In 2009, the president promised nuclear disarmament. Five years later, our stockpile remains frightfully intact

Obama channels Dr. Stangelove: How the president learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

, TOMDISPATCH.COM

Obama channels Dr. Stangelove: How the president learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Mark these days. A long-dreaded transformation from hope to doom is taking place as the United States of America ushers the world onto the no-turning-back road of nuclear perdition. Once, we could believe there was another way to go. Indeed, we were invited to take that path by the man who is, even today, overseeing the blocking of it, probably forever.

It was one of the most stirring speeches an American president had ever given. The place was Prague; the year was 2009; the president was the recently sworn in Barack Obama. The promise made that day is worth recalling at length, especially since, by now, it is largely forgotten:

“As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act… So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now, we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can…’”

President Obama had been in office only three months when, boldly claiming his place on the world stage, he unequivocally committed himself and his country to a nuclear abolition movement that, until then, had at best existed somewhere on the distant fringes of power politics. “I know,” he added, “that there are some who will question whether we can act on such a broad agenda. There are those who doubt whether true international cooperation is possible… and there are those who hear talk of a world without nuclear weapons and doubt whether it’s worth setting a goal that seems impossible to achieve. But make no mistake. We know where that road leads.”

The simple existence of nuclear weapons, an American president declared, paved the road to perdition for humanity.

Obama as The Captain Ahab of Nuclear Weapons

At that moment, the foundations for an imagined abolitionist world were modest indeed, but not nonexistent.  The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) had, for instance, struck a bargain between nuclear haves and have-nots, under which a path to abolition was treated as real.  The dealseemed clear enough: the have-nots would promise to forego obtaining nukes and, in return, the world’s reigning nuclear powers would pledge to take, in the words of the treaty, “effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.”



For decades before the Obama moment, however, the superpower arsenals of nuclear warheads continued to grow like so many mushrooms, while new nuclear states — Israel, Pakistan, India, North Korea — built their own impressive arsenals.  In those years, with the singular exception of South Africa, nuclear-weapons states simply ignored their half of the NPT bargain and the crucial clause mandating progress toward eventual disarmament was all but forgotten.

When the Cold War ended in 1991 with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, and the next year Americans elected as president Bill Clinton, who was famously against the Vietnam War, it was at least possible to imagine that nukes might go the way of internationally banned chemical weapons. But Washington chose otherwise.  Despite a paucity of enemies anywhere on Earth, the Pentagon’s 1994 Nuclear Posture Review insisted on maintaining the American nuclear arsenal at Cold War levels as a “hedge,” an insurance policy, against an imagined return of Communism, fascism, or something terrible in Russia anyway — and Clinton accepted the Pentagon’s position.

Soon enough, however, even prominent hawks of the Cold War era began to worry that such a nuclear insurance policy could itself ignite a global fire. In 1999, a chief architect of the nuclear mindset, Paul Nitze, stepped away from a lifetime obsession with building up nuclear power to denounce nukes as “a threat mostly to ourselves” and to explicitly call for unilateral disarmament. Other former apostles of nuclear realpolitik also came to embrace the goal of abolition. In 2008, four high priests of the cult of nuclear normalcy — former Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, and former Secretaries of State George Schultz and Henry Kissinger — jointly issued a sacrilegious renunciation of their nuclear faith on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. “We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons,” they wrote, “and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal.”

Unfortunately, such figures had come to Jesus only after leaving office, when they were exempt from the responsibility of matching their high-flown rhetoric with the gritty work of making it real.

Obama in Prague was another matter.  He was at the start of what would become an eight-year presidency and his rejection of nuclear fatalism rang across the world. Only months later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in large part because of this stunning commitment. A core hope of the post-World-War-II peace movement, always marginal, had at last been embraced in the seat of power. A year later, at Obama’s direction, the Pentagon, in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, actually advanced the president’s purpose, committing itself to “a multilateral effort to limit, reduce, and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide.”

“The United States,” that document promised, “will not develop new nuclear warheads.” When it came to the future of the nuclear arsenal, a program of responsible maintenance was foreseen, but no new ground was to be broken. “Life Extension Programs,” the Pentagon promised, “will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide new military capabilities.”

Obama’s timing in 2009 was critical. The weapons and delivery systems of the nuclear arsenal were aging fast. Many of the country’s missiles, warheads, strategic bombers, and nuclear-powered submarines dated back to the early Cold War era and were effectively approaching their radioactive sell-by dates. In other words, massive reductions in the arsenal had to begin before pressures to launch a program for the wholesale replacement of those weapons systems grew too strong to resist.  Such a program, in turn, would necessarily mean combining the latest technological innovations with ever greater lethality in a way guaranteed to reinvigorate the entire enterprise across the world — the polar opposite of “effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.”

Obama, in other words, was presiding over a golden moment, but an apocalyptic deadline was bearing down. And sure enough, that deadline came crashing through when three things happened: Vladimir Putin resurfaced as an incipient fascist intent on returning Russia to great power status; extremist Republicans took Congress hostage; and Barack Obama found himself lashed, like Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab, to “the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on half a heart and half a lung.” Insiders often compare the Pentagon to Moby Dick, the Great White Whale, and Obama learned why. The peaceful intentions with which he began his presidency were slapped away by the flukes of the monster, like so many novice oarsmen in a whaling skiff.

Hence Obama’s course reversals in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; hence the White House stumbles, including an unseemly succession of secretaries of defense, the fourth of whom, Ashton Carter, can reliably be counted on to advance the renewal of the nuclear force. The Pentagon’s “intangible malignity,” in Melville’s phrase, was steadily quickened by both Putin and the Republicans, but Obama’s half-devoured heart shows in nothing so much as his remarkably full-bore retreat, in both rhetoric and policy, from the goal of nuclear abolition.

recent piece by New York Times science correspondent William J. Broad made the president’s nuclear failure dramatic. Cuts to the U.S. nuclear stockpile initiated by George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, he pointed out, totaled 14,801 weapons; Obama’s reductions so far: 507 weapons. In 2010, a new START treaty between Moscow and Washington capped future deployed nukes at 1,500. As of this October, the U.S. still deploys 1,642 of them and Russia 1,643; neither nation, that is, has achieved START levels, which only count deployed weapons. (Including stored but readily re-armed and targeted nukes, the U.S. arsenal today totals about 4,800 weapons.)

In order to get the votes of Senate Republicans to ratify the START treaty, Obama made what turned out to be a devil’s bargain.  He agreed to lay the groundwork for a vast “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which, in the name of updating an aged system, is already morphing into a full-blown reinvention of the arms cache at an estimated future cost of more than atrillion dollars. In the process, the Navy wants, and may get, 12 new strategic submarines; the Air Force wants, and may get, a new long-range strike bomber force. Bombers and submarines would, of course, both be outfitted with next-generation missiles, and we’d be off to the races. The arms races.

All of this unfolds as Vladimir Putin warms the hearts of nuclear enthusiasts everywhere not only by his aggressions in Ukraine, but also by undercutting the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by testing a new ground-launched cruise missile. Indeed, just this fall, Russia successfully launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile. It seems that Moscow, too, can modernize.

On a Twenty-First Century Road to Perdition

Responding to the early Obama vision of “effective measures” toward nuclear disarmament, and following up on that 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, senior Pentagon officials pursued serious discussions about practical measures to reduce the nuclear arsenal. Leading experts advocated a shift away from the Cold War’s orgasmic strike targeting doctrine that still necessitates an arsenal of weapons counted in the thousands.

In fact, in response to budget constraints, legal obligations under a jeopardized non-proliferation treaty, and the most urgent moral mandate facing the country, America’s nuclear strategy could shift without wrenching difficulty, at the very least, to one of “minimal deterrence.” Hardcore national security mavens tell us this. Such a shift would involve a reduction in both the deployed and stored nuclear arsenal to something like 500 warheads. Even if that goal were pursued unilaterally, it would leave more than enough weaponry to deter any conceivable state-based nuclear threat, including Russia’s, no matter what Putin may do.

Five hundred is, of course, a long way from zero and so from the president’s 2009 goal of abolition, and yet opposition even to that level would be fierce in Washington. Though disarming and disposing of thousands of nukes would cost far less than replacement, it would still be expensive, and you can count on one thing: Pentagon nuclearists would find firm allies among congressional Republicans, who would be loathe to fund such a retreat from virtue’s Armageddon. Meanwhile, confronting such cuts, the defense industry’s samurai lobbyists would unsheathe their swords.

But if a passionate Obama could make a compelling case for a nuclear-free world from Prague in 2009, why not go directly to the American people and make the case today? There is, of course, no sign that the president intends to do such a thing any longer, but if a commander-in-chief were to order nuclear reductions into the hundreds, the result might actually be a transformation of the American political conscience. In the process, the global dream of a nuclear-free world could be resuscitated and the commitment of non-nuclear states (including Iran) to refrain from nuclear-weapons development could be rescued. Most crucially, there would no longer be any rationale for the large-scale reinvention of the American nuclear arsenal, a deadly project this nation is even now preparing to launch. At the very least, a vocal rededication to an ultimate disarmament, to the actual abolition of nuclear weapons, would keep that road open for a future president to re-embark upon.

Alas, Pentagon advocates of “minimal deterrence” have already been overridden. The president’s once fiercely held conviction is now a mere shadow of itself. As happened with Ahab’s wrecked whaling ship, tumultuous seas are closing over the hope that once seized the world’s attention. Take it for granted that, in retirement and out of power, ex-president Obama will rediscover his one-time commitment to a world freed from the nuclear nightmare. He will feel the special responsibility proper to a citizen of “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The then-former president’s speeches on the subject will be riveting and his philanthropy will be sharply targeted. All for naught.

Because of decisions likely to be taken this year and next, no American president will ever again be able to embrace this purpose as Obama once did. Nuclear weapons will instead become a normalized and permanent part of the twenty-first century American arsenal, and therefore of the arsenals of many other nations; nuclear weapons, that is, will have become an essential element of the human future — as long as that future lasts.

So yes, mark these days down. Nuclear abolition itself is being abolished. Meanwhile, let us acknowledge, as that hopeful young president once asked us to, that we know where this road leads.

James Carroll is the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning memoir “An American Requiem,” “Constantine’s Sword,” a history of Christian anti-Semitism and 10 novels. His latest book is “Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World.” He lectures widely on war and peace and on Jewish-Christian-Muslim reconciliation. He lives in Boston.

Why Paris is waging a war against driving

Inside the campaign to dramatically reduce automobile traffic in the city of lights

A "canyon of pollution": Why Paris is waging a war against driving

A car drives near the Eiffel tower in Paris, March 14, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau)

The mayor is supposed to be a problem-solver and a cheerleader, comfortable with both honest assessment and hometown boosterism

The two roles come into conflict now and again. And yet it still seems strange to hear Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, call the Champs-Elysées a “canyon of pollution” — as she did in an interview last week.

The grand boulevard is one of the world’s most famous streets and a major tourist attraction in its own right. It’s an urban design archetype with dozens of imitators, from Budapest to Philadelphia. And it’s also one of the worst places in Paris to take a breath of fresh air.

Hidalgo is offering some constructive criticism. In an interview on Sunday, the socialist mayor outlined a radical plan to reduce automobile use in the French capital, which will be introduced in full next month.

In addition to removing all but hybrid and electric cars from the Champs-Elysées, the Rue de Rivoli, and other major corridors, Hidalgo wants to ban all diesel vehicles from Paris by 2020. Trucks not headed for a destination in Paris will be forbidden from using Parisian roads. The speed limit will drop to 30 km/h on all but a few big streets. The mileage of the city’s bike lane network will double.

The central four arrondissements will be restricted to taxis, buses, delivery trucks and emergency vehicles. Only residents will be allowed to operate private cars.

It’s not that Paris needs to reduce traffic for mobility, raise money with fines and tolls, or discourage driving in the name of global sustainability — though all those may be beneficial side effects. The pressing problem is local air pollution, and Hidalgo’s plan to fight it may be the most drastic anti-car policy undertaken in a major city.

Air quality in the City of Light has been of increasing concern. Particle pollution exceeds the European Union’s suggested level of PM 10 content between 32 and 130 days a year, depending on one’s location within the city. Hidalgo likes to say that Parisians lose six months off their lives compared to their rural compatriots.

Hidalgo was elected in March, two weeks after a particularly bad cloud of smog disrupted life in the capital. The state activated stringent emergency measures. Mass transit, bike share and car share were free. Alternate driving days were instituted inside the city.



It worked — traffic fell and pollution followed. But Hidalgo would like to avoid making such crises an annual occurrence. She talked about the need to shift away from diesel fuel on the campaign. But making that a citywide reality is a huge challenge: 80 percent of French cars run on diesel.

That she feels she has the political will to do so reflects a long-term mobility shift underway in the city. In 2001, 40 percent of Parisians didn’t own a car. Today, Hidalgo says, it’s 60 percent. For that, she can thank her predecessor, Bertrand Delanoe, who established the city’s much-imitated bike share system, and a car share system, and turned a riverside highway into a beach every summer. Traffic dropped by 25 percent.

Hidalgo’s carless majority marks an important moment in municipal street policy. Just as the much-maligned Parisian “donut” — a wealthy center surrounded by poorer suburbs — provided a warning for cities like San Francisco and London; so too the city’s shift from the car may be a bellwether.

Unlike her counterpart in New York, Hidalgo doesn’t have to assuage constituents in car-dependent, low-density neighborhoods. She can afford to be openly radical. Even in Paris, with its outsize influence over France, achieving a ban on diesel would be a striking gesture of urban power and could reverberate throughout the French automobile industry.

But she won’t be able to enact her reforms without a larger consensus. This is, in part, a political issue: Without state approval, she can’t ban diesel vehicles from inside Paris or, to take another of her ideas, use commuter rail tracks to transport freight. But it’s also an environmental reality. Paris is a hub, but twice as many people live in the inner suburbs; there are 200,000 more jobs there as well. Airparif, the agency that monitors regional air quality, has said that to be effective, the ban on diesel vehicles would need to extend to the A-86, the ring road three miles beyond the city’s boundaries.

Hidalgo has said she will meet with the mayors of those suburban cities. Many of them are as dense if not denser than central Paris. But they aren’t under the inner city’s blanket of metro stations. The number of car trips per person has dropped in the region at large, but only slightly, from 1.54 trips per day in 2001 to 1.46 in 2010.

The ongoing expansion of the regional transport network should sweeten the deal. (Another huge stretch of suburban tramway opened on Saturday.) Hidalgo has also spoken about making exceptions for low-income drivers and distributing credits for upgrading vehicles. She recently introduced Utilib’, a car-sharing service intended for the transport of goods. She has pledged to expand the passenger-focused, car-sharing service Autolib’.

Whether or not Hidalgo can bring the Petite Couronne municipalities along with her, her scheme for Paris demonstrates how the megacity has been divorced from its national context. The plan to pedestrianize central Paris is similar to a measure that will debut in Madrid next month. The push to rethink freight transport is similar to efforts undertaken by Michael Bloomberg in New York. Tracking what types of vehicles enter the city is an idea indebted to the success of London’s congestion pricing initiative.

It’s not surprising that these metropolises share problems and solutions across different national cultures and legal frameworks. More interesting is the extent to which smaller, regional cities imitate them, diffusing policy innovations across the country.

In France, that does not seem to be happening. In fact, many smaller French cities are moving in the opposite direction, bringing cars back to central districts. In provincial centers like Lille, Angers and Saint-Etienne – and many smaller cities – authorities fear that exiling cars may have hurt the ability of urban shops to compete with their suburban counterparts. (Sound familiar? Many American cities share the philosophy.)

It’s not a worry on the Champs-Elysées. Within a few years, the avenue will no longer resemble the smoggy backdrop from “Breathless.” The transformation won’t be as novel as you might think: Most of the grand urban boulevards, including this one, were designed before cars existed. It’s a testament to their charm that people have continued to enjoy such streets in spite of the noise, traffic and exhaust.

Just think how nice the avenue will be without them.

http://www.salon.com/2014/12/14/a_canyon_of_pollution_why_paris_is_waging_a_war_against_driving/?source=newsletter

 

What the decline of McDonald’s really means

Death of a fast-food Goliath: 

McDonald’s is on the decline in America. Here’s why that isn’t automatically good news

Death of a fast-food Goliath: What the decline of McDonald's really means
(Credit: 1000 Words via Shutterstock/Salon)

The reign of the golden arches is ending. McDonald’s reported this week that its already-declining U.S. sales nose-dived in November, down 4.6 percent compared to last year. The company that introduced America to fast food, and has come to stand as its icon, is fading away.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that America’s falling out of love with fast food. It’s just that these days, we call it Chipotle.

There are plenty of reasons ascribed to McDonald’s downfall, but one constantly cited is that the post-”Super Size Me” world just isn’t eager to subject itself to the chain’s version of food any longer. Americans, the narrative goes, are demanding more of their meals. And the spoils are going to a new generation of “fast casual” providers who can provide they’re rising to the challenge.

McDonald’s certainly seems to believe this to be the case. While the company says it plans to pare its offerings down to the essentials, one of the new initiatives it’s spearheading in an attempt to reverse its fortunes is a sleek, touch-screen burger customization system, giving customers a greater degree of control over the options they do have — just like at Chipotle. Crucially, the company also seems to be realizing that there may be a problem with the food itself: building on its recent P.R. campaign aimed at demystifying the origins of McRibs and McNuggets, executives say they’re also considering paring down the list of ingredients in their highly processed offerings. In November, it rejected a new variety of genetically modified potato from its biggest supplier.



None of that, however, holds a candle to the image Chipotle is selling, best encompassed by “The Scarecrow.” The viral video’s success lay in its portrayal of everything it claims its food isn’t: unnatural, inhumanely raised, factory farm meat laden with God-knows-what chemicals and additives. “From the very beginning, Chipotle has used really high-quality fresh ingredients, and prepares all the foods we serve,” company spokesman Chris Arnold boasted to the AFP. ”So from the beginning, we were doing something which is pretty different than what was happening in traditional American fast food.”

Chipotle’s opened itself up to a fair amount of scrutiny from critics who say it’s overselling just how enlightened its “farm to face” fare truly is, however. Most of its food isn’t organic, and the company still uses genetically modified ingredients. While its efforts to source local, humanely raised and antibiotic-free meat are encouraging, it isn’t always able to live up to its own high (and highly advertised) standards. In some cases, customers end up paying premium fare for a product that’s more of the same.

This is a system-wide trend. Promising signs that other fast food giants are beginning to reform their ways — Panera ditching artificial additives, Chick-Fil-A eliminating chickens raised with antibiotics, Burger King removing gestation crates from its pork supply chain and switching over to cage-free eggs, In-N-Out Burger paying its workers a living wage — are laudable, but they shouldn’t be mistaken for what they are: positive P.R.-garnering baby steps toward improvement of a system that requires a total overhaul.

What Mark Bittman calls Improved Fast Food is still, after all, fast food. It still comes laden with fat, sodium and calories, often in excess of what you’ll get from McDonald’s. Even Chipotle continues to pour Coca-Cola. “Natural,” one of the new guard’s go-to adjectives, is a word with plenty of positive connotations but no FDA-enforceable definition; “humanely raised,” as a standard for livestock, is fallible at best. And I hate to break it to friends of Five Guys and Smashburger, but there’s really no such thing as a “better burger“ (or, for that matter, a better beef burrito) from a health perspective, and certainly not if you’re looking for a sustainable meal. Our growing understanding of diet’s contribution to climate change, on the contrary, holds that we’ve got to drastically cut down our consumption of meat, and of beef in particular.

But consumers don’t care how a Big Mac compares to a burrito in terms of fat and calories, according to a lengthy analysis of the company’s downfall in Fortune – they just care that Chipotle’s food is “seen as being natural, unprocessed and sustainable.” McDonald’s failing may not be that it’s so much worse than its competitors — it’s just that it’s so much worse at making itself look better. This is a food provider, after all, that’s still working to convince us that its burgers don’t contain ground-up worms.

That Americans are seeking out fresh, healthy food is unequivocally a good thing, one that’s already brought about some important reforms. But we’re still a long way away from revolution.

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/12/12/why_the_end_of_mcdonalds_doesnt_mean_the_end_of_fast_food/?source=newsletter

 

 

Stop calling the Keystone pipeline a job creator! It will create 35 jobs.

Keystone will not create tens of thousands of jobs. The actual number? 35

 

The Keystone myth that refuses to die: Stop calling the pipeline a job creator!

(Credit: MSNBC)

Of all the reasons one might have to support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline (like, say, a last-minute gambit to save one’s Senate seat), arguing that it’s going to create jobs is the least sensical — because, as the State Department itself determined, it will create only 35 permanent jobs.

Even with the 15 other, temporary jobs the project will create, for inspections and maintenance, that’s still not enough even to employ the 60 senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., needs to pass through approval of the pipeline when it comes to a vote Tuesday evening.

And yet the argument that Keystone will lead to jobs upon jobs upon jobs is perhaps the most pervasive, and fundamentally incorrect, myth surrounding the pipeline controversy.

Only an extremely skewed reading of the job projections could lead Fox News Host Anna Kooiman, for example, to claim that “there would be tens of thousands of jobs created” if the president approved of the pipeline, a claim that Politifact rounded down to “mostly false.” While it’s true that the State Department estimates that 42,100 jobs — many only tangentially related to the pipeline — will be created during its two years of construction, they’re almost all temporary, and include 10,400 seasonal positions that will only last for four to eight months. When you look at that over the course of two years, Politifact explains, that only comes out to 3,900 “average annual” jobs. Most of the construction jobs in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, through which the pipeline will pass, will rely on specialists brought in from out of state.

TransCanada’s CEO, Russ Girling, further stretched the truth into an outright lie on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday morning, claiming that the State Department called those 42,000 jobs “ongoing” and “enduring.” Again, Politifact corrects the record, explaining that, for the reasons above, those adjectives only apply if you have an incredibly short-sighted definition of “ongoing and enduring” (read: two years or less).



But if you really want to get an idea of how hard the jobs myth is to squash, look no further than lefty news channel MSNBC, where host Joe Scarborough propagated that same false narrative. Questioning a potential decision to delay the pipeline, he laughed: “Their own State Department says it’s going to create 50,000 new jobs.”

Again: not.

You know what already did create tens of thousands of jobs, in nearly every state? Renewable energy, which according to a report from Environmental Entrepreneurs created almost 80,000 of them in 2013 alone. The main thing holding back future growth, that same report found, is “ongoing regulatory uncertainty,” most notably with wind energy tax credits. It’s worth checking out, especially if you happen to be a politician who’s legitimately looking for a way to grow the economy.

Those other persuasive arguments for approving the pipeline, for the record, don’t hold up much better: The part of the State Department review finding that Keystone would have a negligible impact on the environment, for one, is made extremely suspect by the multiple conflicts of interest surrounding it. The local impacts of leaks and the global impacts of emitting any more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere would suggest otherwise; another study evaluating the State Department’s analysis concluded that the report downplays the pipeline’s environmental significance.

Studies have established that the pipeline isn’t going to reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. And over at the Washington Post, Philip Bump has the ultimate explainer for why it isn’t going to lower gas prices in any straightforward way — it some regions, in fact, it could even raise them. What he boils it all down to: “The most direct beneficiaries of Keystone XL won’t be consumers.”

Here’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on CNN, trying to wrap his mind around the idea that approving the pipeline would make any kind of sense whatsoever:

Oh, and one other job pushing the pipeline won’t be able to ensure? Sen. Landrieu’s, as voters don’t seem to have been swayed by her pro-Keystone rhetoric. Although, as Salon writers Luke Brinker and Joan Walsh have both pointed out, we can expect to see a brand-new position with the oil lobby created just for her once this is all over.

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

The Interregnum: Why the Future is so chaotic

The Interregnum:

Why the Future is so chaotic

“The old is dying,and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum there arises a diversity of morbid symptoms”-Antonio Gramsci

The morbid symptoms began to appear in the spring of 2003. The Department of Homeland Security was officially formed and despite the street protests of millions around the world, the United States invaded Iraq on the pretext of capturing Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction”. By summer it was obvious that there were no such weapons and that we had been tricked into a war from which there was no easy exit. Pollsters began to notice that a majority of American’s felt we were “on the wrong track” and the distrust of our leadership has gotten worse every year.

So while the citizens exhibit historical levels of anger with the country’s drift, neither the political nor the economic leaders have put forth an alternative vision of our future. We are in an Interregnum: the often painful uprooting of old traditions and the hard-fought emergence of the new. The traditional notion of an interregnum refers to the time when a king died and a new king had not been coronated. But for our purposes, the notion of interregnum refers to those hinges in time when the old order is dead, but the new direction has not been determined. Quite often, the general populace does not understand that the transition is taking place and so a great deal of tumult arises as the birth pangs of a new social and political order. We are in such a time in America.

For those of us who work in the field of media and communications the signs of the Interregnum are everywhere. Internet services decimate the traditional businesses of music and journalism. For individual journalists or musicians, the old order is clearly dying, but a new way to make a living cannot seem to be birthed. Those who work in the fields of film and television can only hope a similar fate does not await their careers. In the world of politics a similar dynamic is destroying traditional political parties and the insurgent bottom up, networked campaigns pioneered by Barack Obama now become the standard. And yet we realize that for all it’s insurgency, the Obama campaign really did not usher in a new era. It is clear that there is an American Establishment that seems to stay in power no matter which party controls The White House. And the recent election only makes this more obvious. But this top-down establishment order is clearly dying, but it clings to it privileges and the networked, bottom-up society is not yet empowered.

Since 1953 when two senior partners of a Wall Street law firm, the brothers John Foster and Allen Dulles began running American foreign (and often domestic) policy, an establishment view, through Democratic and Republican presidencies alike, has been the norm. As Stephen Kinzer (in his book The Brothers)has written about the Dulles brothers, “Their life’s work was turning American money and power into global money and power. They deeply believed, or made themselves believe, that what benefited them and their clients would benefit everyone.” They created a world in which the Wall Street elites at first set our foreign policy and eventually (under Ronald Reagan) came to dominate domestic and tax policy — all to the benefit of themselves and their clients.

In 1969 the median salary for a male worker was $35,567 (in 2012 dollars). Today it is $33,904. So for 44 years, while wages for the top 10% have continued to climb, most Americans have been caught in a ”Great Stagnation”, bringing into question the whole purpose of the American capitalist economy. The notion that what benefited the establishment would benefit everyone, had been thoroughly discredited.

Seen through this lens, the savage partisanship of the current moment makes an odd kind of sense. What were the establishment priorities that moved inexorably forward in both Republican and Democratic administrations? The first was a robust and aggressive foreign policy. As Kinzer writes of the Dulles brothers, “Exceptionalism — the view that the United States has a right to impose its will because it knows more, sees farther, and lives on a higher moral plane than other nations — was to them not a platitude, but the organizing principle of daily life and global politics.” From Eisenhower to Obama, this principle has been the guiding light of our foreign policy, bringing with it annual defense expenditures that dwarf those of all the world’s major powers combined and drive us deeper in debt. The second principle of the establishment was, “what is good for Wall Street is good for America.” Despite Democrats efforts to paint the GOP as the party of Wall Street, one would only have to look at the efforts of Clinton’s Treasury secretaries Rubin and Summers to kill the Glass-Steagal Act and deregulate the big banks, to see that the establishment rules no matter who is in power. Was it any surprise that Obama then appointed the architects of bank deregulation, Summers and Geithner, to clean up the mess their policies had caused?

So when we observe politicians as diverse as Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul railing against the twin poles of establishment orthodoxy, can we really be surprised? Is there not a new consensus that the era of America as global policeman is over? Is there not agreement from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street that the domination of domestic policy by financial elites is over? But here is our Interregnum dilemma. It is one thing to forecast a kind of liberal-libertarian coalition around the issues of defense spending, corporate welfare and even the privacy rights of citizens in a national security state. It is a much more intractable problem to find consensus on the causes and cures of the Great Stagnation. It does seem like we need to understand the nature of the current stagnation by looking back to the late sixties when the economy was very different than it is today. In 1966, net investment as a percentage of GDP peaked at 14% and it has been on a steady decline ever since, despite the computer revolution which was only getting started in the early 1970’s.

Economic growth only comes from three sources: consumption, investment or foreign earnings from trade (the Current Account). We have been living so long with a negative current account balance and falling investment that economic growth is almost totally dependent on the third leg of the stool, consumer spending. But with the average worker unable to get a raise since 1969, consumption can only come from loosened credit standards. As long as the average family could use their home equity as an ATM, the party could continue, driven by the increasing sophistication of advertising and “branded entertainment” to induce mall fever to a strapped consumer. And by the late 1990’s consumer preferences began to drive a winner take all digital economy where one to three firms dominated each sector: Apple and Google; Verizon and AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable; Disney, Fox, Viacom and NBC Universal; Facebook and Twitter. All of this was unloosed by the establishment meme of deregulation — a world in which anti-trust regulators had little influence and laissez-faire ruled. These oligopolies began making so much money they didn’t have enough places to invest so corporate cash as a percentage of assets rose to an all time high.

Here is my fear. That our current version of capitalism is not working. Apple holds on to $158 billion in cash because it can’t find a profitable investment. And because U.S. worker participation rates are only 64%, a huge number of people can never afford an I Phone and so domestic demand is flat (though very profitable) and the real growth in the digital economy will be in Asia, Africa and South America. There is not much the Fed lowering interest rates can do to alter this picture. What is needed is not more easy money loans; it more decent jobs.

But unlike our left-right consensus on military spending, there is a fierce debate raging between economists about the causes and solutions to this stagnation. Though both left and right agree the economy has stagnated, there are huge differences in the prospects for emerging from this condition. On the right, the political economist Tyler Cowen’s new book is called Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. Here is how Cowen sees the next twenty years.

The rise of intelligent machines will spawn new ideologies along with the new economy it is creating. Think of it as a kind of digital social Darwinism, with clear winners and losers: Those with the talent and skills to work seamlessly with technology and compete in the global marketplace are increasingly rewarded, while those whose jobs can just as easily be done by foreigners, robots or a few thousand lines of code suffer accordingly. This split is already evident in the data: The median male salary in the United States was higher in 1969 than it is today. Middle-class manufacturing jobs have been going away due to a mix of automation and trade, and they are not being replaced. The most lucrative college majors are in the technical fields, such as engineering. The winners are doing much better than ever before, but many others are standing still or even seeing wage declines.

On the left, Paul Krugman is not so sure we can emerge from this stagnation.

But what if the world we’ve been living in for the past five years is the new normal? What if depression-like conditions are on track to persist, not for another year or two, but for decades?…In fact, the case for “secular stagnation” — a persistent state in which a depressed economy is the norm, with episodes of full employment few and far between — was made forcefully recently at the most ultrarespectable of venues, the I.M.F.’s big annual research conference. And the person making that case was none other than Larry Summers. Yes, that Larry Summers.

Cowen forecasts a dystopian world where 10% of the population do very well and “the rest of the country will have stagnant or maybe even falling wages in dollar terms, but they will also have a lot more opportunities for cheap fun and cheap education.” That’s real comforting. He predicts the 90% will put up with this inequality for two reasons. First, the country is aging: “remember that riots and protests are typically the endeavors of young hotheads, not sage (or tired) senior citizens.” And second, because of the proliferation of social networks, “envy is local…Right now, the biggest medium for envy in the United States is probably Facebook, not the big yachts or other trophies of the rich and famous.”

Although Cowen cites statistics about the fall in street crime to back up the notion that the majority of citizens are passively accepting gross inequality, I think he completely misunderstands the nature of anti-social pathologies in the Internet Age of Stagnation. Take the example of the Web Site Silk Road.

Silk Road already stands as a tabloid monument to old-fashioned vice and new-fashioned technology. Until the website was shut down last month, it was the place to score, say, a brick of cocaine with a few anonymous strokes on a computer keyboard. According to the authorities, it greased $1.2 billion in drug deals and other crimes, including murder for hire.

From Lulzsec to Pirate Bay to Silk Road, the coming anarchy of a Bladerunner like society are far more vicious than a few street thugs in our major cities. The rise of virtual currencies that can’t be traced like Bitcoin only make the possibilities for a huge crime wave on the Dark Net more imminent—one which IBM estimates already costs the economy $400 billion annually.

So while both Cowen and Krugman agree that stagnation is causing the labor force participation rate to fall, they disagree as to whether anything can be done to remedy the problem.

In the early 1970’s the participation rate began to climb as more and more women entered the workforce. It peaked when George Bush entered office and has been on the decline ever since. As the Time’s David Leonhardt has pointed out, this has very little to do with Baby Boomer retirement. The economist Daniel Alpert has argued in his new book, The Age of Oversupply, that “the central challenge facing the global economy is an oversupply of labor, productive capacity and capital relative to the demand for all three.”

Viewed through this lens, neither the policy prescriptions of Republicans nor Democrats are capable of changing the dynamic brought about by the entrance of three billion new workers into the global economy in the last 20 years. Republican fears that U.S. deficits will lead to Weimar-like hyper-inflation ring hollow in a country where only 63% of the able bodied are working. Democrats hectoring for The Fed and the banks to loan more to business to stimulate the economy are equally nonsensical when American corporations are sitting on $2.4 trillion in cash.

But there is a way out of this deflationary trap we are in. First the Republicans have got to acknowledge the obvious: America’s corporations are not going to invest in vast amounts of new capacity when there is a glut in almost every sector worldwide. Secondly, that overcapacity is not going to get absorbed until more people go back to work and start buying the goods from the factories. This was the same problem our country faced in the great depression and the way we got out of it was by putting people to work rebuilding the infrastructure of this country. Did it ever occur to the politicians in Washington that the reason so many bridges, water and electrical systems are failing is because most of them were built 80 years ago, during the great depression? For Republicans to insist that more austerity will bring back the “confidence fairy”is exactly the wrong policy prescription for an age of oversupply. But equally destructive, as Paul Krugman points out are Democratic voices like Erskine Bowles, shouting from any venue that will pay him, that the debt apocalypse is upon us.

But the Democrats are also going to have to give up some long held beliefs that all good solutions come from Washington. If the Healthcare.gov website debacle has taught us anything, it is that devolving power from Washington to the states is the answer to the complexity of modern governance. While California’s healthcare website performed admirably, the notion of trying to create a centralized system to service 50 different state systems was a fool’s errand. So what is needed is a federalist solution for investment in the infrastructure of the next economy. This is the way out of The Interregnum. Investors buying tax-free municipal bonds to rebuild ancient water systems and bridges as well as solar and wind plants will finance much of it. But just as President Eisenhower understood that a national interstate highway system built in the 1950’s would lead to huge productivity gains in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Federal tax dollars will have to play a large part in rebuilding America. As we wind down our trillion dollar commitments to wars in the Middle East, we must engage in an Economic Conversion Strategy from permanent war to peaceful innovation that both liberals and libertarians could embrace.

The way to overcome the partisan gridlock on infrastructure spending would be for Obama to commit to a totally federalist solution to us getting out of our problems. The Federal Government would use every dollar saved from getting out of Iraq, Afghanistan and all the other defense commitments in block innovation grants to the states. Lets say the first grant is for $100 Billion. It will be given directly to the states on a per capita basis to be used to foster local economic growth. No strings or Federal Bureaucracy attached to the grants except that the states have to publish a yearly accounting of the money in an easily readable form. And then let the press follow the money and see which states come up with the most imaginative solutions. Some states might use the grants to lower the cost of state university tuition. Others might spend the money on high-speed rail lines or municipal fiber broadband and wifi. As we have found in the corporate sector, pushing power to the edges of an organization helps foster innovation. As former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano told his colleagues, “we have to lower the center of gravity of this organization”.

If it worked, then slowly more money could be transferred to the states in these bureaucracy free block grants. Gradually the bureaucracies of the Federal government would shrink as more and more responsibility was shifted to local supervision of education, health, welfare and infrastructure.

In the midst of our current Washington quagmire this vision of a growing American middle class may seem like a distant mirage. But it is clear that the establishment consensus on foreign policy, defense spending, domestic spying and corporate welfare has died in the last 12 months. The old top-down establishment order is clearly dying, but just how we build the new order based on a bottom-up, networked society that works for the 90%, not just the establishment is the question of our age.

Don’t call it gentrification

“Dispatches Against Displacement” author James Tracy on fighting to keep cities from becoming rich-only playgrounds

Don’t call it gentrification
(Credit: AP/Michael Dwyer)

In the early 1990s, a punk rock kid named James Tracy moved from the gritty North Bay city of Vallejo to nearby San Francisco and got a job driving a delivery truck for a thrift store in the predominantly Latino, working-class Mission district. During his pickup runs, he noticed that many landlords were making generous donations — the left-behind belongings of former tenants. This was a few years before the rise of the first dot-com boom, but even then, Tracy said, “It was obvious to me that a storm was coming.”

The storm was more like a hurricane. In the late ’90s and early aughts, a torrent of venture capital poured into Silicon Valley and waves of would-be tech entrepreneurs flooded into San Francisco, displacing tens of thousands of poor folks, artists, musicians, activists and families who were evicted to make room for higher-paying tenants. In order to get around San Francisco’s rent-control laws, many buildings were demolished and sterile live-work lofts and generic-looking condos rose from their ashes.

Just as with a real hurricane, this storm also had a body count. In one notorious case, a landlord overcame housing activists’ attempts to block the eviction of an 82-year-old woman, who died shortly after being forced out of her longtime home. Many more San Francisco seniors have met similar fates since then.

Resistance to this onslaught of displacement was widespread, fraught with internal clashes, sometimes victorious, occasionally militant, and occasionally surreal. In one case, the San Francisco police seized Situationist and Marxist books from the library of an anti-displacement propagandist who had been wheat-pasting posters throughout the Mission encouraging people to burn yuppies’ cars and sabotage hip restaurants. Through it all, James Tracy was on the front lines — sometimes quite literally, as a member of groups that would protest on landlords’ doorsteps or during anti-eviction occupations at the homes of families facing displacement.

In his new book, “Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes From San Francisco’s Housing Wars,” Tracy not only looks back with a critical eye on the recent history of anti-displacement organizing but also offers solutions for how these struggles can be more successful moving forward. With rent prices for one-bedroom apartments often surpassing $3,000, the need for a book like this is painfully obvious.



You start the book with this quote from Herbert Marcuse: “The housing crisis doesn’t exist because the system isn’t working. It exists because that’s the way the system works.” How does this permanent state of crisis exemplify a system that’s operating as intended?

In the simplest sense, it works well for those who make exorbitant profits from a crisis. It’s working well for speculators and throwing not only tenants, but first-time homebuyers and even some small landlords under the bus. In a larger sense, the housing crisis achieves ideological goals. It tells a public story that it is natural that the rights of this small group of speculators should outweigh everyone else’s need for a safe and decent place to live. The evidence to the contrary is literally under every overpass in America, yet even those harmed by the crisis often defend it.

One of the most interesting things about the idea of a crisis is the issue of when the media decides to call it one. It wasn’t until after the cascading foreclosure crisis in 2008 that the term “housing crisis” was broadly used. This is because homeowners can still generate a great deal of more sympathy than renters. If you look at the history of housing policy, it is access to homeownership, not the construction of public housing, which was the centerpiece of the New Deal reforms. You can trace the narratives from there, homeownership is part of the American Dream, renting makes you part of a second class. Yet homeowners (and I am one) are subsidized as well through income tax breaks. Who is the system working for? The finance and real estate sectors are doing just fine by it. Everyone else is either on the chopping block or standing nearby it.

You cite an infamous quote by a San Francisco city supervisor saying “a little gentrification is a good thing” in explaining your decision to use the term “displacement” instead of “gentrification.” Do you think “gentrification” has too many positive connotations to be a useful word for people challenging displacement? Would you like to see people stop using the “g-word”?

I prefer to use the word “displacement” because it drives home the end result of gentrification: someone loses their home and their community. You can’t play fast and loose with the word! On one end of political thought, there is this underlying assumption that higher-income people improve a low-income community just by arriving there. It plays into this mythos deeply imbedded in our psyche that  rich people will somehow randomly meet their neighbors and help them up the economic ladder.

During the Great Depression there were thousands of cases of neighbors banding together to militantly protect each other from eviction. We saw scattered examples of this in the wake of the Occupy movement, but it didn’t become a widespread phenomenon in response to the still ongoing foreclosure crisis. Why do you think people are so much less likely to use militant or even confrontational tactics now?

You see echoes of this today, although not nearly at the same levels during the Great Depression. Eviction Free San Francisco has had a lot of success in pushing back evictions, most recently in the case of Benito Santiago using a direct action model. There is a lot of innovative housing organizing going on today. Just a few examples are Picture the Homeless; NYC’s anti-vacancy work; in Chicago, the anti-foreclosure and home occupation movement is cutting edge.

Housing activism tends to do best against the backdrop of larger social and movements. In the 1930s, there were large mass-based movements that elevated the needs of working-class people. Movements influence each other both tactically and morally. The formation of the trade union movement, the campaign to free the Scottsboro Men, built a sense of boldness and political consciousness that could easily be translated into a neighborhood context. Also, today’s neighbors have far less connection with each other thanks to climates of fear and the impacts of the greatest work speedup in U.S. history. The fact that both lower-income and middle-income people are working 50, 60 and 70 hours a week damages our ability to organize on the level of the Unemployed Workers Movement.

As you say in the book, “The Clinton Administration decided that the way to deal with public housing’s problems was with a wrecking ball.” Clinton’s history of enacting steep welfare cuts is much more well-known than his equally destructive housing policies. Why do you think this aspect of his legacy doesn’t get as much attention?

Clinton’s housing policy was part and parcel of welfare reform. Certainly, both federal income assistance and public housing needed changes. But Clinton and Congress adopted a model based in punishment and austerity. He was literally worse than the Republicans at every turn. His version of HOPE VI, the program to demolish and rebuild public housing, removed the very reasonable guarantee of one-to-one replacement of demolished housing. I had the privilege of working alongside residents of public housing in San Francisco.

Most of the demands they made on the Housing Authority and Housing and Urban Development were very fundamental. They wanted the renovation process to result in living-wage jobs for their kids, they wanted to come back to their communities. Yet, this was met with scorn, disdain and, in some cases, criminalization. It was an example of what happens when liberals accept the same worn-out assumptions about poor people as conservatives.

Clinton was able to use progressive critiques of the worst aspects of federal housing such as the warehousing of the poor in substandard conditions to accomplish the conservative goal of privatizing formerly public housing. How are progressive arguments still being used in the service of displacement of urban poor?

The Clinton administration argued that public housing was a form of segregation and that the HOPE VI process was a form of integration, essentially fulfilling the promise of the civil rights movement. He was halfway right. Local governments did in fact use public housing programs to reinforce segregation. However, what we saw in the aftermath of HOPE VI was actually a form of resegregation as the displaced just resettled where they could afford to find homes. Simply a different kind of warehousing.

You see this today under the Obama administration as public housing authorities are attempting to implement drastic rent hikes as a perverse incentive toward self-sufficiency. You want people to move towards self-sufficiency? Create good-paying public works jobs and the social supports like childcare and education to make this happen. You can’t essentially apply a Wal-Mart mentality to public policy and expect to change lives with a cheap strategy like this. The people of North Beach Public Housing taught me that the solutions to poverty start with the input, insight and creativity of people facing poverty. The rest of us can and should lend our levels of expertise and skills when needed. But to think that government is going to design solutions without these voices symbolizes they very worst impulses of liberal and conservative frameworks.

We’re in the midst of a wave of “spatial deconstruction” — basically the opposite of white flight — where poor people are being pushed out of city centers into outlying suburbs. There have been various theories about how this is essentially the fulfillment of a decades-long response to the inner city uprisings and riots of the late 1960s with the ultimate goal being decentralization of potentially revolutionary populations. Regardless of the origins of this shift, we recently got a preview of what suburban uprisings look like in Ferguson — and how effectively militarized police are able to shut them down. As an organizer, how do you think this shift to the suburbs will affect the ability of local housing rights movements to grow, thrive and accomplish their goals?

I was born in Oakland but brought up mostly in Vallejo; I think that it is a mistake most of our organizations have made to not nurture progressive organizing in the blue-collar suburbs. It doesn’t mean that big-city organizers need to run and parachute in to Hayward, Vallejo and Fairfield and Concord. But we do need to create relationships with people already doing the work, mostly through church-based organizing.

The Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Council has been doing fantastic work in areas far outside of “hip” areas. Last year, I observed the Participatory Budgeting process in Vallejo and I was impressed by what I saw. By giving a portion of the city budget over to a popular decision-making process, a lot of dialogue between citizens was created over the future of their city. Youth and non-citizens were welcomed and encouraged to participate. It wasn’t uncommon to see a resident of a Section 8 housing development work alongside a middle-class homeowner in a spirit of mutual respect.

When schools, parks, streetlights and other aspects of local infrastructure are improved, it makes neighborhoods more desirable — which makes displacement more likely. How can neighborhoods improve themselves without falling prey to this vicious cycle?

This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Because of this reality, many well-meaning people romanticize preserving dilapidated conditions as an anti-displacement strategy. This is simply wrong-headed. Disinvestment is simply the first phase of displacement, the time when speculators can scoop up property on the cheap and wait until the time is right to flip. One of the solutions is to engage in long-term community planning so that improvements such as these can be done in tandem with strategies to preserve affordability in a meaningful, not superficial way.

On a bigger scale, look at projects like BART. Clearly the development of a mass transit system played a key role in mass displacement in San Francisco. But for reasons of environmental sustainability as well as convenience, I think it would be hard to argue that the city would be better off without a rail system. As more cities improve their transit systems, what can low-income communities do so that they’re able to enjoy the benefits of improved transit options without succumbing to displacement?

When Portland put in its rail system a few years ago, it funded a Community Land Trust to work on preserving the impacted communities. The funding was never enough to make the desired impact, but the model was a strong one.

One of the possible solutions you mention in the book involves passing laws to curb property speculation by taxing away the profits. None of the ballot initiatives coming up for a vote in San Francisco next month go quite that far, but several do aim to alleviate the city’s displacement crisis. Are you hopeful that any of these will achieve that goal? If so, what solutions embedded within these initiatives give you the most hope?

Yes. Proposition G on San Francisco’s ballot is critical. It curbs displacement by discouraging the practice of swift flipping of buildings for windfall profits. Even though it will help protect renters, first-time homebuyers who actually want to make San Francisco home will be big winners if this passes. In the absence of political will on the state level to address the Ellis Act, this is the only hope to save what’s left of the San Francisco we fell in love with.

Another option for creating “gentrification-proof bubbles” that you mention is the establishment of Community Land Trusts. The interesting thing about this ownership structure is that it does so much more than just prevent evictions — they actually require that neighbors know each other and learn how to work together. This model feels like the polar opposite of the sole homeownership model of the 20th century in America, which promoted individuality and independence at the cost of community-building. Can you really ever see the CLT model taking off in America?

I helped form the San Francisco Community Land Trust and I believe that this model can simultaneously preserve affordability and build community. It’s basically a rebooted version of the old cooperative housing model where affordability and tenure is protected, much in the same way that forests are protected through trusts. Without forms of community ownership, even the most impressive housing organizing victories are temporary. It’s important not to romanticize the cooperative and deal head-on with the problems it presents. For example, the SFCLT has been incorporated since 2004 and we have secured about six dozen homes. Not enough to intervene in the housing crisis yet. Land trusts are part of the solution, not the entire thing. And yes, one of the main obstacles is the accepted notions of what people expect from their housing. It is hard to move beyond the poles of renter vs. homeowner. The CLT model makes asks of both society and the individual. It asks society to move toward housing as a human right. It asks individuals to take personal responsibility as part of a community. It is a heavy lift given the times we live in.

Liam O’Donoghue is Salon’s communications director. He writes about what’s happening at Salon and manages Salon’s social media assets. You can follow him on Twitter @Liam_Odonoghue.

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/02/don%E2%80%99t_call_it_gentrification/?source=newsletter

30 percent of shrimp isn’t what it claims to be

There’s a good chance you have no idea what you’re eating — and you shouldn’t be OK with that

 

Report: 30 percent of shrimp isn't what it claims to be

Purchase shrimp in the U.S., and there’s a reasonably good chance the thing the you end up with isn’t what you’ve been sold.

That’s according to a new study from Oceana, the group that previously showed us how seafood fraud affects a full third of fish sold in the U.S. Researchers took samples from 111 grocery stores and restaurants across the country, tested their DNA, and found that a full 30 percent of shrimp were misrepresented: They were farmed whiteleg shrimp advertised as “wild” or “Gulf,” for example, or one species identified as another.

It’s disconcerting, for sure, to think you might be inadvertently chowing down on “an aquarium pet not intended to be consumed as food,” or a “mystery” species that DNA testing failed to identify, but the larger problem with this mislabeling concerns the shrimps’ origins — and should leave the consumer feeling queasy for different reasons.

There are a ton of different shrimp species — the Ocean report identified 20 of them — and deciding which is best to eat, from an environmental perspective, largely depends on where they’re from and how they were raised. The Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch recommends U.S. wild-caught options, unless they come from Mexico or Louisiana, as well as farmed shrimp, as long as it’s from the U.S. and not imported. There are real consequences to supporting shrimp suppliers who do things the wrong way: Some farming and harvesting methods are incredibly destructive to the environment; a complex global supply chain, meanwhile, links the shrimp that ends up at U.S. stores to slave labor. And every time these bad-news crustaceans get away with masquerading as something benign, they take away from the ethical, eco-conscious shrimpers who are trying to make a living by doing things right.



That’s a lot to get straight on its own, and nearly impossible to get right if labels can’t be trusted — or if retailers don’t bother to include any type of identification to begin with. That’s a problem, too, according to Oceana: It found that one in five grocery stores didn’t bother to inform consumers where their shrimp came from and whether it was farmed or wild-caught, and the majority of restaurant menus simply called everything shrimp.

Consumers need to demand, first, that they’re told where their seafood is coming from, and second, that said information is reliable — otherwise, we’re just going to keep getting blindsided by these nasty surprises.

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/30/report_30_of_shrimp_isnt_what_it_claims_to_be/?source=newsletter