Saturday, June 1, 2013

Hooray for the Supreme Court! And Consumers Win against the newest GMO!

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: I love to start the weekend with good news. Here are two pieces of it: The Missouri Supreme Court stood up for individual rights last week against the corporate interests that want to condemn land to build a giant port on the Mississippi. The port would be build solely to build giant storage tanks for crude oil from the North Dakota fracking fields. Missouri law, which the court upheld, says that condemnation under Missouri’s eminent domain laws cannot take place “for solely economic development purposes.” The port authority wasn’t interested in paying landowners a fair price and thought they could just condemn the land under the law. Good for the Supremes for saying no! The lawyers for the port authority said something about “improving river traffic” but the Supremes were able to see past the language. In the past, there have been condemnations of land, mostly urban, that have taken entire neighborhoods and moved them so that some big box store can build a gi-normous parking lot so that rich people can come and shop. The river bluffs with their woods and wildlife are a precious commodity. Too precious to cover with concrete like some industrial wasteland. I’m glad this court has unanimously sided with the land owners. On another positive note, several big box stores are refusing to handle GMO salmon. This is the salmon that has been genetically modified to grow faster than normal salmon. If it gets into the wild, normal salmon won’t be able to compete. But consumers don’t want to eat GMO food, so the stores are saying no! Fabulous news, and now there’s a movement to ban gmo salmon from all stores in our region. Hope it gains some traction!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Smithfield buy will change everything in the food industry

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Here’s an interesting piece from Reuters: “China's appetite for pork spurs $4.7 billion Smithfield buy”. I just caught a few seconds of it on the TV news last night before going to the radio station, didn’t have time to look it up until this morning. Basically, the “Smithfield buy” will give China’s meat processing industry a global footprint. The U.S. has deplorably little regulation on this industry, which raises hogs in giant warehouses and butchers hogs on conveyor lines where the carcasses whiz by inspectors too fast for any kind of thoughtful inspection. We have a lot of hog pollution in the U.S. already, but it’s been modified because the organic industry uses hog poo to fertilize fields for U.S.D.A. certified organic produce and grain. Consumers are misled when they think the organic industry helps keep fields clean and healthy, but that’s another story. Smithfield is the world's largest hog owner and butcher. This buy by China means that everything we believe about the food industry can be disproved if the buy goes through. They’ll begin working to dismantle country-of-origin labeling, for example. And pollution standards, as wimpy as they are, will be a thing of the past as international standards, nonexistent, take over. I’m not a predictor and I try to write about what has happened rather than what might happen, but if the past is a teacher, this “Smithfield buy” has implications to bring our tottering planet to its knees.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Another journalist finds time from covering real news to feel sorry for the rich

By Marc Jampole
The title of the article is Why the rich don’t feel rich,” but the true subject of the recent piece by U.S. News & World Report’s chief business correspondent Rick Newman is why we should have sympathy for the economic problems facing rich folk.  

Newman finds four reasons why we should “cut some slack to wealthy worriers,” those moneyed folk who still have money worries or feel anxiety over their finances.  But if we examine Newman’s reasons to feel sorry for the worried wealthy we will find that not one of them holds up.

Let’s start with “They take risks,” the first reason Newman gives for treating the money problems of the wealthy with sympathy. Newman is repeating the old saw that the rich deserve what they have because they took the risks. I agree with Newman when he writes, “People who take risks earn higher rewards for good reason,” but why should we then feel sorry for the rich person who has made a lot of money and now has financial anxiety? Financial anxiety comes when you don’t think you’re going to be able to pay your bills. For a rich person to feel financial anxiety, he or she must be overspending. Do rich people have the right to live beyond their means just because they (or someone related to them) took some risk?  Let’s not forget that poor people take risks, too—the risk of taking one job over another, the risk that someone will acquire your employer and fire you, or the safety dangers in many low-paying jobs.

(We have not even considered the question of what constitutes real risk: Connections, family money, the education to see or take advantage of a business opportunity—all these advantages mitigate much if not all of the risk of business ventures as we can see in the histories of such companies as Microsoft, Dell and Tumblr.)

Newman’s second rationale—“they’ve been burned”—is a variation on the first: In Newman’s mythical world of rich people who don’t inherit their money, the wealthy person has stumbled and had set backs before making the big bucks. That “stumbling” is another way to repackage “taking risks,” but with the focus on past risks that failed. My question is the same: Why does the fact that the road to wealth was bumpy make the rich deserve our special sympathy when they have money problems?  It’s as if only the wealthy face career bumps, which we know is untrue.

The last two reasons that Newman gives for sympathizing with the wealthy when they have money troubles are just silly:
  • “The soaring cost of college scares everyone.” Newman essentially believes that we should feel sorry for those people who won’t qualify for financial aid because they have too much money. Newman conveniently discounts the fact that the wealthy family has the opportunity to save more of its money, whereas poor and middle class family have much less disposable income.
  • “Taxes on the rich are probably going higher.” Newman, like all defenders of the privilege and wealth, forgets that for the last 30 years or so taxes on the wealthy have been too low, which has been one of the two major causes of our debt (the other being fighting wars without raising taxes to fund them).

We are prone to offer scorn not sympathy to the poor person, living hand to mouth, who gets into financial trouble at the first major illness or lost job. As a society, we frown upon people taking handouts, even for necessities. We have laws that prevent people from spending their food stamp money on items that society believes is ethically suspect or matters of luxury, not necessity. To receive any kind of medical or other assistance, you have to run a gauntlet of means testing and investigation.  The Republican harsh campaign against the poor in the last election speaks to the belief in extreme self-sufficiency held by one sector of the electorate.

Why then should we proffer sympathy for the rich person who is in an uncertain financial situation? That uncertainty sometimes represents risk, the flip side of which is the wealth the wealthy enjoy. More often though, the cause of the financial anxiety is spending too much—living beyond one’s means.

The mentality that asks us to feel sympathy for the rich who feel money anxiety is exactly the same mentality that bails out bankers but lets mortgage holders rot. The same mentality doesn’t want to expand unemployment because it doesn’t trust workers to look for work if money’s coming in, but sees no need to unduly burden ethical business owners with safety regulations. The underlying belief is that the rich are different—better—and they get to play to a different set of rules.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour

Nomi Prins, former managing director of Goldman Sachs, now a senior fellow at Demos, offers a glowing review at  of “How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away With Siphoning Off America’s Wealth” by Les Leopold, an occasional contributor to The Progressive Populist. Prins writes: "Les Leopold’s latest masterpiece, “How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away With Siphoning Off America’s Wealth,” is necessary, alarming and really funny. His talent for deconstructing complex financial terms and topics constitutes a public service. What he reveals in 'How to Make,' in a sardonic and appropriately irreverent tone, is something more ominous. We exist in a political-economic system that allows people who manufacture nothing and bet on everything to control the financial destinies of the rest of the population with impunity, and make stupendous amounts of money doing it. Because, as Leopold writes, 'Making a million an hour means never having to say you’re sorry.'” Read the review

The March Against Monsanto

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: The March Against Monsanto, organized by Occupy COMO in Columbia MO, was a huge success. I was amazed, having predicted a small turnout. There were 150 people, and these were folks of all ages. I saw farmers from the farmers’ market, moms pushing strollers, guys on bicycles and lots of twenty-something consumer types. This was one of a couple hundred marches around the world, all kicking off at 1 p.m. in their time zone. Here in Missouri, there were five marches: St. Louis (headquarters of Monsanto), Kansas City, Springfield, Jefferson City and Columbia. We might have gone to any of them, since we’re in the middle of the state, but Columbia is the home of University of Missouri (MIzzou), and they get millions in donations from Monsanto so we went there. The rally after the march, for example, was held in front of Monsanto Auditorium, donated by the multinational corporation. We started at city hall where a young man did a great job of summing up the problems. He even mentioned the Monsanto Protection Act. Then we followed a route that took us through downtown, where lots of people came out of their stores and cheered. Yay for them! We passed a wedding party, all dressed up, the guys looking like Mafioso in black suits, and they said a sarcastic, “Good luck with that one” when they saw our signs. Since it was a Saturday, and a break between spring and summer sessions, there was nobody in the auditorium or in the building, it seemed, but no matter. I’m sure the Monsantans caught the rally on their security cameras and they’ll keep the recordings and put some kind of facial recognition program on. Cool what they can do these days! I’m a big fan of chants, so I pay attention. One that resonated with the anti-Vietnam crowd went like this: Hell, no/ Monsanto]/We don’t want your GMOs. My favorite: GMOs are from the past/Local foods will save your ass. I need to order a new banner for the farm. Maybe that’s what I’ll put on it, but for my neighborhood I’ll have to clean it up: “Factory food is from the past/Local foods will save your donkey.”