Assembly Passes $3B Foxconn Incentive Package | Wisconsin Public Radio

The Wisconsin Assembly approved a $3 billion tax break bill for Taiwan-based Foxconn to build a new display panel factory in the state. Source: Assembly Passes $3B Foxconn Incentive Package | Wisconsin Public Radio

I almost never talk about politics here and I try to refrain from headlining a post with a referral to a news story, but this whole Foxconn deal has me rather concerned.

While the governor’s office and the state legislature are collectively wetting themselves over this deal, and are flooding the airwaves with self congratulatory images and stories hyping this whole thing, if you start to look into the deal itself, if you really look into the details of the whole thing, it starts to look more than a little concerning. There is so much misinformation and outright lying going on over this deal it’s hard to keep track of what’s a fact, what’s hyperbole, and what’s an outright lie.

The whole 13,000 jobs claim is, at best, a wild exaggeration, accompanied by rarely mentioned and even deliberately hidden disclaimers of “if this” and “if that” and “maybe”. The actual number of jobs Foxconn is going to develop is 3,000. And even that number is in dispute because if you read the fine print there are a lot of “maybes” and “ifs” buried in that as well.

Then the governor’s office is claiming that the plant will add 22,000 or even as many as 35,000 jobs in associated support industries. That is a number that is wildly exaggerated as well. If the company ramps up to the full 13,000 positions that the politicians are claiming, it might, might result in the creation of 15,000 new jobs in businesses that support the facility.

The state claims that all of this will be watched carefully, largely by the Wisconsin Economic Development Council or WEDC, to make sure they adhere to the terms of the deal. Well, that’s part of the problem. The WEDC has a long history of being utterly incompetent and there are charges of it being actually corrupt because of it’s dealings in the past. It has “lost” loans that it had given out, gave loans and tax deals to people under indictment on criminal charges in other states, given deals to individuals and companies that donated heavily to politicians or to their PACs, given deals to companies that moved jobs out of the state… The list goes on and on. And while the administration claims it’s all better now, recent audits of the organization’s operations indicate that no, it isn’t. It still has serious problems and if it were a department in a business out in the real world, most of them would have been fired for incompetence or even brought up on charges.

The data I’ve been seeing about the actual financial arrangements don’t look very encouraging either. Not only is the state giving the company exemptions from specific taxes, other tax breaks, free infrastructure and dozens of other deals, there are actual cash payments to the company in play as well. If I’m reading this right, not only is the company going to pay virtually no taxes at all, the state is actually going to pay them up to $250 million a year, depending on the number of people it employs.

Then there is the fact that a lot of those jobs aren’t going to be going to people from Wisconsin. The facility is being built down near the Illinois border, and they’re estimating that as many as 40% of the jobs are going to be going to people from across the border.

Then there is the company itself. Let’s face it, this is not a good place to work. They had to put safety nets around their factories in China because employees were committing suicide because of the working conditions. It’s CEO publicly called the company employees animals and said he hired zoo keepers to train his managers in how to deal with the rank and file employees.

This whole deal — I hope it works out, but nothing about this smells right.

Drought, Climate and Agriculture. Like it or not, Change is coming.

Water is an increasingly precious commodity across the country, and lack of water has become an extremely serious issue in Southern California where a years long drought continues. I ran across this item over at Ag Professional’s website and while brief and far from in depth, it does talk a bit about the problems that are going on and the changes that are starting to take place.  California Drought is a U.S. Problem | Ag Professional

The ongoing drought in California is driving a lot of farmers over there into bankruptcy and causing others serious problems as they scramble to fight with cities and other users over an increasingly scarce resource. During his campaign Donald Trump claimed that there is no real drought in California and the other south western states, and he could bring the water shortage to an end if he was elected. But no, Trump is not going to end the drought by simply claiming it doesn’t exist. Even if the new administration changes or repeals existing water regulations, it doesn’t do you much good when there isn’t any water to begin with, which is the situation southern California and Nevada are facing.

With ground water being pumped out of aquifers at rates so high it’s causing the ground to sink, that wells are drying up wells all over that part of the state, and with surface water already being rationed, simply declaring there is no drought and blaming it on regulations is ridiculous. Sooner or later those aquifers are going to be completely depleted or drawn down so far that it is no longer possible to drill deep enough and build pumping systems powerful enough to deal with it.

Are there things that could be done to improve access to water? Sure. But it would take tens, even hundreds of billions of dollars in new infrastructure, new dams, new aqueducts, new pumping systems, etc. And even then they’d have to steal water from other parts of the country, suck rivers dry and pretty much ruin every river system they tap into in order to do it. From an engineering standpoint it could be done, but economically and politically? No state is going to stand by idly and allow it’s water be siphoned off to irrigate crops, water lawns and golf courses and fill swimming pools in states like California and Nevada.

Could the situation out there be solved some other way? Sure. But it would require change. And people don’t like change. The agricultural industry would have to fundamentally change how it works. Not just changing how they farm, but what they farm. Water intensive crops that require irrigation would have to go. Some types of agriculture, like dairy, would probably have to move elsewhere entirely. Consumers would have to get used to the idea of not having “fresh” produce of certain types available every month of the year. It would require a lot of changes that a lot of people don’t want.

And it isn’t just in California and the other states in the south west. How we use water, how we manage our water resources, is going to have to change. The changes are coming whether people like it or not.

Starving Amidst Plenty


Not a day goes by when you don’t see a news item about more food aid being needed somewhere as enormous numbers of people go hungry or are even starving because of natural disasters, political disasters, poverty. If you follow the agricultural media as I do you will see articles about the mega ag companies like Monsanto talking about how they need to get ever bigger, absorb even more small companies, because they need to develop new seeds, new herbicides, to satisfy an ever expanding and increasingly hungry world population. Articles about food deserts in the inner cities in the US and other otherwise prosperous countries. Articles about how we need to cultivate more land, increase the yield of crops because people are starving all over the world.

But then along comes items like this story from AP at AgWeb: Why Is There So Much Food?

The US alone is producing 24 billion gallons of milk a year. We’re producing enough milk every year to fill a good sized lake or two. So much milk that it’s driven the farmgate price down so far farmers are going bankrupt. The US alone has 1.24 billion pounds of cheese in storage and 322 million pounds of butter. USDA has been buying up stored cheese and giving it away to try to keep prices from collapsing.

If milk were the only commodity we have massive surpluses of, it wouldn’t be so bad. But it isn’t. The US has 377 million pounds of strawberries and 313 million pounds of blueberries in storage. In total we have around 1.5 billion pounds of fruit in storage. We have 1.3 billion pounds of turkey and chicken in storage.

If you look at grains, the situation is similar. The 2016 corn harvest is just getting started here in the US, and it looks like it’s going to be a near record breaking crop. And we still have millions of bushels of corn in storage from last year’s near record breaking crop. The price of corn has plummeted to $3.30 or so a bushel, and will probably drop considerably as the new crop floods storage facilities. The story with soybeans is similar. Same with wheat. Eggs, which suffered massive price increases that saw the local stores selling eggs at $1.75 a dozen, have fallen to $0.49 cents in our local grocery store.

Right now we are looking at the lowest prices for ag commodities that we’ve seen in many years. Retail consumer prices are flat or falling. One source I read the other day claimed retail food prices have dropped by 8% in the last six months. The UN claims food prices are at the lowest level they’ve been at (adjusted for inflation) in a very long time indeed. We have a glut of food on the market, so much we don’t have enough storage space for it.

And we still have people going hungry, even starving. Even in the most affluent countries in the world we have large parts of the population who are hungry, who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

It isn’t agriculture that’s at fault here. It isn’t farming. It’s politics. Petty nationalistic disputes, power struggles in congresses and parliaments. It’s prejudice and discrimination. It’s greed and selfishness.

The age of Conspiracies

I wrote about “The Age of Stupid” a few weeks ago, but “Age of Conspiracy” could be just as appropriate to describe what we’re going through these days. And it’s been going on for a long, long time.

You could say that I grew up in an age of conspiracy theories. I was born about halfway through the “red scare” that started in the late 1940s and ran into the late 1950s. Politicians like McCarthy latched onto it immediately as a way of expanding their power and influence, claiming there were evil communists lurking in every corner, infiltrating our schools and even taking over our popular media. It resulted in very public witch hunts. It ruined the lives of a lot of people because of the tactics of people like McCarthy, who engaged in unsubstantiated accusations, public attacks and fear mongering. I suspect that McCarthy didn’t give a fig about communists, nor about the homosexuals he’d tried to go after in the so-called Lavender Scare (1) earlier. I suspect he was trying to do anything he could to revive a rather mediocre political career and saw this as a possible path to power.

McCarthy and his red scare was perhaps the beginning of the modern era of conspiracy theories. After his disgrace and his death in 1957, other people, other organizations, took up “the cause”, whatever that cause might be. Whether that cause was the government poisoning us by putting fluoride(2) in the water, the United Nations taking over the US, Catholics (3)… The list goes on and on.

Any time there is some kind of crisis going on it seems that someone will come up with some kind of conspiracy theory to try to explain it.

The development of the internet has resulted in such an explosion of conspiracy theories that it’s impossible to keep up with what’s going on out there. There’s Jade Helm, which somehow linked empty Walmart stores with FEMA, the UN, Obama (of course) and I don’t know what all else and morphing it all into some kind of invasion attempt. Airliners pumping tons of chemicals into the atmosphere via ‘chemtrails’. Weird, mysterious groups of people who secretly control the world. Fake moon landings. FEMA stockpiling “disposable coffins” to deal with the bodies when Obama purges the country of A) gun owners/NRA members, B) Christians, C) heterosexuals, D) all of the above. FEMA setting up “death camps” in secret locations all around the country so it has enough bodies to put in the ‘disposable coffins’. Fluoride (again and still). Canada pre-staging its entire military force along the border to invade the US. The NRA board of directors being taken over by the Islamic Brotherhood. Hillary has brain cancer. Hillary has tuberculosis. The list goes on and on and on.

How do these things get started in the first place? And even more importantly, why do some people actually believe them?

How they get started isn’t difficult to discover in many cases. Someone, somewhere, finds something, some little fact, some photo, some tiny, tiny bit of reality, and goes off the deep end with it, totally transforming into something it isn’t. Over time other people get their hands on it, add to it, expand it, modify it, and you end up with… Well, let’s look at the FEMA coffin thing.

What seems to have happened in that case is that someone stumbled on a field covered with not coffins, but with burial vaults that are used to put over coffins to prevent coffins from collapsing when you drive thousand pound lawnmowers over cemeteries. In a lot of areas these things are required by law. You can’t just shove a coffin in the ground, you have to put a vault over the top of it. Because burial vaults are tough and weather proof the company didn’t see much point in building expensive warehouses to store them, they just stack them up outside in a vacant field. Eventually this field of burial vaults morphed into the FEMA coffin nonsense.

Same with the FEMA death camps. They have actual photos that prove there are actual camps complete with tacky old trailer houses where they’re going to shove all us gun loving god fearing americans while they line us up to kill us off. Probably with fluoride? That story also started with a very tiny grain of truth. There are areas where large numbers of these trailers are parked. They aren’t “camps”, they’re storage areas. Where do you think FEMA gets the trailers they use to house people after a major disaster? Just call up some manufacturer and say they need, on, 5,000 trailers and deliver them tomorrow? Of course not. They already have them stockpiled. Someone stumbled across one of the storage sites, and the story evolved into the whole death camp nonsense.

I know how these things get started, but what’s always puzzled me is why so many people, many of whom seem reasonably intelligent, believe this stuff.

I think part of the reason is we often refuse to accept the fact that a lot of things are our own fault. We have made decisions in our lives that have resulted in certain undesirable consequences, and because we like those decisions, because they make our lives more comfortable or make money for us, we desperately try to rationalize away the undesirable consequences.

Like climate change. It is a flat out fact that pumping hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere as we have been doing for decades is going to have an adverse effect on the climate of the planet. But a lot of people won’t accept that because it means that it would be their fault and, even worse, trying to fix the problem might have an adverse effect on them personally. So they latch onto some tenuous and irrational explanation for what’s going on, rather than accept the facts.

The list goes on and on, with people latching onto conspiracy theories for whatever reason.

There are always going to be people who, for whatever reason, appear to genuinely believe this stuff. There’s nothing we can do about that.

The real problem is when politicians and the media deliberately embrace this kind of thing for no other reason than for financial gain or to try to expand their support.



—- Footnotes

(1) Most people don’t remember the so-called “lavender scare” that McCarthy and a few others attempted first, a witch hunt McCarthy and others conducted against suspected homosexuals. McCarthy seemed almost desperate to try to find some issue, any issue, that would bring him some kind of influence and power after his mediocre and largely unnoticed career in the Senate.

(2) Still is in some areas. The fluoridated water scare is something that goes through cycles it seems. It eventually fades away, but sooner or later some news service comes across something on a slow day, runs it, and it heats up again, only to fade out of the public eye until the next slow news day.

(3) Yes, Catholics. They’re plotting to take over the US and turn it into the Pope’s private estate, you know, or something like that. You wouldn’t believe the nonsense we used to hear when Kennedy was running for president.