Thursday, November 10, 2011
And this is the third interesting piece about the OWS. This one is by Naomi Klein.
Occupy Wall Street: The Most Important Thing in the World Now
Naomi Klein | October 6, 2011
I was honored to be invited to speak at Occupy Wall Street on Thursday night. Since amplification is (disgracefully) banned, and everything I say will have to be repeated by hundreds of people so others can hear (a k a “the human microphone”), what I actually say at Liberty Plaza will have to be very short. With that in mind, here is the longer, uncut version of the speech.
I love you.
And I didn’t just say that so that hundreds of you would shout “I love you” back, though that is obviously a bonus feature of the human microphone. Say unto others what you would have them say unto you, only way louder.
Yesterday, one of the speakers at the labor rally said: “We found each other.” That sentiment captures the beauty of what is being created here. A wide-open space (as well as an idea so big it can’t be contained by any space) for all the people who want a better world to find each other. We are so grateful.
If there is one thing I know, it is that the 1 percent loves a crisis. When people are panicked and desperate and no one seems to know what to do, that is the ideal time to push through their wish list of pro-corporate policies: privatizing education and social security, slashing public services, getting rid of the last constraints on corporate power. Amidst the economic crisis, this is happening the world over.
And there is only one thing that can block this tactic, and fortunately, it’s a very big thing: the 99 percent. And that 99 percent is taking to the streets from Madison to Madrid to say “No. We will not pay for your crisis.”
That slogan began in Italy in 2008. It ricocheted to Greece and France and Ireland and finally it has made its way to the square mile where the crisis began.
“Why are they protesting?” ask the baffled pundits on TV. Meanwhile, the rest of the world asks: “What took you so long?” “We’ve been wondering when you were going to show up.” And most of all: “Welcome.”
Many people have drawn parallels between Occupy Wall Street and the so-called anti-globalization protests that came to world attention in Seattle in 1999. That was the last time a global, youth-led, decentralized movement took direct aim at corporate power. And I am proud to have been part of what we called “the movement of movements.”
But there are important differences too. For instance, we chose summits as our targets: the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the G8. Summits are transient by their nature, they only last a week. That made us transient too. We’d appear, grab world headlines, then disappear. And in the frenzy of hyper patriotism and militarism that followed the 9/11 attacks, it was easy to sweep us away completely, at least in North America.
Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, has chosen a fixed target. And you have put no end date on your presence here. This is wise. Only when you stay put can you grow roots. This is crucial. It is a fact of the information age that too many movements spring up like beautiful flowers but quickly die off. It’s because they don’t have roots. And they don’t have long term plans for how they are going to sustain themselves. So when storms come, they get washed away.
Being horizontal and deeply democratic is wonderful. But these principles are compatible with the hard work of building structures and institutions that are sturdy enough to weather the storms ahead. I have great faith that this will happen.
Something else this movement is doing right: You have committed yourselves to non-violence. You have refused to give the media the images of broken windows and street fights it craves so desperately. And that tremendous discipline has meant that, again and again, the story has been the disgraceful and unprovoked police brutality. Which we saw more of just last night. Meanwhile, support for this movement grows and grows. More wisdom.
But the biggest difference a decade makes is that in 1999, we were taking on capitalism at the peak of a frenzied economic boom. Unemployment was low, stock portfolios were bulging. The media was drunk on easy money. Back then it was all about start-ups, not shutdowns.
We pointed out that the deregulation behind the frenzy came at a price. It was damaging to labor standards. It was damaging to environmental standards. Corporations were becoming more powerful than governments and that was damaging to our democracies. But to be honest with you, while the good times rolled, taking on an economic system based on greed was a tough sell, at least in rich countries.
Ten years later, it seems as if there aren’t any more rich countries. Just a whole lot of rich people. People who got rich looting the public wealth and exhausting natural resources around the world.
The point is, today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well. We are overfishing our oceans, polluting our water with fracking and deepwater drilling, turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands. And the atmosphere cannot absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial disasters: economic and ecological.
These are the facts on the ground. They are so blatant, so obvious, that it is a lot easier to connect with the public than it was in 1999, and to build the movement quickly.
We all know, or at least sense, that the world is upside down: we act as if there is no end to what is actually finite—fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful—the financial resources to build the kind of society we need.
The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that we can afford to build a decent, inclusive society—while at the same time, respect the real limits to what the earth can take.
What climate change means is that we have to do this on a deadline. This time our movement cannot get distracted, divided, burned out or swept away by events. This time we have to succeed. And I’m not talking about regulating the banks and increasing taxes on the rich, though that’s important.
I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it’s also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult.
That is what I see happening in this square. In the way you are feeding each other, keeping each other warm, sharing information freely and proving health care, meditation classes and empowerment training. My favorite sign here says, “I care about you.” In a culture that trains people to avoid each other’s gaze, to say, “Let them die,” that is a deeply radical statement.
A few final thoughts. In this great struggle, here are some things that don’t matter.
§ What we wear.
§ Whether we shake our fists or make peace signs.
§ Whether we can fit our dreams for a better world into a media soundbite.
And here are a few things that do matter.
§ Our courage.
§ Our moral compass.
§ How we treat each other.
We have picked a fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet. That’s frightening. And as this movement grows from strength to strength, it will get more frightening. Always be aware that there will be a temptation to shift to smaller targets—like, say, the person sitting next to you at this meeting. After all, that is a battle that’s easier to win.
Don’t give in to the temptation. I’m not saying don’t call each other on shit. But this time, let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before will demand nothing less.
Let’s treat this beautiful movement as if it is most important thing in the world. Because it is. It really is.
The following is the David Harvey article on OWS. Enjoy
David Harvey—The Party of Wall Street Meets its Nemesis
By David Harvey / 28 October 2011
The Party of Wall Street has ruled unchallenged in the United States for far too long. It has totally (as opposed to partially) dominated the policies of Presidents over at least four decades (if not longer), no matter whether individual Presidents have been its willing agents or not. It has legally corrupted Congress via the craven dependency of politicians in both parties upon its raw money power and access to the mainstream media that it controls. Thanks to the appointments made and approved by Presidents and Congress, the Party of Wall Street dominates much of the state apparatus as well as the judiciary, in particular the Supreme Court, whose partisan judgments increasingly favor venal money interests, in spheres as diverse as electoral, labor, environmental and contract law.
The Party of Wall Street has one universal principle of rule: that there shall be no serious challenge to the absolute power of money to rule absolutely. And that power is to be exercised with one objective. Those possessed of money power shall not only be privileged to accumulate wealth endlessly at will, but they shall have the right to inherit the earth, taking either direct or indirect dominion not only of the land and all the resources and productive capacities that reside therein, but also assume absolute command, directly or indirectly, over the labor and creative potentialities of all those others it needs. The rest of humanity shall be deemed disposable.
These principles and practices do not arise out of individual greed, short-sightedness or mere malfeasance (although all of these are plentifully to be found). These principles have been carved into the body politic of our world through the collective will of a capitalist class animated by the coercive laws of competition. If my lobbying group spends less than yours then I will get less in the way of favors. If this jurisdiction spends on people’s needs it shall be deemed uncompetitive.
Many decent people are locked into the embrace of a system that is rotten to the core. If they are to earn even a reasonable living they have no other job option except to give the devil his due: they are only “following orders,” as Adolf Eichmann famously claimed, or “doing what the system demands” as others now put it, acceding to the barbarous and immoral principles and practices of the Party of Wall Street. The coercive laws of competition force us all, to some degree or other, to obey the rules of this ruthless and uncaring system. The problem is systemic, not individual.
The Party’s favored slogans of freedom and liberty to be guaranteed by private property rights, free markets and free trade, actually translate into the freedom to exploit the labor of others, to dispossess the assets of the common people at will and the freedom to pillage the environment for individual or class benefit.
Once in control of the state apparatus, the Party of Wall Street typically privatizes all the juicy morsels at below market value to open new terrains for their capital accumulation. They arrange subcontracting (the military-industrial complex being a prime example) and taxation practices (subsidies to agro-business and low capital gains taxes) that permit them freely to ransack the public coffers. They deliberately foster such complicated regulatory systems and such astonishing administrative incompetence within the rest of the state apparatus (remember the EPA under Reagan, and FEMA and “heck-of-a job” Brown under Bush) as to convince an inherently skeptical public that the state can never ever play a constructive or supportive role in improving the daily life or the future prospects of anyone. And, finally, they use the monopoly of violence that all sovereign states claim, to exclude the public from much of what passes for public space and to harass, put under surveillance and, if necessary, criminalize and incarcerate all those who do not broadly accede to its dictates. It excels in practices of repressive tolerance that perpetuate the illusion of freedom of expression as long as that expression does not ruthlessly expose the true nature of their project and the repressive apparatus upon which it rests.
The Party of Wall Street ceaselessly wages class war. “Of course there is class war,” says Warren Buffett, “and it is my class, the rich, who are making it and we are winning.” Much of this war is waged in secret, behind a series of masks and obfuscations through which the aims and objectives of the Party of Wall Street are disguised.
The Party of Wall Street knows all too well that when profound political and economic questions are transformed into cultural issues they become unanswerable. It regularly calls up a huge range of captive expert opinion, for the most part employed in the think tanks and universities they fund and splattered throughout the media they control, to create controversies out of all manner of issues that simply do not matter and to propose solutions to questions that do not exist. One minute they talk of nothing other than the austerity necessary for everyone else to cure the deficit, and the next they are proposing to reduce their own taxation no matter what impact this may have on the deficit. The one thing that can never be openly debated and discussed, is the true nature of the class war they have been so ceaselessly and ruthlessly waging. To depict something as “class war” is, in the current political climate and in their expert judgment, to place it beyond the pale of serious consideration, even to be branded a fool, if not seditious.
But now, for the first time, there is an explicit movement to confront The Party of Wall Street and its unalloyed money power. The “street” in Wall Street is being occupied—oh horror upon horrors—by others! Spreading from city to city, the tactics of Occupy Wall Street are to take a central public space, a park or a square, close to where many of the levers of power are centered, and by putting human bodies there convert public space into a political commons, a place for open discussion and debate over what that power is doing and how best to oppose its reach. This tactic, most conspicuously re-animated in the noble and on-going struggles centered on Tahrir Square in Cairo, has spread across the world (Plaza del Sol in Madrid, Syntagma Square in Athens, now the steps of Saint Paul’s in London as well as Wall Street itself). It shows us that the collective power of bodies in public space is still the most effective instrument of opposition when all other means of access are blocked. What Tahrir Square showed to the world was an obvious truth: that it is bodies on the street and in the squares not the babble of sentiments on Twitter or Facebook that really matter.
The aim of this movement in the United States is simple. It says: “We the people are determined to take back our country from the moneyed powers that currently run it. Our aim is to prove Warren Buffett wrong. His class, the rich, shall no longer rule unchallenged nor automatically inherit the earth. Nor is his class, the rich, always destined to win.”
It says “we are the 99 percent.” We have the majority and this majority can, must and shall prevail. Since all other channels of expression are closed to us by money power, we have no other option except to occupy the parks, squares and streets of our cities until our opinions are heard and our needs attended to.
To succeed, the movement has to reach out to the 99 percent. This it can do and is doing step by step. First, there are all those being plunged into immiseration by unemployment, and all those who have been or are now being dispossessed of their houses and their assets by the Wall Street phalanx. It must forge broad coalitions between students, immigrants, the underemployed and all those threatened by the totally unnecessary and draconian austerity politics being inflicted upon the nation and the world, at the behest of the Party of Wall Street. It must focus on the astonishing levels of exploitation in workplaces—from the immigrant domestic workers who the rich so ruthlessly exploit in their homes, to the restaurant workers who slave for almost nothing in the kitchens of the establishments in which the rich so grandly eat. It must bring together the creative workers and artists whose talents are so often turned into commercial products under the control of big money power.
The movement must above all reach out to all the alienated, the dissatisfied and the discontented, all those who recognize and deeply feel in their gut that there is something profoundly wrong, that the system the Party of Wall Street has devised is not only barbaric, unethical and morally wrong, but also broken.
All this has to be democratically assembled into a coherent opposition, which must also freely contemplate what an alternative city, an alternative political system and, ultimately, an alternative way of organizing production, distribution and consumption for the benefit of the people, might look like. Otherwise, a future for the young that points to spiraling private indebtedness and deepening public austerity, all for the benefit of the one percent, is no future at all.
In response to the Occupy Wall Street movement the state backed by capitalist class power makes an astonishing claim: that they and only they have the exclusive right to regulate and dispose of public space. The public has no common right to public space! By what right do mayors, police chiefs, military officers and state officials tell we, the people, that they have the right to determine what is public about “our” public space, and who may occupy that space, and when? When did they presume to evict us, the people, from any space we, the people, decide collectively and peacefully to occupy? They claim they are taking action in the public interest (and cite laws to prove it), but it is we who are the public! Where is “our interest” in all of this? And, by the way, is it not “our” money that the banks and financiers so blatantly use to accumulate “their” bonuses?
In the face of the organized power of the Party of Wall Street to divide and rule, the movement that is emerging must also take as one of its founding principles that it will neither be divided nor diverted until the Party of Wall Street is brought either to its senses—to see that the common good must prevail over narrow venal interests—or to its knees. Corporate privileges to have all of the rights of individuals without the responsibiities of true citizens must be rolled back. Public goods such as education and health care must be publically provided and made freely available. The monopoly powers in the media must be broken. The buying of elections must be ruled unconstitutional. The privatization of knowledge and culture must be prohibited. The freedom to exploit and dispossess others must be severely curbed and ultimately outlawed.
Americans believe in equality. Polling data show they believe (no matter what their general political allegiances might be) that the top twenty percent of the population might be justified in claiming thirty percent of the total wealth. That the top twenty percent now control 85 percent of the wealth is unacceptable. That most of that is controlled by the top one percent is totally unacceptable. What the Occupy Wall Street movement proposes is that we, the people of the United States, commit to a reversal of that level of inequality, not only of wealth and income, but even more importantly of the political power that such a disparity confers. The people of the United States are rightly proud of the their democracy, but it has always been endangered by capital’s corruptive power. Now that it is dominated by that power, the time is surely nigh, as Jefferson long ago suggested would be necessary, to make another American revolution: one based on social justice, equality and a caring and thoughtful approach to the relation to nature.
The struggle that has broken out—the People versus the Party of Wall Street—is crucial to our collective future. The struggle is global as well as local in its nature. It brings together Chilean students who are locked in a life-and-death struggle with political power to create a free and quality education system for all, and so begin dismantling the neoliberal model that Pinochet so brutally imposed. It embraces the agitators in Tahrir Square who recognize that the fall of Mubarak (like the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship) was but the first step in an emancipatory struggle to break free from money power. It includes the “indignados” in Spain, the striking workers in Greece, the militant opposition emerging all around the world, from London to Durban, Buenos Aires, Shenzhen and Mumbai. The brutal dominations of big capital and sheer money power are everywhere on the defensive.
Whose side will each of us as individuals come down on? Which street will we occupy? Only time will tell. But what we do know is that the time is now. The system is not only broken and exposed but incapable of any response other than repression. So we, the people, have no option but to struggle for the collective right to decide how that system shall be reconstructed and in what image. The Party of Wall Street has had its day and failed miserably. How to construct an alternative on its ruins is both an inescapable opportunity and an obligation that none of us can or would ever want to avoid.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Although we will not discuss food production in this course many have demonstrated an interest in the field. As a result I would like for you to take a look at the accompanying article from Mother Jones.
Foodies, Get Thee to Occupy Wall Street
Because Big Food makes Big Finance look like amateurs.
By Tom Philpott | Fri Oct. 14, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
Because Big Food makes Big Finance look like amateurs.
Tom Philpott 
The Occupy Wall Street protests grew out of anger at the outsized power of banks. But as they've expanded nationwide, the uprisings have evolved into a kind of running challenge to the way power is concentrated in all aspects of our economy—concentrated into the hands of people with an interest in maintaining the status quo.
No doubt, the financial sector is a stunning example. This MoJo chart  shows how the 10 largest banks came to hold 54 percent of US financial assets, up from 20 percent in 1990. As big banks gobbled smaller banks and became megabanks, they managed to extract more and more wealth out of the economy . Even after the epochal meltdown and bailout, the financial sector now claims fully a third of US corporate profits . They've invested a chunk of that windfall in what is probably Washington's most formidable lobbying machine —which is precisely how they managed to slither away unscathed despite the economic carnage they caused.
But other economic sectors are similarly concentrated, and have a comparable grip on public policy. Consider the industry I cover. Our national food policy is both in desperate need of reform and utterly trapped under the heel of industry influence. So, as Occupy Wall Street evolves, food policy should be on the plate. Here are four reasons why:
1. The food industry is a big fat monopoly.
Agribusiness is concentrated to a point that would make a Wall Street master of the universe blush. Vast globe-spanning corporations, many of them US-based, dominate the industry.
Let's start with "inputs," the stuff farmers buy before they plant their crops. As of 2007, six companies owned 75 percent of the global pesticide market, and four companies sold half of the globe's seeds, ETC Group reckons . Here's the kicker: Three of them—Monsanto, Syngenta, and Dupont—are on both lists. The agrichemical makers have transitioned into seed barons, genetically engineering their major seed lines to resist their own herbicides.
Three companies process more than 70 percent of beef in the US; four slaughter and pack more than 58 percent of our pork and chicken.
Monsanto is an interesting case. In addition to being the planet's largest seed vendor, with 23 percent of the market, it licenses its patented genetically modified traits to other companies. Think of the physical seed as the hardware and traits as the software. In the trait market, Monsanto holds a near monopoly: By 2007, according to ETC Group, 87 percent of the acreage dedicated to genetically engineered crops contained crops bearing Monsanto traits.
Okay, so farmers rely on a small handful of firms for their inputs. But it turns out the same thing holds true when they harvest and sell their crops. Just four companies—Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, and Louis Dreyfus—control up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. In the United States , three of those firms process 70 percent of the soybeans and 40 percent of the wheat milled into flour. The bulk of corn and soy grown by US farmers ends up feeding animals in vast factories, and here, too, the consolidation is dramatic: Three companies now process more than 70 percent of all beef,  and just four firms slaughter and pack upwards of 58 percent of all pork and chicken.
By 2002, just four companies produced 75 percent of cereal and snacks, 60 percent of cookies, and half of all ice cream.
Finally, let's look at the supermarkets. Walmart opened its first grocery-selling "superstore" in 1988. Today, it controls 2,750 superstores and more than a quarter of the US grocery market . As a result, the combined market share of the four largest grocery players has doubled, from less than 20 percent in 1992 to nearly 40 percent today.
And, despite acres of shelves groaning with thousands of products, only a few large companies stock supermarkets. By 2002, the USDA reported , four companies churned out 75 percent of breakfast cereal, 75 percent of snacks, 60 percent of cookies, and 50 percent of ice cream.
2. The food industry screws farmers, its own employees, and the environment.
In antitrust theory, when four players control more than 40 percent of a market, they're said to wield "market power"—that is, they can manipulate the prices they charge consumers and the terms on which they deal with their suppliers. So, rather than raise prices, the food industry has slashed costs—at the expense of workers, farmers, and the environment.
The meat industry provides a stark example. Today, you can grab a McDonald's McDouble burger or a McChicken sandwich for a dollar . As I noted above, just a few companies process the great bulk of meat consumed in the United States. How can they do that profitably, when McDonald's is practically giving burgers away? Simple: screw the workers.
Some 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock facilities, the FDA reports.
From 1976 to 2009, according to USDA figures , the inflation-adjusted average hourly wage of meatpacking workers plunged, as did union membership among meatpacking employees. Predictably, working conditions deteriorated. (See our recent Hormel Foods exposé: "The Spam Factory's Dirty Secrets .") In 2005, Human Rights Watch issued a damning report titled "Blood, Sweat, and Fear,"  which concluded:
Employers put workers at predictable risk of serious physical injury even though the means to avoid such injury are known and feasible. They frustrate workers' efforts to obtain compensation for workplace injuries when they occur. They crush workers' self-organizing efforts and rights of association. They exploit the perceived vulnerability of a predominantly immigrant labor force in many of their work sites. These are not occasional lapses by employers paying insufficient attention to modern human resources management policies. These are systematic human rights violations embedded in meat and poultry industry employment. [Emphasis added.]
Farmers, too, got the shaft. As a few big hog processors like Smithfield gobbled market share and began raising millions of their own pigs, pork prices tanked and tens of thousands of farms went belly up, despite an increase in the total number of hogs being slaughtered. In 1992, America had 240,000 hog farms, the USDA  reports, but only 60,000 of them remained by 2007. Similar trends have hit the poultry industry .
Meanwhile, shunting livestock production into huge factory-style facilities has led to a massive concentration of toxic animal waste. Using data collected by the EPA, the Environmental Integrity Project recently showed  that animal factories routinely emit levels of particulate matter, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide that are well above acceptable health limits. A good deal of that manure ends up in groundwater, too, fouling drinking water supplies  and fish habitat. 
Finally, to keep their animals alive and growing fast under dire conditions, the meat industry laces feed rations with antibiotics. The FDA recently revealed  that 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock facilities. Nearly every US public health and farm oversight agency has acknowledged  that the practice contributes heavily to the rise of antibiotic-resistant human pathogens—vicious superbugs like MRSA, a resistant form of staphylococcus that kills now more Americans than AIDS does .
3. Wall Street's greed leaves millions to starve—literally.
One obvious reason that Occupy Wall Street should focus on food is that Wall Street itself focuses on food.
As I reported last month , two recent UN reports directly implicate commodities speculators for driving up the price of key food staples like rice and wheat—leaving tens of millions of people around the world hungry in order to make a buck. A new study (PDF) reaching the same conclusion has emerged from the New England Complex Systems Institute—and was reviewed by two Harvard economists and an official from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
Sure, these analyses note, US and European biofuel programs have played a role in all this by (foolishly) diverting key food staples into car fuel. But Wall Street took the biofuel craze to a whole new level. Olivier de Schutter, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, puts it bluntly :
The promotion of biofuels and other supply shocks were relatively minor catalysts, but they set off a giant speculative bubble in a strained and desperate global financial environment. These factors were then blown out of all proportion by large institutional investors who, faced with the drying up of other financial markets, entered commodity futures markets on a massive scale.
And here's what the New England Complex Systems Institute team had to say:
The two sharp peaks in 2007/2008 and 2010/2011 are specifically due to investor speculation, while an underlying upward trend is due to increasing demand from ethanol conversion.
They illustrated this with the following chart.
From: "The Food Crises: A quantitative model of food prices including speculators and ethanol conversion," by Lagi, Bar-Yam, Bertrand, and Bar-Yam, 2011. From: "The Food Crises: A quantitative model of food prices including speculators and ethanol conversion," New England Complex Systems Institute, 2011.
When the first speculative shock hit food markets in 2007, "at least 40 million people around the world were driven into hunger and deprivation as a result," de Schutter writes. The bubble burst with the 2008 Wall Street meltdown but has since reinflated as Wall Street returned to profitability and its speculative ways. In real terms, global food prices are now hovering above their former peak in 2008, meaning misery for millions of people globally.
How did the global food supply become a Wall Street profit center? In a July 2010 Harper's article called "The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away With It," journalist Frederick Kaufman laid out the story  (PDF). It all started with a financial instrument Goldman Sachs conjured up in back in 1991 to allow the its clients to invest in the commodities market without having to pick specific winners. Here's how Kaufman describes it.
[Goldman's financial engineers] selected eighteen commodifiable ingredients and contrived a financial elixir that included cattle, coffee, cocoa, corn, hogs, and a variety or two of wheat. They weighted the investment value of each element, blended and commingled the parts into sums, then reduced what had been a complicated collection of real things into a mathematical formula that could be expressed as a single manifestation, to be known thenceforward as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index. Then they began to offer shares.
For years, the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index was a stable, boring instrument that didn't draw much attention as investors chased flashier instruments like tech stocks and real estate. But it generated enough client fees to inspire other firms, including AIG, JP Morgan, and Bear Stearns, to roll out similar food-centered instruments, Kaufman reported.
By 2005, the tech bubble had long since burst, and real estate had reached dizzying heights. And the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000—the same Clinton-era legislation that "introduced obscure financial derivatives like 'credit default swaps' into the American lexicon and ultimately caused the collapse of mortgage and stock markets," notes  blogger Eric Michael Johnson—had deregulated derivatives markets. With this backdrop, President Bush and Congress began to ramp up US corn ethanol production in an absurd attempt to kowtow to the mythical notion of energy independence . This gave Wall Street the story it need to sell investors en masse on commodity crops. Suddenly, billions of dollars were flowing into the food funds, and crop prices soared.
Goldman Sachs designed its customers' food betting so the bank would make money regardless of food prices.
When those prices crashed again in 2008, Kaufman reports, Goldman's clients who had bet on ever-rising prices lost money, but the firm itself didn't. It had rigged the instrument so that the bank made money no matter what. The subsequent rebound has left global food prices well above levels justified by supply and demand factors, according to the United Nations.
In a sense, the dramatic rise in commodity prices could at least benefit farmers around the world. After all, until 2005, crop prices had been falling or stagnating for 30 years. But the upswing has mainly benefited the agribusiness giants I mentioned above. That's because, as crop prices rise, the prices for inputs like agrichemicals and genetically modified seeds rise in tandem, keeping farmers squeezed.
The price of farmland has also jumped, as (yes) speculative  cash swept into heartland real estate. (See chart.) That means a windfall for farmers who own their land but rising rents for those who lease.
In Africa, rising food prices have inspired hedge funds, institutional investors, and nations like Saudi Arabia and China to gobble up farmland for export crop s at a time when domestic populations are going hungry.
What can be done to curb food speculation? The Dodd-Frank financial reform law signed by President Obama required the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to rein in speculation in ag markets. But as the New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson reported  last month (hat tip, Tom Laskway ), the commission has proposed rules that "might actually encourage speculation in the commodities markets."
This suggests that the political system is so shot through with finance sector cash that it's incapable of properly regulating Wall Street's food fetish.
4. Our politicians are in bed with agribusiness.
Like the big banks, the handful of companies that dominate our food system dedicate loads of cash to throwing their weight around in DC.
From 1998 through 2011, the agribusiness sector dropped $1.4 billion on lobbying, reports  the Center for Responsive Politics. That's considerably less than the finance and health sectors, but enough to put it sixth on the CRP's list of clout-wielding sectors, beating out defense contractors ($1.3 billion) and trial lawyers ($366 million).
"Not only is there lack of support," complained the USDA's chief slaughterhouse inspector, "but there's outright obstruction, retaliation and abuse of power."
So what does the industry get in return? A 2010 study  by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Iowa State University gives us a taste. The researchers polled more than 1,700 employers of the USDA and FDA, the two federal agencies overseeing food and ag companies, on the topic of industry influence. The results are chilling:
Hundreds of survey respondents identified undue corporate influence as a major problem. More than 620 respondents (38 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that "public health has been harmed by agency practices that defer to business interests."…And more than 300 respondents (25 percent) said they personally experienced corporate interests forcing their agency to withdraw or significantly modify a policy or action designed to protect consumers in the past year. When asked that same question about Congress and non-governmental interests, more than 260 respondents (24 percent) and more than 240 respondents (22 percent) said yes, respectively.
One of the respondents, a USDA veterinarian named Dean Wyatt who manages the agency's slaughterhouse inspectors, spoke bluntly. "Upper level management does not adequately support field inspectors and the actions they take to protect the food supply," he told the pollsters. "Not only is there lack of support, but there's outright obstruction, retaliation and abuse of power."
And evidently, data-fudging to protect industry interests is commonplace:
…190 respondents (16 percent) said they witnessed officials selectively or incompletely using data to justify a specific regulatory outcome. One-hundred-and-five respondents (10 percent) said agency decision makers inappropriately asked them to exclude or alter information or conclusions in an agency scientific document. Ninety-eight respondents (9 percent) said agency managers asked them to provide incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information to the public, regulated industry, media or government officials.
Plenty of observers were hopeful that industry influence over federal watchdog agencies would decrease dramatically with the exit of George W. Bush. But the poll detected only a "very small" reduction of influence-wielding under Obama.
Another way to gauge industry influence is to look at particular cases. Take the genetically modified seed industry dominated by Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta. According to a 2010 report  (PDF) from Food & Water Watch:
These companies and organizations spent more than half a billion dollars—$547.5 million—lobbying Congress between 1999 and 2009, the most recent full year of available data. The firms employed more than 100 lobbying firms in 2010 alone, as well as their own in-house lobbyists. Lobbying expenditures rose 102.8 percent from $35.0 million in 1999 to $71.0 million in 2009.
That's money well spent. As I've written before , the GM foods industry has enjoyed a rather laissez-faire regulatory environment since it emerged in the 1990s, despite steady public pressure for more oversight.
That tradition continues under President Obama. In January, the USDA green-lighted Monsanto's genetically modified alfalfa  after signaling that it would place restrictions on the crop to protect organic farmers from genetic contamination. The Wall Street Journal later reported  that the White House had intervened to force the decision, "as part of the administration's review of 'burdensome' regulation."
And in July, the USDA declined to regulate genetically modified turf grass, issuing a decision that opens the door for a whole slew of novel crops to avoid even minimal oversight.  This, despite the agency's admission  that the novel grass will likely contribute to the herbicide-resistant "superweed" problem and contaminate non-GM grass crops.
The hands-off approach to GM crops evidently extends to other corners of the administration. Indeed, in some agencies, the attitude is downright boosterish. Regarding the labeling of foods containing GM ingredients, a notion with strong public support, a State Department officially has publicly sided with the industry line, the Des Moines Register reports . Speaking at a panel organized by CropLife America, the main agrichemical/GM seed industry trade group, State Department economic specialist Jose Fernandez told the crowd what it wanted to hear: "If you label something there's an implication there's something wrong with it."
The Register adds: "The State Department has been working along with the Agriculture Department to encourage foreign countries to permit the production and use of biotech crops."
On the potentially scary problem of livestock being pumped with antibiotics, regulation has been practically nonexistent, even though, as I've pointed out before , the USDA, FDA, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all acknowledged the dangers of essentially neutering the best weapons we've got against outbreaks of bacterial disease in humans.
What we're left with is a system of government oversight crumbling in the face of industry influence, an election-year atmosphere of anti-regulatory zeal, and a political system polarized to the point where it is incapable of addressing the problem. At times when our leaders have proved unwilling or unable to defend the public interest, a social movement like Occupy Wall Street becomes vitally important.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Friday, September 30, 2011
It has often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well in this case it sure is.
I honestly think that it would be redundant to say much about the accompanying image, it tells the whole story and very effectively for that matter. It also demonstrates clearly that most of us are not that sincere about the claims that we make.(Thanks Marcia)
Saturday, September 24, 2011
It is as if the problems associated with Round up , a herbicide produced by Monsanto, are not enough to worry about. As the previous post notes that gave us the Super Weed. Not to be outdone DuPont's Herbicide; Imprelis; designed to stop weeds from growing is killing trees and poisoning the water table wherever it is used. It has been labelled the Rogue Herbicide by Jim Hightower whose full column follows:
In the corporate world's tortured language, workers are no longer fired. They just experience an "employment adjustment." But the most twisted euphemism I've heard in a long time comes from DuPont: "We are investigating the reports of these unfavorable tree symptoms," the pesticide maker recently stated.
How unfavorable? Finito, flat-lined, the tree is dead. Not just one tree, but hundreds of thousands all across the country are suffering the final "symptom."
The culprit turns out to be Imprelis, a DuPont weed-killer widely applied to lawns, golf courses, and — ironically — cemeteries.
Rather than just poisoning dandelions and other weeds, the herbicide also seems to be causing spruces, pines, willows, poplars, and other unintended victims to croak.
"It's been devastating," says a Michigan landscaper who applied Imprelis to about a thousand properties this spring and has already had more than a third of them suffer outbreaks of tree deaths. "It looks like someone took a flamethrower to them," he says.
At first, DuPont tried to dodge responsibility, claiming that landscape workers might be applying the herbicide improperly. The corporation even urged customers to be patient and leave the tree corpses on their lawns to see if they'd come back to life in a few years.
However, faith-based landscaping was a hard sell. Disgruntled homeowners began filing lawsuits. Then DuPont had its own "aha!" moment when trees on the grounds of the DuPont Country Club also developed the "unfavorable symptoms" of Imprelis poisoning.
So, with DuPont's cooperation, the EPA has finally banned sales of the tree-killing herbicide. But because of inadequate testing and a rush to profit, the poison will remain in the soil — and our water— for many moons. Trees will continue to die. Will we never learn?
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Well it happened again. Monsanto the company that gave us Terminator seeds, those that are designed to become infertile so that farmers will have to buy seeds every year has managed to let lose in the US agricultural fields another genetically designed disaster.
This time around it is not “Gene Use Restriction Technology”, GURT, that is the issue but it is Roundup the weed killer and the Roundup ready seeds. Roundup is a bestselling weed killer that is also engineered into the seeds of corn or soybean in order to keep weeds under control, increase crop yields and generate more profits for Monsanto. Unfortunately, and dare I say as expected, the use of Roundup has resulted in the creation of Super Weeds that have already spread to 11 million acres of fertile farmland in the US and threatens to spread into much larger areas. Simply stated the weeds have developed immunity to Roundup that was designed to kill them.
The new Super Weeds are called “waterhemp” and grow four feet tall. These Super Weeds are super because they can grow two inches a day and can withstand multiple applications of the herbicide Roundup. These weeds do their damage by sucking up the moisture and the nutrients out of the soil which increases the cost of farming and decreases the productivity of the farmer not to mention its environmental damage which could be permanent.
Is the Tomato that ate Manhattan far behind Will we ever learn not to mess around with Mother Nature?
Monday, September 19, 2011
Frankly , I post this with lots of trepidation since , as you should know by now, I do not share the view that the following information has much to do with environmentalism:-). Yet, I do not want anyone to miss taking advantage of an opportunity that is deemed to be of value to the student. I guess that I am warning you that IBM might be piggybacking on the interest in green living and environmental education but IBM might be , on the other hand, very sincere in its commitment to a Smarter Planet. You decide.
Join the hunt for a Smarter Planet
Do you have the right skills to get a top job when you graduate? IBM wants to make sure you do!
IBM is coming to Pace on October 11th with the ”Smarter Planet Comes to You: Developing Skills for a New Level of Smart” tour, where you can:
Participate in a high-tech on-campus scavenger hunt that will help build your know-how about making our planet smarter. (Including $800 in prizes, and, of course, food!)
Visit the Skills Zones throughout the event. Try your hand at beating Watson in the gaming zone, learn about jobs, skills development, talk to experts, and more.
Attend the after-party information session for a deeper look at how you can better compete in this smarter job market. Learn what recruiters are looking for, access skills education, resources and job/internship postings. Network with IBM executives, skills and sales professionals, alumni, professors, your peers and more after a panel discussion on Skills for the 21st Century
Building a Smarter Planet requires a new way of thinking and a new way of applying technology to solve business and world problems. This is also increasing the demand for highly skilled workers and toughening the requirements for the best jobs. As the next generation of business and technology leaders, come and learn more about what it takes to build a smarter planet, ways to enhance your skills profile, and how to get engaged. We hope to see you on October 11th. Register at www.smarterplanetcomestoyou.com
o Take 2 mins to learn more about this event in this fun video... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTCB1L3AEn4
o Follow us on Facebook for updates and early hints/clues for the hunt... facebook.com/ibmskillstour
o Where: Pleasantville Campus, Kessel Student Center on Tuesday, October 11, 2011
o Scavenger Hunt: Sign-in 3:15pm, Hunt 4 – 5:30pm, After-party Info session/prizes 5:30 – 6:45pm
o IBM Skills Zones – throughout the event
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
The attached powerpoint presentaion ia a brief set of "bullets" that I used for a lecture at the LeftForum in which I maintain that "Business as usual" is unacceptable and actually immoral. Our only chance for avoiding a cataclysmic failure is at a minimum to be found in a Steady State Economy .