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Category Archives: Marketing and Sales

Working Your Way Through Retirement

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A Part-Time Job Could Be The Answer If Your Golden Years
 Leave You Bored Or Short Of Money

Many people who waited eagerly for the day they could stop working and enjoy a leisurely retirement find that the reality doesn’t match their dreams.

“Some people are not prepared financially or mentally to retire,” says Michael Bivona, a retired CPA and author of the book “Retiring? Beware!! Don’t Run Out of Money and Don’t Become Bored” (www.michaelbivonabooks.com).

He suggests a part-time job provides a possible solution for both deficiencies – giving a boost to your bank account and a mission to your daily living that another round of golf just isn’t supplying.

“I don’t think many people realize that they may live 30 to 40 years after leaving the workforce,” Bivona says. “The amount of money required to sustain a comfortable lifestyle is staggering.”

Meanwhile, boredom becomes an insidious enemy, even for retirees with a beloved pastime they hoped to make the centerpiece of their existence. Playing tennis or lying on the beach is relaxing and pleasurable when done once a week or a couple of times a month. But the novelty wears off quickly when it becomes a person’s primary occupation, Bivona says.

He suggests a few part-time job possibilities that could work out nicely for retirees, whether their needs are financial or they just want a place to go every day to mingle with co-workers:

•  Cruise ship employment. This is an ideal way to combine a part-time job with pleasure, Bivona says. The ships provide room and board and the use of their facilities when the workers are not plying their trade. Possible jobs onboard cruise ships include golf instructors, scuba diving/water sports instructors, bridge instructors, arts and crafts instructors, caricature artists, dance instructors and photographers.

“The opportunities on cruise ships are endless,” Bivona says. “Where else can retirees spend time teaching what they enjoy while traveling around the world, eating wonderful food and earning extra pocket money? I have a friend who has been a dance host on ships for six years, and plans on continuing for as long as his legs hold out.”

•  Librarian. Part-time work at the local library could be a great opportunity for anyone who enjoys being around both books and other people who appreciate them. The duties include answering customers’ questions, shelving books, helping patrons check out books, tracking overdue materials and cataloging and keeping an eye out for lost and damaged items.

•  Bookkeeper. If you have the right experience with bookkeeping and computer applications, then this can be a good possibility. Usually, the opportunities are with small businesses and entail a full sweep of financial record keeping. Duties may include establishing and maintaining inventory database systems, tracing accounts receivable and accounts payable, maintaining checking and savings accounts, producing financial reports and following up on delinquent accounts.

•  Virtual assistant. This is a job you can do from your home. The main purpose of a virtual assistant is to assist busy business executives who do not have in-house staff to attend to various administrative functions. These positions have become available due to small companies trying to keep permanent overhead costs down. Training programs are available at community colleges, many of which offer online certifications. The duties of an assistant include making travel arrangements, sending out letters and providing other support services, which are easily handled remotely via email and telephone.

“If you look around, there are a multitude of opportunities out there,” Bivona says. “I recommend first trying to find something you have a passion for. But if you aren’t successful with that, widen the search because there are plenty of other possibilities that will put extra money in your pocketbook.”

About Michael Bivona

Michael Bivona, a certified public accountant, retired from the accounting profession and the computer-enhancement industry. He is an award-winning author and has written “Dancing Around the World with Mike and Barbara Bivona;” “Was That Me? Turning Points in my Life;” “Retired? What’s Next?”; “Business Infrastructure in a Computer Environment;” and “Retiring? Beware!! Don’t Run Out of Money and Don’t Become Bored.” In 2007 he was the recipient of the prestigious Long Island University Distinguished Alumni Award. He has two children and lives with his wife, Barbara, on Long Island, New York, and in Delray Beach, Florida.

 

George W. Bush Did Something Much Worse Than Lie Us Into War

The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.

Radio Address of George W. Bush, September 28, 2002

Something critical is being lost in the torrent of pixels being spilled by the media as Jeb Bushwriggleshaplessly, like some prehistoric insect trapped in amber, struggling to explain away, recast or rationalize his brother’s hideous legacy. Many of us with functional memories concluded long ago that Jeb’s brother deliberately lied us into a pointless war, one that resulted in pointless maiming and pointless deaths of our own soldiers and perhaps a million Iraqi civilians, and the equally pointless rise of a nihilistic cult of deluded savages we know as ISIS.And although many Americans, for various reasons, don’t want to face up to it, that is the truth. There may be be a “competing narrative,” there may be political “spin,” but there really can only be one truth, and Jeb Bush and the secretive Billionaires who hope to install him as the country’s next President know that truth happens to be very, very inconvenient for him when the country has not yet forgotten what happened the last time a Bush occupied that office. When Jeb said he’d rely on his trusted brother for foreign policy advice, well, that just made things worse.

There is, however, an even more heinous aspect to what Jeb’s “trusted brother” did, and it shouldn’t be allowed to escape down the memory hole. We’ve been lied into wars before, with similar disastrous results.  But George W. Bush did something far worse than lie us into a war: he did it in a breathtakingly cynical and malevolent way–in effect, by holding a gun to every Americans’ head and threatening to pull the trigger. He did it by holding us–all of us–hostage to a twisted ideology that demanded the war, waving the gun at calculated intervals in our face, the way any terrorist would.  And he told us flat out, over and over again, that if we didn’t do what he said, we’d all be killed.

Paul Waldman, writing for The Week, puts his finger on why what Bush did was much worse than mere lying:

What the Bush administration launched in 2002 and 2003 may have been the most comprehensive, sophisticated, and misleading campaign of government propaganda in American history. Spend too much time in the weeds, and you risk missing the hysterical tenor of the whole campaign.

Waldman has little patience for the suggestion that the “intelligence” was “misread” or “misinterpreted.” For those who experienced it, the barrage of timed propaganda that supported the “selling” of the Iraq war was no mere lie, no drummed up “incident,” but a deliberate, methodical and relentless campaign.  In this campaign, intelligence was not used to ascertain facts, but to fashion propaganda to sell the war, the “script” of which, as then-White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan later wrote, “had been finalized with great care” to convince the public that the war was “inevitable and necessary.” Waldman recounts the purposeful planning and execution of the deception inflicted on the American public and follows it with an irresistible and damning conclusion:

In 2008, the Center for Public Integrity completed a project in which they went over the public statements by eight top Bush administration officials on the topic of Iraq, and found that no fewer than 935 were false, including 260 statements by President Bush himself. But the theory on which the White House operated was that whether or not you could fool all of the people some of the time, you could certainly scare them out of their wits. That’s what was truly diabolical about their campaign.

And in this we can see the base, criminal and yes, diabolical nature of what Bush did. By magnifying the imaginary threat allegedly posed by Saddam Hussein, Bush managed to terrify segments of the American public who he and Cheney knew full well were already traumatized and shell-shocked after the horror of 9/11. By repeatedly raising the specter of “poison gas,” the radioactive “mushroom cloud,” and the “weapons of mass destruction” he instilled Americans with a virulent fear, fear of the evil unknown. And all the while he knew--they all knew–that it was a baldfaced lie:

[E]ach and every time the message was the same: If we didn’t wage war, Iraq was going to attack the United States homeland with its enormous arsenal of ghastly weapons, and who knows how many Americans would perish. When you actually spell it out like that it sounds almost comical, but that was the Bush administration’s assertion, repeated hundreds upon hundreds of time to a public still skittish in the wake of September 11. (Remember, the campaign for the war began less than a year after the September 11 attacks.)Sometimes this message was imparted with specific false claims, sometimes with dark insinuation, and sometimes with speculation about the horrors to come (“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” said Bush and others when asked about the thinness of much of their evidence). Yet the conclusion was always the same: The only alternative to invading Iraq was waiting around to be killed.

By playing incessantly to their fears, Bush also succeeded in turning Americans against each other–anyone who raised his or her voice to question the threat became part of the threat in the eyes of their fellow Americans.  After all, if you’re terrified of something, and you know by God the threat is real, someone next to you telling you not to worry, or worse, ignore the danger, becomes as bad as the enemy.This is what Bush (and Cheney) knowingly did to the American people. He counted on their fear, not just Americans’ fear of Hussein, but of each other. Iraq became a “life or death” decision. It didn’t matter to him that their fear was generated completely by lies–all he needed was the fear.  It was a classic exercise in propaganda and, terror inflicted on a vulnerable and scarred American public, the implicit threat always looming, hammered home day after day to get the war he and his cronies desperately wanted. And all of it deliberate:

This is one of the many sins for which Bush and those who supported him ought to spend a lifetime atoning. He looked out at the American public and decided that the way to get what he wanted was to terrify them. If he could convince them that any day now their children would die a horrible death, that they and everything they knew would be turned to radioactive ash, and that the only chance of averting this fate was to say yes to him, then he could have his war. Lies were of no less value than truth, so long as they both created enough fear.

This is the true horror of what George W. Bush did.  It was no mere “lie.” It was something far more despicable, that cuts to the core of whatever humanity or basic human decency he and his family claim to possess.

 

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Hot Chinese solar company under investigation for market manipulation, according to reports.

Update: Hanergy Thin Film CEO Shorts Stock Days Before Price Plummets

Update: Hanergy Thin Film CEO Shorts Stock Days Before Price Plummets

 

by Eric Wesoff

The billionaire CEO of a soaring solar firm shorted his own company’s stock days before the company lost $18 billion in value and the CEO lost $15 billion in personal wealth.

As we reported, Hanergy Thin Film (HTF) stock plunged 47 percent on May 20, “probably due to forced liquidation” and the “firm’s failure to repay stock-collateralized loans,” as reported by China Business News. Reports suggest that Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission is investigating market tampering of HTF shares.

According to CNN Money, CEO Li Hejun “increased his short position by 796 million shares” on May 18.

A few days later the stock crashed.

Short sellers are “motivated by the belief that a [borrowed] security’s price will decline, enabling it to be bought back at a lower price to make a profit.”

Trading in HTF stock remains suspended.

Here’s a look at how Hanergy lost half its value in one second, from “Tyler Durden” at Zero Hedge.

One might wonder about the technology and business progress of acquired solar firms Alta Devices, MiaSolé, Solibro, and Global Solar amid this stock-price adjustment, suspension, and Hong Kong SEC investigation.

***

Here’s our reporting from earlier this week.

Hanergy just lost $18 billion in market value as its stock dropped 47 percent and triggered a shutdown in trading. The Wall Street Journal suggests that the sell-off was prompted by Yingli’s recent financial news and weakness in the China solar market. But Hanergy has plenty of reasons to shed shareholder value.

It’s hard to know what to make of Hanergy’s announcement that it will be opening up to 1,500 retail stores to sell its solar products. But that’s just the latest in a series of startling announcements from the world’s most highly valued solar firm.

The market value of Hanergy Thin Film Power, a Hong Kong-listed company, has increased sixfold so far this year. Here’s a table comparing Hanergy’s market cap (as of yesterday) to the market caps of actual solar companies:

Firm Sector Market cap
Hanergy Thin film solar products $38.64 billion
SunEdison Project developer, manufacturer, EPC $8.03 billion
SunPower Project developer, manufacturer, EPC $4.18 billion
SolarCity Residential PV installer, financier $5.86 billion
First Solar Project developer, manufacturer, EPC $5.55 billion
Trina Solar Silicon solar modules $1.01 billion
Yingli Solar Silicon solar modules $215 million

 

So Hanergy was purportedly worth more than the combined market caps of the entire public solar sector. That makes no sense, considering Hanergy’s meager solar production, sales, and costs. Hanergy has not guided on annual production or sales for 2015.

Still, Li Hejun, the founder of Hanergy Group, was China’s fifth-richest man.

He might be a little lower on the list after today.

Over the last few years, Hanergy has acquired a number of thin-film solar companies that had run out of gas in the U.S. and Germany.

In 2012, Hanergy, the owner of gigawatts’ worth of hydropower, wind and solar assets, acquired MiaSolé, a technologically accomplished CIGS thin-film solar firm, for a fraction of that company’s original VC investment. In 2013, Hanergy acquired gallium-arsenide solar developer Alta Devices for an undisclosed amount. Alta and MiaSolé joined CIGS firms Solibro and Global Solar Energy under the Hanergy roof. With little synergy amongst the acquired firm’s technologies, Hanergy’s solar shopping spree appeared less than focused.

None of these acquisitions were immediately accruable to the bottom line. MiaSolé was valued at billions during the VC solar bubble, but was valued at $50 million in the VC funding round prior to acquisition. Alta Devices made technical strides in flexible gallium-arsenide photovoltaics, setting records for the materials system and boasting NREL-verified 28.8 percent cell efficiencies for a single-junction solar cell and 30.8 percent for a dual-junction cell. These days, Alta seems to be focused on powering drones, because its PV material is “ideal for embedding onto the skin of an aircraft.”

Hanergy Thin Film Power Group has also revealed plans to open 1,500 retail stores globally for its suite of thin-film solar products by 2017, according to PV Tech. According to reports, Hanergy’s thin film group has already “opened 60 flagship stores and ‘experience centers’ in China that will be extended to 300 by the end of 2015.”

Here’s a notable quote from that article: Liu Min, deputy chairman of Hanergy Thin Film Power Group and chairman of the board and CEO of Hanergy Global Solar Power and Applications Group, said: “Thin-film solar has ushered in a mobile energy era and is fundamentally subverting the energy utilization mode of mankind. The implementation of a thin-film solar all-channel sales strategy by Hanergy Thin Film Power enables more residents to benefit from distributed power generation through online and offline O2O three-dimensional channel platforms and accelerates the spread of thin-film power products for civil use.”

Congrats, China — your press-release-word-salad aptitude has totally caught up with the U.S.

Here are some recent announcements from and about the firm:

  • April 14: Citi analysts Timothy Lam and Pierre Lau suggest that Hanergy’s thin-film solar is not commercially viable.
  • April 23: Bloomberg reports, “The investment arm of China’s foreign-exchange regulator bought a stake in Hanergy Thin Film Power Group Ltd. as it adds alternative-energy assets to its portfolio, said people familiar with the matter. SAFE Investment Co. bought a stake that’s less than 5 percent and worth billions of Hong Kong dollars. […] Motivation for the move was Hanergy’s possible inclusion in Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng Index.”
  • April 29: Bloomberg notes, “Hanergy Thin Film Power Group Ltd.’s executive chairman raised his stake in the Chinese solar equipment maker this month, buying 53.9 million shares as the company’s market value surged.”
  • May 4: According to Barron’s Asia, citing a filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Hanergy Thin Film said its parent Hanergy Holding “will pay a total of $585 million for its solar panel assembly lines.” According to reports, “Hanergy Holding will buy six sets of thin-film solar panel assembly lines totaling 900 megawatts of production capacity for $175.5 million. In addition, the parent will pay $410 million for the listed subsidiary to upgrade existing production lines with its equipment. PV Magazine reports that “while the statement from the two companies does not reveal details, it is presumably a variant on amorphous silicon production equipment that Apollo has supplied Hanergy with in the past.” The company claims it is “capable of producing BIPV curtain wall modules of different light transmittance rates, sizes and shapes.” Hanergy Holdings’ Chairman Li Hejun is on the board of Hanergy as well as Apollo.
  • Frank Dai Mingfang, chief executive of HTF, “brushed off all worries in an interview with the FT — as well as reports that hedge funds were shorting its shares — as being rooted in a basic misunderstanding about Hanergy’s product line: ‘No one else can do what we do with solar power embedded in glass windows.'”

An industry source suggests, “MiaSolé equipment is still a hobby shop, and integration/expansion is not moving forward in a well-organized fashion,” adding that although the “Solibro process expansion in China is progressing…the capacity expansion ordered is below public announcements.”

Here’s a comment from short-seller Anthony T. Bozza of Lakewood Capital on Hanergy Thin Film Power.

“Hanergy Thin Film Power is perhaps the most astonishing stock in the entire market today. Shares of Hanergy, a manufacturer of solar panel equipment, are up more than 500% over the last year and over 3,000% in the past three years. With a market cap of over $40 billion, Hanergy is one of the largest companies listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, and its founder, Li Hejun, is now the wealthiest person in China (at least on paper). The company is now the most highly valued solar company in the world by a wide margin, and it is the largest holding of the Guggenheim Solar ETF (the last stock we encountered that had the top weighting in this ETF was GT Advanced Technologies, which is now in bankruptcy). For seven straight weeks this year, the stock spent nearly every minute of the trading day at a price between HK$6.70 and HK$6.90 per share. If this isn’t odd enough, consider a recent analysis conducted by The Financial Times that showed over a two-year period, all of the monumental gains in Hanergy’s stock occurred in just the last 10 minutes of the trading day (an investor who only held the stock during the first 6 hours and 20 minutes over those two years actually lost money!). We have considerable experience analyzing some pretty peculiar situations, but even the untrained eye can detect something isn’t quite right here. When the stock soared in March following its inclusion in a large market index (which in turn freed up considerable borrow), we started a small short position in Hanergy’s stock.

Last year, Hanergy recorded revenues of $1.2 billion, an increase of nearly 200%. If these figures are real, the shares are pricey at 30x revenues. The company is majority-controlled by Hanergy Holding, a private company owned by Li Hejun. Up until last year, nearly all of Hanergy’s sales had been to its parent. In 2014, the parent company accounted for just 60% of Hanergy’s revenues, but much of the remaining revenues were related to a sale of solar power stations to a Chinese investment vehicle called Hongsheng, which was curiously only incorporated 13 days before the deal was announced. One of the three shareholders of Hongsheng lists the wife of a former Hanergy board member as its legal representative. Also, the company’s robust revenue growth has barely translated into any actual cash flow as receivables have ballooned. I could go on. Simply, we believe this is a manipulated stock with manipulated financials. There is a significant anti-corruption drive in China right now, and given the company’s sizeable market capitalization and importance to the Hong Kong market, it should be only a matter of time until this distorted situation comes to an end.”

Here are some screen shots of Hanergy’s online solar product offerings.

 

 

 

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World’s First Public Testing for Monsanto’s Glyphosate Begins 

Glyphosate Testing Feature

 

Contact: Katherine Paul, Organic Consumers Association,katherine@organicconsumers.org, 207.653.3090

OCA Joins Feed The World Project to Offer Testing that Could Lead to a Ban on Roundup Herbicide

FINLAND, Minn.—The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) today, in conjunction with the Feed The World Project, launched the world’s firstglyphosate testing for the general public. The project, with specific focus on women and children in the U.S., is offering the first-ever validated public LC/MS/MS glyphosate testing for urine, water and soon breast milk.

“For decades now, the public has been exposed, unknowingly and against their will, to glyphosate, despite mounting evidence that this key active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide is harmful to human health and the environment,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s international director. “Monsanto has been given a free pass to expose the public to this dangerous chemical, because individuals, until now, been unable to go to their doctor’s office or local water testing company to find out if the chemical has accumulated in their bodies, or is present in their drinking water.

“The testing OCA, Feed The World and many other organizations will begin offering today will allow everyone who wants to know whether or not, and to what extent, they personally have been exposed to glyphosate. We expect that once the public learns how widespread the exposure has been, and how it has personally invaded their bodies and homes—in the context of the recent report from the World Health Organization that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen—public pressure will eventually force governments worldwide to finally ban Roundup.”

The OCA and Feed The World hope the testing will convince the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban glyphosate, which is currently up for review in 2015. The goal of the testing is to inform the public and promote a worldwide ban of glyphosate.

According to a recent New York Times report, the EPA first declared glyphosate a human carcinogen in 1985, but later, under pressure from the biotech agency, reversed that decision.

Late last year, a U.S. Department of Agriculture representative said that the USDA does not test food for glyphosate residues because it is “too expensive.”

A growing number of scientists are risking attack by the biotech industry by releasing studies that link glyphosate to cancer, kidney and liver failure, birth defects, infertility, increased risk of allergies and digestive orders, among other chronic illnesses.

“We hope that at the very least, states—and eventually the federal government—will require mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms, 84 percent of which are grown with glyphosate and likely contain glyphosate residues,” Cummins said. “But ultimately, this dangerous chemical must be banned.”

In 2013, El Salvador banned glyphosate after the chemical was linked to the deaths of thousands of agricultural workers, from chronic kidney disease.

For information on how to order testing, click here.

 

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What presidential candidates need to understand about income inequality

Before I sat down with President Obama to talk about trade a few weeks ago, I called a few economists with different perspectives. One of them was Robert Shapiro, a longtime Democratic advisor, who urged me to look at a paper he had recently written about income growth over the last several presidencies. I did.

At first glance, that paper, which the Brookings Institution published a few months ago without much fanfare or a catchy headline, is just another of those dry papers that Washington’s smartest economists churn out every year and that almost no one else actually reads. On closer inspection, though, Shapiro’s study is a remarkable analysis that refutes much of what we think we know about economic stagnation and inequality.

It’s worth trying to understand the argument here, even if you found your freshman economics class as baffling as I did. Because Shapiro’s data might explain why our politics feels so disconnected from reality — and what next year’s presidential candidates on both sides are in danger of missing.

First, a word about Shapiro, whom I’ve known for years, and why he’s a little unusual in his field. Shapiro went to the University of Chicago at 16 and studied, of all things, metaphysics; he went on to study philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science before deciding to take up economics, earning his doctorate at Harvard.

Later, he served as Bill Clinton’s principal economic adviser during the 1992 presidential campaign and directed economic policy at the Commerce Department during the Clinton administration. More recently, he’s done scholarship for the major Democratic think tanks (mostly the pro-trade, pro-immigration NDN, formerly known as the New Democratic Network) while also compiling statistical analyses for a stable of nonprofits, government agencies and corporate clients that include software and pharmaceutical industry associations (which will no doubt make his findings suspect to some liberals).

All of which is to say that Shapiro doesn’t approach this subject looking to validate any particular agenda. Perhaps because he came to economics late and to politics even later, he’s mostly interested in deciphering data, rather than trying to cram it into one ideological box or another.

More than a year ago, Shapiro noted that the Census Bureau had made available online, for the first time, data on household incomes broken down by age cohorts. In other words, before, if you wanted to understand what had been happening to incomes in America, the best you could do was to look at the averages for everyone over time.

But now it was possible, if painfully time-consuming, for an economist to follow distinct groups of Americans as their income rose or fell over a period of decades. And that meant you could track the progress of certain age groups throughout their lives, rather than bundling them together at any given moment with, say, college graduates in their first entry-level jobs.

What presidential candidates need to understand about income inequality

Robert Shapiro has revealed the complicated truth behind the statistics on income inequality over the last three decades. (Photo: Lise Metzger)

So that’s what Shapiro decided to do by examining the data from the last five presidencies going back to Ronald Reagan’s.

The story we’re always told about incomes in America is one of “stagnation.” On both ends of the political spectrum, there’s an accepted wisdom that income growth for most Americans began to slow in the 1970s and has essentially flattened out. The American Dream is imperiled, our candidates are always telling us, because it’s getting harder and harder for new generations of middle-class Americans to do better financially than their parents did.

Shapiro’s exhaustive analysis tells a much more complicated — and ultimately more disheartening — story.

It turns out, first of all, that most American families were actually doing a lot better in the 1980s and 1990s than we thought they were. The aggregate median household income — that is, the number we’re used to citing, which lumps everyone together — was about $46,000 in 1982 and had risen to almost $55,000 20 years later. That’s just a little less than 20 percent higher, or an average of less than 1 percent growth per year.

But Shapiro shows that if you were the head of a household and were between the ages of 25 and 29 in 1982, your income grew over the next two decades, on average, by more than 70 percent, from $45,440 to $77,543.

That may be one reason why both Reagan and Clinton were popular presidents, despite their ideological differences. According to Shapiro, it turns out they presided over much stronger income growth across just about all age groups than we previously understood.

After 2002, however, household incomes did more than flatten; they essentially cratered for middle-aged and older Americans. That same group whose income had risen by something like 70 percent under Reagan and Clinton experienced a drop of about 19 percent over the next decade. If you were in your early 50s at the start of the Bush years, generally speaking, your income fell by an average of about 30 percent.

Only the youngest Americans were lucky enough to see their incomes stagnate under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And while college graduates did better than less educated Americans, their gains were marginal. Most American households tumbled backward.

“As far as we know, this is anomalous,” Shapiro told me. “This has not happened before.”

image

American incomes rose during the Reagan and Clinton administrations but have flattened or declined since 2002. (Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters)

To put this in its plainest terms, the American Dream that’s at the center of our national identity is not, in fact, in danger of slipping away. For most Americans, it’s already long gone, like Oldsmobiles and New Coke.

The question, of course, is why, and here you will get wildly different answers, depending on whom you ask. For his part, Shapiro contends that some of this trend has to do with policy choices. He credits both Reagan and Clinton for jolting moribund economies while ultimately keeping revenue and spending in balance (in Reagan’s case, later in his tenure), which helped attract business investment.

But mostly what we’re seeing, Shapiro says, is the inevitable result of a global marketplace that forces industry to keep its prices low and its dividends high in order to compete for customers and capital, even as fixed costs continue to rise.

This has led him to a series of solutions, aimed at reducing costs in energy and health care, that most policymakers in his own party would probably reject out of hand, mainly because they involve relieving the burden on industry rather than punishing it. But even if you’re inclined to disagree with Shapiro’s remedies, or even if some rival economist wants to debate aspects of his methodology, there are a few essential conclusions we should draw from his work.

First, we should recognize that neither party is giving us an especially accurate accounting of what’s happened over the last 20 years. Government hasn’t, in fact, throttled economic growth, as conservatives maintain that it has; incomes rose sharply under an activist administration in the ’90s (and under a Republican administration that raised taxes several times) while falling off a cliff under an administration that slashed taxes and regulation.

While the inequality cited by Democrats is real and pervasive, Shapiro’s data shows us that this is really a symptom of a larger structural problem in the economy, rather than the problem itself. Inequality was rising in the ’80s and ’90s too, when most Americans were getting richer and the wealthiest earners were outpacing everyone else. Inequality seems more acute now mainly because while the wealthy continue to soar, college-educated workers are barely gaining, and everyone else has been in free fall.

Second, in an era that has already given us the tea party and Occupy Wall Street, we should understand just why Americans are so angry at their political system. And we should face the reality that the longer this economic trend continues, the more unhinged our politics will likely become, as voters search for scapegoats and easy answers.

When we talked this week, Shapiro pointed to the bizarre situation in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott put his National Guard on alert over a routine U.S. military exercise in the state, allegedly to forestall the threat of a federal invasion.

“It sounds psychotic,” Shapiro said. “It is psychotic. So the question is, how can significant numbers of Americans come to believe this? How has their view of government turned so incredibly dark?”

Shapiro believes the answer is in his data sets, and I think he’s right.

You can expect the presidential candidates on both sides to talk a lot this year about bridging the sharp partisan divide in our politics, just as Bush promised to “change the tone” and Obama vowed to blend red and blue into “purple states.” But Shapiro’s study lays bare a stark and underlying truth.

No candidate should expect to change the tenor of American politics if he or she doesn’t have a genuine plan to stem the decline of the American household.

 

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Monsanto’s Worst Fear May Be Coming True

By Jonathan Latham, PhD

The decision of the Chipotle restaurant chain to make its product lines GMO-free is not most people’s idea of a world-historic event. Especially since Chipotle, by US standards, is not a huge operation. A clear sign that the move is significant, however, is that Chipotle’s decision was met with a tidal-wave of establishment media abuse. Chipotle has been called irresponsible, anti-science, irrational, and much more by the Washington PostTime Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, and many others. A business deciding to give consumers what they want was surely never so contentious.

The media lynching of Chipotle has an explanation that is important to the future of GMOs. The cause of it is that there has long been an incipient crack in the solid public front that the food industry has presented on the GMO issue. The crack originates from the fact that while agribusiness sees GMOs as central to their business future, the brand-oriented and customer-sensitive ends of the food supply chain do not.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL

The brands who sell to the public, such as Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kraft, etc., are therefore much less committed to GMOs. They have gone along with their use, probably because they wish to maintain good relations with agribusiness, who are their allies and their suppliers. Possibly also they see a potential for novel products in a GMO future.

However, over the last five years, as the reputation of GMOs has come under increasing pressure in the US, the cost to food brands of ignoring the growing consumer demand for GMO-free products has increased. They might not say so in public, but the sellers of top brands have little incentive to take the flack for selling GMOs.

From this perspective, the significance of the Chipotle move becomes clear. If Chipotle can gain market share and prestige, or charge higher prices, from selling non-GMO products and give (especially young) consumers what they want, it puts traditional vendors of fast and processed food products in an invidious position. Kraft and MacDonalds, and their traditional rivals can hardly be left on the sidelines selling outmoded products to a shrinking market. They will not last long.

MacDonald’s already appears to be in trouble, and it too sees the solution as moving to more up-market and healthier products. For these much bigger players, a race to match Chipotle and get GMOs out of their product lines, is a strong possibility. That may not be so easy, in the short term, but for agribusiness titans who have backed GMOs, like Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta; a race to be GMO-free is the ultimate nightmare scenario.

Until Chipotle’s announcement, such considerations were all behind the scenes. But all of a sudden this split has spilled out into the food media. On May 8th, Hain Celestial told The Food Navigator that:

“We sell organic products…gluten-free products and…natural products. [But] where the big, big demand is, is GMO-free.”

According to the article, unlike Heinz, Kraft, and many others, Hain Celestial is actively seeking to meet this demand. Within the food industry, important decisions, for and against GMOs, are taking place.

Why the pressure to remove GMOs will grow

The other factor in all this turmoil is that the GMO technology wheel has not stopped turning. New GMO products are coming on stream that will likely make crop biotechnology even less popular than it is now. This will further ramp up the pressure on brands and stores to go GMO-free. There are several contributory factors.

The first issue follows from the recent US approvals of GMO crops resistant to the herbicides 2,4-D and Dicamba. These traits are billed as replacements for Roundup-resistant traits whose effectiveness has declined due to the spread of weeds resistant to Roundup (Glyphosate).

The causes of the problem, however, lie in the technology itself. The introduction of Roundup-resistant traits in corn and soybeans led to increasing Roundup use by farmers (Benbrook 2012). Increasing Roundup use led to weed resistance, which led to further Roundup use, as farmers increased applications and dosages. This translated into escalated ecological damage and increasing residue levels in food. Roundup is now found in GMO soybeans intended for food use at levels that even Monsanto used to call “extreme” (Bøhn et al. 2014).

The two new herbicide-resistance traits are set to recapitulate this same story of increasing agrochemical use. But they will also amplify it significantly,

The specifics are worth considering. First, the spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba on the newer herbicide-resistant crops will not eliminate the need for Roundup, whose use will not decline (see Figure).

Predicted herbicide use to 2025 (Mortensen et al 2012)

PREDICTED HERBICIDE USE TO 2025 (MORTENSEN ET AL 2012)

That is because, unlike Roundup, neither 2,4-D nor Dicamba are broad-spectrum herbicides. They will have to be sprayed together with Roundup, or with each other (or all of them together) to kill all weeds. This vital fact has not been widely appreciated.

Confirmation comes from the companies themselves. Monsanto is stacking (i.e. combining) Dicamba resistance with Roundup resistance in its Xtend crops and Dow isstacking 2,4-D resistance with Roundup resistance in its Enlist range. (Notably, resistance to other herbicides, such as glufosinate, are being stacked in all these GMO crops too.)

The second issue is that the combined spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba and Roundup, will only temporarily ease the weed resistance issues faced by farmers. In the medium and longer terms, they will compound the problems. That is because new herbicide-resistant weeds will surely evolve. In fact, Dicamba-resistant and 2,4-D-resistant weeds already exist. Their spread, and the evolution of new ones, can be guaranteed (Mortensen et al 2012). This will bring greater profits for herbicide manufacturers, but it will also bring greater PR problems for GMOs and the food industry. GMO soybeans and corn will likely soon have “extreme levels” of at least three different herbicides, all of them with dubious safety records (Schinasi and Leon 2014).

The first time round, Monsanto and Syngenta’s PR snow-jobs successfully obscured this, not just from the general public, but even within agronomy. But it is unlikely they will be able to do so a second time. 2,4-D and Dicamba-resistant GMOs are thus a PR disaster waiting to happen.

A pipeline full of problems: risk and perception

The longer term problem for GMOs is that, despite extravagant claims, their product pipeline is not bulging with promising ideas. Mostly, it is more of the same: herbicide resistance and insect resistance.

The most revolutionary and innovative part of that pipeline is a technology and not a trait. Many products in the GMO pipeline are made using RNA interference technologies that rely on double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs). dsRNA is a technology with two problems. One is that products made with it (such as the “Arctic” Apple, the “Innate” Potato, and Monsanto’s “Vistive Gold” Soybeans) are unproven in the field. Like its vanguard, a Brazilian virus-resistant bean, they may never work under actual farming conditions.

But if they do work, there is a clear problem with their safety which is explained in detail here (pdf).

In outline, the problem is this: the long dsRNA molecules needed for RNA interference were rejected long ago as being too hazardous for routine medical use (Anonymous, 1969). The scientific literature even calls them “toxins”, as in this paper title from 1969:

Absher M., and Stinebring W. (1969) Toxic properties of a synthetic double-stranded RNA. Nature 223: 715-717. (not online)

As further evidence of this, long dsRNAs are now used in medicine to cause autoimmune disorders in mice, in order to study these disorders (Okada et al 2005).

The Absher and Stinebring paper comes from a body of research built up many years ago, but its essential findings have been confirmed and extended by more modern research. We now know why dsRNAs cause harm. They trigger destructive anti-viral defence pathways in mammals and other vertebrates and there is a field of specialist research devoted to showing precisely how this damages individual cells, whole tissues, and results in auto-immune disease in mice (Karpala et al. 2005).

The conclusion therefore, is that dsRNAs that are apparently indistinguishable from those produced in, for example, the Arctic apple and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold Soybean, have strong negative effects on vertebrate animals (but not plants). These vertebrate effects are found even at low doses. Consumers are vertebrate animals. They may not appreciate the thought that their healthy fats and forever apples also contain proven toxins. And on a business front, consumer brands will not relish defending dsRNA technology once they understand the reality. They may not wish to find themselvesdefending the indefensible.

The bottom line is this. Either dsRNAs will sicken or kill people, or, they will give opponents of biotechnology plenty of ammunition. The scientific evidence, as it currently stands, suggests they will do both. dsRNAs, therefore, are a potentially huge liability.

The last pipeline problem stems from the first two. The agbiotech industry has long held out the prospect of “consumer benefits” from GMOs. Consumer benefits (in the case of food) are most likely to be health benefits (improved nutrition, altered fat composition, etc.). The problem is that the demographic of health-conscious consumers no doubt overlaps significantly with the demographic of those most wary of GMOs. Show a consumer a “healthy GMO” and they are likely to show you an oxymoron. The likely health market in the US for customers willing to pay more for a GMO has probably evaporated in the last few years as GMOs have become a hot public issue.

The end-game for GMOs?

The traditional chemical industry approach to such a problem is a familiar repertoire of intimidation and public relations. Fifty years ago, the chemical industry outwitted and outmanoeuvered environmentalists after the death of Rachel Carson (see the books Toxic Sludge is Good for You andTrust Us We’re Experts). But that was before email, open access scientific publication, and the internet. Monsanto and its allies have steadily lost ground in a world of peer-to-peer communication. GMOs have become a liability, despite their best efforts.

The historic situation is this: in any country, public acceptance of GMOs has always been based on lack of awareness of their existence. Once that ignorance evaporates and the scientific and social realities start to be discussed, ignorance cannot be reinstated. From then on the situation moves into a different, and much more difficult phase for the defenders of GMOs.

Nevertheless, in the US, those defenders have not yet given up. Anyone who keeps up with GMOs in the media knows that the public is being subjected to an unrelenting and concerted global blitzkrieg.

Pro-GMO advocates and paid-for journalists, presumably financed by the life-science industry, sometimes fronted by non-profits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are being given acres of prominent space to make their case. Liberal media outlets such as the New York Times, theNational GeographicThe New YorkerGrist magazine, theObserver newspaper, and any others who will have them (which is most) have been deployed to spread its memes. Cornell University has meanwhile received a $5.6 million grant by the Gates Foundation to “depolarize” negative GMO publicity.

But so far there is little sign that the growth of anti-GMO sentiment in Monsanto’s home (US) market can be halted. The decision by Chipotle is certainly not an indication of faith that it can.

For Monsanto and GMOs the situation suddenly looks ominous. Chipotle may well represent the beginnings of a market swing of historic proportions. GMOs may be relegated to cattle-feed status, or even oblivion, in the USA. And if GMOs fail in the US, they are likely to fail elsewhere.

GMO roll-outs in other countries have relied on three things: the deep pockets of agribusinesses based in the United States, their political connections, and the notion that GMOs represent “progress”. If those three disappear in the United States, the power to force open foreign markets will disappear too. The GMO era might suddenly be over.

Editors note: Click here to Find a Local Farmer

 

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Waco, Texas, Biker Gang Members Face ‘Organized Crime’ Charges in Brawl After 9 Dead

By and EMILY SHAPIRO

PHOTO: Authorities block an access road as an investigation continues near a Twin Peaks restaurant

Waco police now say 170 suspected gang members were arrested after a meeting between rival Texas biker gangs at a restaurant turned into a deadly brawl, and many are being charged with engaging in organized crime.

Nine people died in the incident — eight at the Twin Peaks restaurant and one at the hospital, in killings Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton characterized as capital murder “because of the number of victims that were killed in one episode here.”

Eighteen people were taken from the scene to hospitals, mostly for gunshot and stab wounds, Swanton said at a news conference. Everyone involved was a gang member, police said.

“This was a true gang fight that occurred at this location,” Swanton said earlier Monday, adding that the people involved were using “bad-guy weapons” such as brass knuckles, knives and guns.

Police originally reported that 192 people were arrested, but Swanton later said the number has been revised to 170. Swanton added that the exact number of arrests still could change.

“Those individuals are being charged with engaging in organized crime, in reference to the shooting at Twin Peaks, which is a capital murder,” Swanton said.

Swanton said five known biker gangs were involved but he declined to name them.

“I am not about to give them the respect of mentioning their names,” he told reporters.

The gang members had gathered at the Twin Peaks Restaurant in the Central Texas Market Place early in the afternoon to discuss their differences, Swanton said.

Swanton did not give a specific timeline of events today, but said the incident “happened very fast.”

A fistfight began and quickly escalated to include knives and firearms, and then spilled into the parking lot, where gang members fired at each other, Swanton said.

“As that fight progressed, it progressed very rapidly from hands and feet as weapons to chains,” he said. “My understanding [is that] a club was involved and knives were involved.”

PHOTO: A McLennan County deputy stands guard near a group of bikers in the parking lot of a Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday, May 17, 2015, in Waco, Texas.

Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP Photo
PHOTO: A McLennan County deputy stands guard near a group of bikers in the parking lot of a Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday, May 17, 2015, in Waco, Texas.

Officers were at the scene when the shooting started, Swanton said, and responded within 30 to 45 seconds.

Some officers “appropriately” returned fire at the bikers, Swanton said.

No officers were injured, police said.

Police closed the entire Central Texas Market Place shopping area following the shooting. TheFBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also at the scene to help with the investigation.

Police are continuing to process evidence from the crime scene and Swanton described the scene today as “pretty secure.”

Over the past few months, Swanton said, the police were aware of rival biker gangs causing issues at the Twin Peaks restaurant.

Swanton said officials are not ordering Twin Peaks to keep the restaurant closed, but he thinks it’s the right thing to do. He added that liquor sales, and movement of liquor in and out of the restaurant, will be forbidden for seven days.

“I hope that they have the courtesy and respect for our citizens and the dead individuals there that they will use this as a cooling-off period and not be open for business,” Swanton said.

In addition, the restaurant’s corporate parent said it was “immediately revoking” the franchise agreement with the location where the shootings occurred.

“We are in the people business and the safety of the employees and guests in our restaurants is priority one,” Twin Peaks said in a statement. “Unfortunately the management team of the franchised restaurant in Waco chose to ignore the warnings and advice from both the police and our company, and did not uphold the high security standards we have in place to ensure everyone is safe at our restaurants. We will not tolerate the actions of this relatively new franchisee and are immediately revoking their franchise agreement. Our sympathies continue to be with the families of those who died and are very thankful no employees, guests, police officers or bystanders were hurt or injured.”

Jay Patel, operating partner of the Twin Peaks Waco franchise, earlier posted a statement on Facebook saying the franchise had worked with police.

“We are horrified by the criminal, violent acts that occurred outside of our Waco restaurant today,” the statement said. “We share in the community’s trauma. Our priority is to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for our customers and employees, and we consider the police our partners in doing so. Our management team has had ongoing and positive communications with the police and we will continue to work with them as we all want to keep violent crime out of our businesses and community. We will continue to cooperate with the police as they investigate this terrible crime.”

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