Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Is it wrong for Western firms to make agricultural investments in Third world countries?

Antony Loewenstein  (Tony is a self-hating Jew. Loewenstein is Yiddish  for Lion Stone) below roundly criticizes a host of existing  such investments but his words are a classic example of selective Leftist attention.

His wail is based on a false premise:  That the developed world needs land from elsewhere to feed itself.  Hitler thought the same.  His
Drang nach Osten was driven by the simplistic assumption that Germany's growing population needed more land for farms so that the increased population could be fed.  So Germany had to take land off Russia and Poland.  Any economist could have explained to him how and why he was wrong but socialists like Mr. Hitler think they know it all so don't listen to economists.

In the case of Mr Lion Stone below he has even less excuse than Hitler.  Surely he knows that under capitalism even CHINA exports food!  Under Communism they had to import food -- Australian wheat for instance.  But under private ownership the flow has now reversed.

Despite giving their own people ever higher standards of living,  the clever and hard-working farmers of China still have enough food left over to fill the cans of most of the "Home brand" foods on our supermarket shelves.  Check where your next can of cheap tomato soup comes from if you doubt it.  And most of the world's garlic now comes from China.  And European truffle suppliers are greatly outraged by the competition from Chinese truffles!  It goes on...

And it is not only China. Both the USA and Europe use various mechanisms to stop their farmers from producing too much.  Farmers are paid not to farm part of their land etc.  And Europe's butter mountains and wine lakes are a byword.  The characteristic Western food problem is GLUT:  Too much food.

In short, Mt Lion Stone reveals himself below as what Australians call a drongo:  So stupid it is a wonder he can feed himself.  He knows not even the basics of what he writes about.  So how accurate his reporting below is, is anyone's guess.  It could be nothing more than bile.

So it's amusing that Hitler and the Leftist Jew below make the same mistake.  They are united by Leftist ignorance and unwillingless to listen.  Only their chronic anger matters to them.  Not the facts.

But, no doubt, powerless people in the Third world do get treated badly but that is not the fault of Western countries or Western companies.  It is the fault of their own revolting governments.  The companies investing in agricultural projects in Third world countries are there for only one reason:  Because the governments of the countries want them there.  The governments see that by encouraging investment they can skim some cream off the top.  That they make little use of such cream to compensate their own dispossessed people is their doing:  No-one else's

But criticizing the people actually responsible for a problem is of no interest to  Leftists.  And we certainly must not criticize those lovely brown people.  Criticising their own countries and societies is what gives Leftists erections and any illogic will do to enable that

Ethiopia’s Omo Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet. Industrial-size sugar plantations and a soon to open dam are strangling indigenous communities over more than 375,000 hectares. Ethiopia is experiencing economic growth (though it’s a brutal dictatorship) and yet millions of its citizens suffer from chronic food shortages.

The government has sold vast tracts of land to a Turkish agri-business firm and other foreign investors, all without consultation with the Kara people. Forced displacement is common though the Ethiopian government denies it. A Malaysian company stands accused of disenfranchising the Suri people with its plantation in South-western Ethiopia. India is at the forefront of taking land across Ethiopia.

American photographer Jane Baldwin has been visiting the Omo River for a decade, documenting the gradual erosion of local rights, and she tells me via email that foreign investors threaten “self-sustaining agro-pastoral communities.” A local woman from the Nyangatom tribe, who can’t be named due to threats against her life, says that, “They are taking this river to sell the hydroelectric power. We say to them, if this river is taken from us, we might as well kill ourselves so we won’t starve to death. If you decide to make a dam there, before you start the dam, you better come here and kill us all.”

Ethiopia is just one country affected by land grabs conducted by Wall Street bankers, business opportunists and countries hungry for fertile territory. In Africa, global hedge funds are purchasing vast areas of land in Mali, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. A recent investigation by the Huffington Post and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that the World Bank was complicit in the removal of the indigenous Sengwer people in Kenya.

American academic Michael Kugelman, from the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars and co-editor of The Global Farms Race, says that the main problem with foreign land deals is the lack of benefit to local stakeholders.

“Impoverished and food-insecure countries are giving away not only their precious farmland but also the food that springs from it”, he tells me via email.

He explains that the key players buying up resources are China, the Gulf countries, East Asian states and the West – and they mostly target sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. The need for reliable sources of farmland across Africa and the globe in an age of deforestation and climate change means controlling food production – or the arable land on which food can be grown – can give immense leverage over developing states. TIAA-CREF is one firm, an American financial group, who has invested US$5 billion in farmland from Brazil to Australia despite the lack of quick returns.



Insurers are seeking huge premium increases because of ObamaCare's unbalanced risk pools

The unaffordable care act in action

Health insurance companies are signaling huge health insurance premium increases ahead of the 2016 open enrollment period. This is due to the droves of older and sicker consumers who signed up for coverage on the ObamaCare Exchanges, according to a report from The New York Times. Requests submitted by insurance are approved by state regulators, such as state insurance commissioners, but the proposed rates reflect a higher utilization of healthcare than expected.

Rate increases vary by state and health plans offered. Oregon has already announced premium increases between 8 percent and nearly 38 percent for a 40-year-old on a Silver plan purchased through the federal Exchange (the state shuttered its state Exchange after an epically disastrous launch). Most increases for this type of plan in Oregon are in the double digits.

The Times notes that Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which dominates the market in a number of states, is seeking premium increases for its plans that "average 23 percent in Illinois, 25 percent in North Carolina, 31 percent in Oklahoma, 36 percent in Tennessee and 54 percent in Minnesota." Blue Cross and Blue Shield is seeking an average increase of 51 percent in New Mexico.

Insurance spokespersons who spoke to the Times explained that the increase requests are due to higher than expected payouts for claims. "At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota," the paper explained, "the ratio of claims paid to premium revenues was more than 115 percent, and the company said it lost more than $135 million on its individual insurance business in 2014." Another company, the Utah-based Arches Health Plan, paid out $16.6 million more in claims than it collected in premiums in 2014.

The Obama administration expected 38 percent to 40 percent of enrollees would be between the ages of 18 and 34. People who fall into this crucial age demographic tend not to utilize their coverage as much as older enrollees. But only 28 percent of enrollees in the 2014 and 2015 open enrollment periods were between 18 and 34, according data released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

While the initial rate shock under ObamaCare came from the mandated benefits promulgated by bureaucrats in Washington, taxes and fees, and actuarial benefit requirements, the latest round of premium increases can be partially attributed to unbalanced risk pools. The risk pools have older and sicker enrollees, who utilize their coverage more often than younger and healthier enrollees, than insurers expected.

President Barack Obama's response to the request increases is typical. During a trip to Tennessee last week, he said that public pressure on regulators is the key to keeping down premium increases. "So I think the key for Tennessee is just making sure that the insurance commissioner does their job in not just passively reviewing the rates, but really asking, 'OK, what is it that you are looking for here? Why would you need very high premiums,'" Obama told the crowd. "And my expectation is, is that they'll come in significantly lower than what's being requested."

Increased costs to taxpayers are another problem. Currently, 85 percent of those who purchased coverage through an Exchange receive subsidies. As premiums rise, so will the cost of the subsidies. The budgetary impact is unclear because rates have not been finalized, but taxpayers can expect to pick up a large percentage of the premium increases for plans available on the ObamaCare Exchanges.

Typically, state insurance regulators negotiate with insurers to bring down the requested rate increases. But with ObamaCare's requirement that 80 percent of premiums paid go to the healthcare of the insured, insurers, particularly those that have seen losses due to the higher utilization of care, may not have much of a choice other than to raise premiums to keep their reserves stable. It may not be ideal for consumers, who may have to change plans and risk losing their doctor because of premium increases, but this is the new normal under ObamaCare.



Pennsylvania law-enforcement funding should come from Pennsylvania lawmakers, not from the property of innocent people

Pennsylvania has one of the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the country, in the country, but a recently introduced reform proposal would protect innocent people from this form of government overreach. Prosecutors in the Commonwealth are, however, aggressively trying to defend the pernicious practice, which is often used to go after property of law-abiding citizens.

SB 869 would end civil asset forfeiture in Pennsylvania by requiring a criminal conviction before the government can take property connected to a crime. The bill would end the perverse profit motive often behind seizures by requiring that proceeds from forfeitures be spent to reimburse costs of storage and selling forfeited property, compensate victims of crime, and pay attorneys’ fees and court costs of property owners who have prevailed in forfeiture proceedings. Remaining funds would be directed to the Commonwealth's general fund. HB 508 is companion bill introduced in the state House. FreedomWorks supports both bills.

Importantly, the bills restrict the use of federal forfeiture law to prevent law enforcement from circumventing protections. Currently, state and local law enforcement working in coordination or conjunction with federal agencies can send seized property to the federal government for "adoption" and receive 80 percent of the proceeds back through the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Fund. While the bills do not prevent federal agencies from seizing property or sharing proceeds from forfeitures with state and local law enforcement, it does place the same limitations on use of the funds.

Prosecutors are, however, fighting back against SB 869, claiming that it would hinder law enforcement by taking away a funding mechanism. "It would devastate law enforcement," Lebanon County District Attorney Dave Arnold told WGAL in a recent story on the legislation. "It would take away our ability to fund investigations." Arnold said that "checks" already exist to prevent abuse, but that is belied by actual examples of abuse of civil asset forfeiture in Pennsylvania.

While civil asset forfeiture was meant to fight back against drug kingpins by targeting property and cash, too often, innocent people are negatively impacted by its use. Take the story of Christo and Markella Sourovelis, for example. Their son, Yanni, was caught selling $40 worth of drugs from the family's suburban Philadelphia home. He was arrested and sentenced to a diversion program for first-time offenders. But not long after, law enforcement seized the family's home and the Sourovelises were cast out onto the street.

Christo and Markella were not charged with a crime, but, to get their home back, they had to show up at Room 478 at Philadelphia City Hall. There was no judge or jury present, only a prosecutor with a perverse interest in pursuing the forfeiture because, under Pennsylvania's current civil asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement receives 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of forfeited property. The system was set up for them to fail. Not only did they have to prove their home was innocent because, in an inversion of justice, the burden of proof in Pennsylvania falls on the property owner, missing any of the mandated appearances to contest the seizure would have resulted in automatic forfeiture.

Eventually, after the Institute for Justice got involved in the case, the city dropped the proceeding and the Sourovelises were able to move back into their home. Theirs is not the only example, of course. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania recently released a report noting that almost a third of those whose cash and property is seized in Philadelphia are never convicted or a crime.

State Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), the lead sponsor of SB 869, disputed the notion of opponents of the bill. "If you're becoming dependent on this, if things are a little slow, and you might be telling the guys, 'Hey, we need to pick up on some of these seizures because money is a little tight right now."

Prosecutors, police departments, and sheriffs should, of course, be fully funded to the extent that they can fulfill their duties to protect and serve the public, but this is the responsibility of the state and local governments. Because of the very low standard of proof required to subject property to forfeiture, the burden of proof falling on the property owner, and the perverse profit motive, Pennsylvania's civil asset forfeiture laws encourage law enforcement to devote time and efforts to self-fund. These laws have, in a very real way, changed the nature of policing.

State and local lawmakers should address funding concerns, but it is a separate issue from the problems with the Commonwealth's civil asset forfeiture. SB 869 and HB 508 would restore due process and protect the property of innocent Pennsylvanians in a meaningful way and allow law enforcement to focus on its primary responsibility of protecting and serving individuals.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


No comments: