Pirates and Emperors...

Size does matter.... We found this video both funny and poignant. The question arises - with the coming presedential elections in November, will the U.S. continue on the path of conquering emperor/ruthless capitalist pirate, or will the intriguing candidates usher in a new era in the land of "you can too"?

Wal-Mart Goes Local?

What happens when Wal-Mart tries to cash in on the growing attraction toward locally grown food and tries to lower their fuel expenses?

In an NPR report, a Wal-Mart spokesperson stated the benefits of stocking local produce:
"It's estimated that in the United States, produce travels an average of 1,500 miles — from farms to [the] homes of consumers. So it just provides us an opportunity to make products closer to home and buy local."
What? How does this model fit into their low-prices-at-any-cost model?

Well, one way Wal-Mart puts its own spin on things is to co-opt the catch phrase, "locally grown." It redefines the parameters, tagging anything grown in the state as local. That's not that horrible, considering the journeys many apples make from New Zealand to Pennsylvania. According to many, however, anything grown over 50 miles away is not "real local food."

The only downside to Wal-Mart's attempt to capture this market, according to the NPR article, is that if more people decide to consume locally, growing states like California will be hit hard, as less people across the country will consume their nuts and fruit.

Keeping in mind the documentary "The Wal-Mart Effect," what kind of effect will Wal-Mart have on these local partnerships?

Image: Bounty from the River

Vertical Farming

According to the Vertical Farm Project, almost 80% of the world's population will reside in urban areas by 2050. From now until then, over 3 billion people will be added to the population count. As of now, 80% of farm-able land is being used.

How to feed them? And with what land will we grow crops?

The solution, according to this Columbia University project, headed by professor Dickson Despommier, Ph.D., is to look skyward:
Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world's urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.

Is this a viable option for our planet? Is it a solution for people, or a boon for corporations? A solution for rich countries, or poor?

Anti-Union and Union Protest News

In a complaint filed yesterday with the Federal Election Committee, labor organizations have voiced concerns over Wal-Mart's alleged anti-union meetings, in which employees were warned of the consequences of a Democratic win in the Presidential election. From the AP report:
Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work, criticized Wal-Mart for trying to influence the federal election system. "Wal-Mart seems to be willing to break federal election law in order to stop their employees and all of America's workers from having a fair shot at the American dream," she said.
This complaint follows the Wall Street Journal report that revealed Wal-Mart's anti-Democratic campaigning:
According to about a dozen Wal-Mart employees who attended such meetings in seven states, Wal-Mart executives claim that employees at unionized stores would have to pay hefty union dues while getting nothing in return, and may have to go on strike without compensation. Also, unionization could mean fewer jobs as labor costs rise. The actions by Wal-Mart -- the nation's largest private employer -- reflect a growing concern among big business that a reinvigorated labor movement could reverse years of declining union membership. That could lead to higher payroll and health costs for companies already being hurt by rising fuel and commodities costs and the tough economic climate.
In other, unrelated union news, protests were held last week in Norristown, PA, for people being detained for immigration violations. In July, workers for ABM Janitorial Services were lured to a mandatory employee meeting and then arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcements agents. ABM set up the raid with officials when it was discovered that some of their employees used falsified documents to gain employment. Close to 100 union members protested the tactics of ABM and immigration officials. Read the Philadelphia Inquirer article here.

The Food Crisis is No Sweat off of Corporate Backs

From the New Internationalist comes an interesting article that begins to reveal an uncomfortable side to the world-wide food crisis - uncomfortable to corporate America at least. Rising costs of food around the globe has led to food shortages and riots, increasing numbers of requests for food aid, and shifts in export policy in efforts to protect various national markets. The media has usually focused on these aspects of the crisis, but there is another side as well. Throughout the crisis, corporations with a hand in the food business have continued to see their profits rise. Here are some specifics from the article:
Cargill, the world’s biggest grain trader, achieved an 86 per cent increase in profits from commodity trading in the first quarter of this year. Bunge, another huge food trader, had a 77 per cent increase last year. ADM, the second largest grain trader in the world, registered a 67 per cent profit hike in 2007.
The profit increase is not limited to the producers either:
Tesco, the UK supermarket giant, rose by a record 11.8 per cent last year. Other major retailers, such as France’s Carrefour and Wal-Mart of the US, say that food sales are the main sector sustaining their profit increases.
Not surprisingly, many of the world's poor are experiencing perhaps the greatest challenges to their survival, while the corporate world continues to reap the profits. The article quoted is itself a summary of a report by grain.org titled Against the Grain: Making a Killing from Hunger.

photo courtesy of abc.net

The End of Globalization?

The local food movement has been gaining steam (and followers) for the last couple of years, and as food prices continue to rise, people are looking for local sources that are often times cheaper in this economic climate in the U.S.. Driving this shift to some degree is the increase in fuel prices which has everyone's grocery bill a bit higher, while at the same time making it more expensive to even get to the store in the first place. These developments seemed to hit the individual and the family first, as evidenced by the recent economic downturn (decrease in car sales, decrease in home sales, etc., etc.). The effects of these cost increases seem to be "trickling up" as well. Larry Rohter of the NYTimes had an article today describing just this development. According to Rohter:

The world economy has become so integrated that shoppers find relatively few T-shirts and sneakers in Wal-Mart and Target carrying a “Made in the U.S.A.” label. But globalization may be losing some of the inexorable economic power it had for much of the past quarter-century, even as it faces fresh challenges as a political ideology.

Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages. Rising concern about global warming, the reaction against lost jobs in rich countries, worries about food safety and security, and the collapse of world trade talks in Geneva last week also signal that political and environmental concerns may make the calculus of globalization far more complex.

At this point in time, it is still unclear what the lasting effects of the rise of oil prices will have on the world economy. The fact remains that much of what makes the world economic engine turn is the reliance on cheap labor and raw materials from one part of the globe is able to be transformed into products and transported to a different part of the world. How long this system will be able to maintain itself is up for debate. Will rising oil costs equate to products priced out of the range of too many people? Could this spark a return to local production? Could the local food movement be a sign of larger change looming in the not too distant future? If anything, it can be assumed that the corporate structure that profits off of the current system will be given every chance to maintain its profit margin, no matter where it's products are produced, and what those products are.

Read the rest of the NYTimes article here.