Article 43

 

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Crisis Looms as Corporations Seize Control of Commodities

greed.jpg

By Barbara L. Minton
Natural News
August 2, 2008

The global food crisis won’t go away any time soon. Capitalism has the average consumer by the belly. Amid growing signs of famine and outrage, the entire chain of commodities and resources of the world are now being cornered by giant corporations. Farmland, water, fertilizer, seed, energy, and most of the basic necessities of life are falling under CORPORATE CONTROL, providing increased wealth and power to the ruling elite while the rest of HUMANITY STRUGGLES.

Commodity scarcity in INDIA was recently reflected in the need to distribute FERTILIZER from the police station in Hingoli. Now police have to control the lines that form outside of dealer outlets, because the dealers won’t open for business otherwise. Without this intervention there would be no fertilizer for the planting that must take place before the rain comes. In Akola and Nanded, police involvement is also needed. Agriculture officers have fled their work places to escape angry FARMERS. In Karnataka, a farmer was shot dead during protests, while farmers stormed meetings and set up road blocks in other districts.

Despite the success of the genetically engineered Bt cotton crops, the trend in India is now back to soybeans because they cost less to grow and need less fertilizer than cotton.

And it’s not just fertilizer that is scarce. Seeds are also in short supply which is being blamed on agitation that has interfered with freight train traffic. However, the shortfall in seeds is 60 percent, a level more indicative of corporate intervention to drive up prices than the actions of powerless farmers.

As farmers fume, the Wall Street Journal heralds the whopping 42 percent jump in the fiscal third quarter profits of huge agriculture giant Archer-Daniels Midland. This increase includes a sevenfold rise in new income in units that store, transport and grade grains such as wheat, corn and soybeans.

The soaring profits of fertilizer maker Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan are reflected in the parabolic movement of its stock price from a yearly low of $70.35 to its current price of $238.22 per share. Shares of fertilizer and animal feed producer Mosaic Corp. have risen from a yearly low of $32.50 to a current price of $159.38.

Similar windfall profits are reported by GMO seed and herbicide king Monsanto whose last quarterly earnings surged by 45%.

Some onlookers blame the financial speculators for driving up the prices of commodities related to agriculture as wealthy investors have piled on looking to cash in on the rising stock prices. And in many ways, today’s commodity market resembles the dot.com boom seen at the turn of the century, as well as the housing boom now in the throws of its bust.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission recently held a hearing to investigate the role that index funds and hedge funds are playing in driving up the prices of agricultural commodities. Total public fund investment in corn, soybean, wheat, cattle and hogs has risen by 37 billion dollars since 2006. This figure does not include the huge investments of hedge funds which don’t have to make such disclosure. It also doesn’t include the massive world wide investments in farmland made by the wealthy.

The corporate spin is that these investments are helpful to humanity because they will ultimately result in increased food production at a time of rising world demand. They cite the need for increased corporate profits to invest in and develop new technologies that will help farmers improve productivity. This is how GMO seeds are being driven down the throats of farmers, who are told that the modified seeds can squeeze even more yield from each acre of planting.

India has joined other developing countries in the decision to invest less in agriculture as advised by the World Bank-IMF, whose agenda has been to discourage crops for domestic consumption while encouraging production to spur export driven growth. This advice coupled with corporate sponsored deregulation has paved the way for corporate control of the farming process from seed to market. Research and development that was once the domain of universities has also fallen into corporate control.

Farmers in India are caught in a credit crunch. Even if they are able to get the needed fertilizer, they will not have the credit to pay for it. With no increase in farmer income, larger loans are not advanced. The outlook for the small farmer there is much the same as it was in the U.S. thirty years ago, during the height of the small farms falling to big agribusiness.

Corporations blame food shortages and rising prices on the people of China and India whose burgeoning income from manufacturing has allowed the average worker to increase both the amount and quality of his food consumption. But for the corporations, the INCREASED DEMAND for food is a guarantee of super profits to come.

Of course the other commodity you can’t get along without is water, which is now the focus of huge multinational companies seeking to PRIVATIZE water world wide, perhaps even patent it as Monsanto did with seeds. The fight over water may bring chaos, conflict and misery on a scale never seen before as corporations and governments go so far as to grab the wells from under people’s houses.

And then there’s oil. To produce chemical fertilizer you must make use of fossil fuel. So rising oil prices and rising food prices are joined at the hip. The behavior of corporations in the oil business has been so egregious that there is talk of a windfall profits tax here and abroad.

No, the food crisis will not go away anytime soon. North Korea, Burma and Western Sudan are currently feeling a real threat of starvation while western governments manipulated by corporations continue to promote the diversion of food into biofuels to further exacerbate the upward movement in food prices. Almost all US CORN PRODUCTION between 2004 and 2007 has gone into the production of ethanol. European production of ethanol has more than tripled during the same period. This has led to a fall off in grains relative to overall demand which is not a market phenomenon but is the direct result of the government sponsored, corporate backed programs. This comes at the expense of people looking for something to eat, particularly the world’s poor who are now effectively priced out of the food market.

Sources:

P. Sainath, The Hindu, “Fertilizing profit, sowing misery”
Bogdan C. Enache, China Confidential, “Biofuels and the threat of starvation”
Yahoo Finance

About the author - Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using “alternative” treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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Posted by Elvis on 08/03/08 •
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Telco’s New Revenue Stream

This may mean opportunities for us unemployed or underemployed former telecom-techies still searching for a good job.

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Computer Glitch? Consider Calling the Phone Company

By Andrew Lavallee
Wall Street Journal
July 31, 2008

When Rob Tugman’s computers started acting up, he called the manufacturer. After an hour waiting on hold and going through basic troubleshooting steps, the Dell Inc. representative told him the problem was his operating system and to call Microsoft Corp.

He spent 90 minutes on the phone with Microsoft, only to be told to call Dell again. “It’s like catch-22,” said the 58-year-old antiques dealer, who lives in Arcadia, Fla.

After paying $100 for a local repairman to help, which also didn’t solve his problem, Mr. Tugman was out of ideas when his wife made an odd suggestion: Call the phone company.

She had signed up with their carrier, Embarq Corp., for a trial program that provided them with over-the-phone technical support for $7.95 a month. He was skeptical. “I said, O God, for $7.95, what am I going to get? ‘Is my computer plugged in?’”

The technician walked him through a software reinstallation and recovery of his email. “Not only were they extremely courteous,” he said, “but they knew exactly what to do.”

Land-line phone companies across the country are wading into the tech-support business, seeing it as a way to hold onto customers while developing a new revenue stream. As they have gotten deeper into selling Internet services, as part of bundled packages with TV and voice, technicians are often already in the house installing routers and other devices, making tech support a natural add-on.

People want the same level of IT support they get in the workplace, said Dan Alcazar, Embarq’s consumer marketing officer. “When you’re at home, you don’t have access to these kinds of things,” he said. “It became apparent that there was a business opportunity there.”

Carriers also are barraged with questions unrelated to the products they sell, such as software installation, photo-sharing and spyware removal. Instead of telling customers it’s not their problem, they’re attempting to tackle the questions—for a price—over the phone, in person or with outsourced technicians, depending on the carrier.

Embarq, which has been testing its service in Florida and New Jersey, plans next month to expand to the other 16 states where it operates. Windstream Corp. launched its technical-help service this week. AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. both have offered support to their broadband subscribers, while Verizon last month started letting customers sign up for a “device protection” option for their PC, phone or TV.

While those carriers limit their service to existing customers, Frontier Communications Corp., whose name change from Citizens Communications Co. is effective Thursday, is taking the unusual step of selling its help-desk services outside its coverage area and even to competitors’ customers.

In addition, Qwest Communications International Inc. and CenturyTel Inc. are both in the trial stages of their support initiatives.

Comparing Costs

The services cost anywhere from a few dollars a month, if customers sign up for continuing phone-based help, to $100 or more for house calls and one-time issues. In contrast, an in-home repair by Geek Squad, Best Buy Co.’s well-known support business, costs about $300.

Lynn Healy, 52, called Frontier after moving to Rhinebeck, N.Y., because she couldn’t connect a PC to her wireless home network. The technician set it up, then told her that the router she brought from her previous home was a better choice than the one Frontier provided, a tip that she appreciated.

“That was a first for me,” she said. “Usually, you call and just end up talking to computers, and then end up getting disconnected.”

Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction is a critical part of these offerings, as phone companies fight to keep customers from defecting to wireless and cable operators.

This type of add-on service is an important part of retaining customers, said Melinda White, head of new business operations at Frontier. For the Stamford, Conn., telecom, which operates in 24 states, it is also a way of gaining new customers. Unlike the other carriers, it is offering its support service nationwide and to competitors’ customers after seeing a strong response in its existing territory.

“Hey, it’s part of doing business,” she said. “And frankly, all of our ways of doing business will need to adjust and change and grow to keep our businesses growing at the pace we need.”

Limits to Offerings

Verizon and Windstream outsource their help desks to Circuit City Stores Inc.’s Firedog service and HiWired Inc., a Needham, Mass., remote-support start-up, respectively. The others are determining how broad their offerings will be.

For example, Verizon likely wouldn’t be able to help a customer transfer files between a PC and a digital video recorder if it was provided by another vendor, said Pete Castleton, its director of corporate marketing.

Carriers are also realizing that troubleshooting requires people skills as well as technical know-how. By the time customers call, they’re often already at the end of their rope.

“It’s a pretty emotional space,” said Dan Yost, Qwest’s executive vice president of product and information technology. Before Qwest rolls out its version of the Geek Squad, he said, it wants to make sure it can assist customers in a user-friendly way.

Spelling It Out

A recent experience with his own parents—he gave them a digital photo frame, which his mother unplugged, then called to tell him it was broken—was a reminder that what might seem obvious to someone who understands the latest technology might need to be spelled out to a customer.

One of the things H.D. Shinn appreciated when he needed help fixing an AOL snafu was that the Embarq technician didn’t talk down to him. “They’re nice, they’re polite, they don’t make you feel stupid, which I am,” said the 74-year-old Minneola, Fla., retiree, who is the first to admit he’s not the least bit tech-savvy.

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Posted by Elvis on 08/03/08 •
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