Monday, January 10, 2011

Community push-ups?

It doesn't work too good for me to write a title first and then write a post, as Alaska has so many issues over such a vast area. It's like trying to pick what is the most important thing going on in the world at the moment. You have solidly entrenched feudalism gripping the Western Alaska villages, you have the bottom trawlers eating everyone's lunch in the Gulf of Alaska, and you have thousands of little remnant salmon runs all screaming for someone to stop killing them off entirely.

Large scale devices are in place that confounds anyone with a glimmer of hope of fixing the problems. Since most of these problems involve buckets of money applied to keep supporting politicians in place to create more trouble for the 97%, it's a cycle that isn't easily broken. It's easy to say that a serious lack of moral turpitude is the root cause, but if most people could exchange shoes with the power brokers, the results would be the same. People are worried about the future for their families and are starting to act less altruistically all the time.

You might say that the family foundations of the rich are coming through to help our toughest problems, like schools that fail the kids. It's been real cute how the schools, and I mean colleges too, have put the onus on the kids by holding a failing grade over their heads when their business model has already failed. The foundations, where all the money is, are mostly just using their hubris as another lever to crank out money for themselves. Think machine-gunning miners and Rockefeller Center.

I have three boys in three branches of the military and they use a phrase that comes to mind that starts with 'cluster.' Wow, what's it going to be like when they are in the midst of their careers, or switching careers full bore, or just living off the land, when us baby-boomers are demanding the entire GDP to take care of us in our old age. My suggestion is to treat your kids real well now, because you might well need them later. We're not so far from pioneer days when families worked as a unit out of necessity.

There is a 'Transitions' movement going on, especially in Great Britian, to redefine communities to make them work. It's said that it might be too difficult for this to take root anywhere in the U.S. because Americans don't want to give up shopping at Walmart. And Americans just aren't that good at commitment. But I wonder about areas of the U.S. that don't resemble a ghetto or a theme park. Some communities with strong traditions of community might find it more attractive than waiting for Uncle Sam, or Uncle Sean to get their act together.

One tradition I know is still alive and well is, 'A man's got to do what a man's got to do.' When the chips fall, and they are falling fast, there will be phenomenon unseen for a long time, or something new even that can't be imagined now. But the survival instinct is alive and well and that I think will be the predominant factor. Even if the Forest Service is even now hiring more 'security types' to keep people from thinking about using the forest resources more than some distant bureaucrat says they should.

This post sure didn't go as planned. I guess the economic indicators just aren't that hot these days to write idly. Even that staunch economic engine Alaska has had, the halibut fishery, is under severe strain. Is it going to go the way of the Atlantic halibut? Why does it look like it is? Why does a professional halibut biologist say the trawlers have taken and discarded 100 million lbs in five years, then retract his statement? "Oops, I didn't mean they disappeared, I just meant they vanished." If the Inspector General's Office ever got wind of this, they would do some number crunching and probably come up with a closer figure than the $10 billion lost economic benefit that I did.

But then again, they might miss the fact that the trawlers aren't just killing scores of millions of pounds of baby halibut. They are killing and wasting the adult halibut they would have become. You just don't see that kind of talk anywhere because it's so awful to contemplate. So the solution has been to hide it in the closet. Or in the middle of the room, depending on if you think in terms of monsters or elephants.

Folks have told the big seafood processors to stay out of this mud fight between fishermen in the different areas. The problem is that powerful processors with high priced lawyers love to throw their weight around, just like powerful fishermen with high priced lawyers for that matter. I thought I had a solution in the Regional Seafood Development Association concept, but that was co-opted by the anti-democratic elements too. I suspect if there was a shred of democracy in fisheries management, the abusers of the system would be taken to the nearest dock and thrown over. On the positive side, it would be easier to accomplish a movement like this in little bitty Alaska than mighty Washington D.C.

Democracy should probably start at home, and that's a tall order. My dad was so used to being in charge, from being a fish buyer before 'the war', to being a fraternity president and naval officer, to seafood plant superintendent and respected industry leader. But my mother called him a dictator, slightly tongue-in-cheek, of course. I refuse to browbeat anyone. My kids are on their way to excellence: one of them is only 21 and he has become one of the very few military guys that you have to take if you 'go outside the wire.'

People still can't comprehend how we ended up with an oligarchy in this country. They should look at how many cylinders their own family is running on. We all know the statistics there. I would suggest that if you don't see any signs of things getting better, then take some action to see that it does, because the alternative isn't looking pretty.

Down here in Oregon, we can order a variety of locally produced foods for weekly pick-up or delivery. You do this and your medical bills will start easing up. It's tough for city folk, but like San Francisco, there are farmer's markets springing up all around the city. The demand is huge and those farmers are enjoying some degree of prosperity finally. The word is, also, that the average city lot can produce over 5,000 lbs of produce a year. Maybe not in Alaska though. My grandfather planted a bushel of potatoes behind the family house in Petersburg during the Depression and only got a bushel back. It was said that he was "one of the five real captains in Petersburg," so I suppose gardening wasn't a strong suit of his.

But I see some communities in Alaska are taking a real hard look at some point down the road at the rate they are going and don't like the picture at all. And they are wondering what are the alternatives. I think it's good they are thinking outside the box on these matters finally. It's a larger scale version of my oldest son training up my grandson. He's a happy, bright, well spoken five-year-old, and can whip out fifteen push-ups at the drop of a fib. Even one-handed ones. Did the push-ups hurt him? I think not, but it was probably painful to start with.

I know I wouldn't do anything real painful for the sake of society if these politicians we have were asking, which they are too smart to try anyway. But I would if a real respected elder were. I'm reminded of the Jews who were getting along fine, until one day they decided they wanted a king, instead of an elder, to just do everything for them. We all know how that worked out for them. Not that I think that the federal or state governments will ever become more responsive to people's needs. I can only see change being possible in small communities, and if there is a rich guy in town, he's not going to give up his gravy train without a fight, so just plan for it.

There is an article in the online magazine 'the Atlantic' called 'The Rise of the New Global Elite.' How they siphon $100 million a day off Wall Street with their fancy computer trading software programs. But how the other big countries have the same thing going on, and how they all meet at conferences like the Bilderburg Group conference in this country to hob-nob. And they fly around in their private jets and live in gated communities and the 99% which is us never lays eyes on them. Will that ever change? Your guess is as good as mine. I could really get the conversation going if I said the only thing lacking now if for them to elect a leader.

Addendum added 1/11/11 from the Straylight Journal, which underscores the value of Alaska's RSDA program, which the State treats like a red-headed stepchild:

17:01/02. CO-MANAGEMENT FOUND BEST FOR FISHERIES: A study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington (UW) and published in the 5 January issue of the journal Nature found the best-managed fisheries are those that bring together local representatives and fishermen who co-determine how the resources should be managed and then enforce these decisions effectively. More than 130 fisheries in 44 countries were studied, researching how co-management practices affect fisheries around the world. The results, according to UW’s Dr. Nicolas Gutierrez, who headed the research team, showed that a co-management framework, based on shared responsibility between the government and local fishermen, is the "only realistic solution" to the problems fisheries face.

The researchers found that the traditional "top-down" approach -- trawling quotas set down and policed by central authorities -- was failing in many fisheries as rules were often poorly implemented or abused. "Many people believe that having fishermen involved in the management process is letting the fox guard the henhouse,” said co-author Dr. Ray Hilborn. “What [this research] shows is just the opposite, that the more involved the fishing industry is in management, the better the outcome.”

For more information on the study see: Leadership, social capital and incentives promote successful fisheries by Nicolás L. Gutiérrez, Ray Hilborn, Omar Defeo in the 5 January issue of Nature, at: Also see the Agence France-Presse article in the 5 January Google News at:, and the Victoria Times-Colonist report at: