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Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 12:18 AM
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What Small Farms Need to Compete With Corporate Food

from YES! Magazine:

What Small Farms Need to Compete With Corporate Food
Most small farms have to follow the same rules as big corporate ones. In Maine, flexible food ordinances have increased the number of small farmers.

Kate Stringer posted Apr 27, 2016

When Heather Retberg started selling raw milk a few years ago, she ran up against an obstacle that she felt sure would ruin her family’s farm.

Retberg, of Penobscot, Maine, remembers the state quality assurance and regulations inspector walking up her driveway to deliver the news: Her farm of two goats and six cows didn’t have the proper facilities to bottle and sell raw milk. Nor could it continue to use the neighbor’s facility to slaughter its chickens.

The family had few options: Construct their own facilities, costing thousands of dollars they didn’t have; drive hours to an approved facility and risk exposing the food to pathogens; or stop farming.

“I had this feeling in my gut, ‘oh no we’re done,’” Retberg said. “This is how small farms disappear.”

But they didn’t disappear. In March 2011, the Retbergs attended a town meeting to discuss a proposed local law: the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. It protected small farmers’ rights to produce their own food without licensure and inspection. The ordinance passed, prompting the Retbergs the very next day to affix a sign at the end of their driveway advertising raw milk, along with poultry and eggs.


Achieving food sovereignty while ensuring food safety is a question that regulators, farmers, and lawmakers grapple with. Safety issues around raw milk produce a steady stream of headlines. According to data collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raw milk is roughly 150 times more likely than pasteurized to cause disease.

But small farmers say the size of their operations gives them greater control over safety. They also say they feel a financial pressure to keep their food safe: One mistake could put a small farmer out of business, while large-scale farms rebound more easily, as California-based Foster Farms did from its 2013 Salmonella outbreak that caused 634 illnesses in 29 states and Puerto Rico. ...............(more)


How to Create an "Ecology of Change" by Combining Movement Uprisings With Long-Term Organizing

How to Create an "Ecology of Change" by Combining Movement Uprisings With Long-Term Organizing

Sunday, 01 May 2016 00:00
By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview

Transformational change attempts to achieve long-term social, political and economic change through combining acts of resistance and movement-building. (Photo: niXerKG / Flickr)

In this interview, Mark and Paul Engler, authors of This Is an Uprising, examine the strategy differences between traditional schools of organizing and mass mobilizations. They argue that each plays an important role in creating social change and should be used in conjunction to be most effective in reaching a shared goal.

Mark Karlin: How do you define momentum-driven organizing? What makes it distinctive from a general media perception that acts of resistance and disruption are only spontaneous and short-term?

Mark and Paul Engler: Every once in a while, we see outbreaks of mass protests that capture the public spotlight -- whether it's millions of immigrants taking to the streets 10 years ago this spring, or huge student demonstrations in Quebec or Chile, or an occupation on Wall Street that spreads to hundreds of other cities and town. Media almost always caught off guard by these types of mobilizations. Reporters label them "emotional" and "spontaneous." But the argument of our book is that there is actually a craft to uprising. If we study the playbook of strategic nonviolence, we can see that there are important principles and tactics that guide successful mobilizations. What we call "momentum-driven organizing" is a way of approaching mass protest in a deliberate and strategic manner -- consciously seeking to spark, nurture and sustain periods of mass defiance, and also figuring out ways that these can complement other efforts to create social change.

There is an amazing body of knowledge about civil resistance that has emerged over the past 50 years. We want to make more people aware of this field of study. And we want to show people the incredible potential that exists if we apply it to some of the social and political challenges we are facing right now in the United States.

It's not just media, however, that look at many actions of revolt as "failed" if they do not make immediate change. Many progressives share this perspective. What is your response to supporters of social justice who dismiss acts of resistance as courageous but failed?

A lot of people who are trained in traditional schools of community organizing or in the labor movement are focused on the power of building up organizations for the long haul. Because mass mobilizations don't fit very well within their organizing model, there can be a lot of skepticism -- and even hostility -- when mass protests erupt. If you start to dig deep into social movement history, you see that this tension that has emerged again and again throughout the decades. And yet, grassroots forces have been most effective when they have harnessed both the power of organization and the power of widespread defiance. By shedding light on how these different organizing traditions help to create change in different ways, we hope to break down some of that hostility and to encourage more creative thinking about how "movements" and "organizations" can work together.

Because mass mobilizations can burst dramatically on to the scene, but then fade out and seemingly disappear within a short period of time, they are often dismissed as flukes that do not have a long-term impact. Some organizers think that, in any case, these outbreaks cannot be relied upon. And yet, history shows that moments of mass protest can be critical in changing the political landscape and provoking major reforms. Instead of dismissing these things out of hand because we are unfamiliar with how they work, our book argues that we need to study them more carefully and learn how to tap their power. ..............(more)


China’s Furious Stimulus-and-Debt Binge Backfires

China’s Furious Stimulus-and-Debt Binge Backfires
by Wolf Richter • May 1, 2016

Fabled transition to a service economy? Forget it.

The export and manufacturing powerhouse of the world, the locomotive – along with the US – of the global economy, and an indicator of the global economy itself, disappointed economists once again. The operative word in the media today is “unexpectedly.”

China has been on an glorious debt-and-stimulus binge for the past few months. New corporate borrowing shot up to record levels as the People’s Bank of China opened all valves, and juice rushed through the state-owned megabanks to corporate borrowers and others all around.

In the first quarter, total debt ballooned by 6.2 trillion yuan (nearly $1 trillion), the largest quarterly jump ever, to a record 163 trillion yuan ($25 trillion), or 237% of GDP, up from 148% of GDP in 2007, according to some of the more benign estimates. Others peg total debt as high as 282% of GDP. Corporate debt alone is now estimated at 160% of GDP. But no one knows for sure. With the Chinese economy, everyone is groping in the dark.

It’s not the debt itself that scares observers, but the speed with which this debt has ballooned. It’s impossible to invests this sort of moolah this quickly in productive activities whose proceeds would allow for this debt to be serviced. .............(more)


Chris Hedges: The Socialist Alternative

from truthdig:

The Socialist Alternative

Posted on May 1, 2016
By Chris Hedges

SEATTLE: The disintegration of the ruling political parties, along with the discrediting of the established political and economic elites, presage radical change. This change may come from the right. It may result in a frightening proto-fascism. If it is to come from the left it must be pushed forward by dogged activists and citizens who are willing to accept that stepping outside the system will mean surrendering all hope of power for perhaps a decade. To continue to engage in establishment politics, especially attempting to work within the Democratic Party, will further empower corporate capitalism and extinguish what remains of our democracy.

Willingly entering the political wilderness requires a vision that is worth sacrificing and fighting to achieve. It means that some of those who begin the revolution against corporate capitalism will not live to see its culmination. It will mean marginalization, harassment, persecution, prison and, if the movement becomes effective, state violence. History has taught us that. But given the alternative—the planet’s ecosystem destroyed by the fossil fuel and the animal agriculture industries, greater pillaging by corporate oligarchs and the rise of a global security and surveillance system that takes from us all pretense of liberty—the battle is worth it.

Kshama Sawant, the socialist City Council member in Seattle, and her Socialist Alternative Party have begun to create change where it will first be most effective—locally. She has created a petition calling on Bernie Sanders to run as an independent presidential candidate through November on a third-party ticket.


“Europe is a guide,” she said. “The roots of the European Union were entirely pro-capitalist, pro-banker and pro-bond holder. It was sold as an experiment in democracy and equality. That was a sham. Britain is looking at dropping out of the European Union. The framework of capitalism does not provide a solution to the refugee crisis. The right wing is offering solutions and gaining ascendancy in countries such as Sweden, France and Greece. This is not because people are predisposed to be right wing or anti-refugee. It comes from the vacuum of a real socialist alternative to capitalism. This vacuum creates the fodder for the right wing. It is precisely because of the rise of right-wing movements that we need to build a genuine left-wing movement. The right wing won’t be countered by supporting Clinton.”


Warren Buffett Says Happiness From Coca-Cola Trumps Benefit of Broccoli

(Bloomberg) Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is the largest investor in Coca-Cola Co., said his happiness from drinking the sodas outweighs health benefits from eating more vegetables.

“I elect to get my 2,500 calories a day from things that make me feel good when I eat them,” Buffett, 85, said at his company’s annual meeting Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska. “I have not seen evidence that convinces me that it’ll be more likely I reach 100 if I suddenly switched to water and broccoli.”

The answer ignored a request from New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin to discuss the effect of Coca-Cola on global public health without Buffett touching on his own diet. Buffett, Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive officer, has heard from critics including hedge fund manager Bill Ackman over the Coca-Cola investment, as studies show sugary drinks may contribute to obesity.

Berkshire Vice Chairman Charles Munger, 92, said those who cite soda’s detriments make the “ghastly error” of not also considering the advantages of consuming the drinks. He said people have to drink 8 or more glasses of water a day, and adding flavor to some of those drinks is a benefit. ..............(more)


Donald Trump can actually beat Hillary in November: Stubborn pundits still refuse to accept it

from Salon:

Donald Trump can actually beat Hillary in November: Stubborn pundits still refuse to accept it
Polls have Hillary beating Trump in swing states, but the billionaire is far more popular than we'd like to believe

Sean Illing

Pundits are paid to pretend they know things. But we have no special insight, no higher claims to truth. We’re wrong as much as we’re right, if not more so. Sometimes it’s clear what will happen, often it’s not. In the case of Trump, everyone – myself included – got it wrong.

When Trump descended preposterously from that escalator and announced he was running for president, we all giggled. Trump? President? Seriously? And yet all the polls suggested that he had real traction. But we assumed his star would fade. Then he started winning primaries – by massive margins. We downplayed it. Then he made one gaffe after another – insulting John McCain’s military service, hurling a menstruation jab at Megyn Kelly, calling Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals,” promising to ban all Muslims from entering the country. He even vicariously called Ted Cruz a “pussy.”

None of it mattered. Trump is now on track to receive the most primary votes in the history of the Republican Party. Let that sink in for a moment.

The political class is experiencing a collective cognitive dissonance: We just can’t quite believe this is happening. And yet it is happening – right now, in front of our faces. Barring something extraordinary, Trump will be the Republican nominee. Will he win the general election? Probably not. But he absolutely could win, and willing ourselves to ignorance won’t make it any less likely.


The truth is that Trump is far more popular than we’d like to believe. A recent NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, for example, showed that Trump reached 50 percent approval among Republicans and Republican-leaners nationally for the first time since the poll started tracking in late December. He’s trending upwards, in other words.

As for this claim that there aren’t enough “xenophobic, angry white” people to elect Trump, well, that’s not so clear either. This is likely the case, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it. Take Trump’s outrageous comments about banning Muslims. Such an obscene and unconstitutional position ought to sink his campaign. However, as Byron York noted this week, take a look at the exit polls from recent Republican primaries. Voters aren’t just sympathetic to Trump’s proposal – they support it overwhelmingly. 69 percent of GOP voters in Pennsylvania said they agree with Trump. The number was 68 percent in New York; 69 percent in Wisconsin; 64 percent in Florida; 68 percent in Georgia; 65 percent in Ohio; and 65 percent in New Hampshire. These numbers will be significantly lower in a general election, but they’re high enough to dim the excitement of anyone who thinks Trump’s xenophobia is a deal-breaker. ......................(more)


iSad: Nobody wants to buy tablets anymore

(MarketWatch) There’s only one thing helping the tablet market right now—keyboards—and even that is not enough to stave off a decline in tablet sales as consumers grow increasingly uninterested in the devices.

Worldwide shipments of tablets fell another 15% during the first quarter as “overall disinterest” in the product category reached record highs, according to analysts at industry tracker IDC.

Apple Inc. AAPL, -1.15% sold the most tablets of any other company during the quarter, giving it a 26% market share. However, that is a decline from a 27% share last quarter as iPad sales plunged 18%, according to IDC. ............(more)


Freddie Mac may need another taxpayer bailout next week

(MarketWatch) Freddie Mac is expected to report a loss when it announces first-quarter earnings before the bell on Tuesday. That’s bad news for any public company, but especially critical for the mortgage provider because of its tangled history with the federal government.

Freddie and its counterpart, Fannie Mae were put into conservatorship in 2008 as the mortgage meltdown ensnared the financial system. They have lingered as wards of the state ever since. The Treasury Department modified the deal in 2012, requiring Fannie and Freddie to send all quarterly profits to the government — and shrink their reserves to zero by 2018.

As Mel Watt, the chairman of Fannie and Freddie’s regulator, put it in a speech in February, Fannie and Freddie are quickly approaching the point where they won’t be able to weather quarterly losses without going back to the Treasury for taxpayer dollars.

There are many reasons Freddie and Fannie could lose money in any given quarter, Watt noted, including the fact that the enterprises now stand to make less income on the portfolios they’re required to shrink. What many analysts are watching for this time, though, is the use of interest-rate derivatives. ..............(more)


Why this Economy Feels Even Lousier than the Lousy GDP Print: Your Slice of the Economic Pie......

Why this Economy Feels Even Lousier than the Lousy GDP Print: Your Slice of the Economic Pie is Shrinking
by Wolf Richter • April 29, 2016

But the numbers are hushed up.

The meme that 14 million jobs have been created since the Great Recession is constantly held up as proof that the labor market has healed, or has practically healed, even if there are a few soft spots left over – such as the pandemic lousiness of the jobs that have been created.

In official circles, the sound of folks patting themselves on the back is deafening. But for many working-age Americans, who have to compete with each other in the labor market, reality is tough.

Turns out, the US population, currently at 323.2 million, has grown by 16.5 million people since the Great Recession. Which is exactly why the unemployment problem has become so intractable: job growth has been less than population growth!

While slow economic growth might look OK-ish on paper overall, but in a country with significant population growth, it’s toxic on a per-capita level – and that per-capita level isn’t theoretical. It’s what people actually experience.

That scenario just played out with the Advance Estimate for first-quarter GDP, released on Thursday. Economic growth compared to the prior quarter was a miserably small 0.5% annualized, which means if the rest of the year is like this, total economic growth for the year will be 0.5%.

These numbers are adjusted for a version of inflation. One tiny understatement of inflation, purposefully or by statistical accident, would drive this “real” economic growth into the negative, meaning economic shrinkage. That’s bad enough.

But on a per-capita basis it’s even worse. ........................(more)


The Hong Kong Housing Bubble Implodes

The Hong Kong Housing Bubble Implodes
by Wolf Richter • April 29, 2016

Everything suddenly goes the wrong way.

As in so many housing bubbles, soaring apartment prices feed epic high-rise construction booms with the promise of big profits backed by easy money. Years can pass between initial plan and completion, and now the fruits of Hong Kong’s epic construction boom are hitting the market just when prices are crashing and sales collapsing.

In the first quarter, the number of housing units under construction set a new frenetic record: 13,300, the South China Morning Post reported, citing the Transport and Housing Bureau. By comparison, in all of last year, 14,200 homes were under construction. In 2015, 11,300 new homes were completed. This year, the number will jump 61% to 18,200! Over the next three to four years, 92,000 new homes will hit the market.

And this is happening just as home sales are plunging. According to the Rating and Valuation Department’s April Property Review, sales for January and February – the most recent months included – plunged 69% from a year ago to 3,852 homes. February’s 1,807 home sales was a 25-year low.

Prices have already taken a hit. After peaking in September last year, they’ve fallen every month since, including in March, when they fell 1.3% from February, according to the Rating and Valuation Department. Over those six months, home prices have plunged 11.7%.

And there’s more gloom on the way. The SCMP: “An increasing number of property analysts expect home prices to fall in the next two years, with Nomura predicting they will fall by a further 19% by the second quarter of next year.” ................(more)


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