Archive for May, 2013

The Power Of The Press

May 26, 2013

            This weekend many of you, like me, have received a forwarded email entitled “March Against Monsanto: News Not Reporting, Please Share”. It contains images from the various demonstrations worldwide that occurred on May 25, 2013. Our own neighboring big city, Columbus Ohio, was among them. Scant attention was given this demonstration by the few media outlets covering the Newark area (see archive post The Right To Look).  That night the AP ran a story headlined “Protesters across globe rally against Monsanto: Demonstrators rally against Monsanto in global anti-GMO protest” A couple of quotes from that article are notable to consider:

“Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply.”

“Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, said that it respects people’s rights to express their opinion on the topic, but maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.”

These quotes need to be considered within the context of:

“The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a lobbying group that represents Monsanto, DuPont & Co. and other makers of genetically modified seeds, has said that it supports voluntary labeling for people who seek out such products. But it says that mandatory labeling would only mislead or confuse consumers into thinking the products aren’t safe, even though the FDA has said there’s no difference between GMO and organic, non-GMO foods.” (same article).

            What has all this to do with Newark? Past articles of the Newark Advocate have covered the inclusion of parts of Newark within what is described as a “food desert”. Fresh food (fruits, veggies, etc.) are not readily available in such a locale. Most of what is available is a processed, packaged-to-last-forever type of (food) product which is mostly made from the very grain products the Biotechnology Industry Organization represents. Another factor is the recent departure of a major green grocer, Meijers. Is the food desert growing? Additionally, endeavors are being made by various community gardening groups (South 6th Street, Newark High School) and CSA’s (the Sparta is supporting the new Project Main Street startup). AND Newark is surrounded by extensive agriculture utilizing this industrial methodology.

            We rely on the press to keep us informed and assume that what is being presented bears on the world we all experience in common (as opposed to the press reporting fantasy, fiction or something contrived ala’ Orson Wells). The first quote given in the AP story is glaringly inaccurate. GM plants may be from seeds that are engineered to resist herbicides, but why insecticides? The description may be inaccurate, or maybe the insecticides applied afterward ARE detrimental to… who (or what)? Within the context of the pronouncement of the lobbying group, Biotechnology Industry Organization, something, for someone, is unsafe here. We’ll return to this later. “Monsanto Co…. maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.” likewise is inaccurate. It is excellent marketing though. Studies in India by various individuals and research centers shows that not only not to be the case, but the exact opposite (see Vandana Shiva’s various extensively referenced recent studies on this matter). Which brings us back to the first quote. “We rely on the press to keep us informed and assume that what is being presented bears on the world we all experience in common (as opposed to the press reporting fantasy, fiction or something contrived).” In this case the press has simply taken marketing PR presented by the industries involved in the story as definitive – and passed it on to the reader. When a pet owner attempts to eliminate fleas, ticks and mosquitoes through the application of magic drops to their pet’s skin, or a pill or injection, this is what is called a systemic insecticide. The organism itself now contains the insecticide utilized to ward off, well, insects. GM plants likewise are engineered to contain systemic insecticides (as well as “resist”?). GM sugar beets (look at the label of where your sugar comes from) as well as soybeans, corn, etc. have these qualities. The European Union found that these plants were threatening wildlife (insects, small animals, etc.) and banned their use. In the context of the lobbying group’s quote, it is perfectly understandable to not want to confuse the consumer with the fact that the ingredients might be deadly to some organisms, but not humans. Back to Monsanto’s quote and why the American Press’ consuming this PR is so troubling to Newark and its surrounds. Following Monsanto’s recent Supreme Court victory regarding its seeds being considered as intellectual property and thus any second, third, etc. generation seeds utilized as, well, seeds (not as intellectual property) being in violation of US patent law, various articles appeared covering this decision (Bowman vs. Monsanto Co.). “Monsanto demands exclusive right to supply that seed” reports NPR (Supreme Court Rules For Monsanto In Case Against Farmer 5-13-13). Richard Wolf in USA Today “Supreme Court Sides With Monsanto In Major Patent Case (5-13-13) reports that The Center For Food Safety “found that from 1995-2011, the average cost to plant 1 acre of soybeans rose 325%”. This was corroborated by a different AP story (unreferenced) appearing at this time that noted the cost of GM seed to be triple that of retained seed. This is corroborated by yet another story “Trouble on the farm: ‘We face a grim future’” (Mark Koba CNBC 5-20-13). Some notable quotes from that article:

“A Kansas Farm Management Association report says that the number of farmers with a 40 percent debt ratio is higher now than it was in 1979 and that farms with a debt ratio of more than 70 percent are three times as many today.”

“A report released last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City warns that if farmers use their accumulated wealth instead of profits to finance their agricultural investments, they could end up in greater debt, risk bankruptcies and potentially face the loss of their farms.”

“The USDA predicts a 25 percent decline in farm profits for 2014, as commodity prices level off and exports are reduced.”

“”Not too long ago it took $400 to grow an acre of corn,” Schriver said. “Now its $1,000 an acre of corn. A bag of seed was around $35-40 an acre. Now it’s $245 or more. It’s getting very expensive to farm.”” [Jim Shriver, OSU grad farms 1,600 acres in Indiana]

No surprise here. GM seed requires various herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers (patented of course) produced and marketed (as completely safe for humans) by the members of The Biotechnology Industry Organization. No surprise either that this same scenario of an agriculture increasingly centered on financial resources, as opposed to those associated with farming, led to the demise of farming, and increase of rural poverty and hunger in India over the last 15 years.

            Today I did what I do every spring. I purchased a beautiful ripe melon. It was very tasty. I then planted some of the seeds in my garden so that later this summer I will have some more to eat. Farmers have been doing this for millennia. Now I have to wonder whether I didn’t inadvertently plant intellectual property instead of seed (and subject myself to a potential lawsuit). The power of the press doesn’t only include what is described and reported. It also is found with what is left out and not told.

 

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Grow Licking County

May 6, 2013

            Grow Licking County was a large part of the news this past week. It is a CIC and past blog posts have covered it along with JobsOhio (the state public/private partnership for economic development) and Newark Development Partners Community Improvement Corporation (the City of Newark’s private/public foray). Joe Williams reports in the 4-30-13 Advocate that Grow Licking County, begun in 2012 with a 3 year run is asking for additional funding from the county in the form of an increase in the property conveyance fee of a dollar per thousand generating an additional 400K in revenue. “The money would provide “relatively stable financing for economic development activities, marketing outreach and coordination,” said Dan Evers, economic development director for Grow Licking County. It could fund print and direct-mail marketing initiatives, and visits to prospective industries and trade shows, Evers said.” Last year’s budget for this corporation was approximately $245,000. It is not clear how much is for the final two years (and beyond). In a 5-2-13 article, Williams reportsIn making their presentation to the commissioners, CIC representatives budgeted $400,000 annually from the proposed increase, taking the fluctuation in annual real estate sales into consideration. Hottinger told the panel Wednesday that if it approves the conveyance fee increase, she would not expect all CIC contributors to continue pledging at their current rate, which was intended to cover start-up costs.” Mrs. Hottinger is President of the Licking County Chamber of Commerce and vice chairperson of Grow Licking County. She is also secretary of Newark Development Partners Community Improvement Corporation; one person, three hats. This is where it all gets somewhat convoluted and complicated. The 4-30 Advocate article quotes her as saying ““If we would lose all of our funders, a 50-cent increase would only get us to where we are now,” Hottinger said. “We wouldn’t be ahead of the game.”” And then: ““We need to have some creative ways to beat our competition, and right now we don’t have a lot of those,” Hottinger said.” Bear in mind that Commissioner Tim Bubb is also the chairperson of Grow Licking County. If two thirds of the commissioners are needed to pass the fee increase, he represents 50% of that vote. Essentially, he is asking himself whether he wants something that he is asking for. Not a hard question to answer. Mrs. Hottinger may be correct in her assessment of the entire process being a game.

            But wait, it gets even more convoluted and byzantine. The past week’s Advocates showed pictures of the commissioners and architects looking over plans for the demolition of the Children’s Home. Commissioner Doug Smith would like some of the revenue raised from any new fee increases to fund the county engineer’s (William Lozier’s) road work. In the case of the Children’s Home, or any road/ bridge work, the public would have a right to look at whatever contracts have been entered into, what the actual costs are, and the ultimate outcomes. Grow Licking County was modeled on JobsOhio with its initial start-up being funded by private AND public moneys. Now, like JobsOhio, Grow Licking County wants to budget its activity off a publicly provided revenue stream yet maintain its privilege of being administered privately (the Chamber is a private business enterprise). Sensing this, ““The CIC is a public/private partnership, and because we have public money, that opens us to the Sunshine Law,” said Cheri Hottinger, vice chairman of the CIC and president of the Newark Area Chamber of Commerce. “We knew that going in. Everything is open. Our meetings are open. The conveyance fee doesn’t change that.”” (5-2-13 Joe Williams Advocate article). This blog writer never received any response from Mr. Evers re: 2 requests concerning Grow Licking County, or Mrs. Hottinger on repeated requests re: Newark Development Partners Community Improvement Corporation.

            In an article entitled “Blistering audit faults Wis. job creation agency Blistering audit says Walker’s job-creation agency broke the law, awarded money improperly” Scott Bauer of the Associated Press (5-2-13) writes that something certainly was rotten in Denmark with Scott Walkers centerpiece jobs program. “This is the third audit that has examined WEDC’s operations. The first two were ordered by WEDC and completed last year. One of those audits was done by accounting firm Schenck SC. The Audit Bureau discovered that while Schenck was working on that audit, it was also representing a firm and negotiated a financial award with WEDC. The Audit Bureau said WEDC awarded the firm represented by Schenck $1.1 million in tax credits and a $300,000 grant.” Different hats on the same folks! “Employees of the public-private entity also made unexplained purchases of University of Wisconsin football season tickets, alcohol and iTunes gift cards, the far-reaching audit [by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau] of the nearly two-year-old Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. found.” “”This audit shows there is a significant disconnect between our expectations of WEDC and the reality of their performance with regard to transparency and accountability,” said Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, co-chair of the Legislature’s Audit Committee.” JobsOhio was modeled on the (at the time) forward looking WEDC (and Grow Licking County on JobsOhio). In light of this, it becomes truly difficult to assess the performance of a public/private partnership where the same folks who are administering the program are also assessing their use of the public funding. Grow Licking County champions new job development (hence “Grow” Licking County). Dan Horn writing for the Cincinnatti Enquirer (5-2-13) reports that his research reveals that 9 times as many jobs were created from pre-existing businesses in Ohio rather than new ones (start-ups or ones lured from outside Ohio) through  JobsOhio. Perhaps our CIC should be named “Sustain Licking County”! In the 5-5-13 Newark Advocate article “Licking County building industry finally joins recovery Commercial projects leading the way in first quarter” Kent Mallet reports that Etna township led the way with close to $34 million in new construction. The City of Newark showed $880,000. Newark, the county seat of Licking County, is where more than 25% of the population resides. Given the in house, discretionary and proprietary handling of internal activity by the CIC’s, it is very difficult to assess how much of any or all of this reflects CIC performance or accomplishment. Like grocery store shelf space filled with what look like diverse products yet all from a single company, the same folks are popping up wearing the different hats within these various public/private partnerships. As Mrs. Hottinger puts it “We need to have some creative ways to beat our competition, and right now we don’t have a lot of those,” Just who is she competing with?