Friday, August 27, 2010

Swindling the Children!

Interesting that almost daily we find ourselves apologizing to our children for our failure to maintain the American Dream.  No matter your politics or perspective, the fact is that RIGHT NOW, things look bleak for the future.  It is time to stop blaming and stop making self centered decisions but, instead start thinking about our children when we make decisions.

This from UC Berkeley (berkeleyside):

Michael O'Hare, a professor at UC's Goldman School of Public Policy, will formally welcome new students to the classroom on Wednesday.

But in advance of starting his first-day lecture, O'Hare has written a lengthy welcome note that tells students how they have been "swindled."

The once gold-plated education offered by UC Berkeley is now a tarnished version of its former self, ruined by the state's self-interests and narrow viewpoints, according to O'Hare.

"Welcome to Berkeley, probably still the best public university in the world," O'Hare wrote on his blog. "Meet your classmates, the best group of partners you can find anywhere.  The percentages for grades on exams, papers, etc. in my courses always add up to 110% because that's what I've learned to expect from you, over twenty years in the best job in the world."

"That's the good news.  The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle, denied an inheritance you deserve by contract and by your merits.  And you aren't the only ones; victims of this rip-off include the students who were on your left and on your right in high school but didn't get into Cal, a whole generation stiffed by mine.  This letter is an apology, and more usefully, perhaps a signal to start demanding what's been taken from you so you can pass it on with interest."

Read the rest and a link to Prof. O'Hare's full piece here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gates Support of Monsanto Devastating to Small African Farmers

I have often admired Bill Gates for his audacity, forward thinking and ability to show the way forward.  Unfortunately, he tends to get mired in hi own opinions after they have been proven wrong.  The Gates Foundation support for Monsanto's genetically modified crops is disturbing in the face of so much evidence that it is wrong headed and harmful.  This latest information is a setback if you are a small farmer in places like Kenya or South Africa. I encourage those who know him to contact and educate Gates to this serious misstep. The following comes from AGRA Watch, a program of Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice:

Both will profit at expense of small-scale African farmers

Seattle, WA – Farmers and civil society organizations around the world are outraged by the recent discovery of further connections between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and agribusiness titan Monsanto. Last week, a financial website published the Gates Foundation’s investment portfolio, including 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock with an estimated worth of $23.1 million purchased in the second quarter of 2010 (see the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission). This marks a substantial increase from its previous holdings, valued at just over $360,000 (see the Foundation’s 2008 990 Form).

“The Foundation’s direct investment in Monsanto is problematic on two primary levels,” said Dr. Phil Bereano, University of Washington Professor Emeritus and recognized expert on genetic engineering. “First, Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well-being of small farmers around the world, as well as an appalling environmental track record. The strong connections to Monsanto cast serious doubt on the Foundation’s heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers. Second, this investment represents an enormous conflict of interests.”

Monsanto has already negatively impacted agriculture in African countries. For example, in South Africa in 2009, Monsanto’s genetically modified maize failed to produce kernels and hundreds of farmers were devastated. According to Mariam Mayet, environmental attorney and director of the Africa Centre for Biosafety in Johannesburg, some farmers suffered up to an 80% crop failure. While Monsanto compensated the large-scale farmers to whom it directly sold the faulty product, it gave nothing to the small-scale farmers to whom it had handed out free sachets of seeds. “When the economic power of Gates is coupled with the irresponsibility of Monsanto, the outlook for African smallholders is not very promising,” said Mayet. Monsanto’s aggressive patenting practices have also monopolized control over seed in ways that deny farmers control over their own harvest, going so far as to sue—and bankrupt—farmers for “patent infringement.”

News of the Foundation’s recent Monsanto investment has confirmed the misgivings of many farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates in Africa, among them the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, who commented, “We have long suspected that the founders of AGRA—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—had a long and more intimate affair with Monsanto.” Indeed, according to Travis English, researcher with AGRA Watch, “The Foundation’s ownership of Monsanto stock is emblematic of a deeper, more long-standing involvement with the corporation, particularly in Africa.” In 2008, AGRA Watch, a project of the Seattle-based organization Community Alliance for Global Justice, uncovered many linkages between the Foundation’s grantees and Monsanto. For example, some grantees (in particular about 70% of grantees in Kenya) of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)—considered by the Foundation to be its “African face”—work directly with Monsanto on agricultural development projects. Other prominent links include high-level Foundation staff members who were once senior officials for Monsanto, such as Rob Horsch, formerly Monsanto Vice President of International Development Partnerships and current Senior Program Officer of the Gates Agricultural Development Program.

Transnational corporations like Monsanto have been key collaborators with the Foundation and AGRA’s grantees in promoting the spread of industrial agriculture on the continent. This model of production relies on expensive inputs such as chemical fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, and herbicides. Though this package represents enticing market development opportunities for the private sector, many civil society organizations contend it will lead to further displacement of farmers from the land, an actual increase in hunger, and migration to already swollen cities unable to provide employment opportunities. In the words of a representative from the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, “AGRA is poison for our farming systems and livelihoods. Under the philanthropic banner of greening agriculture, AGRA will eventually eat away what little is left of sustainable small-scale farming in Africa.”

A 2008 report initiated by the World Bank and the UN, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), promotes alternative solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty that emphasize their social and economic roots. The IAASTD concluded that small-scale agroecological farming is more suitable for the third world than the industrial agricultural model favored by Gates and Monsanto. In a summary of the key findings of IAASTD, the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) emphasizes the report’s warning that “continued reliance on simplistic technological fixes—including transgenic crops—will not reduce persistent hunger and poverty and could exacerbate environmental problems and worsen social inequity.” Furthermore, PANNA explains, “The Assessment’s 21 key findings suggest that small-scale agroecological farming may offer one of the best means to feed the hungry while protecting the planet.”

The Gates Foundation has been challenged in the past for its questionable investments; in 2007, the L.A. Times exposed the Foundation for investing in its own grantees and for its “holdings in many companies that have failed tests of social responsibility because of environmental lapses, employment discrimination, disregard for worker rights, or unethical practices.” The Times chastised the Foundation for what it called “blind-eye investing,” with at least 41% of its assets invested in “companies that countered the foundation’s charitable goals or socially-concerned philosophy.”

Although the Foundation announced it would reassess its practices, it decided to retain them. As reported by the L.A. Times, chief executive of the Foundation Patty Stonesifer defended their investments, stating, “It would be na├»ve…to think that changing the foundation’s investment policy could stop the human suffering blamed on the practices of companies in which it invests billions of dollars.” This decision is in direct contradiction to the Foundation’s official “Investment Philosophy”, which, according to its website, “defined areas in which the endowment will not invest, such as companies whose profit model is centrally tied to corporate activity that [Bill and Melinda] find egregious. This is why the endowment does not invest in tobacco stocks.”

More recently, the Foundation has come under fire in its own hometown. This week, 250 Seattle residents sent postcards expressing their concern that the Foundation’s approach to agricultural development, rather than reducing hunger as pledged, would instead “increase farmer debt, enrich agribusiness corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta, degrade the environment, and dispossess small farmers.” In addition to demanding that the Foundation instead fund “socially and ecologically appropriate practices determined locally by African farmers and scientists” and support African food sovereignty, they urged the Foundation to cut all ties to Monsanto and the biotechnology industry.

AGRA Watch, a program of Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice, supports African initiatives and programs that foster farmers’ self-determination and food sovereignty. AGRA Watch also supports public engagement in fighting genetic engineering and exploitative agricultural policies, and demands transparency and accountability on the part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and AGRA.

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Heather Day, Director
Community Alliance for Global Justice
Kenya Travel Blog
Masters Thesis Blog - Hemispheric Social Alliance

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Will Consumers Save us from Deflation or Revolt by Nonparticipation?

Lots of talk these days about consumers starting to save and invest.  Funny, most consumers I know can't yet save or invest because of mountains of debt.

Step 1 in the Savings and Investment process is the elimination of debt.

Interesting comparisons have been made to the massive corporate deleveraging that led to deflation in Japan but our situation is very different, consumer debt is the problem, not corporate.

When Bush II was faced with the 2002 inflection point in the labor market brought on by technology (misalignment due to the shift to information technology as the center of the economy), he and his advisors avoided addressing the issue by creating the massive consumer real estate and credit card overleveraging of 2002-2008, funding a period of 'adjustment' for middle class workers. Unfortunately, the adjustment did not happen and the misalignment of the labor force continues (amazing talk of middle class 99ers today- people who have been unemployed for 99 weeks).

Now we have the unavoidable consequence of those bad decisions (and the reliance of a massive system on consumers not only funding the rescue of the banks- the ridiculous TARP, but sucking it up big time to pay the underlying debt they incurred themselves). It is unclear how fast consumers will be capable of ridding themselves of debt, if at all.  In fact, it may not be advisable for them to pay it back given the obvious- if they do, they may never again participate in American prosperity. Better choice for consumers may be to force change by not paying it back and forcing systemic adjustments.

What was the middle class may opt for forced frugality and not participate in the economy going forward.  Adam Werbach makes a great case that this will be the beginning of a path that actually solves problems such as Global Warming through choices based on frugality.

Non-participation in the Banker's economy may be the hidden bullet that eventually takes them down!

Ironic that the real revolution may come from non-violent non-participation!