Tuesday, August 31, 2010

When Does a Peacemaker Become a Terrorist?

According to the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Holder vs. Human Rights Project, the U.S. Patriot Act provides that:

The quiet diplomacy with IRA and loyalist paramilitaries which helped bring about the Good Friday agreement - meetings, training seminars and facilitated dialogues - would now be deemed a terrorist offence.

Those who engaged with the Sunni Awakening Councils in Iraq may, it turns out, have been breaking the law.

And those who are currently supporting the Afghan or Somali governments' policies of engagement with their sworn enemies could be at risk of prosecution.

This clarification of a law first adopted in 1996 and adjusted in the 2001 Patriot Act, is a big setback for American organisations well known for their work in mediation, such as the Carter Center, the American Friends Service Committee or the Conflict Management Group.

The long arm of US justice means that it extends to all of its residents and citizens (including those living abroad, like myself) and those organisations that receive US government funding.

Click HERE for full article in BBC News, which conludes that,  in other words, “Peacebuilding work, already dangerous to do and difficult to fund just got harder.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Real Story Behind Bottled Water

August 26, 2010

This video illustrates why we should think in terms of systems for our approaches to every day lifestyle choices.  Yes, even down to our choices concerning what kind of water we drink. 

"What,” you may ask, “does bottled water have to do with the idea of peacemaking?!” 


The answer to that question is that everything we do in life – even our choice of drinking water -- is not just an individual decision.  Every action we take affects the world around us.  Each of us lives in a family system, in a community system, within the context of a regional and global environment. 

Each, individual, decision we make may feel insignificant to us, like a single drop raindrop in a rainstorm.  Individually, a single raindrop doesn’t seem to have much effect:  “It’s just one bottle of water, and I’m thirsty!” 

But collectively, millions of raindrops can turn into a flood. 

Will we choose to contribute our raindrop – each individual decision --  to a flood of righteousness, that leads people to sustainability, with less conflict over resources and hence and greater peace in the world?  Or, will our decision – our raindrop -- contribute to a flood of injustice which leads to conflict and division?

The following phrase is deeper than just a slogan: 

“No justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace.” 

So, please, enjoy this cute yet profound cartoon …


One last, but not least thing:  this link came directly from the personal blog of another Presbyterian blogger,  Will McGarvey.  If you’d like to explore the ideas on Will’s blog, it can be accessed HERE



This photograph was taken by the author while visiting a small village in the western Guangdong region of China. Because of environmental problems caused by disposal of plastic bags, the central government of China has now forbidden the free dispensing of plastic bags by grocery stores.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

United We Stand?

This is an amazing film from 1947.  Someone learned the hard lessons of WWII and wanted to impart them to us.

Next time you hear someone talk about “real” Americans (or French, or Brits, or Indians), think about what that means.  

As this film reminds, "Let's not think about 'we' and 'they', let's think about 'us'."


Thursday, August 19, 2010

More on Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation

Previous articles on Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation can be found HERE and HERE, and additional links to resources for foreclosure mediation are HERE.  No one should face foreclosure without consultation with an attorney or advocate.  The information provided here does not take the place of an attorney or advocate to act on your behalf.  This article merely gives some ideas to consider during mediation.

The article, “The Mortgage Foreclosure Crisis: Can We Talk?” by Robert A. Mering, published March 2010 on website Mediate.com (click HERE for article) has some useful ideas.  It states: 

As these [foreclosure modification] programs are presently being administered, both borrowers and mortgage loan servicers alike tend to find the entire modification process dehumanizing. Many workout and loss mitigation departments maintain very little continuity. When homeowners call, they may speak with a different person each time or cannot find a person who has any authority to negotiate. Conversely, many servicers are simply overwhelmed. They may honestly strive to reach an agreement with borrowers; but their agents are frequently inadequately trained and have no real power to address the borrowers’ needs. Rarely, if ever, do the two sides actually engage in face-to-face dialogue. The almost inevitable result is formulaic responses by the lender and bewilderment and frustration by the borrowers. There are few opportunities afforded for the parties to sit down and honestly analyze the alternatives to foreclosure or devise a workout strategy that will result in a long-term solution to the problem.


Judicial foreclosures are almost always far costlier and take longer than nonjudicial foreclosures (more commonly referred to as “trustee sales”); and the judgment debtors’ statutory rights of redemption and to possession of the property for up to a year following the foreclosure sale have a substantially adverse effect on bid prices.


The two principal advantages that mediation offers are its flexibility and its intensity. For both MHA and non-MHA eligible properties, mediation presents a range of available options that are typically given scant attention by overworked loan modification departments. These include principal reductions, extending the term of loans, transfers to relatives or other third parties or having them act as additional guarantors, staged or plateaued restructurings, blended equity mortgages, forbearance until the borrowers can obtain new employment or other steady source of income, refinancing with a different lender, and a transition strategy where borrowers who can’t afford one home swap it for another property in the lender’s REO portfolio.

In cases where the borrowers simply cannot afford to keep their homes or a successful restructuring doesn’t appear to be in the cards, a mediation can also arrange for what the Center for American Progress, the influential think tank founded by John Podesta, President Clinton’s former Chief of Staff , refers to as a “graceful exit”.*

A “graceful exit” can include such strategies as deeds in lieu of foreclosure; short sales; surrender agreements in which the lender agrees not to disclose the default to credit reporting services; reconveyance of the property with a leaseback to the borrowers (with or without an option to buy); even so-called “cash for keys” to provide the borrowers with moving expenses or other cash in consideration of their reconveying and voluntarily vacating the property. While the last option may sound heretical – pay defaulting borrowers to move? – in the long run, the savings to the lenders in foreclosure costs and the ability to put the home on the market at an earlier date can be considerable.

The Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program ("HAFA") may further provide incentives to borrowers, servicers and investors alike to encourage such surrender strategies. For example, Supplemental Directive 09-09 provides servicers $1,500 in incentives and fully releases borrowers from any future liability for debts when they utilize a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure on a HAMP-eligible loan; however, it requires that all junior liens be paid off in full and, at present, [and] is voluntary . . . .


iPhone 2010 001 Remember some strategies:   principal reductions, extending the term of loans, transfers to relatives, having relatives act as additional guarantors, staged or plateaued restructurings, blended equity mortgages, forbearance, refinancing



*quote is from Andrew Jakobic & Alon Cohen, “It’s Time We Talked: Mandatory Mediation in the Foreclosure Process”  10 June 2009 American Progress Report.

Friday, August 13, 2010


I received the following email from Food Democracy Now, an advocacy group for sustainability in agriculture: 

If failing to reach sensible solutions to the impending problems of climate change and the recent disaster in the Gulf were not enough, once again global citizens concerned about the future of our planet have been dealt a crushing blow.
This week a Russian court ruled that the world’s first seed bank outside of St. Petersburg, Russia may be destroyed in order to make way for a housing development. If allowed to stand, this decision will have a catastrophic impact on global plant diversity. Called a “Living Library”, the Pavlovsk Experimental Station [1] is widely considered the "crown jewel" of agricultural biodiversity, since 90% of the collection’s varieties are not found anywhere else on the planet. [2]
Scientists around the world are calling the decision an assault against biodiversity and the memory of the bitter struggle that kept this renowned seed bank alive during the darkest days of World War II. Founded in 1926 by Russian agricultural scientist Nikolai Vavilov, the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, became an icon of human perseverance when 12 Soviet scientists made a stand, choosing to starve to death rather than eat the precious seed and plant collection [3] as Nazi soldiers killed more than 1.5 million Russian soldiers and citizens during the grueling 900-day siege of Leningrad between 1941 and 1943. [4]
Besides this rich history, the Pavlovsk Station contains more than 5,000 rare varieties of fruits and berries from dozens of countries, up to 90% of which are in no other collection. [5] Unlike the majority of seed banks around the world today, the Pavlovsk Station is a field collection, meaning that most of the rare seeds are planted on the agricultural plot outside of St. Petersburg and moving the plants would take many years and most likely destroy much of the collection in the process. [6]
Now, Russia's Supreme Arbitration Court in Moscow wants to turn this priceless treasure of biodiversity into a “private housing estate”. [7] In an age of climate change and dwindling biodiversity, such a decision poses a direct threat to humanity and the future sustainability of our planet.
Tell Russia’s President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin to stop this senseless destruction of the world’s seed heritage and stand up for biodiversity and the world’s future. Clicking on the link below will automatically sign your name to a petition calling for the Kremlin to halt the destruction of the world’s first seed bank.
With more than 986 species of strawberries and 634 varieties of apples, the Pavlovsk Station contains one of the world’s largest collections of rare fruits and berries. [8] Gathered over 84 years, during lean years and hard times, the Russian seed bank is where the future to agricultural solutions may be found, but only if it is allowed to survive. Once a seed is lost, its rich genetic history is gone forever.
In an age where the impacts of climate change are only beginning to grow more pronounced, allowing the destruction of this collection rises to a threat against humanity as great as that faced by Russians as they battled for their survival during the siege of Leningrad. The future of our planet and our species rests not in the development of land for real estate, but in the wise management of the dwindling natural resources that are still available to us.
Today, droughts, floods, extreme heat and water shortages are ravaging the major food producing regions of the world, including California’s Central Valley, Australia and Russia’s own wheat belt. Just last week, the real threat of climate change shook Russia and the world, when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin banned the export of the nation’s wheat due to the severe drought as Russia withers under the worst heat-wave in more than 130 years. [9]
Plant scientists around the globe regularly use plants and seed stock from the Pavlovsk collection as “raw material for developing new varieties that are more productive, for example, or better adapted to a warming climate.” [10] To combat the growing instability brought on by climate change, the invaluable genetic legacy contained in these rare seeds must be maintained.
Allowing the destruction of this priceless seed bank will take away one of the leading tools that scientists have in combating climate change. Destroying these seeds is literally eradicating one of nature’s most precious resources at a time when farmers and society need it the most in order to meet the growing problem of feeding a planet in the face of rapidly changing weather patterns.
While the decision this week was immediately appealed, scientists in Russia and concerned citizens around the world have only 30 days to organize as the decision was immediately appealed before the Supreme Arbitration Court of Russia. Already, groups are organizing to call attention to this terrible decision, including the Global Crop Diversity Trust and scientists at the Pavlovsk Experiment Station. [11]

Food Democracy Now! asks you to join us in this urgent plea to protect biodiversity and the rich biological and historical legacy that these seeds and this collection represents. We may not have much time or even much hope at this point, but this planet will not go down in flames without a fight!
Tell Russia’s President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin to stop this senseless destruction of the world’s seed heritage and stand up for biodiversity and the world’s future. Clicking on the link below will automatically sign your name to a petition calling for the Kremlin to halt the destruction of the world’s first seed bank.

Please act today - it only takes a moment - and the consequences of inaction are too great!

Thank you for participating in food democracy –

Dave, Lisa and the Food Democracy Now! Team

We need your help to keep the pressure on! Please donate to Food Democracy Now today – whether it’s $10, $25 or $50. http://fdn.actionkit.com/go/donate/133?akid=178.68528.AVKMw2&t=11

We rely on folks like you to keep us going. Thanks again for your support.


1. Pavlovsk Experiment Station website
2. “Living Library” of Fruit Plants May Fall to Russian Bulldozers, Discover Magazine, August 12, 2010
3. “Pavlovsk seed bank faces destruction”, U.K. Guardian, August 8, 2010
4. “The siege of Leningrad – deadliest blockade of WWII”, RT, July 12, 2010
5. “Plant Repository at Risk in Russia”, The New York Times, Green, August 6, 2010,
6. “Development Threatens One of World’s Oldest Fruit Seed Collections”, Civil Eats, August 9, 2010
7. “Pavlovsk seed bank faces destruction”, U.K. Guardian, August 8, 2010
8. “Analytical review of the current status and maintenance of fruit and berry germplasm
accessions at Pavlovsk Experiment Station of the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry (VIR)”,
Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry (VIR) website
9. “Drought Strains Russian Wheat Supplies”, The New York Times, August 3, 2010

10. “Development plans threaten Russia seed bank for unique fruit varieties”, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2010

11. “Europe's largest berry bank faces closure”, Nature, August 11, 2010