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Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Millers and Bakers Want in on Engineering New Wheat

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In the past, U.S. bakers and millers have been resistant to genetically modified wheat.  That resistance appears to be turning into support, but under the condition that the bakers and millers can be more involved in the seed designing process.

Genetically modified wheat is now seen by many as inevitable and the leading baking and milling companies want to make sure the biotech wheat is something they can sell their customers on.   “We’re not one hundred percent convinced that our customers will go for a GMO wheat unless it has enhanced characteristics,” says Hayden Wands, director of procurement at Sara Lee Corp.  It is thought that if, in addition to yield improvements, nutritional improvements are built into the seed, then the GMO wheat will be an easier sell to a resistant market place.

The miller’s and baker’s shift from opposition to conditional support should be a big win for Monsanto who has been aiming to restart its effort to develop and sell GMO wheat.  Monsanto in the past has seen their efforts to expand their influence into wheat hampered by strong public opposition to their herbicide-tolerant, “Roundup Ready” GMO wheat.

For more on millers and bakers yielding to the push for genetically altered wheat, see the report at Reuters.

For more on Monsanto, see the documentary previously posted at Knosha.

Also of interest is Michael Specter making his case for GMO’s at a TED.

Written by Aaron Nee

May 10, 2010 at 10:29 am

The Cloud and Your Mind

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If you have played online games like ESP, you may be working for free .  Clever entrepreneurs have been finding ways to get the public to do menial jobs for little or no pay via online games, and game like programs.   The new strategy for soliciting people around the world to gather and sift through information has tremendous potential and raises a myriad of ethical questions.  All the participant knows is that they are identifying images or arranging shapes.  They don’t necessarily know who the work is being done for and what will be done with the information.

In his presentation “Minds For Sale”  Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet law at Harvard Law School and social theorist, illustrates the great potential of this new labor model, while also raising the extraordinary dangers and ethical concerns the model presents.  It seems that with every new bit of internet ingenuity comes a morass of ethical and philosophical concerns, that we cannot afford to ignore, but also emerging are surprising testaments to the good will and trustworthiness of the vast majority of internet users, which Zittrain is zealous to point out.   I strongly encourage taking time to listen to at least one of Zittrain’s talks.

I have embeded Zittrain’s short presentation at TED as a means of getting acquainted with him and the insights he has to offer.  If you find the talk of interest, then I highly recommend his longer presentation, outlined and embedded bellow.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Don’t Tell Glenn Beck

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Proposal for a fifth Socialist International on Znet – http://www.zcommunications.org/fifth-international-by-michael-albert

What is the socialist international? http://socialistinternational.org/about.cfm

Proposal for a participatory Socialist International – http://www.zcommunications.org/newinternational.htm

Written by Aaron Nee

April 7, 2010 at 7:12 pm

YOU DON’T KNOW ECONOMICS!

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Well, maybe you do, but Professor Richard D. Wolf doesn’t think many people can claim to understand economics. Fortunately he is kind enough to make eight lectures on the subject available.  The Lectures are focused on the current economic crisis and work off the underlying contention that Capitalism is inherently unstable.  I became aware of Wolff’s website through an interview at Truth Driven Thinking , which provides a nice introduction to Wolff and his beliefs (worth listening to before diving into an eight lecture series).

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Written by Aaron Nee

April 3, 2010 at 11:40 pm

How To Make Millions Off Crushing Poverty

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From Dollars & Sense:

Greg Palast continues to follow the story of debt vultures who “buy up the loans of poor governments, wait for them to win debt relief from the international community, and then use courts to pursue the countries for assets,” for BBC TV Newsnight and an article in the Guardian. Palast wrote about debt vultures for D&S back in 2007 (George Bush’s Favorite Vultures).

Written by Aaron Nee

March 19, 2010 at 1:34 am

The Real Adam Smith and Public Education As Propaganda

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No diet of reading is complete without a little Chomsky sprinkled in there. I recently came across an interview in which he gives a “soundbite” presentation of some of the ideas that he has repeatedly covered.

In particular, the interview touches on Chomsky’s assertion that the popular understanding of Adam Smith is a blatent distortion of what the author of Wealth Of Nations really believed. “Everybody reads the first paragraph of The Wealth of Nations where he talks about how wonderful the division of labor is. But not many people get to the point hundreds of pages later, where he says that division of labor will destroy human beings and turn people into creatures as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to be. And therefore in any civilized society the government is going to have to take some measures to prevent division of labor from proceeding to its limits.”

In the last third of the interview, Chomsky shares his views on mass education and its propaganda aims. “Mass education was designed to turn independent farmers into docile, passive tools of production… Emerson once said something about how we’re educating them to keep them from our throats. If you don’t educate them, what we call “education,” they’re going to take control — “they” being what Alexander Hamilton called the “great beast,” namely the people. The anti-democratic thrust of opinion in what are called democratic societies is really ferocious. And for good reason. Because the freer the society gets, the more dangerous the great beast becomes and the more you have to be careful to cage it somehow.”

So, if you are in the mood for some poking and prodding at established norms, check out the rest of the interview.

Written by Aaron Nee

March 10, 2010 at 2:32 am

Send your friend a postcard

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I got the following article through inter-office mail this morning.  The U.S. Postal Service has always had a special place in my heart.  Maybe it was those formative years watching Young Riders and romanticizing the pony express.  Maybe it has to do with the joy I feel in sending and recieving letters.  I would hate to see “snail mail” become a thing of the past.

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Postal Service May Cut Deliveries
Mail Could Arrive Only 5 Days a Week

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 29, 2009; A02

Worsening economic conditions and the changing habits of Americans are threatening to do to the U.S. Postal Service what neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night could: stop delivery of the mail, at least for one day a week.

In testimony before a Senate subcommittee yesterday, Postmaster General John E. Potter said the post office may be forced to cut back to five-day delivery for the first time in the agency’s history, citing rising costs and an ongoing decline in mail made worse by the global recession. The potential move, which would have to be approved by Congress and postal officials, could mean the elimination of mail on either Saturdays or Tuesdays, the system’s slowest days, postal officials said.

“It is possible that the cost of six-day delivery may simply prove to be unaffordable,” Potter said, adding that the agency may face a deficit of more than $6 billion in the current fiscal year. “I do not make this request lightly, but I am forced to consider every option, given the severity of our challenge.”

The prospect of a shortened delivery week marks the latest setback for the storied post office, which was founded in 1775 with Benjamin Franklin serving as the first postmaster general. It ranks as one of the nation’s largest employers, with about 700,000 career employees.

An iconic staple of American life, the post office has been buffeted for decades by shifting cultural and economic challenges and has struggled to modernize its operations. Independent delivery companies such as FedEx have taken over much of the upper-end delivery market, while e-mail and Internet bill-paying services have decreased first-class mail volume. The one bright spot has been third-class advertising mail — recently renamed “standard mail” — but that market has also dropped off because of the economy.

“A lot of people look for the postman every day,” said A. Lee Fritschler, a former chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission and a public policy professor at George Mason University. “The Postal Service will tell you that they are a community service. . . . I think a lot of people will wonder what happened to their mail on Tuesday or Saturday if it doesn’t come anymore.”

The number of items the post office delivered last year dropped by more than 9 billion, to 202 billion items, marking the largest annual decrease in history, officials said. The current fiscal year could also be the first time since 1946 that the amount of money collected by the Postal Service declines from the year before, Potter said.

As a result, last year’s deficit of nearly $3 billion could more than double this year. A recent study by Fritschler and other researchers found that eliminating one day of delivery would save the post office more than $1.9 billion a year; the post office estimated savings of $3.5 billion in its own study last fall.

But Dan G. Blair, the regulatory commission’s current chairman, also testified yesterday that cutting back a delivery day could further accelerate declines in mail volume, and said that other steps, such as post office closures, should also be considered.

Long a Cabinet-level office, the post office was transformed in 1971 into an independent, quasi-governmental agency that relies on postage and other revenues to meet annual expenses of nearly $80 billion.

There are several hurdles to eliminating a day of mail delivery. First, Congress would have to be persuaded to remove a requirement attached to appropriations bills since 1983 that bars the postal service from cutting back to five days. Then, a reduction would have to be approved by the Postal Service’s board of governors, Potter said.

Potter stressed that the post office has already taken dramatic steps to control costs, including $1 billion a year in cuts since 2002, reducing its workforce by 120,000 employees and stopping most construction. He also wants Congress to loosen requirements for advance payments into a retiree health fund, which consumed nearly $6 billion last year.

Postal experts note that the service has previously threatened other types of cutbacks, such as talk in the 1990s of eliminating or scaling back window services, only to retreat. The service has recently floated the notion of a five-day delivery week, but it has never been put forth as explicitly as it was yesterday. The Postal Service may also soon ask for another increase in the cost of a first-class stamp, which is now 42 cents.

Officials with the American Postal Workers Union did not respond to messages yesterday requesting a response to Potter’s remarks.

Aside from the impact on postal employees, cutting a day could also have a dramatic effect on weekly magazine publishers, direct-mail firms and other businesses that rely on the mail.

Scott Couvillon, president of marketing and product development for Dukky, a direct-mail firm, said the loss of a day could affect retailers’ promotional efforts. Household products and grocery coupons are generally targeted for delivery early in the week, while consumer electronics retailers send out promotions later in the week, he said.

He also predicted that any postal service cutback would result in more junk mail for consumers on the days when there are deliveries.

But Bonnie Carlson, president of the Promotion Marketing Association, a trade group, said that while a reduction could drive some businesses to e-mail and other media, the overall impact would be minimal. “I don’t see that as having a huge sea change in the world of marketing for retailers,” she said.

For much of its early history, the post office delivered mail seven days a week, including twice-a-day stops in some cities. The switch to six-day service came in 1912, when the agency eliminated Sunday delivery because of objections from Christian groups.

Robert Cohen, a former Postal Regulatory Commission official who oversaw the technical analysis for the GMU study, said that the U.S. mail was once a dominant means of communication, but that its influence has steadily declined over the past century. With the recent decrease in business correspondence and other first-class mail, he said, “the post office is now primarily a broadcast medium relaying advertising from businesses to households.”

“The bottom line is that the future of the Postal Service is in doubt,” Cohen said. “How long it will be able to meet all of its obligations is uncertain.”

Staff writer Ylan Q. Mui and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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Written by amynee

February 2, 2009 at 9:40 am

Posted in Economics

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