped bass, trout ­ we have chosen those species because we knew them as wild game. We seldom considered their biological profiles or whether they jibed well with the ecological limitations of a crowded planet.

But Neil Sims was a fisheries biologist before he was a fish farmer. And it was his direct personal experience with the limitations of fisheries management that persuaded him that fish farming, done right, was a better choice than fish catching.

Sims began his career in the remote Cook Islands of the South Pacific. There he was responsible for managing a giant snail called a trochus that produces an attractive pearly shell, valuable to native jewelers. Over half a decade, he implemented numerous management strategies. Nothing worked ­ not even shortening the harvest season drastically. The day after one season ended, he came across a bare-chested Polynesian elder who had pulled his dugout canoe onto the beach. Sims looked inside the boat and saw it filled with trochus.

"I yelled at him," Sims remembers. "Then he yelled at me. He started to cry. Then I started to cry, and then the old bugger finally says: 'Why? Why did you close the season? There are still some left!' " This moment prompted him to look beyond fishing, to an entirely different approach.

Sims was drawn to Hawaii, with its deep near-shore waters and strong currents ­ attributes favorable to aquaculture that he believed could make ocean farming sustainable. But the fish farming he found on arrival in Hawaii didn't impress him. "People were trying milkfish and mullet," Sims recalled. "They start with the letter 'm' and they're all really kind of hmmmmm in the mouth, if you know what I mean." Sims found the fish too bony and small, with loose, mushy flesh. This was important. Sims's long-standing beat in the South Pacific had persuaded him that "there was an opportunity for a high-value, sushi-quality fish," a fish that could fit into the dense-flesh category that the Age of Tuna had cultivated in Japan and indeed throughout the developed world.

After parsing many species he came across Seriola rivoliana. Known in Hawaii as kahala, it is a speedy, firm-fleshed animal of the same family as yellowtail and amberjack. They are only very distantly related to tuna and do not have tuna's ruby red color, but they still have dense flesh and could easily pass for white albacore sushi. The fat content in Sims's farmed kahala is around 30 percent, and indeed it is the presence of fat that accounts for much of a sushi fish's tunalike flavor.

Sims was further intrigued when he found that kahala had barely been fished commercially. In their wild form kahala can carry ciguatera poison ­ a toxin sometimes deadly to humans that kahala ingest when they feed around coral reefs. But when kahala are isolated away from reefs and fed a traditional aquaculture diet of soy and fishmeal, they are ciguatera-free. (Sims asserts that ciguatera has never been detected in the flesh of his fish.) Since they have not been fished commercially, wild kahala populations are large and unlikely to be severely damaged through interaction with farmed fish. Moreover, kahala are much more "feed efficient" than tuna. The amount of fish required to produce a pound of kahala ranges from 1.6 pounds to 2 pounds, an order of magnitude better than bluefin. And Sims recently began feed trials using diets that contain no directly harvested forage fish. Lastly, unlike tuna, which require a tremendous investment in spawning technology, kahala are naturally fecund: they breed frequently, at least weekly, throughout the year.

THERE ARE, OF COURSE, those who would disagree with Sims's approach. When I asked Casson Trenor, author of the 2009 book "Sustainable Sushi," for his impression of the kahala as a farmed fish, he responded that the farming of any carnivore is "fighting the current." "You may have a farm that has a more efficient protein ratio," Trenor wrote me, "but produces more waste streams. Perhaps you have a feed pellet that knocks your feed conversion ratio down to 1 to 1, but you continue to host a rampant parasite infestation. . . . We need to identify fish that through their physiology and life history actually lend themselves to clean farming operations." Trenor's own compromise is to serve wild "small format" tuna like skipjack or albacore, fish that he feels can embrace the "principles of seasonality, local awareness and sustainability" that sushi originally expressed before it was "transformed through cultural misinterpretation and overzealous globalization into exactly the opposite."

But as I plunged into the calm blue waters off Kona and inflated my diving vest to gain equilibrium in the water column, I couldn't help thinking that in a world of environmental evils prosecuted against fish, the farming of a more efficient carnivore than a bluefin under the stewardship of a knowledgeable, environmentally conscious biologist was a good deal better than the rapacious industrial harvesting of "large format" tuna. Looking down at this "cathedral" of fish, as Sims called it, the possibility of a certain balance presented itself. Using technology developed over the last 10 years, Kona Blue has constructed diamond-shape cages that can be moored in the open ocean away from sensitive coastal areas. As I glided down, past the fish swimming in unison in their net pen, I felt a cautious optimism. The site of these pens had been carefully chosen; the swift currents meant that nutrients did not accumulate below the pens. And regular monitoring has found the fish to have no internal parasites, unlike the wild kahala. Sims's commitment to transparency is also encouraging. He regularly posts water-quality reports on his Web site and presumably will do the same as the operation expands.

Sims waved me over to the side of the net pen. I floated above him, close enough to see that the fish actually seemed to recognize him. In what he would later describe to me as the "rock-star effect," the fish crowded to be close to him. Sims spread his arms out wide and seemed to take in their adulation.

Sims has trademarked his kahala with the name Kona Kampachi ­ "Kona" for its point of origin, "Kampachi" for the similar animal in Japan. They retail for $18 to $20 a pound in fillet form and to date have a tenuous foot in the market. Production reached more than a million pounds in 2008, about a third of the amount of bluefin caught in American waters that year. After a hiatus during most of 2009 and the first part of 2010 while Sims reconfigured his cages, the product will be reintroduced this July with even more capacity. Kona Kampachi may not have the rich ruby color of tuna (a color that is often enhanced artificially by "gassing" with carbon monoxide), but it is an extremely pleasant sushi experience. It satisfies the sashimi yen that has been created over the last 30 years ­ the yen for the firm, energy-rich musculature of a fast-swimming open-ocean fish.

Can we embrace a new set of species that we don't know intimately in their wild form? Can we come to an understanding of which fish work for us as "seafood" and which fish don't? I would hope so. The survival of the wild ocean could very well depend on it. I took one more look at Neil Sims floating with arms outstretched, his kahala finning in the current, each one mutely appraising this conductor of a silent concert. The only sound was the whir of bubbles rising by my ears.

SEAFOOD. HOW MANY species suffer those two mean English syllables? Other languages are no kinder. Romance European cultures use the expression "sea fruit," while Slavs say "sea gifts." So-called vegetarians rue the killing of farmed terrestrial animals but regularly eat wild fish. Kosher laws mandating merciful animal slaughter don't apply to fish.

These thoughts were in my head recently when I got perhaps my last look at a wild bluefin tuna, just a month before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico. I was 20-odd miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., aboard the Sensation, a vessel chartered by the Tag-a-Giant Foundation, a nonprofit organization trying to decode the complex migration patterns of the bluefin and help lay the scientific foundation for the fish's protection. Tag-a-Giant had been fishing for a couple days, and many people had sat in the fighting chair I now occupied, reeling in tuna after tuna. But for me this was a first. I had never caught a bluefin before.

In the past I would have wanted to savor the fight, to do battle with the fish with lighter, more "sporting" tackle. But considering everything I'd learned about tuna, humans and the chances of the great fish's survival, it suddenly seemed infinitely more appropriate to fight this tuna with the full expression of humanity's power. For in the end tuna are no match for us. We have in this final phase of exploitation achieved dominion over the entirety of the watery world, from inland lakes and rivers to the littoral zone to the continental shelf out to the abyss of the high seas. Sitting in the huge fighting chair with the huge rod and reel, in the well of the huge sportfishing vessel, it was inescapably apparent who had the edge.

As my bluefin breached, one of the scientists opened a door at the stern of the boat. A blue vinyl mat was laid down on the deck. The fish came through the door, still "hot," banging its tail excitedly. But in an instant a biologist named Andre Boustany placed a moist cover over the tuna's giant eye and a hydration hose in its mouth. The tuna motor mellowed, and at last the fish was beatifically still.

"Do you want to tag him?" Boustany asked me.

I took the sharp four-inch needle from his hand and positioned it just behind the fish's dorsal fin. Pricking the skin slightly I started to pull my hand away.

"No," Boustany said, "you gotta really stick it in there."

Applying more pressure, I felt the needle slide into the flank, felt the resistance of the dense sushi flesh, raw and red and most certainly delicious. But for the first time in my life I felt tuna flesh for what it was: a living, perfect expression of a miraculous adaptation. An adaptation that allows bluefin to cross oceans at the speed of a battleship. An adaptation that should be savored in its own right as the most miraculous engine of a most miraculous animal, not as food.

Perhaps people will never come to feel about a tuna the way they have come to feel about whales. Whales are, after all, mammals: they have large brains; they nurse their young and breed slowly. All of that ensconces them in a kind of empathic cocoon, the warmth of which even the warmest-blooded tuna may never occupy. But what we can perhaps be persuaded to feel, viscerally, is that industrial fishing as it is practiced today against the bluefin and indeed against all the world's great fish, the very tigers and lions of our era, is an act unbefitting our sentience. An act as pointless, small-minded and shortsighted as launching a harpoon into the flank of a whale.

Paul Greenberg is a frequent contributor to the magazine. This article is adapted from his book "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food," which will be published next month by Penguin Press.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Don’t Blame the Dream of Home Ownership: Robert Kuttner on Huffington Post ANS

Here is a fairly short article about the role of homeowners in the economic meltdown: the Rightwing is trying to blame it on them, but it was the "conservative" policies themselves that are to blame. 
I found it here:

Don't Blame the Dream of Home Ownership: Robert Kuttner on Huffington Post

Recently I posted here a piece entitled "Debunking a Right-Wing Myth about the Housing Bubble: Krugman." The following piece might be characterized as reinforcements, from Robert Kuttner, for the argument made there by Paul Krugman.


Don't Blame the Dream of Home Ownership

by Robert Kuttner
Huffington Post, June 13, 2010

Here is a fable that is making the rounds. It is a collection of half-truths and outright lies:

The financial meltdown was the result of too many people pursuing the American Dream of home ownership. People who couldn't really afford to be homeowners became speculators. Government added to the damage with cheap mortgages, misguided laws such as the Community Reinvestment Act, and overgrown government-sponsored agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

This stuff is a staple of rightwing talk shows. In a moment, I will rebut each element of this storyline, but first I want to single out a wildly misleading piece by the New York Times financial columnist Joe Nocera. The piece, which ran in Saturday's business section, was titled "Wake-Up Time for a Dream."

The dream ­ surprise ­ is home ownership. It is depressing that a rightwing theme has invaded the mainstream Times.

Nocera writes, "The financial crisis might well have been avoided if we as a culture hadn't invested so much political and psychological capital in the idea of owning a home. After all, the subprime mortgage business's supposed raison d'etre was making homeownership possible for people who lacked the means ­ or the credit scores ­ to get a traditional mortgage."

Now this is just malarkey. And the Nocera piece is worth reading in its entirety to appreciate just how an influential financial columnist can get a critically important story so utterly wrong.

For starters, the homeownership rate was already 64 percent in the mid 1960s. It peaked at about 69 percent just before the bubble burst ­ but was nearly 68 percent in 2001 before subprime lending took off. Back in the 19th century, thanks to the Homestead Acts of the Lincoln era, homeownership (mainly family farms) was well over 70 percent in much of the west.

Ordinary working people can become homeowners and accumulate property wealth when two elements are present. Government programs have to be competently run and prevent private-industry sharks from abusing them. And working people need a degree of financial predictability in their job security.

In the period between, Franklin Roosevelt and LBJ, both factors prevailed. The Federal National Mortgage Association, later privatized as Fannie Mae, was part of the government. If mortgages met its standards, FNMA bought them from local banks and replenished bank working capital. Just as importantly, wages of working people steadily rose, so that more and more ordinary Americans could afford mortgage payments. Not surprisingly, homeownership rates rose. After Congress passed fair housing legislation in 1968, so that minorities could get a fair shot, black homeownership took off, too.

But beginning in the 1970s, wages stopped increasing with productivity growth. And the financial sharks got hold of programs intended to promote homeownership.

A newly privatized FNMA increasingly thought more about using its implicit government guarantee to increase market share and enrich its executives and shareholders. Not until Bush II, however, in 2004 and 2005 just before the housing collapse, was Fannie directed by the political masters in the White House to lower its standards and purchase pools of dubious mortgages so that Bush's "Ownership Society" could claim credit for increasing homeownership rates.

Fannie Mae, a corrupted agency, has become a handy all purpose scapegoat. The lack of a provision in the financial reform legislation to resolve the mess at Fannie has become the main alibi that Republican senators give for voting against the whole reform package.

Nocera contends that the subprime industry's "raison d'etre" was to promote homeownership "for people who lacked the means ­ or the credit scores ­ to get a traditional mortgage." Sorry, Joe. The industry's reason for being was so that financial wise guys could make a bundle at the expense of suckers. Low income prospective homeowners were merely useful props. They were the poster children, but not the real purpose.

(In 1994, the same Nocera was celebrating prosperity-for-all in a wildly over-optimistic book titled "A Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Moneyed Class." If his latest debunking is Nocera's way of doing penance for his own earlier misplaced euphoria, it is just not helpful.)

The pity is that carefully run government programs, from the Homestead Acts to Neighborhood Housing Services, to the good work of community development financial institutions such as Chicago's ShoreBank, have indeed increased the rate of homeownership among working people, and have done so by avoiding bait-and-switch products like subprime loans, not promoting them. The culprit is not the dream of owning your own home, but the utter cynicism of the financial sharks who took advantage of people innocently pursuing the dream.

Large numbers of subprime loans were in fact marketed to elderly people who had low mortgage debts, who could not live on fixed incomes and who needed to refinance their homes to take out equity. This was not about promoting homeownership but destroying it. Many of these victims are now losing their homes. The stripping of home equity is partly a story of a collapsing pension system in the face of rising costs for America's seniors.

The 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, which encouraged banks to keep credit flowing to less affluent neighborhoods "consistent with sound lending standards" is not part of this fiasco at all. Had CRA been enforced, subprime loans that waived underwriting standards would have been illegal. Most of the mortgage brokers who retailed subprime loans were not even covered by CRA.

It's certainly true (and no serious person claims otherwise) that 100 percent of Americans will never own their own homes. Some people are too transient or just too poor. Some would prefer to rent. But, maddeningly, one element of the story that the debunkers of the American Dream invariably leave out is the near-collapse of programs for affordable rental housing. Among moderate income Americans who rent, the fraction of income spent on housing rose steadily for three decades.

Ironically, many low income people turned to homeownership as a last resort because they couldn't find an affordable rental ­ and the same Bush Administration that gutted subsidies for affordable rental housing refused to enforce laws on the books specifying standards for responsible lending to aspiring homeowners.

A sound housing policy would combine assistance for homeownership with affordable rental housing. A homeownership rate of 70 percent, which is common in several affluent European nations, is perfectly reasonable ­ if our political system keeps sharks like the subprime gang from wrecking the system and agencies such as FNMA from being corrupted.

Fannie Mae, which over-reached and went broke as a private company with a government guarantee, is now a ward of the federal government. It should be restored to its original form under Roosevelt, as a public corporation with high principles and high standards.

In the aftermath of the subprime collapse, many hard working lower income people, including a great many African Americans, have seen their dreams wiped out. The home ownership rate in black communities, which were targeted for subprime loans, is in free fall. Brandeis University's Institute on Assets and Social Policy reports a devastating increase in the black-white wealth gap.

The same New York Times recently published a fine piece by reporter Michael Powell on what is happening to the black middle class in Memphis, "Blacks in Memphis Lose Decades of Economic Gains."

The same story could be told about hundreds of predominantly African American neighborhoods.

The villain of the piece is the mortgage meltdown coupled with rising unemployment rates that are the collateral damage of the same financial collapse. The villain is not moderate income homeowners.

These people paid their mortgages on time, and there was nothing wrong with their dream. What was wrong was the failure of their government to keep the private financial industry from stealing the dream.

This entry was posted on Saturday, June 19th, 2010 at 2:53 pmand is filed under Articles. 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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One Response to "Don't Blame the Dream of Home Ownership: Robert Kuttner on Huffington Post"

  1. Jim Z. Says:
  2. June 19th, 2010 at 10:15 pm

  3. Kuttner is right. All of the mortgages that shouldn't have been issued, taken together, would have been a minor statistical blip in the US economy, had not the finance industry created a massively leveraged and fraudulent pyramid based on them. But even if it were true that on-the-edge borrowers brought down the economy as the political right is now claiming, wouldn't that itself say something about the fragility of our financial system? That tens of thousands of poor, dumb households in their greed and falsehoods could drive the US economy into the ditch for a decade, possibly unable to recover if we never get traction? Think how idiotic that story sounds on its face.
    And now some in Congress are going to try to bring punitive measures against defaulting mortgage holders whose homes will never in their lifetimes be worth what they borrowed on them. How screwed up is that?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fwd: ANS Bulletin Should read - Why are we in Afghanistan? Read On

This is from the London Times. 

Times Online
June 14, 2010
Afghanistan 'holds $1 trillion in mineral deposits'
Times Online

Afghanistan has nearly $US1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits, far more than previously thought and enough to turn a country devastated by decades of war into one of the most important mining centres in the world, according to senior US officials.

The deposits, which include large veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium are so large they could alter the Afghan economy, American geologists said after discovering the resources.

An internal Pentagon memo says that the country could become the 'Saudi Arabia of lithium', a key industrial metal.

"There is stunning potential here," General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, told The New York Times. "There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant."

The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai have been briefed, US officials said.

The devastated country has already emerged as the latest frontier in the rush for mineral resources.

In April, plans were announced to start mining copper in the Aynak valley, soutwest of Kabul, which holds one of the world's biggest untapped copper deposits, estimated to be worth up to $88_billion (£44 billion) – more than double Afghanistan's entire gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007.

In November, a 30-year lease was sold to the China Metallurgical Group for $3 billion, making it the biggest foreign investment and private business venture in Afghanistan's history.

However despite the latest finds, with no mining industry in place it would take decades to develop an infrastructure to exploit the vast mineral reserves which are scattered throughout the country including along the border with Pakistan where some of the most intense fighting has taken place.

But US authorities are hopeful that the scale of the deposits is such that they will attract huge investment regardless.

"This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy," Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines told the

The Tree of Liberty ANS

. Hi -- And now for something completely different.....  Quotes on freedom from Thomas Jefferson.
Find it here:


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 Liberty: Jefferson Quotations

1774 July. "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time." (A Summary View of the Rights of British America, B.1.135)

1775 June 26-July 6. "Our attachment to no nation upon earth should supplant our attachment to liberty." (Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms, B.1.215)

1776 July 4. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." (Declaration of Independence, B.1.429)

Eagle and star pattern from ceiling of  Entrance Hall at Monti1787 Nov. 13. "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure." (to W. S. Smith, B.12.356)

1789 Mar. 24. "We have spent the prime of our lives in procuring [young men] the precious blessing of liberty. Let them spend theirs in shewing that it is the great parent of science and of virtue; and that a nation will be great in both always in proportion as it is free." (to Joseph Willard, B.14.699)

1791 Dec. 23. "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." (to Archibald Stuart, B.22.436)

1811 Mar. 28. "The last hope of human liberty in this world rests on us. We ought, for so dear a state to sacrifice every attachment and every enmity." (to William Duane, Ford 11:193)

1820 Dec. 26. "The disease of liberty is catching; those armies will take it in the south, carry it thence to their own country, spread there the infection of revolution and representative government, and raise its people from the prone condition of brutes to the erect altitude of man." (to Lafayette, Ford 12.190)

1820 Oct. 20. "The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave." (to Richard Rush, L&B.15.283)

1826 Jun. 24. "The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God." (to Roger Weightman, Writings 1517)

--Ann M. Lucas, Monticello Research Department, February 1996

Pictured: Eagle and star pattern from ceiling of Entrance Hall at Monticello; photographed by Edward Owen.
Here's a longer form of one of the quotes:
Find it here:
"God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.
The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is
wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts
they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions,
it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ...
And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not
warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of
resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as
to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost
in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from
time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
It is its natural manure."
And here's an even longer form of the same quote, with an explanation.  It seems to keep changing in meaning through these three renditions.... Interesting, isn't it?
Find it here:

It is a partial quote, actually. It is taken from a letter Jefferson wrote to William Smith in 1787 in reference to an uprising in Massachusetts after the American Revolution. A more full quote:

"Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. And what country can preserve its liberties, if it's rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

Jefferson is referring, specifically, to the Shays' Rebellion. If you look at the context of the quote, it appears that Jefferson actually believed the men who took arms were essentially wrong about the facts, but he still considered them patriotic for making their voices heard. Jefferson felt it was important that the government be kept in check, even if those keeping them in check were not necessarily in the right. It wasn't being in the "right" that kept the people free, but rather the fact that they had a voice and used it.

The specific meaning to the last part of the quote, the piece most often quoted, isn't an incitement to violence against the state (which it has unfortunately been sometimes misconstrued to be), but rather seems an acceptance of some degree of violence as a necessary element to keeping freedom safe... a "necessary evil", if you will.

What is often missed is that Jefferson immediately preceded the most quoted part of the letter with his solution for the state: "to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them."

and one more quote, with emphasis added by me:

and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate ; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Re: Fwd: Dallas Hospital

Deb -- My answer is at the end.

At 06:16 AM 6/7/2010, you wrote:

Just One Hospital, Unbelievable!

Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas is a fairly famous institution
and for a variety of reasons:

      1. John F. Kennedy died there in 1963

      2. Lee Harvey Oswald died there shortly after

      3. Jack Ruby-who killed Oswald, died there a few years later.

On the flip side, Parkland is also home to the second busiest maternity ward
in the country with almost 16,000 new babies arriving each year.  (That's
almost 44 per day---every day)

A recent patient survey indicated that 70 percent of the women who gave
birth at Parkland in the first three months of 2006 were illegal immigrants.
That's 11,200 anchor babies born every year just in Dallas. 

According to the article, the hospital spent $70.7 million delivering 15,938
babies in 2004 but managed to end up with almost $8 million dollars in
surplus funding.  Medicaid kicked in $34.5 million, Dallas County taxpayers
kicked in $31.3 million and the feds tossed in another $9.5 million.

The average patient in Parkland in maternity wards is 25 years old, married
and giving birth to her second child.  She is also an illegal immigrant.  By
law, pregnant women cannot be denied medical care based on their immigration
status or ability to pay.

OK, fine.  That doesn't mean they should receive better care than everyday,
middle-class American citizens.  But at Parkland Hospital, they do.
Parkland Memorial Hospital has nine prenatal clinics.  NINE.

The Dallas Morning News article followed a Hispanic woman who was a patient
at one of the clinics and pregnant with her third child---her previous two
were also born at Parkland.  Her first two deliveries were free and the
Mexican native was grateful because it would have cost $200 to have them in
Mexico.  This time, the hospital wants her to pay $10 per visit and $100 for
the delivery but she was unsure if she could come up with the money.  Not
that it matters, the hospital won't turn her away.  (I wonder why they even
bother asking at this point.)

How long has this been going on?  What are the long-term effects?  Well,
another subject of the article was born at Parkland in 1986 shortly after
her mother entered the US illegally - now she is having her own child there
as well.  (That's right; she's technically a US citizen.)

These women receive free prenatal care including medication, nutrition,
birthing classes and child care classes.  They also get freebies such as car
seats, bottles, diapers and formula.  Most of these things are available to
American citizens as well but only for low-income applicants and even then,
the red tape involved is almost insurmountable.

Because these women are illegal immigrants, they do not have to provide any
sort of legitimate identification - no proof of income.  An American citizen
would have to provide a social security number which would reveal their
annual income - an illegal immigrant need only claim to be poor and the
hospital must take them at their word.

Parkland Hospital offers indigent care to Dallas County residents who earn
less than $40,000 per year.  (They also have to prove that they did not
refuse health coverage at their current job. Yeah, the 'free' care is not so
easy for Americans.)

There are about 140 patients who received roughly $4 million dollars for
un-reimbursed medical care.  As it turns out, they did not qualify for free
treatment because they resided outside of Dallas County so the hospital is
going to sue them! Illegal's get it all free!  But U. S. citizens who live
outside of Dallas County get sued! How stupid is this?

As if that isn't annoying enough, the illegal immigrant patients are
actually complaining about hospital staff not speaking Spanish.  In this AP
story, the author speaks with a woman who is upset that she had to translate
comments from the hospital staff into Spanish for her husband.  The doctor
was trying to explain the situation to the family and the mother was forced
to translate for her husband who only spoke Spanish.  This was apparently a
great injustice to her.  In an attempt to create a Spanish-speaking staff,
Parkland Hospital is now providing incentives in the form of extra pay for
applicants who speak Spanish.  Additionally, medical students at the
University of Texas Southwestern for which Parkland Hospital is the training
facility will now have a Spanish language requirement added to their already
jammed-packed curriculum.  No other school in the country boasts such a
ridiculous multi-semester (multicultural) requirement.

Sorry for the length, but this needs wide circulation particularly to our
"employees" in Congress.  Remember that this is about only ONE hospital in
Dallas, Texas.  There are many more hospitals across our country that must
also deal with this.


If you want to verify accuracy:

I checked with snopes; it's correct.

Deb -- Did you read the Snopes article?  Parkland is a PRIVATE hospital that CHOOSES to do this (yes it's substantially true).  And these babies are NOT paid for by local taxes.
Besides that, it isn't illegal Latinos that are responsible for there being no jobs in the USofA.  They are a scapegoat.  You are directed to be angry at them to hide the true culprits: the CEOs of big corporations who sent your jobs overseas in order to make more money and make you make less money.  They will not be satisfied until all Americans are serfs barely subsisting on meager income and starving with no healthcare.  That's what they want -- they hate us because we tried to have a democracy that existed for the good of the common man.  They want to force us back into a monarchy/oligarchy, run for the good of the already-rich. They hate that we tried to have a prosperous middle class that thought well of itself. 
The solution to jobs is to 1) reinstate high tariffs (so that goods brought in from other countries cost as much as goods made here.  Then they will go back to making them here.   And 2) Reinstate high income taxes on the very wealthy, like they had in the fifties.  In the fifties, the middle class was doing so well that they could afford a house, a vacation, retirement, and college for the kids, all on a SINGLE income! Can you imagine that?  the top income tax rate (and many actually paid it because there weren't as many loopholes then) was 90%.   And they were still rich.  It wasn't a burden then, why should it be now?  What happens when the income taxes are that high is that salaries equalize: they pay the employees more and themselves less, because they don't bother to pay themselves more because it goes to taxes, and then there is more left to pay to the workers. 
Americans, who pay lower income tax than most developed countries, still repeat their mantra about paying too much.  That's just adolescent feelings of entitlement: The government exists to do things that we do better when we pool our money and do it together.  That has proved to be not just roads and military, but for example, health care too.  Think about it this way: if you got full free health care but had to pay two hundred a month more in taxes (I say that amount because I am paying about $600 a month for my health care), it would be a bargain because I would get rid of that $600 a month bill but have to pay $200 instead.  That sounds good to me.  I think a lot of the people who don't want government health care forget that the other healthcare bills they have would go away if we had Single Payer health care.  For someone employed who is only paying much less (than the $600 I am paying) because their employer is paying the rest, well, they'd get "the rest" now in their salary as income.  It's still a bargain.  
Healthcare is just the most obvious example.  Fire departments, police, Education, all the regulations and supervision of flying, the weather service, Coast Guard, Border patrol, national research laboratories, NASA, University research, National Park Service, emergency aid to states (FEMA, etc.) nuclear regulatory authority, the EPA, are all other examples of what our taxes pay for. 
But the original idea of America, what was different from Europe at the time, was that it was supposed to be for the benefit of the ordinary middle class person rather than rich people.  We were supposed to be a classless society, with no nobility.  Not happening.....
sorry for the rant,

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Don’t Cry for Wall Street ANS

Here's a short article about the banking industry.  Why should it be as big as it is?  It's "too big to care", and that's not good for the People of the USA. 
Find it here:

Don't Cry for Wall Street: Krugman Says, Contra Obama, Reform Shouldn't Be in the *Best Interests* of the Wall Street Banks

A month after this piece saw the light of day, the idea is still worth holding in mind.


Don't Cry for Wall Street

New York Times, April 22, 2010

On Thursday, President Obama went to Manhattan, where he urged an audience drawn largely from Wall Street to back financial reform. "I believe," he declared, "that these reforms are, in the end, not only in the best interest of our country, but in the best interest of the financial sector."

Well, I wish he hadn't said that ­ and not just because he really needs, as a political matter, to take a populist stance, to put some public distance between himself and the bankers. The fact is that Mr. Obama should be trying to do what's right for the country ­ full stop. If doing so hurts the bankers, that's O.K.

More than that, reform actually should hurt the bankers. A growing body of analysis suggests that an oversized financial industry is hurting the broader economy. Shrinking that oversized industry won't make Wall Street happy, but what's bad for Wall Street would be good for America.

Now, the reforms currently on the table ­ which I support ­ might end up being good for the financial industry as well as for the rest of us. But that's because they only deal with part of the problem: they would make finance safer, but they might not make it smaller.

What's the matter with finance? Start with the fact that the modern financial industry generates huge profits and paychecks, yet delivers few tangible benefits.

Remember the 1987 movie "Wall Street," in which Gordon Gekko declared: Greed is good? By today's standards, Gekko was a piker. In the years leading up to the 2008 crisis, the financial industry accounted for a third of total domestic profits ­ about twice its share two decades earlier.

These profits were justified, we were told, because the industry was doing great things for the economy. It was channeling capital to productive uses; it was spreading risk; it was enhancing financial stability. None of those were true. Capital was channeled not to job-creating innovators, but into an unsustainable housing bubble; risk was concentrated, not spread; and when the housing bubble burst, the supposedly stable financial system imploded, with the worst global slump since the Great Depression as collateral damage.

So why were bankers raking it in? My take, reflecting the efforts of financial economists to make sense of the catastrophe, is that it was mainly about gambling with other people's money. The financial industry took big, risky bets with borrowed funds ­ bets that paid high returns until they went bad ­ but was able to borrow cheaply because investors didn't understand how fragile the industry was.

And what about the much-touted benefits of financial innovation? I'm with the economists Andrei Shleifer and Robert Vishny, who argue in a recent paper that a lot of that innovation was about creating the illusion of safety, providing investors with "false substitutes" for old-fashioned assets like bank deposits. Eventually the illusion failed ­ and the result was a disastrous financial crisis.

In his Thursday speech, by the way, Mr. Obama insisted ­ twice ­ that financial reform won't stifle innovation. Too bad.

And here's the thing: after taking a big hit in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, financial-industry profits are soaring again. It seems all too likely that the industry will soon go back to playing the same games that got us into this mess in the first place.

So what should be done? As I said, I support the reform proposals of the Obama administration and its Congressional allies. Among other things, it would be a shame to see the antireform campaign by Republican leaders ­ a campaign marked by breathtaking dishonesty and hypocrisy ­ succeed.

But these reforms should be only the first step. We also need to cut finance down to size.

And it's not just critical outsiders saying this (not that there's anything wrong with critical outsiders, who have been much more right than supposedly knowledgeable insiders; see Greenspan, Alan). An intriguing proposal is about to be unveiled from, of all places, the International Monetary Fund. In a leaked paper prepared for a meeting this weekend, the fund calls for a Financial Activity Tax ­ yes, FAT ­ levied on financial-industry profits and remuneration.

Such a tax, the fund argues, could "mitigate excessive risk-taking." It could also "tend to reduce the size of the financial sector," which the fund presents as a good thing.

Now, the I.M.F. proposal is actually quite mild. Nonetheless, if it moves toward reality, Wall Street will howl.

But the fact is that we've been devoting far too large a share of our wealth, far too much of the nation's talent, to the business of devising and peddling complex financial schemes ­ schemes that have a tendency to blow up the economy. Ending this state of affairs will hurt the financial industry. So?

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