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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since August 2011

Page Previous 12 • 3
The Lineup: Week of Aug. 8-14, 2011

August 8, 2011 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, Jim Hightower calls for a "national, FDR-style jobs program" while Sam Pizzigati relays how President Franklin D. Roosevelt deftly handled his debt-ceiling standoff with conservative Republicans. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

 

  1. What would FDR Do? / Sam Pizzigati
  2. The Ugly Business of Lethal Injection / Brian Evans
  3. Watching Out for Our Water / Shayda Naficy
  4. Waiter, There's a Newfangled Technology in My Soup / Andrew Ranallo
  5. Playing Chicken in the Capitol / Donald Kaul
  6. America's Real Job Creators are Broke / Jim Hightower
  7. The Defense Industry Threatens America's Economy / William A. Collins
  8. Raised Ceiling / Khalil Bendib

Raised Ceiling

Playing Banana Monopoly: Agribusiness in Cameroon Threatens Independent Farmers

August 5, 2011 ·

The next time I’m at the grocery store and I see bunch of Dole bananas, I’ll think twice before picking them up and plunking down my 69 cents per pound.

As discussed in the film, “The Big Banana,” multinational corporations can wreak havoc on local communities, especially when governments collude with companies against the interest of their own people. In the Littoral region of Cameroon, on the west coast of Africa, a food company has been participating in government-supported land grabs since the early 1990s.

Traditionally, indigenous groups in Cameroon shared their land and lived from it in community land-sharing arrangements. From the late 1800s, Cameroon was a colony of Western European countries — first colonized by Germany, then after World War II, divided between France and England. During this time, land was the property of the crown or privatized. In 1959, the laws were revised to include provisions for “customary” land holders. Indigenous groups were allowed to register their land if they had lived there consecutively for five years or more.

When Cameroon became independent in 1960 and unified as one country in 1972, the government faced intense pressure from the West to encourage foreign investment and development. According to the Forest Peoples Programme's report, the state added more requirements for registering land that included Western-style buildings and “improvements.” Since then, the semi-nomadic peoples of the country have been largely excluded from the rights to land they have inhabited for centuries, and now they must either adapt to Western settlements or farm on rented land to survive.

The REseau de LUtte contre la FAim (RELUFA) explains that “Land is the main ‘employer’ in Cameroon. It allows the farmers to take care of their family and lead a decent life. But ever since its installation, the banana export company Plantations du Haut Penja has obtained as much land as possible, at times to the detriment of the rights of the local population, and with complicity of local authorities.”

In 1993, the government granted a land lease to Plantations du Haut Penja, a local banana mega-plantation, when the local land cooperative went bankrupt. The plantation is a supplier for Compagnie Fruitiere, a French subsidiary of Dole Food Company. Since then, the plantation has been forcing the farmers and families off their land using corrupt practices. Company officials claim to offer fair compensation for the crops, but in reality they modify contracts and refuse to fulfill their agreements. Farmers often remain indebted in spite of their hard work and often lose their land in dishonest deals.

The only alternative for small farmers is to work directly for the plantation company for a wage that is not suitable for feeding a family. RELUFA visited and interviewed farmers from the area starting in 2005 and produced a report on the financial situation of the farmers and their relationships with the plantation.

The report describes an untenable situation:

“They then were invited by [the plantation] to come to the sub-prefect, where they were met by the police commander and special commissioner, and received at most a third of what they expected to get in compensations for the crops in their fields. Afterwards, the sub-prefect proclaimed to have handed out an amount up to $100,000 for each of the farmers and $30,000 for the community of Bonandam. But based on the numbers he himself produced, less than $80,000 had actually been distributed.”

“Aware that their compensations were insufficient and baseless, the farmers went to the judge in chambers of Mbanga, for a judiciary expert on oath to be assigned to them to make an inventory of the crops and assess their value according to the law. As soon as [the plantation] was summoned and the courts had agreed to go to the site for the requested inventory, [the plantation] went with tractors and caterpillars to the terrain and destroyed the crops. With this act, the company made the court's decision useless and destroyed any proofs.”

Cameroonian filmmaker Franck Bieleu led the production of a documentary about Plantations du Haut Penja titled “The Big Banana.” The documentary was banned in Cameroon in April 2011. But the Institute for Policy Studies is hosting a screening of the film in Washington DC this Thursday, August 11, 2011. (See event listing.) The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker. In addition, the program “Africa Now” on Pacifica Radio’s WPFW (89.3 FM) will air a segment of the film and feature an interview with Bieleu 11 AM on Wednesday, the day before the screening.

The Big Banana illustrates in painful, personal detail the injustice that is inflicted across communities and nations when profit of multinational companies is put before the interest of people. Plantations du Haut Penja and their parent company Dole are only interested in Cameroonians as a resource to exploit for the growth of capital. Powerful international companies have no problem with plowing over the health of local families and villages to expand their agricultural empire. We have to remember that the 69 cents per pound we pay at the grocery store is nowhere near the whole cost of our food. We must work together to build societies that aren’t sustained by the suffering of others.

Christopher H. Bartlo is a communications intern at the Institute for Policy Studies and a student at George Mason University.

Budgeting for the Great American Train Wreck

August 1, 2011 ·

It's Aug. 1, 2011. Does President Barack Obama know where House votes for that last-minute budget deal are?

The pact he forged primarily with Republican leadership in Congress after months of wrangling is no compromise. The GOP got just about all the cuts it wanted. The Democratic Party didn't get hardly anything it sought, such as a deficit-shrinking revenue boost or a firm commitment to leave Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security funding unscathed. If it becomes official, deep social spending cuts will deepen the nation's growing economic woes.

It did sound virtually official when the news broke yesterday. But as of 11:30 a.m. today, the political forecast for passage in the House "is much more cloudy." The Hill is reporting that only 21 representatives are likely to back it and 11 have asserted that they will vote against the deal. That leaves more than 400 House lawmakers undecided with one day to go before the debt-ceiling deadline.

That means there's still hope the nation won't have to eat what Missouri Democrat Emanuel Cleaver, the Congressional Black Caucus chairman, called a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich." Wall Street is blocking efforts to shut down overseas tax-dodging havens that could restore $1 trillion dollars to U.S. taxpayers within a decade, notes Institute for Policy Studies expert Chuck Collins. And a task force led by Miriam Pemberton, another IPS expert, found that trimming just nine military programs could save $77 billion in the 2012 fiscal year alone.

In these difficult financial times our government should perform two basic tasks:

  1. Stimulate the economy to create jobs.
  2. Ensure that everyone pays their fair share including the wealthiest Americans.

The budget deal Obama struck primarily with Republican lawmakers does neither. Instead, "the very wealthy will continue to receive taxpayer handouts, and corporations will keep their expensive federal giveaways," Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said. "Meanwhile, millions of families unfairly lose more in this deal than they have already lost."

As Grijalva and many others have wisely noted, Obama has the power to raise the debt ceiling without caving on spending priorities. He could invoke Section 4 of the 14th amendment. Or, even though it sounds outlandish, simply order the mint to produce two platinum coins, both worth $1 trillion. That sounds kooky, but some scholars say it would technically work. And it wouldn't damage the U.S. economy.

This deal will only make things worse for millions of unemployed Americans. Plus, it protects "every single loophole, giveaway and boondoggle in the tax code as a matter of fundamental conservative principle," Republican David Frum argued in a startling commentary.

Our economy needs a new stimulus package, not a poison pill.

The Lineup: Week of Aug. 1-7, 2011

August 1, 2011 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, Donald Kaul underscores the GOP's intransigence over raising the debt ceiling, Jim Hightower lambastes Wisconsin's Racine County's decision to get prison laborers to do some jobs previously handled by public-sector workers, and William A. Collins highlights the stark decline in social services that's rendering the poor increasingly "invisible and voiceless." Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

 

  1. Murdoch Gets Caught Red-Handed / Saul Landau
  2. Heading for Havana / Sharon Hostetler
  3. End the Annual Fluff Outbreaks / Jason Salzman
  4. Making the U.S.-Pakistan Relationship Less Toxic / Emma Lecavalier
  5. Blame the No-Way Party for the Debt Ceiling Collision / Donald Kaul
  6. A Right-Wing Jobs Program for America / Jim Hightower
  7. Shredding the Safety Net / William A. Collins
  8. Deadly Fluff / Khalil Bendib

Deadly Fluff

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