Saturday, August 4, 2012

Why are Housing Prices Going Up When Demand is Getting Weaker?

Why are Housing Prices Going Up When
Demand is Getting Weaker?

The Mystery of Rising Housing Prices

“What we are seeing is a bottoming out of home prices. This is a good thing overall for everyone. It means we no longer have that vicious cycle between declining home prices and buyers and sellers remaining on the sidelines.”
–Gregory Daco, an economist at IHS Global Insight.
Housing prices are going up, but demand for housing is getting weaker. How can that be?

Typically, when demand is weak, prices fall, but that is not what’s happening now. According to the latest Case-Shiller report, that was released on Tuesday, average home prices in the nation’s 20 biggest cities rose 2.2% in May from the prior month, “the strongest month-over-month percentage gain in more than a decade.” According to the Los Angeles Times:
“All 20 cities in the index posted positive monthly results. The May data showed that average home prices across the country were back to spring 2003 levels. Home prices are off about 33% from their peak in the summer of 2006.”
Okay, so prices are going up, but where’s the proof that demand is weakening?

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported two weeks ago that sales of previously occupied homes decreased 5.4% in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.37 million while new home sales tumbled 8.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted 350,000-unit annual rate, the lowest pace in five months. Also, applications for loans to buy homes fell last week despite record-low mortgage rates. So, demand is weaker across the board, and yet, prices are inching higher. Why?
Supply. It’s all about supply.

Existing inventory has dipped more than 20% year-over-year while distressed inventory (which is what really pushes down prices) has been has been slashed dramatically. In fact, completed foreclosures are down 24 percent from a year ago. According to Bloomberg: “Foreclosures and other sales of distressed properties made up about a quarter of the month’s sales, down from about a third a year ago.”

The banks are operating on the theory that if they reduce the number of severely discounted properties on the market then–Voila–prices will rise. And so they have. It’s the same as if you had 5 bikes for sale and 4 of them were worth $100 each, but the last one had a bent frame and was worth just $25. The best way for you to raise the average would be to ditch the $25 bike, right? That’s what the banks are doing and, what’s interesting, is they all seem to be doing it at precisely same time.
Is that just a coincidence or proof of collusion? Anyone who has been following the Libor scandal knows that collusion is simply the way the big boys do business. And why not? They are a cartel aren’t they?

So, rising prices are a sign of manipulation not growing demand. The nation’s biggest lenders find themselves in the awkward position of having to fiddle their inventory of unwanted homes to keep the public from seeing that they’re technically insolvent. It’s a tedious game that’s been going on for more than 4 years and is likely to go on for some time to come. Now if the banks followed normal procedures and foreclosed on the millions of homeowners that are currently more than 90 days delinquent on their mortgages, the flood of bank owned homes (REO) onto the market would send prices plunging causing catastrophic losses for the banks. The bankers don’t want that, so the whole process has been slowed to a crawl.

Have you seen Steve Berkowitz’s article at Forbes titled “Diverting the Foreclosure Flood”? It’s a real eye-opener. Berkowitz, (from uses the piece to advise the banks on how to rig the market, at least, that’s my reading of the article. See what you think. Here are a few clips from the article:
“Our nation’s lenders and real estate leaders must work together to preserve the price stability gained over the past 18 months by controlling the flow of foreclosures back into for-sale inventory.
We know that sudden spikes in inventory shock prices and destabilize markets, while healthy markets can sustain relatively high saturation levels of inventory if introduced over time. Should large volumes of foreclosures hit these markets over a relatively short period, home values will suffer and the emerging housing recovery will regress in many key markets….
Since the onset of the Foreclosure Era in 2006, we’ve learned a great deal about foreclosures and how they can devastate home values by destabilizing markets with sudden waves of discount-priced properties. By working together, lenders and real estate leaders can maintain the stability of our local markets by keeping another wave of foreclosures from sending America’s real estate markets under water.” (“Diverting the Foreclosure Flood”, Steve Berkowitz, Forbes)
Does Berkowitz have any idea of how a free market is supposed to work or does he think the whole thing is just a big PR sham that’s set up to dupe people out of their hard-earned money?

One can only wonder. Of course, what Berkowitz thinks or doesn’t think is irrelevant. What matters is whether the banks are following his basic blueprint for price-fixing, that is, are they deliberately slowing the flow of distressed homes onto the market to keep prices artificially high?

Let’s look at the facts. There are currently 1,575,000 mortgages that are more than 90 days delinquent, and another 2,027,000 loans that are presently in the foreclosure process. That’s roughly 3.5 million distressed homes that should be headed for the market, but current existing inventory is only 2.39 million units, down 24.4% from a year earlier. Why is that? And why did foreclosures and distressed properties sales make up a mere quarter of June sales?

It’s because the banks are doing exactly what Berkowitz recommended they do; they’re dragging their feet to keep prices propped up.

Doesn’t that put a slightly different spin on the “housing prices have hit bottom” meme?
Allowing the banks to arbitrarily manipulate prices (by withholding distressed properties) is totally nuts. I mean, how many times do we have to get fleeced by these guys before someone fixes the blasted system? Congress needs to settle on a policy that “clears” the market (of backlogged units) while keeping as many people in their homes as possible. That should be the objective of any government intervention.

Naturally, some people will oppose government intervention believing that “the market can fix itself” if we just stop the manipulation and allow prices to settle where they will. But these people have no idea of how big the problem really is or how devastating their remedy would be. According to real estate guru Mark Hanson there are between “20 to 30 million homeowners in a negative or “effective” …. negative equity position.” (Hanson is including the vast number of people who are underwater on their 2nd liens, which are never included in the data on underwater homeowners.”) How will these people react if prices suddenly fell another 10, 15 or 20%? Will they stay in their homes and try to make their monthly payments or simply “walk away” from a deteriorating asset that will never regain its original value?

Millions of them will probably walk away triggering a bigger crisis than 2008. We’d be looking at Housing Armageddon 2012.

No, we shouldn’t let the market fix itself. When prices are this distorted by fraud, manipulation and collusion, the government needs to get involved, straighten things out and seek the best possible result for the greatest number of people. (most of who were victims in this swindle.)

Presently, the demand for homes is around 4.5 million per year. The real inventory (if we include “existing” inventory and “shadow” inventory) is in the neighborhood of 10.6 million according to Hanson. That sum must be whittled down to below 2 million in order to stabilize prices and restore “normalcy”. The only way to accomplish this, is for regulators to supervise the “orderly” processing of foreclosures forcing principal writedowns whenever possible. (to keep the maximum number of people in their homes). As for the people in homes that they clearly cannot afford, they must either be foreclosed on or given the option to rent the same home at the market rate (which would be considerably lower than the mortgage payment) for 4 to 5 years so they have time to find something more affordable.

Finally, many of the nation’s biggest banks will have to have be restructured due to the losses they’ll sustain on their flagging loan portfolio. This will give the USG a second chance to do what should have been done in 2008, which is, take the banks into conservatorship, nationalize them, remove the people at the top, wipe out shareholders (if the bank is insolvent), give bondholders haircuts, separate the good and bad “toxic” assets, and rebuild the institution as public utility. That’s the only way that the banks are going to return to what should be their primary function, extending credit to businesses and consumers so the economy can grow at a more vigorous pace.

Of course, there’s not a chance in hell that Congress will do anything that would ruffle the feathers of their deep pocket constituents. Still, it’s worth knowing that there are solutions if we can just get the politics right.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at

The only reason a democratic candidate is ever allowed to be President is because ONLY democrats can roll back social security benefits. Thus, again, I say, the Republicans have NEVER been serious about defeating Obama. He does all their leg work AND can be used as their punching bag. BTW - it's IN THE BAG - Obama reclaims the White House. You read it here first!

The Romney / Obama Diversion

Say Goodbye to Social Security


In a New York Times editorial (link) written in 1993 the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith made a point that seems to have been lost on subsequent generations—many in the economic elite benefit from the destitution of others. Even more to the point, activist government could put the unemployed back to work tomorrow, but at a cost to the elite. By tying economic policies long known to work to competing economic interests, Dr. Galbraith explained the current conundrum. Economies in the West aren’t working because a small economic elite benefits from this state of affairs.

With Barack Obama, of his own initiative, slated to begin cutting government expenditures in 2013 (should he be re-elected), a number of his liberal and progressive supporters have taken to granting that the Federal budget ‘crisis,’ to which he purports to be responding, is real. In fact, the ‘debate’ was preceded by forty years of policies designed to systematically de-fund government, reduce labor to a beggar class and to gut any public programs that don’t specifically and directly make the rich richer. To pretend that this is other than a manufactured ‘crisis’ designed to shift more public resources to the already rich is to misread history.

Apparently unbeknownst to many, the working class in America has been living with austerity economics for forty years now. Since the 1970s the proportion of what American labor is paid relative to what it produces has been declining, as have the effective tax rates on corporations and the wealthy. With corporations and the rich who own them receiving a larger proportion of what labor produces and paying less in taxes, there is now little left to pay for necessary social programs such as schools, health care and pensions. But this shortfall is no accident. It is the intended result of four decades of policies specifically designed to enrich the ruling class at the expense of labor, the middle class and the poor.

In modern history the shift of social wealth from labor to the ruling class began in earnest with Democrat Jimmy Carter in the White House in the late-1970s. A series of politically motivated oil embargoes quite predictably led the oil-dependent manufacturing economy to rising prices and lower output—stagflation. Through arcane theory still practiced by the American economic mainstream, the cause—the oil embargoes with attendant rising prices and reduced output, was converted to effect, as if from over-regulation and Keynesian management of the capitalist economy. The proposed solutions derived from these (implausible) economic theories were de-regulation, the destruction of labor’s bargaining power and the return to (long discredited) ‘market’ solutions to policy issues.
Jimmy Carter began by de-regulating the U.S. transportation infrastructure—airlines, interstate trucking and the railroads, handing heavily unionized industries to the vagaries of market ‘competition’ for which they were profoundly unsuited. He also appointed uber-banker Paul Volcker to head the Federal Reserve. Mr. Volcker ‘tamed’ inflation by raising interest rates and rendering a significant proportion of the populace unemployed (this is standard Fed policy). The additional effects were to sink the bond market (bond prices move inversely to yields) and to raise the value of the U.S. dollar, the latter of which further decimated U.S. manufacturing.

With industrial deregulation underway, Keynesian policies to manage the recurrent crises of capitalism ‘discredited,’ the bargaining power of organized labor diminished and Wall Street interests guiding taxes lower and financial regulation out of existence (see Don Regan), the template was set for the decades that followed. Democrat Bill Clinton cut social spending, further deregulated the banks, and would have privatized Social Security if his impeachment hadn’t curtailed this ambition. Democrat Barack Obama rescued the banker class from its own economic murder-suicide, put forward a largely Republican stimulus package and then left labor, the middle class and the poor to rot. Next year, should he be granted the opportunity, he will promote the right-wing canard of budget ‘crises’ by cutting social spending in earnest. (Automatic cuts are already scheduled under his own proposal).

That the radical right has gotten exactly what it wanted for forty years and the economy is a catastrophe are not unrelated (Recall Dr. Galbraith). The economy is only a catastrophe for working people, the middle class and the poor. The ruling class is doing better than it has since the 1930s. Under the guidance of Republican and Democratic administrations, labor’s take in wages and salaries has fallen from 53% of GDP in 1970 to 44% in 2012 (link). The effective tax rate on corporations is currently half of what it was in 1970 (source: BEA). Likewise, tax rates on the wealthy have been dramatically reduced. And these policies have produced exactly the outcomes they were designed to produce.

When the rich receive a larger share of what labor produces they then have greater capacity to pay for government and social programs and labor has reduced capacity to do so. When taxes on the rich and corporations are cut, the loss in government revenues must either be made up by labor—even with reduced capacity to do so, or government spending must be cut*. One possible solution to the budget ‘crisis’ is to shift the balance of economic power back to labor so that the middle class and poor have the capacity to pay for needed social programs. However, with the Washington (and EU) consensus being that wages must fall and social benefits be cut, this is not going to happen.

*(The relationship between taxes and government expenditures is less direct than is suggested here. With a fiat currency the U.S. government has flexibility in how expenditures are funded. However, money creation is behind much of the wealth re-distribution from labor to capital (via the banks) that has occurred in recent decades. To the extent that inflated financial assets can be monetized, they can be used to buy more ‘real’ assets– what labor produces. This explains why the right (mostly) keeps quiet about the Fed’s ongoing monetary policies that benefit the wealthy while fiscal policies that might directly benefit labor aren’t even being proposed. It also explains why Marx has more relevance for contemporary economics than all of the turgid drivel produced by the academic mainstream in the last fifty years).

Notice please that it is social spending that is on the chopping block because of alleged revenue shortfalls, not the embedded economic interests that live on government spending. Providers to the military receive guaranteed profits through cost-plus contracts. Private prisons, social abominations that they are, profit from increasing incarceration rates and by denying basic services to inmates. For-profit schools survive by misleading desperate and / or gullible people into taking out government loans that they can’t afford to repay (link). For-profit health care earns profits by denying health care. All of these (and more) private beneficiaries of public largesse are slated to grow, not be cut, by the political establishment.

Recall the rationales that were sold along with these policies—government revenues would increase if taxes were cut. Market based policy solutions (health care, education, military) would provide better results for less money because private enterprise is more efficient than government. Shifting social resources from government to private interests would increase social welfare. None of this has happened and yet these remain the only policies being promoted and implemented by the political establishment. Conspicuously, copious evidence that these policies haven’t worked has swayed no one in the political establishment.

The follow-on point is that arguing for ‘better’ policies is a diversion if those making policy decisions serve competing interests. For forty years the rich and connected, the ruling class, have used their representatives in government to take exactly what they wanted. Tax cuts, executive payouts and stock dividends were paid instead of promised pension contributions. Social institutions such as schools have been turned into cash cows for connected capitalists who have no intention of educating our children. Environmental standards have been gutted in return for promised jobs that never materialized. And while the ruling class has taken what it wanted without apology, the chattering class—liberals and progressives, has acted as if it’s at a debate club meeting.

Ironically, bond “king’ Bill Gross of PIMCO makes a (Keynesian) point that many clever economists looking at the issue have not grasped—the West’s bet that financial returns leveraged on the ‘real’ economy—actual goods and services, could rise forever, are coming unwound. With finance capitalism having impoverished the customers needed to keep itself going, available rates of return on investment in the real economy don’t justify making that investment. This is why corporations that have taken an increasing proportion of GDP in recent decades are sitting on piles of cash. In the aggregate, they’ve taken it from their customers who can no longer afford to buy their products. It’s also why the Fed’s QE (quantitative easing) remains a pathetic scam—keeping interest rates low when there is no loan demand (because borrowers have no faith in earning a return in the real economy) only drives financial speculation.

By 1993, when he wrote the New York Times piece, John Kenneth Galbraith was a patrician intellectual. He didn’t use the term, but ‘class struggle’ was clearly a partial, or even whole, inference behind his words. He wasn’t arguing human nature or laws of economics, he was arguing that within the given political economy economic interests not only weren’t always aligned, they were quite often opposed. This really shouldn’t be a revelation. It is fundamental premise of capitalism.

However, left out of actual capitalism are all of the rules and regulations that are supposed to make it work. And it wasn’t the political left that removed them. Just read all of the rational policy pieces from liberal wonks recommending policies, rules and regulations to save capitalism. It was the proponents of capitalism that got rid of the rules. That this is Marx 101 speaks to who controls the ‘public’ discourse. Meanwhile, the ruling class has insisted that we are all in this economy together (capitalist economics). So don’t be surprised when they have Social Security and Medicare in their pockets. This is exactly where the Obama / Romney diversion is headed. But please maintain decorum at the debate club.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York.

This actually makes sense if one of the main reasons for the U.S. to continue to fight its wars of choice upon militarily weak nations is to feed and fuel the war machine, giving away big bucks to defense contractors, defense subcontractors, retired military brass working for security companies, etc, etc, etc. And, in point of fact, isn't that the main purpose? What's the use of having the most powerful military force in the world if you're not going to use it (as was asked by Madeline Albrightt).

Aug 02, 2012

Have the Pentagon, State Department, and USAID

Learned From Their Mistakes

in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Neil_ourtake_boxDudley Moore: Do you feel you’ve learnt by your mistakes here?
Peter Cook (as Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling): I think I have, yes, and I think I can probably repeat them almost perfectly.
~British comedians Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, from “The Frog and Peach” sketch (1966)

It’s been almost a year since the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan issued its final report to Congress on the state of U.S. reconstruction efforts in those two countries. In addition to its blockbuster finding that between $31 billion and $60 billion was lost to waste and fraud, the final report, along with two earlier reports, made numerous recommendations on ways to improve contingency contracting.

Some recommendations pertained specifically to the three principal contracting agencies – the Departments of Defense (DoD) and State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) –- and others were addressed to the executive departments in general. (A few months ago, the Project On Government Oversight blogged about the efforts of Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) to implement some of the wartime contracting commission's recommendations to Congress.

This week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an assessment of the extent to which the Defense and State departments, and USAID have acted on the commission's recommendations. The GAO found that DoD has taken or planned actions that directly align with about half of the contracting commission's recommendations applicable to it, while State and USAID have done so with regard to about one-third of the recommendations applicable to them. Of the remaining recommendations, the agencies took no action either because they claim existing policies or practices already address them or they just don’t agree with them.

For example, as the commission recommended, DoD now withholds a percentage of payments on certain contracts when a contractor’s business systems contain significant deficiencies, State issued guidance on drafting written rationales for pursuing or not pursuing suspension or debarment actions, and USAID now requires a sustainability analysis to be conducted for all projects (i.e., determining if the host nation will be able to sustain U.S.-funded projects after we leave). However, DoD, State, and USAID have not implemented the commission's recommendation to elevate the positions and expand the authority of officials responsible for contingency contracting, explaining that their existing organizational structures are sufficient. All three agencies also seem to be giving the cold shoulder to the commission's recommendations for boosting competitive contracting practices.

The GAO summarizes the actions that the three agencies took (or didn’t take) with regard to each recommendation. It is up to the reader to determine the appropriateness or sufficiency of those actions and inactions and whether DoD, State, and USAID are in a good position to avoid repeating their mistakes in future contingency operations. Just looking at the relatively low number of recommendations acted upon gives one the uneasy feeling that all three agencies, but especially State and USAID, are ignoring the advice of the Commission on Wartime Contracting at their own peril.

This is particularly troubling given the expanded role State and USAID now have in Iraq – which will soon lose one crucial layer of external oversight, the congressionally appointed watchdog Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) – and the fact that the commission's final report anticipated the tremendous challenges State and USAID will face in managing and overseeing their contractor workforce in Iraq and Afghanistan:
Without adequate staffing and training, significant waste and possible failures can be expected as State faces the daunting task of the transition in Iraq and future transition in Afghanistan. USAID also faces uncertainty if it is once again tasked with accomplishing its development mission in a war zone. Without a focus on contingency contracting in both State and USAID, skill sets, tradecraft, and knowledge gleaned from lessons learned will be soon forgotten and the benefit of any staffing gains will be lost.
More than $8.5 billion has been obligated so far in the current fiscal year for Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction contracts. Between fiscal years 2002 and 2011, DoD, State, and USAID reported combined obligations of approximately $159 billion. According to the commission, anywhere from 20 to 38 percent of that amount was lost to waste and fraud. Let’s hope mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t repeated “almost perfectly.”

Neil Gordon is an investigator at the Project On Government Oversight.

When we are told to "support the troops," what is really meant is "do not oppose the war efforts." When it comes to taking care of the troops, count on the federal government giving them the shafts. This is a horror story.

Finally Some Justice for Camp Lejeune Water

Contamination Victims: Congress Sends

Health Care Bill to President Obama

August 1, 2012

Statements of Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy, Project On Government Oversight and Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerome Ensminger

Angela Canterbury:

Finally, after many years of unnecessary suffering, the U.S. Marine Corps veterans and their families who were poisoned by the water at Camp Lejeune will have some justice. Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to send a bill to provide healthcare for veterans and their families who are victims of the toxic water contamination at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to President Obama to be signed into law.

For more than 30 years, the water Marines and their families drank and bathed in was contaminated by high levels of volatile organic compounds, including known carcinogens. The “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act,” H.R. 1627, addresses a variety of issues affecting veterans. The title for healthcare for Camp Lejeune is named the “Janey Ensminger Act.” The Senate passed the bill unanimously on July 18.
But while Congress has finally acted to assist the victims of Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps and Navy shamefully continue to deny responsibility and withhold information about the water contamination. Most recently, the Navy has delayed the release of water contamination documents in response to a request by nine members of Congress.

Camp Lejeune has been called one of the worst toxic contaminations in the country. It’s also possibly one of the U.S. military’s most shameful acts of deception and betrayal. Between 1957 and 1987, as many as 1 million civilians, Marines, and their family members at Camp Lejeune were exposed to toxic water. It turns out that for years, the Marine Corps knew but kept the deadly secret, blocking many attempts to uncover the truth.

However, a stalwart champion for the freedom of information, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), recently made public many critical documents formerly withheld by the Navy. Congress is finally exposing the truth. Most importantly, Congress has finally done what the Marine Corps has failed to do: care for those who served their nation and paid a terrible price—illness, death, and betrayal.

The Project On Government Oversight applauds Sen. Leahy and the other congressional champions for Camp Lejeune veterans and families: Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kay Hagen (D-N.C.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bill Nelson (R-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.); and Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Brad Miller (D-N.C.) and Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), as well as the many other cosponsors of the original bills to provide healthcare to Camp Lejeune veterans and their families: The Janey Ensminger Act (H.R. 1742) and Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2011 (S. 277).

But this bitter-sweet victory would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Jerry Ensminger, Mike Partain, Tom Townsend, and others who have fought for justice. Thankfully, these American heroes have not rested since they first learned of the toxic water at Camp Lejeune.

Jerry Ensminger:

The vote yesterday and recent congressional actions are a testimony to the persistence of certain legislators and their staffs, and a tribute to the countless victims who have either passed away or are still suffering the effects of institutional negligence and persistent failures of leadership within the United States Department of Defense.

The passage of this legislation will not be the final chapter of this ongoing national tragedy. The Department of the Navy and the United States Marine Corps have to this day refused to release all of the information relating to this issue. There has been absolutely no accountability for past criminal negligence nor for the ongoing conspiracy by authorities to conceal that neglect.

Camp Lejeune should stand shoulder to shoulder with Love Canal; Woburn, Mass; and the thousands of other contamination sites in our country as stark reminders to our citizens that the environment and the regulations to protect it are not only important...our very existence depends on them!

The moving story of the tireless efforts of Jerry, who lost his daughter Janey to leukemia at Camp Lejeune and for whom the bill is named, as well as those of other truthseekers such as Ma. Tom Townsend, who lost his son to a birth defect; and breast cancer victim Mike Partain, who was born at Camp Lejeune, is told in the documentary Semper Fi: Always Faithful. Learn more on the website The Few, the Proud, the Forgotten.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

Why the Republicans are running the unelectable Mitt Romney for Preznit

I got this from a quite reliable source today, who heard it from a highly placed real estate consultant to the banking industry.  AFTER the elections, they banks are going to come to the U.S. government, hat in hand, to let it know that they hold trillions of dollars in foreclosed properties which cannot be sold, and, unless the govenment wants the banks to fail, they will need MANY dollars (trillions).

WELL, the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) sectors have been delighted with Barry O's tenure are President, and they don't want to let in a Republican who will be entirely unable to accomplish what the Bland One (B-O) has managed to accomplish:  cut social security benefits, hand out fortunes to the pharmacuetical companies, the insurance industry, and the private hospital industry.

And the Republican party "brain trust" (Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Grover Norquist, et al) understand full well the coming financial crisis (won't begin until sometime in '13, or '14, at the latest) will be of such sever magnitude (in the Government's constipated efforts to force working people and poor people to pay for the next round of bail outs) that the party which holds the office of POTUS will subsequently be out of power for the next generation and a half, AT LEAST.

They got the Supreme Court (although, really now, tell me, how legitimate are the appointments fo the Supreme Court by an unelected President who basically ascended to office by appointment in a political coup of incredible obviousnous and magnitude), and the House and the Senate, and right now - they DO NOT WANT to Presidency.

My source's source, when asked about where he has his money, replied, "I pulled it all from the stock market; it's under my mattress" - you can't, truthfully, expect him to hold it in a bank that is someting on the order of 50-50 to fail, now, can you?

This is entirely consistent with the thoughts of John Williams, whose Shadow Government Statistics Blog ought to be mandatory reading for anyone and everyone who is invested in "the market."

Old Dow Jones, he will NOT save you!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Dow, Monsanto and the Truth About the "Green Games" The Toxic Cloud That Hangs Over the Olympics

Dow, Monsanto and the Truth About the "Green Games"

The Toxic Cloud That Hangs Over the Olympics

It is the world‘s biggest sporting event. TV programming in at least 150 countries provides saturation coverage. Men and women from all races and religions are competing for Olympic glory and gold.
Added to the usual extolling of lofty Olympic ideals this year the organisers are bragging about the ‘Green Games’. Public relations hype is regurgitating extraordinary claims that it will be the most environmentally friendly Olympics since the halcyon days of Ancient Greece.
So much for the hype. Just glance at the Who’s Who among the mega-corporations sponsoring this sporting extravaganza, and a far from eco-friendly line-up emerges.
The sponsors include BP the oil giant that has inflicted massive oil spoils on the world’s oceans, and Rio Tinto Zinc another resource extraction behemoth. Rights groups say they both have woeful environmental, safety and human-rights track records.
But worse of all is Dow Chemical Company USA. Dow Chemical has become the main focus of protests. It has been linked to the worst industrial accident of all time – the Bhopal disaster in India.*
Around  20,000 people were killed as a result of the disaster,  when Union Carbide still owned the Bhopal plant and before Dow took it over.
In 2001 Dow bought the plant and thereby acquired not only the assets, but also the toxic liabilities including ongoing compensation claims from the victims.
Twenty-eight years later Dow Chemicals the owner of the Bhopal site, has still failed to  clean-up the toxic mess.
The Indian government has demanded that Dow be removed from all forms of sponsorship. A chorus of outrage over Bhopal, from victims, campaigners for justice and fair compensation, and their lawyers have demanded the IOC should immediately sever the links to Dow.
In May the Vietnamese government joined India with a strong protest letter of their own ,delivered to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) about their own bitter experience with Dow.
The Vietnamese government Minister of Culture and Sport Hoang Tuan Anh wrote: “The Dow Chemical Company is one of the major producers of the Agent Orange, which has been used by the US Army. 80 million litres was  sprayed  over villages in the South of Vietnam over 10 years, from 1961 to 1971, destroying the environment, claiming the lives of millions of Vietnamese people and leaving terrible effects on millions of others, now suffering from incurable diseases and some hundreds of thousands of children of the fourth generation, were born with severe congenital deformities.
Dow Chemical expressed their indifference and refused compensation for victims of the Agent Orange produced by the company. They have expressed indifference as well to their responsibility to clean up contaminated areas. Spending zero effort to recover their mistakes in the past, Dow continues to destroy the current living environment. In 2010, US Environmental Protection Agency listed Dow as the second worst polluter in the world.”
The Vietnam Minister Hoang Tuan Anh’s letter continued,“Since the ultimate goals of the Olympic Movement are to promote good health, equality and progress of the mankind, we think that the acceptance of IOC for Dow sponsorship was a hasty decision”.
Signed by Hoang Tuan Anh, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism letter to the IOC 02/05/12.
Scott Wheeler, a Dow spokesman, dismissed the Vietnamese letter as both “misguided” and “wrongly focused”.
The IOC responded “The [IOC] does not enter into agreements with any organisation that it believes does not work in accordance with the values of the Olympic Movement as set forth in the Olympic Charter,” the IOC said in a statement to Vietweek magazine in Ho Chi Minh city..
The Olympic body also noted that the partnership agreement with Dow was signed in 2010, and before that, the IOC had “studied carefully” the history of the company.
Well how much they studied Dow’s recent record is open to question, as a five minute search on Google would have revealed that the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2010, listed Dow as the second worst polluter in the world.
The IOC declared their confidence in Dow as, a “global leader in its field of business” and said the company was “committed to good corporate citizenship.”
Meredith Alexander, a member of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 set up to monitor the London Olympics, resigned over the IOC’s lame acceptance of Dow’s public relations line, denying any legal or moral responsibility for the victims of Bhopal.
“I had been providing information about Bhopal to commission members and I was stunned that it publicly repeated Dow’s line that it bears no responsibility for Bhopal,” Ms Alexander wrote in the Guardian newspaper (UK -26.1.12).” 
She elaborated ‘  I was shocked to see that the result of our investigation was a public statement from the commission that essentially portrays Dow as a responsible company.”
After her resignation Meredith Alexander observed   “But the Olympics is also big business. There is an expensive machine behind the Games, that is funded by corporate sponsors. Sadly when these sponsors are selected, money talks much more loudly than values.”
Dow Chemicals,  committed to provide the IOC with $10 million over four years, expects to reap a financial bonanza from its sponsorship.
The BBC Detailed the full extent of  Dow products being used in the London Olympics.
From its urethane foam in the track, polymer fibres in the super-fast hockey pitches, materials in walls, floors and roofs of stadia and insulation technology in the broadcasting, and electricity wiring cables to technology in the signage in the Games Lanes, the company’s hands are all over London 2012. (BBC online How does Dow Chemical gain from the Olympics?  January 2012).
Dow Chemical inked a 10-year deal with the IOC in 2010. The agreement calls for the US-based outfit to fork out $100 million every four years as a chief sponsor of the Summer, Winter and the Paralympics Games.
During the 10 years of Dow’s Olympic sponsorship, he estimates there will be £97bn ($150bn) spent on Olympic Games – building stadiums, venues, athletes’ villages, roads and bridges, making a big marketing opportunity for a company ubiquitous in the field.
Dow envisioned a global sales bump of about $1 billion by promoting, ironically enough, a raft of environmentally-friendly products.
The 2012 London Olympics have already been tarnished long before the games have begun.  Given its record in delivering Agent Orange to defoliate tropical rainforest on a massive scale during the Vietnam War under contract to the Pentagon and the US army, no amount of hype can conceal their ugly history as manufacturers of eco-cidal products, that inflicted a carcinogenic nightmare on the jungles of Indochina.
Dow and Monsanto corporation have also been accused in a US lawsuit brought by the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange that they had unleashed chemical warfare based on dioxin on the civilian population in rural areas of South Vietnam.
“The modern Olympics was founded here in the UK to promote peace and understanding between the peoples of the world. The Olympic values are all about celebrating our common humanity,” in the words of Meredith Alexander who resigned over the IOC’s abject infatuation with Dow and its dollars.
Perhaps nothing is more twisted than the concept that the corporation whose products – Agent Orange and Napalm – that maimed and crippled so many Vietnamese, will be sponsoring the Paralympics.
Vietnamese victims of Dow products commented  “ It’s ironic that Dow is allowed to sponsor sporting events including Paralympics athletes, when it is responsible for creating generations of severely disabled children and refuses to do anything to help them,”.
Allowing such a company to sponsor the Olympics and Paralympics — a cultural event of global magnitude, is an affront to the conscience of humankind.”Statement by  VAVA  [The Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange based in Hanoi who organised a class action lawsuit in the US courts against Dow Chemicals and Monsanto Corporation.]
The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates that up to 3 million Vietnamese ] have been affected by Agent Orange, including at least 300,000 children born with birth defects.
The US government’s Veterans Administration officially recognises 13 medical conditions linked to Agent Orange and provides free medical treatment to US soldiers who can prove their exposure to the herbicide. But Washington has adamantly denied all responsibility and evaded any kind of accountability for the estimated four million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who suffered far greater exposure to the dioxin than the US war veterans.
Remember the book ‘Girl in the picture” about the story of the Vietnamese girl Kim Phuc set ablaze by napalm? That napalm bomb was also manufactured by Dow.
Another campaign also was activated by thousands of athletes and NGOs around the world to call for the organisers of Olympics 2012 to end its ties with Dow.
The website writes: “We, former and competing athletes, national team members and Olympians, do not feel that Dow Chemical embodies the spirit and humanity of the Olympic movement.”
A few testimonies:
Marilyn Chua, Olympian, Malaysian National Team Member – Swimming
As an Olympian for the Malaysian National Team and UCLA Swim Team member, I am disgusted that Dow Chemical has been chosen to be a sponsor of the 2012 London Olympics after the thousands of lives they have killed and destroyed all over the world! They do not deserve to be associated with all that the Olympics stand for!
Abdoul K Mbaye Niane, Senegal National Team Member – Swimming
As a former Senegal swimming team member, I oppose Dow Chemical sponsorship of the Olympic Games LONDON 2012.
Dr. Geraldine Schick, UCLA/Canadian – Swimming
As a medical doctor and former UCLA swim team member I am deeply concerned by the IOC’s decision to allow Dow Chemical to become a sponsor of the Olympics. Athletes, in the eyes of most, are the embodiment of health. When the second worst polluter of toxic substances in America for 2010 is entrusted by the IOC to be part of this supposedly healthy and ethical sports event, I begin to lose my faith in the Olympic movement. I hope the IOC decides to implement the same standards towards sponsors as it does for other participants of the Olympic Games.
Brian Fell, American Record Holder – Track and Field
Please remember all the hard work, dedication and years it takes for each Olympic Sport! Please value the pressure and ideals placed upon every athlete from the strict IOC rules and regulations and place this same magnifying lens on the sponsorships who you decide to partner with. Please do not tarnish these coming games by letting DOW Chemical anywhere near the Olympic family and brand. If money is the only interest with DOW, then the backlash will soon follow heading into 2012 games.

Baying for Blood The Netanyahu Lunacy on Iran

Baying for Blood

The Netanyahu Lunacy on Iran

In rare moments of lucidity, even the mythological “average Israeli” feels that our less than splendid isolation is intolerable. We are constantly brainwashed by our establishment, and the endless bombardments combining biblical rhetoric, alarmist prophesies and demagogic evocations of the holocaust confuse even the elitist circles, despite their liberal self-image and professed Western outlook. This increasingly pervasive syndrome can partially account for our sheepish acquiesce with the rampant rumours and speculations about the forthcoming Israeli attack on Iran. The consequences of such aggression are abundantly clear for most educated Israelis, even right-wingers. Yet, the current mood dictates certain apathy, very untypical in saner epochs. What has happened to our judgement, critical faculties and rebellious propensities? How can one reconcile the complete loss of faith with our institutions including the IDF with the fatalistic acceptance of our fate? There is no clear cut explanation, only pessimistic theories and general air of resignation, unprecedented in our country’s history.
In every political discussion one hears well-connected politicians and commentators list the most likely scenarios and the conclusions are normally somber. The prevalent assessments fail to grasp the logic behind the almost inevitable aggression. The nuclear capabilities of Iran are likely to remain intact; the retaliation by the Iranians is bound to be harsh; the attack on Iranian territory will unite the entire Moslem world against Israel; there will be no international sympathy towards Israel even in the terrible case of death to thousands of people here; most Americans will interpret, and not without reason, the Israeli operation as an attempt by Binyamin Netanyahu to subvert the relatively liberal regime in Washington and to help the reactionary Republican party in its election campaign.
The Israeli Prime-Minister is regarded here, almost universally, as a Republican hack, with vested interests in the victory of the hard-core right-wingers in the US. Actually, he has built his entire career as an Israeli politician on the premise, that White House policies, which do not fully concur with the interest of Israel’s right-wing government, can be subverted and finally even eradicated by the US congress, supposedly under the influence of the pro-Likud lobby in Washington. There is an element of conceit here that has turned Netanyahu into the scourge of American liberals, a foe of the Democrats and a staunch ally of the worst war-mongers and neo-liberals in the American political arena. The South-American leftist, arguably forming a very potent ideological, social and political powerbase in Latin-America, brand official Israel as an enemy, and not without cause. Millions in Brazil, Argentina and the entire spectrum of opinion in Central America will castigate Israel as an aggressor if the Netanyahu regime attack Iran. But even their reaction will be dwarfed but the gathering storm in the Moslem world. The wealthy and conservative sector of the US Jewry and their allies in Alabama and Texas are unlikely to shield the Israelis from the popular international wrath.
The left in Israel, our allies the Arab citizens and the entire peace camp here need the world to save the region from the planned, senseless attack on Iran which could well deteriorate into a future nuclear war. As we cannot rely on our cabinet ministers, some of them baying for blood, we must call upon governments, NGOs and political movements worldwide to help us to prevent the Netanyahu lunacy before the PM unleashes his fury on the denizens of the Middle-East, including us, the Israelis.
Haim Baram is a journalist based in Jerusalem.

Feeding Ourselves, Our Cities, and the World… Urban Farms or Myths?

Feeding Ourselves, Our Cities, and the World…

Urban Farms or Myths?

The excitement surrounding urban agriculture is partly rooted in a notable history and possible future capacity to actually help feed the entire nation. During the Second World War, so-called ‘Victory Gardens’ provided close to half of the fruits and vegetables consumed by the population; albeit, people in those days ate smaller, healthier portions. Perhaps the revival of urban farming will lead not just to a diet for a small planet but a diet for smaller people?
Victory Gardens, a.k.a. ‘War Gardens’, played a major role in the mobilization of the civilian population during the two world wars but were especially important during the Second World War. Most reliable estimates confirm that 40 to 50 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed during this period were grown in urban gardens.
The return of urban farming echoes these monumental efforts of the past, but the new ‘Victory Gardens’ are about a victory over poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and the dissolution of community ties. The phenomenal success and rapid growth of urban farming has created extraordinary opportunities for food justice and an ecologically superior, community-based approach to reinvention of our current food system, which is dominated by unsustainable and inequitable industrial models and a profit-driven top-down corporate anti-nature and anti-worker rationality.
Not surprisingly, this success has now unleashed a reactionary industry of naysayer pundits and would-be expert analysts who denounce urban farming as a left-wing liberal conspiracy to undermine American food security. There is now a torrent of critics who deride and demean; insult and belittle; and otherwise distort the truth about urban agriculture and its real perils and actual promise. Some of these critics fancy themselves both farmers and urban gardeners, adding legitimacy to the criticism since it appears to be coming from aficionados and insiders rather than corporate shills.
Among this latter type of critic is Maurice Hladik, a columnist for the on-line magazine, Ag Professional, who says he grew up on a farm in western Canada and was an active farmer into his early adult years. Before proceeding, I wonder: What exactly is an “active farmer”? Are not all farmers, by definition, active? It seems curious that anyone would identify as a formerly active farmer, since farming, when you are doing it, requires by definition a great deal of mental and manual activity.
This is a revealing tautology. You are either a farmer; or you are not. There is no in-between. A farmer may not be farming right now; but a true farmer never stops thinking about the land; the seed and water; the seasons of hunger and plenty. S/he may be displaced but they are always farmers. I have learned this from the landless farmers of Mexico who are now in the U.S., and who are always searching for that little bit of vacant land in the city or acre in the countryside where they can keep planting heirloom corn from Oaxaca or Chiapas. You can take the farmer off the land but you cannot take the love of the land out of a farmer’s heart; that is, unless farming was just another job, an occupation, and, in that case, you were never really a farmer, probably more of a contract grower, a mere bioserf, most likely for some corporation or bank that owned your ass. But now I am angrily mincing words with our tautological critics.
As a matter of self-disclosure: I am a full-time ‘seasonal’ farmer in rural Colorado because our growing and irrigation season runs from May through September. I am also an urban gardener, when possible; even if it is just a small patch of herbs, given my busy schedule when we live in the city of Seattle where I work as a college professor from the end of September through early April. Among my principal teaching areas are agroecology, ethnoecology, and the anthropology of food among other agricultural and food-related areas of research and scholarship. The university may pay my salary, but it is the land that sustains my soul. That does not make me less active a farmer than anyone else dedicated to food: to growing it; sharing it; cooking and eating it. We are all equal in our desire to feed a hungry planet by starting with ourselves and our families, neighbors, and local communities.
Hladik, who has reportedly earned two degrees in agricultural economics (one was not enough?), recently penned an op-ed piece that misrepresents the urban agriculture movement. He begins his commentary, entitled, “Urban Farming is an Urban Myth,” with the tale of a lettuce grower in the city:
I recently read an article that waxed eloquently about the virtues of urban farming in the U.S. and Canada, using the example of someone who was growing lettuce in the saddlebags of a rusted, old bicycle leaning against a garage. True, this was the delightful handiwork of a resourceful and imaginative gardener, but the author got carried away and used this as yet another example of how the urban farming movement has a meaningful impact on the nation’s overall food supply.  As if four heads of lettuce were really going to have an impact on feeding the world!
This is a fine example of how our critics use the poetic verses of overly enthusiastic writers to belittle a creative, serious, and significant social movement. Of course, four heads of lettuce will not feed the world, but no one I know in urban agriculture is making such an absurd claim. This is a classic straw-man [sic] argument. The lettuce patch enthusiasts I know are not deluded enough to think they can feed the world. They have a much more modest and realistic goal, which is to feed themselves high quality, culturally appropriate, fresh and organic produce a good amount of the time and perhaps with enough to spare to exchange or share with friends, neighbors, or fellow enthusiasts.
Besides, this is never just about the food; it is about community and sense of place; it is about sharing the labor and the fruits of that labor. This of course has no obviously intrinsic economic value and perhaps this is why our critic, the ag economist, cannot understand the nature of this movement and is so easily drawn toward belittling its modest yet profoundly transformational accomplishments and future potential.
Four heads of lettuce may not feed the world but multiplied a thousand-fold they can sure help to feed a city. And if you can help feed a city, that leaves more of the rural farm product to feed the world; no? Less food destined for our cities means more for the rest of the world. Perhaps Mr. Hladik is not really serious about feeding the world with the additional rural agricultural surplus consequent as a side effect of a revitalized urban agriculture? If so, then I can only understand his commentary as a poorly reasoned example of corporate agribusiness agitprop. Oh wait!, Syngenta is a major sponsor of his web page. That about covers it.
But let’s take the argument seriously for a moment more, in order to deflate points that could become destructive urban myths; this is how they get started, no? Better to nip them in the bud before they grow to larger proportions and start misinforming the grant making community, among others. Let me turn to another facet of Hladik’s argument, for he seems very committed to ‘sustainability’ and has the air of someone able to present serious questions for our weighty consideration. He asks a good question but then follows through with an erroneous and preemptive response that reveals how little he seems to know about farming and agroecosystems:
What about the sustainability of urban farming in North America?   At any garden center there are mountains of topsoil available in convenient plastic bags and by the truckload. That soil does not just “happen;” it was once farmland that has forever been removed from productivity in its natural setting.
This is another straw-man argument. Most soil used in urban agriculture comes from urban compost piles; the University of Washington students keep one of these compost piles and it is so big they give the stuff away now. No one is going out into the countryside, under cover of dark or otherwise, to rob farms of their topsoil. First, why would they do that? Chances are most of those soils have already been plenty depleted by agribusiness monoculture ventures or are heavily contaminated with fertilizers and pesticides. If anything, urban farmers tend to be organic and they are not going after pesticide-ridden soil from bankrupt family farms or corporate monoculture plantations. The thought is anathema to us.
Anyone who thinks that topsoil for P-Patches comes from the national sacrifice zone of rural farms, now abandoned to satiate the pesky urban gardeners, surely must live on a different planet.
There is another problem with Hladik’s argument, one that is between the lines or in the subtext: When he waxes poetic that soil does not just “happen,” and once removed from the land it is lost forever, he appears to lack any understanding of how any wise rural farmer, using traditional polycultural and biodynamic methods, can constantly create and replenish the soil. I believe it could only be a contract grower, wed to monoculture practices, that can envision the idea of soil getting exported for cash, forever lost to the land, or eroding due to poor management associated with unsustainable industrial farming methods and practices.
Maybe agricultural economists do not understand the principles of soil formation. Hladik certainly seems completely unaware of the rich soil, pun intended, of ethnoedaphology (see my series on Sodbusters and the native gaze), which is based on evidence of how traditional, indigenous, or regenerative practices can actually produce and replenish the soil; rather quickly. Many of the best holistic farmers maintain large compost piles and add manure and other natural materials to enrich and deepen their soil horizons. This is more than soil conservation it is actual soil formation.
A growing number of farmers are relying on biodynamic methods and the use of companion plants and inter-cropping planting patterns, which are by now legendary enough that I am left wondering how this once active farmer does not know of these things? Maybe Hladik sees the world through the lens of corporate monoculture, and that is a world where soil is being lost at an unsustainable rate? Under those conditions, I suppose I would also be eager to hold on to what is left. But this is not the reality for urban farmers who do not need to raid rural landowners for whatever remains of their topsoil.
Another revealing part of Hladik’s argument against urban agriculture as a strategy to feed ourselves (and by extension, the world) is apparent in his summary of the “big picture of national land use” in the U.S.  Hladik states that a mere 2.1 percent of land-use is urban and 19.5 percent is in farmland. That accounts for 21.6 percent.
What happens to the balance of 78.4 percent, or most of the land mass in the country? Does it count if other organisms, besides human beings, are using the land? Apparently not. In this version of land use accounting, nonhuman uses disappear. I am left wondering why?
Hladik is wed to the reductionist thinking of neoliberal economics: If it is not subject to human use, then the land use is not worth counting. This is anthropocentrism of the worst type because urban and farm uses of the land are interconnected and not just in the sense of the evolving city-country relationship. Instead, human urban and rural activities affect other land uses including uses by other organisms that need land as habitat. In my estimation, there is no more important land use than habitat and yet in Hladik’s worldview this disappears completely; it is simply not worth counting.
But the data Hladik uses is also suspect to begin with. If we include the entire infrastructure of the built environment — buildings, roads, highways, bridges, canals, dams, transmission lines of the power grid, and yes, farms and their related physical plant — then the human footprint on the landscape is considerably larger than 2.1 or 21.6 percent of land use. One study reported by National Geographic places the total human footprint at 83 percent, leaving a mere 17 percent as non-urban and rural non-human.
Landscape ecologists are justifiably concerned and the study found that 20 percent of the continental U.S. land mass is within 500 meters of a paved road. This is the data Hladik should be working with rather than his simplistic binary of urban versus farm land use. Besides, it is not the percent of land use dedicated to city or farm use that matters but rather how the city and farm fit within a web of relationships in the landscape ecology of places. A well-built city or a well-designed and managed farm can create habitat, promote biological linkages and connecting corridors to support the diversity of life on the planet and respect the resilience of ecosystems and watersheds.
Hladik continues this attack on urban agriculture by questioning the availability of appropriate land – he refers to “the quality of urban terrain [as] often [too] marginal for food production” [brackets added]. There is a contradiction here as well that goes back to one of my initial premises about the wisdom of urban farming:
…the world is a better place where cities do not spring up on prime farmland. Then there is the clutter of houses, schools, hospitals, roads, railways, office buildings, historic sights [sic], universities, airports, etc. where nothing can be planted. Realistically, I would be surprised if the food production potential of the available urban land would amount to even one percent of that available on conventional farms utilizing open fields, pastures and rangeland.
I agree that the world is, or would be, a better place if cities did not encroach on “prime farmland.” But this is one of the best arguments for making urban agriculture more viable and central to any strategy seeking to make cities more food self-sufficient and thus lessen urban pressures on the surrounding countryside. If people in cities can better feed themselves, you might even be able to convert some of the farmland back to wildlife habitat and restore broader ecological values. This possibility completely eludes Hladik.
The failure of his analysis extends to the demographic composition of urban farmers in the U.S. Hladik fails to understand who is doing much of the urban farming in the U.S. today. While belittling the lack of knowledgeable farmers in U.S. cities, he attempts to draw a distinction between the U.S. and so-called ‘developing’ countries:
…the presence of recent migrants with farming skills and household labor ability are quite different than in North America and, in such an environment, significant quantities of food are produced in urban settings.
This is quite simply inaccurate. Numerous studies demonstrate that immigrants comprise a major percentage of urban farmers. A good source to start looking at these studies is a recent dissertation by Professor Teresa Mares, We Are Made of Our Food: Latino/a Immigration and the Practices and Politics of Eating. There are many other studies demonstrating how Latin American, Asian, and African immigrants now comprise a significant force in urban agriculture — see, for example, the edited volume by Alison Alkon and Julian Agyeman, Cultivating Food Justice.
Many of these immigrants are displaced farmers and so they bring the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful urban and periurban farmers. Indeed, several programs exist across the U.S. to assist such displaced farmers make the transition back to farm ownership and operation; a good example is just up the road from us, the Viva Farms project in Skagit County, north of Seattle.
Hladik ends his commentary on a predictably condescending note:
As hobbies go, gardening arguably tops the list of activities that provide exercise, exposure to nature and a sense of pride in producing fresh nutritious food. Furthermore, as all human indulgences have some impact on the environment, the guilty pleasure of using some topsoil or water from the hose to grow a bit of food is perfectly acceptable.  However, the bottom line is that urban farming is a myth when it comes to being a significant contributor to the nation’s food supply…. Gardeners everywhere – just get out there and enjoy yourselves and the bounty of your efforts. The burden of feeding the world, or even your community, should not be your concern.
Social scientific studies of urban agriculture in the U.S. illustrate that this is not just a hobby. For most immigrant and low-income families this is quite simply a matter of survival, of avoiding hunger and malnutrition. Urban  farms feed families; they provide access to safe, more nutritious, and organic produce. Significantly, urban farms and gardens provide crops for food or medicine that may not be grown by agribusinesses in the surrounding countryside. This has been illustrated by numerous studies, including my own work (Link 2 at Acequia Institute) on the diversity of crops grown at the former South Central Farm in Los Angeles.
The need to re-establish viable urban agriculture is not a burden; it is a central raison d’être of the food justice movement. Most urban farmers realize they cannot feed the world, but they understand how urban agriculture can help cities feed themselves. This can reduce the impact of the city on the surrounding countryside, a benefit that we are certain even Mr. Hladik would find commendable. Perhaps the most significant benefit of urban farming is an opening toward the transformation of agriculture in rural areas. The agroecological practices common among urban farmers, like organic composting and biodynamic inter-cropping, many of them introduced by immigrants, hold important lessons for conventional farmers in the countryside.
There was a time when conventional agricultural economists like Hladik argued that organic farming was impractical and could not feed the world. They alleged that organic farming could not operate at the economies of scale required to feed the world. They were obviously mistaken and organic produce is now the fastest growing sector in agriculture, both domestic and abroad. Unfortunately, from the vantage point of food autonomy, organic methods have been too successful and the same large transnational agribusiness corporations that control conventional agriculture now dominate the organics sector.
Perhaps this time the co-optation of a progressive and grassroots movement will be avoided and urban agriculture will not only come to contribute to the rebuilding of more sustainable and equitable cities, it will help us feed ourselves and by extension the rest of the world, by simply allowing others to live simply, according to their own cultural traditions and foodways?
To avoid co-optation, U.S. urban agriculture communities need to support a massive program of land redistribution in urban and rural areas in the U.S. and abroad. Stolen land must be reoccupied and farmed or restored to habitat; indeed, we must practice the principle that farms can be re-made as habitat.  This is surely an idea that Mr. Hladik and his colleagues may not find comforting. Then again, a food revolution, as my friend Sandor Katz likes to say, will not be microwaved, and I will add, will not need the services of agricultural economists, and least of all the neoliberal ideologues that have hitherto dominated our national conversation about sustainable agriculture.
Devon G. PeñaPh.D., is a lifelong activist in the environmental justice and resilient agriculture movements, and is Professor of American Ethnic Studies, Anthropology, and Environmental Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. His influential books include Mexican Americans and the Environment: Tierra y Vida (University of Arizona Press, 2005) and the edited volume Chicano Culture, Ecology, Politics: Subversive Kin (University of Arizona Press, 1998). Dr. Peña is the founding editor of the Environmental & Food Justice blog, and is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision.