Archive for June 14th, 2009
The situation there is bad. Andrew Sullivan’s blog is carrying a lot of messages from people there, who find a way to get information out of the country.
It’s against regulations, but of course that has never stopped the Army from doing anything. The story, reported by Matt Kennard in Salon:
On a muggy Florida evening in 2008, I meet Iraq War veteran Forrest Fogarty in the Winghouse, a little bar-restaurant on the outskirts of Tampa, his favorite hangout. He told me on the phone I would recognize him by his skinhead. Sure enough, when I spot a white guy at a table by the door with a shaved head, white tank top and bulging muscles, I know it can only be him.
Over a plate of chicken wings, he tells me about his path into the white-power movement. "I was 14 when I decided I wanted to be a Nazi," he says. At his first high school, near Los Angeles, he was bullied by black and Latino kids. That’s when he first heard Skrewdriver, a band he calls "the godfather of the white power movement." "I became obsessed," he says. He had an image from one of Skrewdriver’s album covers — a Viking carrying a staff, an icon among white nationalists — tattooed on his left forearm. Soon after he had another white power symbol, a Celtic cross, emblazoned on his stomach.
At 15, Fogarty moved with his dad to Tampa, where he started picking fights with groups of black kids at his new high school. "On the first day, this bunch of niggers, they thought I was a racist, so they asked, ‘Are you in the KKK?’" he tells me. "I said, ‘Yeah,’ and it was on." Soon enough, he was expelled.
For the next six years, Fogarty flitted from landscaping job to construction job, neither of which he’d ever wanted to do. "I was just drinking and fighting," he says. He started his own Nazi rock group, Attack, and made friends in the National Alliance, at the time the biggest neo-Nazi group in the country. It has called for a "a long-term eugenics program involving at least the entire populations of Europe and America."
But the military ran in Fogarty’s family. His grandfather had served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and his dad had been a Marine in Vietnam. At 22, Fogarty resolved to follow in their footsteps. "I wanted to serve my country," he says.
Army regulations prohibit soldiers from participating in racist groups, and recruiters are instructed to keep an eye out for suspicious tattoos. Before signing on the dotted line, enlistees are required to explain any tattoos. At a Tampa recruitment office, though, Fogarty sailed right through the signup process. "They just told me to write an explanation of each tattoo, and I made up some stuff, and that was that," he says. Soon he was posted to Fort Stewart in Georgia, where he became part of the 3rd Infantry Division.
Fogarty’s ex-girlfriend, intent on destroying his new military career, sent a dossier of photographs to Fort Stewart. The photos showed Fogarty attending white supremacist rallies and performing with his band, Attack. "They hauled me before some sort of committee and showed me the pictures," Fogarty says. "I just denied them and said my girlfriend was a spiteful bitch." He adds: "They knew what I was about. But they let it go because I’m a great soldier."
In 2003, Fogarty was sent to Iraq…
Take a look:
Joan Walsh writes about the encounter here. Well worth reading. O’Reilly seems to be on track for an aneurysm.
The Obama administration and House Democratic leadership can’t seem to muscle the votes they need to pass a $108 billion appropriation for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The stakes are high for both the administration and the world.
The battle is taking place primarily under the radar, with the major media mostly ignoring it, and avoiding the substantive issues in the few reports that have surfaced. The details are very interesting for what they reveal about politics in the United States.
The cast of characters: the U.S. Treasury Department, an opaque institution that is kind of a permanent government; the anti-war movement, which has more clout and representation in Congress than you would know from reading the newspapers; groups concerned about global justice and the IMF’s abuses; the Republican congressional leadership, which hopes to score some political points in opposing the IMF funding; and the various Members of Congress and their personal beliefs and constituencies.
The plot: the Obama administration is trying to get $108 billion for the (IMF) as part of a commitment that President Obama made at the G-20 meeting in April, led by the G-7 (high-income) countries, to raise $500 billion for the IMF from member countries.
But, from the beginning, the administration has faced tremendous obstacles to getting a majority members of the House of Representatives to vote for the money in an up-or-down vote. This is because many members of both parties are afraid that it would be seen as another taxpayer bailout for the financial industry – and foreign banks at that.
Which it appears to be, actually. This unprecedented increase in the Fund’s resources, with a goal of $1 trillion, is vastly higher than anything the institution has ever seen. It happens to coincide with huge expected losses by Western European banks in Eastern Europe, where these banks have at least $1.4 trillion in exposure. To make the issue even more delicate, some of these banks, like France’s Societe Generale, have already received U.S. taxpayer dollars through AIG under the TARP program.
Some of these taxpayer handouts to domestic and foreign financial institutions have been difficult to justify, not least the billions that have ended up as dividends for shareholders or bonuses for executives who helped crash the economy. So it is easy to see why the Administration wanted to avoid an up or down House vote on the IMF money.
This was done by attaching the IMF money to a supplemental war spending bill in the Senate. The House had already passed its war spending bill without the IMF money. But the normal procedure is for the two chambers to reconcile their differences and present a bill – which would presumably include the IMF money – to both Houses, with the idea that "funding for the troops" must be passed.
Enter the anti-war movement: Fifty-one House Democrats had already voted against the war spending when it passed the House. Should they now vote in favor of it in order to give the IMF money? The Democratic leadership says yes, but anti-war Dems are saying no…
The ACLU is trying to make those responsible for torture to be held accountable. Check out the website.
Just how tough are the Obama administration’s new executive compensation limits for bailed out firms? Well, as a hint, Wall Street sees them as no threat at all. Indeed, The Washington Post today gets a few telling quotes from bankers who are giddy that these are the only standards they’ll be held to.
“Our people kind of thought it was a non-event,” one executive of a large bank said. “There’s nothing in there that’s radical. It’s not like the horrible and unethical action from Congress where they were putting artificial caps on pay or trying to steal back bonuses . . . I don’t think there are worries about it on Wall Street.”
From another source:
“The focus was really on a light touch approach,” [another] person added, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions are ongoing. “Nobody said the government needs to regulate with a heavy hand, like caps or micromanagement, but that investors needed more tools to increase disclosure and director accountability.”
Indeed, while the new compensation plan targets the top executives and highest-paid employees at the seven companies receiving the most bailout cash, executives at the hundreds of other bailed-out companies will go largely untouched. Example: While the plan places limits on bonuses (as mandated by an amendment passed by Congress earlier in the year), it limits the definition of “bonus” to exclude the commissions that send the pay for many traders soaring.
The Obama plan also scraps the $500,000 salary cap the administration had proposed in February for executives of bailed out firms. President Obama unveiled that cap with the statement that Americans were outraged with “executives being rewarded for failure.” Could it be that just four months later the White House no longer sees a problem with rewarding the same failure?
This is what happens when Wall Street runs the Treasury.
Andrew Sullivan prints an excerpt from a reader’s letter:
A reader writes:
Last January, at the age of 41, I conceived my first child, a child I have wanted all my life. At 22 weeks into the pregnancy, my partner and I went for a routine ultrasound at a clinic in Overland Park, Kansas, near our home in Lawrence. We and all the expectant grandparents were eager to find out the baby’s gender. Before the appointment, my mother wrote a quick email: “What time is your ultrasound? I’m excited!! Let me know what gender my "Grand" is! Love, Mum. xoxoxoxo”
Our appointment began jovially. The perinatologist and nurse joked about names, and at one point, the doctor called the baby a “little rascal.” As the ultrasound continued, the room grew quiet. The perinatologist scanned the baby’s head again and again. He finally announced, in a solemn voice, “I’m seeing some things in the baby’s brain that concern me.” Time stopped, and everything in the universe shifted. Holding my partner’s hand, I struggled to listen despite the thick blanket of grief that settled over the room.
The doctor continued, “The baby has holoprosencephaly. It’s a brain malformation in which the forebrain fails to divide. Most of these babies die before term. Those that are born have severe disabilities.” He finally took a deep sigh and started to deliver the especially delicate part: “I don’t know what your beliefs are but some people would terminate a pregnancy of this nature. Since you are 22 weeks along, you would have to go to Wichita for the procedure.” Everyone in the room knew this was shorthand for, “You would have to see George Tiller, the infamous late-term abortion doctor. No one else will help you at this point.” Numb, I asked to know the baby’s gender. He placed the ultrasound wand back on my stomach and read the grainy image: “It’s a girl.” We walked out of the clinic with blank stares and wept in the car.
After losing its argument before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the “state secrets privilege” requires the dismissal of a lawsuit by alleged torture victims, the Obama administration today has asked the full Ninth Circuit to re-hear the case, which was the first challenge to the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program.
As I’ve written before, Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan involves five victims of CIA rendition, or “torture by proxy” who sued the subsidiary of Boeing that allegedly helped the CIA fly the men, captured abroad, to secret CIA prisons in cooperating countries. Because federal officials are often immune from liability, the men, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the private aviation data company. But the U.S. government, then under President George W. Bush, intervened in the case and argued that allowing it to proceed would endanger national security by revealing information about CIA activities.
Since taking office, of course, President Obama has insisted that the United States no longer engages in or sponsors torture, so the ACLU hoped the new administration would change it’s position. But it hasn’t, and after losing its argument at the federal court of appeals in April, the Justice Department today filed a request with the court to re-hear the case en banc.
Claiming that “the [three-judge] panel has significantly altered the contours of the military and state secrets privilege – a constitutionally-based means by which the Executive protects critical national security information from disclosure,” the government insists that the court’s approach “is flatly inconsistent with decisions of the Supreme Court, this Court, and this Court’s sister circuits on questions of exceptional importance applying the privilege.”
The Department of Justice goes on to emphasize that this decision was not made by some low-level Justice Department functionary, but at the highest levels of government:
We emphasize that the Government’s request for en banc review is based upon the most careful and deliberative consideration, at the highest levels, of all possible alternatives to relying upon the state secrets privilege. [...] In this case, then-Director of the Central Intelligence Agency General Michael Hayden made the expert determination that continued litigation poses an unacceptable risk of disclosing state secrets” and concluded that “no information can be adduced on the public record to establish or refute [plaintiffs’] claims, or any defenses thereto, without jeopardizing the national security of the United States.”
Here’s the ACLU’s response, from staff attorney Ben Wizner:
The Obama administration has now fully embraced the Bush administration’s shameful effort to immunize torturers and their enablers from any legal consequences for their actions. The CIA’s rendition and torture program is not a ’state secret;’ it’s an international scandal. If the Obama administration has its way, no torture victim will ever have his day in court, and future administrations will be free to pursue torture policies without any fear of liability.
Health care reform plans are being drafted and passed around on both sides of Capitol Hill, but the plan with the greatest number of Congress members behind it was first introduced as a bill six years ago. With two new co-sponsors having just signed on, Congressman John Conyers’s single-payer health care plan, HR 676, now has 80 Congress members supporting it.
A House committee held a hearing on single-payer health coverage on Wednesday, and a Senate committee included single payer in a hearing on Thursday. Many opponents of single payer, including President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, say it would be the ideal solution if it were possible.
A single-payer or "Medicare for all" system that eliminates for-profit health insurance and simply pays for everyone’s treatment by private doctors and hospitals of their choosing is also the only solution consistently favored by a majority of Americans in polls. The proposal, already in place in most of the world’s wealthy nations, is raised at every health care town-hall forum that Congress members or President Obama speak at, including the one Obama held on Thursday in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The president always rejects single payer on the grounds that some Americans are too fond of their health insurance companies to part with them. A report by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting last week found that the corporate media still virtually bans coverage of single payer. A Senate bill being championed by Sen. Chris Dodd in place of ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy, does not include single payer (which is supported by only one US senator, Bernie Sanders). The Kennedy-Dodd bill, at least in its initial draft, does not even include a "public option," that is a Medicare-like program to exist alongside the private insurance companies. The House bill is being drafted by one current and two former co-sponsors of HR 676, Congressmen George Miller, Henry Waxman and Charles Rangel, but it avoids single payer, championing a public option instead. Other competing Senate bills are expected to complicate things further…
The opposition to gay marriage doesn’t make any sense to me: that straight couples will get divorces if gay couples are allowed to marry. Does that make sense to you? I don’t even think it’s true. Still, the fight goes on, inexplicably. In the NY Times, Tom Suozzi explains why he changed his mind:
WHEN I ran in the Democratic primary for governor against Eliot Spitzer in 2006, I vocally supported civil unions for same-sex couples but did not endorse equal marriage. I understood the need to provide equal rights for gays and lesbians, but as a practicing Catholic, I also felt that the state should not infringe on religious institutions’ right to view marriage in accordance with their own traditions. I thought civil unions for same-sex couples would address my concerns regarding both equality and religious liberty.
I was wrong.
I have listened to many well-reasoned and well-intentioned arguments both for and against same-sex marriage. And as I talked to gays and lesbians and heard their stories of pain, discrimination and love, my platitudes about civil unions began to ring hollow. I have struggled to find the solution that best serves the common good.
I now support same-sex marriage. This is a subject of great debate before the New York State Legislature (although the legislators there are a little distracted right now), and I hope that same-sex civil marriage will be approved within the month.
Under current New York State law, same-sex couples are deprived of access to the employment benefits, life and health insurance and inheritance laws that heterosexual couples have. If the state were to institute civil unions for same-sex couples, that discrimination would end, but we’d still be creating a separate and unequal system.
Civil unions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples would be an equal system, but this compromise appears unlikely at the current time. Few heterosexual couples would give up their current civil marriage for a civil union. While some states would recognize civil unions for all, others would not, causing legal problems for New York couples. Advocates of same-sex marriage don’t seem in favor of such a compromise either.
According to the last census, there are an estimated 50,000 households headed by same-sex couples in New York, many who were married in other states. Those marriages are recognized by New York courts as valid. As a result, we have same-sex marriage for some in New York (albeit performed out of state) and no marriage at all for other same-sex couples…
I just saw Freejack, a movie that seems to have spent most of its budget on the cast: Emilio Estevez (well, not him), Mick Jagger, Rene Russo (actually a woman—her name should be spelled Renee or, better, Renée), and Anthony Hopkins. Science-fiction from a Robert Sheckley novel, so that’s good. But lots of scenes shot at night in urban wasteland = low production values. Not that great, but surprising cast. From 1992.
Nicholas Kristof comments in today’s NY Times column:
This year marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s start of the war on drugs, and it now appears that drugs have won.
“We’ve spent a trillion dollars prosecuting the war on drugs,” Norm Stamper, a former police chief of Seattle, told me. “What do we have to show for it? Drugs are more readily available, at lower prices and higher levels of potency. It’s a dismal failure.”
For that reason, he favors legalization of drugs, perhaps by the equivalent of state liquor stores or registered pharmacists. Other experts favor keeping drug production and sales illegal but decriminalizing possession, as some foreign countries have done.
Here in the United States, four decades of drug war have had three consequences:
First, we have vastly increased the proportion of our population in prisons. The United States now incarcerates people at a rate nearly five times the world average. In part, that’s because the number of people in prison for drug offenses rose roughly from 41,000 in 1980 to 500,000 today. Until the war on drugs, our incarceration rate was roughly the same as that of other countries.
Second, we have empowered criminals at home and terrorists abroad. One reason many prominent economists have favored easing drug laws is that interdiction raises prices, which increases profit margins for everyone, from the Latin drug cartels to the Taliban. Former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia this year jointly implored the United States to adopt a new approach to narcotics, based on the public health campaign against tobacco.
Third, we have squandered resources. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, found that federal, state and local governments spend $44.1 billion annually enforcing drug prohibitions. We spend seven times as much on drug interdiction, policing and imprisonment as on treatment. (Of people with drug problems in state prisons, only 14 percent get treatment.)
I’ve seen lives destroyed by drugs, and many neighbors in my hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, have had their lives ripped apart by crystal meth. Yet I find people like Mr. Stamper persuasive when they argue that if our aim is to reduce the influence of harmful drugs, we can do better.
Mr. Stamper is active in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, an organization of police officers, prosecutors, judges and citizens who favor a dramatic liberalization of American drug laws. He said he gradually became disillusioned with the drug war, beginning in 1967 when he was a young beat officer in San Diego.
“I had arrested a 19-year-old, in his own home, for possession of marijuana,” he recalled. “I literally broke down the door, on the basis of probable cause. I took him to jail on a felony charge.” The arrest and related paperwork took several hours, and Mr. Stamper suddenly had an “aha!” moment: “I could be doing real police work.”
It’s now broadly acknowledged that the drug war approach has failed. President Obama’s new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, told the Wall Street Journal that he wants to banish the war on drugs phraseology, while shifting more toward treatment over imprisonment…
Modern industrial agricultural practice tends toward monocultures: growing the same variety of a food plant everywhere. The problem with this approach is that it leaves the entire crop equally vulnerable to parasites and diseases. Karen Kaplan in the LA Times:
The spores arrived from Kenya on dried, infected leaves ensconced in layers of envelopes.
Working inside a bio-secure greenhouse outfitted with motion detectors and surveillance cameras, government scientists at the Cereal Disease Laboratory in St. Paul, Minn., suspended the fungal spores in a light mineral oil and sprayed them onto thousands of healthy wheat plants. After two weeks, the stalks were covered with deadly reddish blisters characteristic of the scourge known as Ug99.
Nearly all the plants were goners.
Crop scientists fear the Ug99 fungus could wipe out more than 80% of worldwide wheat crops as it spreads from eastern Africa. It has already jumped the Red Sea and traveled as far as Iran. Experts say it is poised to enter the breadbasket of northern India and Pakistan, and the wind will inevitably carry it to Russia, China and even North America — if it doesn’t hitch a ride with people first.
"It’s a time bomb," said Jim Peterson, a professor of wheat breeding and genetics at Oregon State University in Corvallis. "It moves in the air, it can move in clothing on an airplane. We know it’s going to be here. It’s a matter of how long it’s going to take."
Though most Americans have never heard of it, Ug99 — a type of fungus called stem rust because it produces reddish-brown flakes on plant stalks — is the No. 1 threat to the world’s most widely grown crop.
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico estimates that 19% of the world’s wheat, which provides food for 1 billion people in Asia and Africa, is in imminent danger. American plant breeders say $10 billion worth of wheat would be destroyed if the fungus suddenly made its way to U.S. fields.
Fear that the fungus will cause widespread damage has caused short-term price spikes on world wheat markets. Famine has been averted thus far, but experts say it’s only a matter of time.
"A significant humanitarian crisis is inevitable," said Rick Ward, the coordinator of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
The solution is to develop new wheat varieties that are immune to Ug99. That’s much easier said than done.
After several years of feverish work, scientists have identified a mere half-dozen genes that are immediately useful for protecting wheat from Ug99. Incorporating them into crops using conventional breeding techniques is a nine- to 12-year process that has only just begun. And that process will have to be repeated for each of the thousands of wheat varieties that is specially adapted to a particular region and climate.
"All the seed needs to change in the next few years," said Ronnie Coffman, a plant breeder who heads the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project. "It’s really an enormous undertaking."
I already mentioned the upset in the Lebanon elections that followed Obama’s speech in Cairo. Now we see that Buckingham Palace is following up on the White House garden. Read the whole article—it’s quite fun. It begins:
In what can only be regarded as an excellent and perhaps amazing turn of events, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has planted a vegetable garden at Buckingham Palace–and it may well have been inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama, who visited The Queen with president Obama during the G20 Summit. The new 30ft x 12ft palace vegetable garden, called "The Yard Bed," is the first food garden on royal grounds since there was a Victory Garden planted in World War II, even though there are about forty acres of gardens at the London compound.
Prince Charles Is A World-Renowned Ag Activist, But There’s Never Been An Edible Garden At Buckingham Palace
The Queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, is the most high-profile and vocal advocate of local, organic, sustainable agriculture and other rural issues in the entire United Kingdom, he has thousands of acres of his own land under cultivation with food crops, and many, many other projects that support the connection between environmental stewardship and food. All the same, there has never been a food garden at Buckingham Palace in his lifetime. And the British press is actually crediting the President and First Lady as the inspiration for the new veggie garden:
The inauguration of the royal vegetable patch follows a similar idea by President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. In March, they dug up 1,100 sq ft of the White House lawn to plant crops.
The Queen and the First Lady apparently became instantaneous friends when they met at the G20, to such an extent that The Queen momentarily put her arm around the First Lady at a royal reception, and the First Lady reciprocated. This made international headlines, and the British media was particularly agog; the Daily Mail called it "astonishing" that The Queen had made the affectionate gesture. Perhaps The Queen and The First Lady were chatting about food gardens? When she returned to the US, the First Lady said that everyone was asking her about the White House Kitchen Garden during her trip, including Prince Charles. Friendship growin’ like a garden: The AFP is reporting today that last week, when the First Lady was in London for a second time, she and daughters Malia and Sasha had "a private tour of The Queen’s official residence and gardens." A palace spokesperson who spoke on the condition of anonymity also said that The Queen herself greeted the the First Lady and the girls afterwards…
Robert Kenner has made a film about the food and agricultural industry. Here’s an interview with him:
Robert Kenner never considered himself a foodie. He was like most people, mindlessly plucking products from the grocery store shelves. Making his new documentary, "Food Inc.," which shows how our food is produced, changed all that. The director spoke to Jane Black of The Post’s Food section about the film, the vicious backlash and the one thing he’ll never eat again. Excerpts:
What is the message you are trying to send? Think about where food comes from?
There is such a conscious effort to not have us think about where our food comes from. I’m not shocked that agribusinesses denied me access to their plants. But they go to great lengths to continue to deliver this image that food is like it’s always been, when in reality it’s been fundamentally transformed.
Tomatoes look similar but they have no nutritional value and they don’t taste like anything. . . . The connection to tobacco is very important. Like tobacco we’re up against really powerful corporations that are really connected to government and are putting out a product that’s not good for you.
What did you find most shocking?
We filmed a hearing in Sacramento about whether we should label cloned meat. Not whether we should have it. Whether we should label it. I didn’t even know there was cloned meat. The woman representing the industry said, "We don’t think it’s in the consumer’s interest [to label the meat] because it would be too confusing." This is really a film about our rights. It’s just terrifying. You think in America that we should have the right to buy things on the best information. And I did not have any of that information.
Are you a foodie?
I wasn’t a foodie. I’m a filmmaker. I’d read ["Fast Food Nation"]. I’d seen "Supersize Me." I ate a lot of industrial food without thinking about it much. I’m still not a perfect eater, but I’m much better.
There’s already been a lot of corporate pushback. The agricultural company Monsanto has launched a Web site to counter the film…
Russia reportedly has banned pork imported from two Tyson food plants in Iowa. According to the Des Moines Register, the Russian meat plant oversight group said E. coli bacteria was found in some meat from the Waterloo and Columbus Junction plants. Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson tells the Register that the company has very few details about the Russian plant de-listings of last week and that Tyson is working with USDA and Russian officials. Mickelson said in a statement that Tyson is “confident about the safety” of its pork products. USDA says Russia has banned pork from nine U.S. states because of H1N1 concerns but had not banned any pork imports from the Iowa plants.
I suspect that over the next 3-4 decades, we’ll see quite a few food species go extinct. The bluefin tuna seems well on its way. The Ethicurean:
With the Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin stocks plummeting to shockingly low levels, chef and restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa (24 prestigious restaurants around the world) is under pressure from a battalion of critics to remove the fish from his menu until populations are sustainable. So far, Nobu’s restaurants haven’t done much besides adding a footnote to the bluefin tuna items on the menu informing the customer that the fish is “environmentally challenged” and offering to provide a substitute type of fish.
Over at Chews Wise, Sam Fromartz asked experts on cooking, restaurant operation, and fisheries “What should Nobu do?” The answers varied, but generally tilt towards include ‘use considerable culinary skills of your staff to create delicious food that doesn’t include bluefin,’ and ’show some leadership by dropping bluefin from the menu.’
Humans’ fatal attraction to bluefin tuna was not love at first sight. Just a few decades ago in New England, a giant bluefin tuna was a financial liability. Mature bluefin often weigh over 500 pounds and measure more than 6 feet in length. The fish were exciting to catch — and a photograph of you standing next to a huge fish was a wonderful souvenir — but almost no one wanted them, certainly not high-end restaurants. If you could find a pet-food company to buy your trophy fish, you might get 50 cents per pound. Otherwise, the fish went to the town dump or was hauled back out to sea and ‘buried at sea.’
The world of the bluefin has been up-ended since those days. It is one of the most prized morsels at the sushi bar, fish sell for thousands of dollars at auctions in Tokyo, and tuna ranching is big business.
The story of this dramatic reversal in fortune and taste is told in Sasha Issenberg’s “The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy.” I got the book at the library to look up some figures about tuna, but after reading a few pages was snared by Issenberg’s engaging writing and the fascinating story; within a few days, I had finished the book…
Cap-and-trade schemes are nobody’s favorite beach reading, but Tom Philpott is valiantly, and cogently, tackling an important twist in the wrangling over the Waxman-Markey climate change bill. Some of the largest corporations in the agribusiness sector are trying to seriously compromise the legislation’s ability to mitigate climate change, by seeking to reward farmers for current practices: in other words, create another legislative “sop to the large agribusiness firms that dominate our food system,” writes Philpott. Take the farming practice called “no-till,” in which farmers plant directly into fields without plowing. (Disturbing the soil cuts down on its ability to sequester carbon.) One of the main reasons farmers plow is to control weeds, but in the practice “chemical no-till,” farmers rely on chemical herbicides for weed control, like Monsanto’s Roundup — from which Monsanto now clears more than $1 billion per year in profits alone. The Big Ag-backed carbon-trading scheme would reward farmers with carbon credits for this practice. As Philpott goes on to explain, the science doesn’t even support that the no-till practice even sequesters carbon. You know what does though? Organic agriculture. Wanna bet on the chances that there’ll be any mention of it in Waxman-Markey? (Grist; a follow-up post today confirms that Big Ag interests are probably going to get their way on this.)