January 24, 2012

Elite Private Equity Firms are Buying Farmland to Control the Food Supply

Hunger results when people are not allowed to participate in a food system of their choosing. Fair methods of land distribution must be considered -- a fair and just food system depends on small holder farmers having access to land. The function of a just farming system is to insure that everyone gets to eat; in contrast, an industrial agriculture functions to insure that corporations controlling the system make a profit.

Food shortages are seldom about a lack of food -- there is plenty of food in the world -- the shortages occur because of the inability to get food where it is needed and the inability of the hungry to afford it. Unable to afford the grain, the hungry depend on the government to distribute food. Apparently that's not going so well. Not everyone living in a poor country goes hungry; those with money eat.
Poverty and inequality cause hunger -- a higher value should be placed on people than on corporate profit.

The framework of international trade and the rules imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank on developing countries, place emphasis on crops for export, not crops for feeding a hungry population. The greatest portion of the world's diet still relies on crops and farming systems developed and cultivated by the indigenous for centuries. The best hope for ending hunger lies with local, traditional, farmer controlled agricultural production, not high tech industrial agriculture.

Civil wars, structural adjustment policies, inadequate distribution systems, international commodity speculation, and corporate control of food from seed to table -- these are the causes of hunger, the stimulus for food crises.

Being Like Soros in Buying Farm Land Lets Investors Reap 16% Annual Gains

“Con­trol oil and you con­trol nations; con­trol food and you con­trol the peo­ple.“
–Henry Kissinger

Bloomberg
August 10, 2011

Perry Vieth baled hay on a neighbor’s farm in Wisconsin for two summers during high school in 1972 and 1973. The grueling labor left him with no doubt about getting a college degree so that he’d never have to work as hard again for a paycheck. Thirty-eight years later, and after a career as a securities lawyer and fixed-income trader, Vieth is back on the farm.

Except, now, he owns it. As co-founder of Ceres Partners LLC, a Granger, Indiana-based investment firm, Vieth oversees 61 farms valued at $63.3 million in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee. He’s so enthusiastic about the investments that he quit a job in 2008 overseeing $7 billion in fixed-income assets at PanAgora Asset Management Inc., a Boston-based quantitative money management firm, to focus full time on farming, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its September issue.

On a spring afternoon, Vieth, 54, barrels along backcountry roads in a Jeep Cherokee in Indiana and Michigan to scout a fruit orchard and corn and soybean farms to buy. Rural towns with names such as Three Rivers pass by in a blur, separated by a wide horizon of fields with young crops popping up.

“When I told people I was leaving to start an investment fund in farmland, they said, ‘You’re doing what?’” says Vieth, in a red polo golf shirt and khakis. “It will always be difficult for Wall Street firms to understand. It’s not like buying stocks on a computer.”

It’s much better: Returns from farmland have trounced those of equities. Ceres Partners produced an average annual gain of 16.4 percent after fees from January 2008, just after the firm started, through June of this year, Vieth says.

George Soros

The bulk of the returns are in rent payments from tenant farmers who grow and sell the crops and from land appreciation. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Agriculture Index of eight raw materials gained 5.3 percent annually over the same period, and the S&P 500 Index (SPX) dropped almost 1 percent.

Investors are pouring into farmland in the U.S. and parts of Europe, Latin America and Africa as global food prices soar. A fund controlled by George Soros, the billionaire hedge-fund manager, owns 23.4 percent of South American farmland venture Adecoagro SA.

Hedge funds Ospraie Management LLC and Passport Capital LLC as well as Harvard University’s endowment are also betting on farming. TIAA-CREF, the $466 billion financial services giant, has $2 billion invested in some 600,000 acres (240,000 hectares) of farmland in Australia, Brazil and North America and wants to double the size of its investment.

Jim Rogers
“I have frequently told people that one of the best investments in the world will be farmland,” says Jim Rogers, 68, chairman of Singapore-based Rogers Holdings, who predicted the start of the global commodities rally in 1996. “You’ve got to buy in a place where it rains, and you have to have a farmer who knows what he’s doing. If you can do that, you will make a double whammy because the crops are becoming more valuable.”

The growth in demand for food, spurred by the rising middle classes in China, India and other emerging markets, shows no signs of abating. Food prices in June, as measured by a United Nations index of 55 food commodities, were just slightly below their peak in February. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in a June report that it expects food costs to remain high through 2012.

So many investors have rushed to capitalize on food prices in the past three years that they may be creating a farmland bubble. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which covers Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and other agricultural states, said in May that farmland prices had surged 20 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.

Safe Haven

“Yes, farmland will be a bubble again; all agricultural products will be in a bubble again,” says Rogers, who is an investor in Agrifirma Brazil Ltd., a South American farmland owner.

Hedge-fund manager Stephen Diggle calls farming the ultimate safe haven. Diggle began buying farms with his own money in 2008 after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEHMQ) filed for bankruptcy in September of that year and the S&P 500 plunged 43 percent in the next six months. He purchased 8,000 acres in Uruguay, three smaller plots in southern Illinois and an 80-acre New Zealand kiwi-and-avocado orchard.

“We really thought all the investment banks would go under,” says Diggle, who as a hedge-fund manager uses options and warrants to bet on price swings in the market. “Everyone said, ‘Buy gold.’ But at the end of the day, you can’t eat it. If everything else goes and I just have these farms, it makes me moderately wealthy.”

‘Prosperous China’

The hedge fund Diggle co-founded, Artradis Fund Management Pte in Singapore, suffered about $700 million in losses. He closed it in March and opened another Singapore-based hedge fund, Vulpes Investment Management Pte. Diggle plans to incorporate his five farms into an investment management group run by Vulpes.

From his vantage point in Asia, where the British expatriate has worked for the past two decades, Diggle says he’s witnessed aspiring locals eating their way up the food chain.

“You can see what a more prosperous China will consume,” Diggle, 47, says. “It means more dairy, more meat -- not just pork and chicken.”

Investors find in farmland a respite from the cyclical price swings of the commodities market. Since 1970, there have been at least four price jumps of at least 100 percent that were followed by steep declines in the S&P agriculture commodities index. By contrast, the average value of an acre of farmland tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been on a mostly steady climb from $737 in 1980 to $2,350 in 2011.

Leaving BlackRock

“Farmland is the lowest-risk part of the value chain, but it’s also a key part of production,” says Jose Minaya, TIAA- CREF’s head of natural resources and infrastructure investments.

In the U.K., where farm prices are also rising, one money manager traded his career at BlackRock Inc. (BLK) for one in farming. Graham Birch, 51, left in 2009 as the London-based head of the natural resources team at BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, to run his two dairy, wheat and barley farms in southwest England full time.

Birch, who says farming has suffered from a lack of investment and management talent, has spent $1 million on improvements. He now captures all of the effluent from his 600- cow herd, stores it in a 4 million-liter (1-million-gallon) steel tank and uses it as fertilizer for his crops.

“At heart, I am basically a businessman, and I want to try to apply the things I learned over the years to see what I could do,” Birch says.

Wall Street Roots

Ceres Partners’ Wall Street roots are evident in the firm’s makeshift office in an old clapboard farmhouse that sits in the middle of cropland. Lucite tombstones resting on a shelf in a small room mark deals done by Brandon Zick, a former vice president of strategic acquisitions at Morgan Stanley (MS)’s investment management unit. Vieth hired Zick in January to help analyze and manage farm purchases.

Vieth, a 1982 graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School, began his career as a securities and corporate lawyer before moving to the pits of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he traded S&P 500 options. After a series of stints running an arbitrage team for Fuji Securities Inc. and other firms, he was hired as chief investment officer of fixed income at PanAgora, the quant firm, in 1999.

By about 2006, Vieth’s concerns about the economy were mounting: Inflation was at a low, and the dollar had peaked as U.S. debt and deficits soared. So he searched for an asset class that would benefit from a currency decline and rising prices. His research led him to farms, since a falling dollar boosts U.S. crop exports.

Falling Dollar

Vieth then connected with Paul Blum, a fellow Notre Dame alumnus who spent some of his youth on a farm in upstate New York and today acts as Ceres’s point person with tenant farmers.

As the dollar fell 24 percent against the euro from January 2006 through May 2008, the pair started buying land as personal investments until the business grew too big for Vieth to manage during evenings and weekends. So, in late 2007, he founded Ceres, just as tightening credit markets began to push the global economy into a recession.

He named the firm Ceres for both the Roman goddess of agriculture and a bar he frequented during his trading days in Chicago.

“I was more convinced hard assets were where you wanted to be, and farmland was the best investment I could identify,” Vieth says.
By May 2011, he had collected 17,238 acres, mostly in the Midwest.

Shade and Rocks

When Vieth wants land, he goes shopping, as he does with Zick and Blum under a partly cloudy southern Michigan sky in May. Armed with aerial and soil maps, they look for farms with predictable rainfall, mineral-rich land and good drainage. They avoid land that slopes too much, which could lead to soil erosion.

The trio drive by a 337-acre farm for sale by a bank, and Vieth frowns at the slant of the land and the trees that line the perimeter.

“Those trees will shade the corn and stunt growth,” he says.
Blum doesn’t like the many rocks scattered on the unplanted dirt. Zick is skeptical that the bank will get its asking price of $7,000 an acre in a foreclosure sale.

The investors next visit a farmer they hired, Ed Kerlikowske Jr., who grows watermelon, peas and corn on their 782-acre spread near Berrien Springs, Michigan. Kerlikowske. For farmers such as Kerlikowske, the entry of outside investors frees up money for new equipment that they would otherwise have to spend on land.

“To really grow the business in today’s economy, you need partners,” Kerlikowske says as he passes around slices of fresh watermelon.

Possible Bubble

The farm-investing boom is making lots of people happy, but could it all end in tears? The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which regulates banks that lend to farmers, has examined whether investors may be pumping up prices and creating the conditions for a crash like the one that devastated the market in the 1980s, resulting in the failure of 300 farm banks.

In March, then-FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair devoted a symposium to the topic in Washington with the participation of economists, bankers and agricultural experts.

“If there is a bubble in farmland prices, I hope the bulk of any correction is borne by investors such as hedge funds and not by the banking industry,” William Isaac, chairman of the FDIC during the farm banking bust and now senior managing director of FTI Consulting Inc. (FCN) said during the event.

Overpaying

Charles McNairy, whose family has been involved in agriculture since 1871, says neophyte investors who lack a deep understanding of farming are making bad deals. In 2009, McNairy started U.S. Farming Realty Trust LP, a fund based in Kinston, North Carolina, that had raised $261 million as of late May to buy farms, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

McNairy says funds such as Ceres have been overpaying for land, based on the return from crops.

“Ceres shouldn’t be buying in the Midwest,” says McNairy, who declined to disclose the states he invests in. “It’s crazy to be buying up there.”

Vieth disagrees, saying Ceres’s returns prove that his strategy is working.

“I certainly don’t want to start slinging mud, but I don’t know what the heck he’s talking about.”

Greyson Colvin, who started farming fund Colvin & Co. LLP in Anoka, Minnesota, in 2009, dismisses the idea of an overheated market.

“After the housing bubble, people are a little too quick to assign the word bubble these days,” says Colvin, whose two funds and separately managed accounts hold 2,300 acres of farmland in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota valued at more than $10 million.

Head Winds

Colvin, a former analyst at UBS AG (UBSN) and Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN), says U.S. farmers aren’t carrying as much debt as they did during the 1980s crisis, which contributed to the downfall of banks as agriculture loans defaulted. The farm debt-to-asset ratio, which peaked in 1985 at 23 percent, is expected to fall to 10.7 percent in 2011, according to Agriculture Department estimates.

Vieth’s farm funds are facing head winds in coming months and years: A likely rise in interest rates will push up his acquisition costs and the value of the dollar, which in turn might hurt commodity exports. While the former trader keeps a close eye on the dollar, he says farming will continue to thrive.

Investors seem to agree. At a dining-room table in the farmhouse in Granger, Vieth sits down at his computer one evening and totals the day’s haul: another $900,000 from investors looking for comfort -- and profits -- in one of the oldest and most essential industries on the planet.

Control the Food and You Control the People

By Trase, Serenity Acres Now
July 8, 2011

Politi­cians and war­mon­gers know it. Activists who go on hunger strikes know it. Con­trol­ling food is an effec­tive means to manip­u­late peo­ple. In wartime, aggres­sors attempt to cut off their ene­mies sup­ply lines — starve out the enemy and per­haps they’ll sim­ply surrender.

Well, there is a more sur­rep­ti­tious war going on within our own coun­try, and it con­cerns our food. Who are the aggres­sors? Multi-billion dol­lar cor­po­ra­tions in col­lu­sion with gov­ern­ment agen­cies where they have eas­ily man­aged to place toad­ies who insure that pol­icy favors their true mas­ters.

Watch doc­u­men­taries like Food Inc, The Future of Food, Far­maged­don; read books from Michael Pol­lan, Joel Salatin, and Mar­ion Nes­tle and you’ll see spe­cific exam­ples of how this has hap­pened and con­tin­ues to shape food pol­icy in our nation.

Do you want the same com­pany that brought us DDT and Agent Orange decid­ing what kind of food should be avail­able to you and your fam­ily? Well, too bad if you don’t, because they already are. Mon­santo and other mega cor­po­ra­tions have a tight grip on the FDA and USDA, many of our leg­is­la­tures, and the agri­cul­tural depart­ments of many of the land-grant universities.

It is ter­ri­bly over­whelm­ing for those of us who have edu­cated our­selves about many of the issues with genetic mod­i­fi­ca­tion of our food to know how to fight back. After all, most of us sim­ply do not have the fund­ing that these mega cor­po­ra­tions do.

Mon­santo, for instance, has a team of ex-military com­man­dos as who patrol the coun­try to inspect farm­ers and then enforce the company’s will. Because they have well-placed offi­cials guard­ing their inter­ests with the gov­ern­ment, such as the FDA’s Michael Tay­lor (for­mer chief lob­by­ist for Mon­santo) they are able to get away with atroc­i­ties against small farm­ers, and ulti­mately, all of us.

Mon­santo has mod­i­fied their seeds so that they are depen­dent upon their her­bi­cide Round-Up to grow, and so that the seeds ter­mi­nate after one gen­er­a­tion. You must go back to Mon­santo year after year to get more seed, and can­not save seed. Even if you do, it won’t grow prop­erly. But the seed is only neutered in that regard — it will, in fact, infect neigh­bor­ing fields with its genetic mate­r­ial, so that those “friendly inspec­tors” I men­tioned ear­lier can show up on a farm and accuse them of patent infringe­ment.

Many fam­ily farms have been hurt because of this tac­tic. And it is, make no mis­take, a strat­egy on their part. After all, it insures their growth — like the 77% increase in prof­its reported recently in the Wall Street Jour­nal. That funds a huge legal depart­ment that is aggres­sive in its pur­suit of any­one who does not kneel before Mon­santo, which fan­cies itself a sort of feu­dal lord.

So what do we do?

Well, what we can do best — act locally. Grow some of your own food. Buy heir­loom seeds (http://rareseeds.com/, http://www.seedsavers.org/, http://sustainableseedco.com/) and plant them, even if you can only do con­tainer gar­den­ing on a bal­cony. And save the new seeds cre­ated when you grow those veg­eta­bles, fruits, and herbs. Share them. Pro­tect them. They are under attack.

So, what hap­pens when you do just that, and your local gov­ern­ment decides to pun­ish you for it? “That would never hap­pen,” you say, “why would any munic­i­pal­ity get upset over one of its cit­i­zens try­ing to do some­thing pos­i­tive in the community?”

Well, that’s what the city of Oak Park, Michi­gan is doing. There is a res­i­dent fam­ily who have cho­sen to plant a veg­etable gar­den, instead of wast­ing their front lawn on grass. And now they are fac­ing court action and pos­si­ble jail time for dar­ing to reject hav­ing grass lawn. You know, the stuff that let’s face it, is not sus­tain­able, and its his­tory isn’t exactly some­thing to be cel­e­brated. As the book Food Not Lawns points out:

French aris­to­crats pop­u­lar­ized the idea of the green, grassy lawns in the eigh­teenth cen­tury when they planted the agri­cul­tural fields around their estates to grass to send the mes­sage that they had more land than they needed and could there­fore afford to waste some. Mean­while French peas­ants starved for lack of avail­able farm­land, and the result­ing frus­tra­tion might well have had some­thing to do with the French Rev­o­lu­tion in 1789. (p. 12)”

These days, in the U.S., the roles have reversed some­what. We “peas­ants” are encour­aged to grow lawns and let the “aris­to­crats” grow the food, because the lead­ers must have learned some­thing from the French Rev­o­lu­tion — it’s bet­ter for them to con­trol our food under lock and key while keep­ing the peas­ants mol­li­fied with other dis­trac­tions.

Also, so long as the aris­to­crats are in charge of food, why not make changes to it that will cre­ate even more depen­dence, like con­trol­ling seed avail­abil­ity and dis­tri­b­u­tion so that it is only given to those who bow before the mas­ters who hold the seeds year after year?

But — there is hope. The sit­u­a­tion in Oak Park is one that local folk can fight face-to-face. Maybe the offi­cials in Oak Park don’t see the big­ger pic­ture, and pro­vid­ing them with infor­ma­tion that helps them to see that they are really not pur­su­ing what can be described as the best inter­ests of their cit­i­zenry will change their minds. I mean, let’s face it, grow­ing up in the age of the “Lit­tle Houses” that Malv­ina Reynolds wrote about, it is easy to sim­ply not think for one’s self about why you wouldn’t want to have a grass lawn, but the world in which that idea of sub­ur­bia was cre­ated no longer exists.

Food short­ages are already occur­ring, and pre­dic­tions are that they will only get worse. We are deal­ing with oil short­ages, whether real or man­u­fac­tured — but what’s the dif­fer­ence when your gaso­line costs $4+ a gal­lon? That means it’s more expen­sive to go and get food from the store, as well as the cost of the food hav­ing gone up because of the petro­leum prod­ucts that went into grow­ing, pack­ag­ing, and trans­port­ing it. Peo­ple have been espe­cially hard-hit by unem­ploy­ment in Michi­gan, and while there are “improved” num­bers, most peo­ple aren’t deal­ing with a sur­plus of income these days, so their food bud­gets are tight. I know ours is!

So why in the world would local offi­cials want to dis­cour­age local gar­dens? Surely they rec­og­nize the issues described in the pre­vi­ous para­graph, in addi­tion to the weak­nesses within the cor­po­rate food sys­tem — and if they do not, then it is their respon­si­bil­ity to edu­cate them­selves in order to best serve their cit­i­zens. How can they respon­si­bly sug­gest that they have the author­ity to deter­mine food pol­icy in their com­mu­nity if they don’t pos­sess the knowl­edge to make edu­cated deci­sions about it?

Let’s not allow our right — or that of any­one else– to grow our own food be eroded. Speak up. Fight back. Let’s not for­get what Thomas Jef­fer­son said: “All author­ity belongs to the peo­ple.” This truly is OUR LAND. Let’s not for­get that, friends.

The Food Crisis is Not About a Shortage of Food

CommonDreams.org
October 1, 2010

The food crisis of 2008 never really ended, it was ignored and forgotten. The rich and powerful are well fed; they had no food crisis, no shortage; so in the West, it was little more than a short lived sound bite, tragic but forgettable.

To the poor in the developing world, whose ability to afford food is no better now than in 2008, the hunger continues.

Hunger can have many contributing factors: natural disaster, discrimination, war, poor infrastructure.

So why, regardless of the situation, is high tech agriculture always assumed to be the only the solution? This premise is put forward and supported by those who would benefit financially if their “solution” were implemented. Corporations peddle their high technology genetically-engineered seed and chemical packages, their genetically-altered animals, always with the “promise” of feeding the world.

Politicians and philanthropists, who may mean well, jump on the high technology band wagon. Could the promise of financial support or investment return fuel their apparent compassion?

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, supposedly works to achieve a food secure and prosperous Africa. While these sentiments and goals may be philanthropy at its best, some of the coalition partners have a different agenda.

One of the key players in AGRA, Monsanto, hopes to spread its genetically-engineered seed throughout Africa by promising better yields, drought resistance, an end to hunger, etc. etc. Could a New Green Revolution succeed where the original Green Revolution had failed? Or was the whole concept of a Green Revolution a pig in a poke to begin with?

Monsanto giving free seed to poor small holder farmers sounds great, or are they just setting the hook? Remember, next year those farmers will have to buy their seed. Interesting to note that the Gates Foundation purchased $23.1 million worth of Monsanto stock in the second quarter of 2010. Do they also see the food crisis in Africa as a potential to turn a nice profit? Every corporation has one overriding interest -- self-interest, but surely not charitable foundations?

Food shortages are seldom about a lack of food -- there is plenty of food in the world -- the shortages occur because of the inability to get food where it is needed and the inability of the hungry to afford it. These two problems are principally caused by, as Francis Moore Lappe' put it, a lack of justice. There are also ethical considerations: a higher value should be placed on people than on corporate profit; this must be at the forefront, not an afterthought.

In 2008 there were shortages of food in some places, for some people. There was never a shortage of food in 2008 on a global basis, nor is there currently. True, some countries, in Africa for example, do not have enough food where it is needed, yet people with money have their fill no matter where they live. Poverty and inequality cause hunger.

The current food riots in Mozambique were a result of increased wheat prices on the world market. The UN Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) estimates the world is on course to the third largest wheat harvest in history, so increasing wheat prices were not caused by actual shortages, but rather by speculation on the price of wheat in the international market.

While millions of people go hungry in India, thousands of kilos of grain rot in storage. Unable to afford the grain, the hungry depend on the government to distribute food. Apparently that's not going so well.

Not everyone living in a poor country goes hungry; those with money eat. Not everyone living in a rich country is well fed; those without money go hungry. We in the US are said to have the safest and most abundant food supply in the world; yet even here, surrounded by an over abundance of food, there are plenty of hungry people and their numbers are growing. Do we too have a food crisis concurrent with an obesity crisis?

Why is there widespread hunger? Is food a right? Is profit taking through speculation that drives food prices out of the reach of the poor a right? Is pushing high technology agriculture on an entire continent at that could feed itself a (corporate) right?

In developing countries, those with hunger and poor food distribution, the small farmers, most of whom are women, have little say in agricultural policy. The framework of international trade and the rules imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank on developing countries, places emphasis on crops for export, not crops for feeding a hungry population.

Despite what we hope are the best intentions of the Gates Foundation, a New Green Revolution based on genetically engineered crops, imported fertilizer and government imposed agricultural policy will not feed the world. Women, not Monsanto, feed most of the world's population; and the greatest portion of the world's diet still relies on crops and farming systems developed and cultivated by the indigenous for centuries, systems that still work, systems that offer real promise.

The report of 400 experts from around the world, The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), is ignored by the proponents of a New Green Revolution, precisely because it shows that the best hope for ending hunger lies with local, traditional, farmer controlled agricultural production, not high tech industrial agriculture.

To feed the world, fair methods of land distribution must be considered. A fair and just food system depends on small holder farmers having access to land. The function of a just farming system is to insure that everyone gets to eat; industrial agriculture functions to insure those corporations controlling the system make a profit.

The ultimate cause of hunger is not a lack of Western agricultural technology; rather, hunger results when people are not allowed to participate in a food system of their choosing. Civil wars, structural adjustment policies, inadequate distribution systems, international commodity speculation, and corporate control of food from seed to table -- these are the causes of hunger, the stimulus for food crises.

If the Gates Foundation is serious about ending hunger in Africa, they need to read the IAASTD report, not Monsanto's quarterly profit report. Then they can decide how their money might best be spent.

Fifty Million Farmers Had Land Stolen by the Chinese Regime

The Epoch Times
August 14, 2011

Between 40 and 50 million Chinese farmers have lost their farmland since Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms began in the late 1970s, according to a recent report from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). The number is increasing at a rate of three million farmers per year, and will reach 110 million around 2030.

The report, titled, China Urban Development Report of 2011 and published by the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies of CASS, states that large areas of farmland have been and are being expropriated as China’s industrialization and urbanization accelerates.

According to the directive “national land use planning” published by the Ministry of Land and Resources in October 2008, from 2000 to 2030, over 8.6 million acres of farmland will be expropriated and over 100 million farmers will lose their land.

The report also states that, while farmland is being lost, there is a serious trend of urban land being insufficiently utilized. According to the “national land use planning” directive, there are about 657,000 acres of unused land in China. This leads to the conclusion that the scale of land expropriation is greater than the actual need.

Regarding the farmers who lost their farmland, the official news website Red Net of Hunan Province reported a survey of 132 households on the issue on March 29. It stated that 97 percent of farmers are not satisfied with the compensation. The standard compensation rate to the farmer for commercial land use is about US$20,000 to US$35,000 per acre. But this farmland is often situated in a newly developed urban area, which could fetch over 10 times its current value.

The Director of the State Council’s Development Research Center, Han Jun, said in 2003 that since the start of economic reforms until 2003, the Chinese regime has taken US$312.8 billion from farmers by expropriating farmland at a low price and then reselling it at a high price.

The Red Net survey also stated that 85.61 percent of farmers do not have any kind of social security and insurance and that only 12 percent have medical insurance. When asked what they fear the most, 15.91 percent said not having medical insurance, 27.27 percent said retirement insurance and 75 percent feared unemployment.

The farmers who lost their land have no stable jobs and income. After losing their ownership, rights to use and derive an income from their farmland, they have no financial security.

Xu Zhiyong, a faculty member at the Beijing Post and Telecommunications University, told China Youth Daily:
“The dispute arising from farmland expropriation is not a regional problem. It exists in almost every big and small city, county and township.”
According to statistics given in the CASS report, among the farmers who appeal to higher authorities for help, 60 percent of the appeals are related to the farmland, and 30 percent are related to land expropriation.

Among farmers who lost their land, 60 percent of them said that they are in a state of economic hardship, and 81 percent are worried about their future livelihoods.

According to a random sample of 2,942 farmers who lost their land, the National Bureau of Statistics of China found that there are only 2.7 percent who received employment after expropriation; 24.8 percent went out to look for work on their own; 27.3 percent have opened a small business; and 20 percent stays at home, unemployed.

Sometimes, those who have had their land taken from them have responded violently.

In May a series of explosions hit Fuzhou City, Jiangxi Province, after Qian Mingqi, 52, failed to obtain redress for land that was expropriated but for which he was never properly compensated. After a decade of unsuccessfully attempting to get proper compensation (he says his losses were up to two million yuan, or around US$300,000), he set up a Sina Weibo account documenting his final thoughts, and proceeded to make fertilizer bombs. He said that he was left with no choice.
“I wanted to take genuine action to get rid of the bad guys for the people,” Qian said.
He was killed in one of the blasts.

In other cases people have climbed atop their house roofs and set themselves on fire. In yet other cases people have used violence against the gangs of thugs that are hired by local officials to carry out the eviction and demolition work that is often involved in land expropriation.

Read the original Chinese article.

U.S. Government is Flooding Farmland, Which May Leave It Damaged for Years and, in Turn Would Allow Private Equity Firms to Snatch It Up for Pennies on the Dollar

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intentionally breached the levee at Birds Point, resulting in the flooding of thousands of acres of Missouri prime farmland as well as damage and destruction to homes and buildings. "Farmers in the affected area will not only lose this year's crop, but have a long-term cleanup and restoration project if they hope to return their land to production, and we fear much of the flooded land might never be able to recover to its prior productivity," Hurst said. "Farm Bureau will do everything possible to ensure the farmers are compensated and receive all the help available to restore their farmland to productivity. It is vital the government rebuilds the levee as soon as possible, and cuts through red tape to get the compensation and help to those affected by this disaster immediately." - Farm Bureau seeks compensation for flooded farmland, May 22, 2011

Arizona Daily Star
May 6, 2011
Blasting open a levee and submerging more than 200 square miles of Missouri farmland has likely gouged away fertile topsoil, deposited mountains of debris and may even hamper farming in some places for years, experts say.

This week's explosions to ease the Mississippi River flooding threatening the town of Cairo, Ill., appear to have succeeded -- but their effect on the farmland, where wheat, corn and soybeans are grown, could take months or even years to become clear. The Missouri Farm Bureau said the damage will likely exceed $100 million for this year alone.

"Where the breach is, water just roars through and scours the ground. It's like pouring water in a sand pile. There is that deep crevice that's created," said John Hawkins, a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau. "For some farmers, it could take a generation to recoup that area."

The issue is vital to farmers and the state of Missouri, whose attorney general repeatedly tried to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan to break the levee. Opponents of the move argued it would leave the farmland buried under feet of sand and silt, rendering it useless for years.

It's still not clear how much damage the intentional flooding will cause and how farmers will be compensated for losses to the land and roughly 100 houses scattered through the area. Experts said the extent of the damage can't be accurately assessed until the floodwaters recede, and that likely will take months.

The river level itself is going to have to fall from its high flood stage before the water covering the fields can even begin to drain, said Jim Pogue, a corps spokesman. That could take a significant amount of time, he said.

"This is the greatest flood we've seen since 1937. We're tying records, breaking records, all down the river," Pogue said. "This is likely to be once-in-a-lifetime event."

Codex Alimentarius – How the Global Elite Will Control Your Food Supply

“If you are not suspicious of a large group of elite bankers/corporate giants/politicians who ultimately want to control the world's food and money supply than you are already under their (mind) control. Things are bad enough now, but if they manage to have their way with this, it will be nothing short of total enslavement.” - fredface, February 7, 2009


By Robert Singer, The Truth of the Fight

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), based in Rome, Italy is an international organization jointly created in 1962 by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations “allegedly” to protect the health of consumers with guidelines for food standards.

Codex Alimentarius may present the greatest disaster for our food supply and thus our health this country has ever seen, and if not stopped is likely to be implemented in 2011.

The Codex and its regulations affecting our food sovereignty go back to 1962. Fortunately in 1994 Congress passed the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act (DSHEA) which for the moment preserved the definition of vitamins, minerals and herbs as foods.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and the “World According to Monsanto,” should be required viewing and are related to the Codex. In the U.S. and in the Codex, GMO’s do not require labeling making in impossible to know what you are eating.

Without congressional oversight the U.S. will move towards the policies of Canada and Mexico where supplements are considered drugs, not foods. Codex if implemented will reverse DSHEA and the U.S. will no longer treat dietary supplements as foods, but as toxins.

For 18 years Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, the European Union and most African countries have fought the U.S. unsuccessfully to require labeling of GMOs. The U.S. erroneously considers GMOs equal to non-GMOs based solely on a 1992 Executive Order from then Skull and Bones president George H. Bush.

The Codex will be enforced by the barrel of a gun.

The FDA will use their power to outlaw more than raw almonds and tryptophan. In Ohio a food co-op was raided Gestapo style by the USDA because they sold a dozen eggs to an aggressive undercover agent “without a business license.”

Is the FDA looking out for consumers … unlikely.

Half of the 198 new drugs the FDA approved from 1976 to 1985 had to be withdrawn or relabeled because they caused unexpected side effects. Predictably, no one at the FDA withdrew Donald Rumsfeld’s Aspartame sold under the trade names Equal and NutraSweet. Aspartame is a deadly carcinogen made from the feces of e coli bacteria that we can’t avoid because it’s an additive in just about every food we eat.

The story gets even more interesting when you find out NAZI Germany’s notorious I.G. Farben cartel is behind Codex and the proposals that would drastically curtail our health care freedoms.

Catherine Bertini, the head of the UN food programs in 1995, paraphrased the famous Kissinger statement,

“Food is power. We use it to change behavior.”

Is this the first time you have heard of “Codex Alimentarius?” That’s not unusual because Codex is an “open secret.” The information is available if you want to look for it but the corporate controlled media isn’t going to tell you about it until its already too late.

Monsanto, Big Pharma, Chema and Agra have convinced most companies “Codex is a non-issue,” and that they will actually gain market share when Codex is implemented.

So who is raising awareness about this issue?

John C. Hammell of International Advocates for Health Freedom and Ian Crane an ex oil field executive. Ian lectures and writes on U.S. Hegemony and the NWO agenda for control of Global Resources. Mr Crane says,

“After spending the past twelve months investigating Codex Alimentarius, I am deeply disturbed by the almost total lack of awareness (or even interest) with regard to the implications of this pernicious global Commission, particularly amongst those most affected by the excesses of this restrictive legislation.”

The general lack of public awareness is well illustrated by the low traffic volume visiting his website.

Ian warns of the “pernicious” effects legislation will have believing “without a shadow of a doubt” there is a plot by major food and pharmaceutical companies to see that the Codex proposals become international law.

Codex is laying siege to our freedom of choice, let’s stop it.

Normally I don’t recommend those take action campaigns. But Codex Alemintarius is different.

The inconvenient truth for our elected representatives, their families and staff is they have to eat and take vitamins and supplements… just like us. So go ahead and email, fax and phone. This is one email campaign that might just work.

It’s going to come down to a massive rebellion.

The DSHEA law that kept the FDA off our backs was passed because millions and millions of letters were sent to people in Congress demanding health freedom. International Advocates for Health Freedom website has a “take action” page.

Think buying organic will help you? Well, not as much as you think, because the U.S. currently allows for up to 10% of GMO contamination of organic foods (the highest of any country in the world, most permit 0.1%).

You can make a difference by support local self sustaining farmers who refuse to use GMO seeds. And of course start a garden and grow your own food.

Because guess what? …..They can’t stop us from growing our own food.

For more information on Codex Alimentarius and the Food Safety Modernization Act, click here.

December 24, 2011

Mystery Company Buying Up U.S. Gun Manufacturers

New York Times
December 4, 2011

Lined up in a gun rack beneath mounted deer heads is a Bushmaster Carbon 15, a matte-black semiautomatic rifle that looks as if it belongs to a SWAT team. On another rack rests a Teflon-coated Prairie Panther from DPMS Firearms, a supplier to the U.S. Border Patrol and security agencies in Iraq. On a third is a Remington 750 Woodsmaster, a popular hunting rifle.

The variety of rifles and shotguns on sale here at Cabela's, the national sporting goods chain, is a testament to America's enduring gun culture. But, to a surprising degree, it is also a testament to something else: Wall Street deal-making.

In recent years, many top-selling brands - including the 195-year-old Remington Arms, as well as Bushmaster Firearms and DPMS, leading makers of military-style semiautomatics - have quietly passed into the hands of a single private company. It is called the Freedom Group - and it is the most powerful and mysterious force in the U.S. commercial gun industry today.

Never heard of it?

You're not alone. Even within gun circles, the Freedom Group is something of an enigma. Its rise has been so swift that it has become the subject of wild speculation and grassy-knoll conspiracy theories. In the realm of consumer rifles and shotguns - long guns, in the trade - it is unrivaled in its size and reach. By its own count, the Freedom Group sold 1.2 million long guns and 2.6 billion rounds of ammunition in the 12 months ended March 2010, the most recent year for which figures are publicly available.

Behind this giant is Cerberus Capital Management, the private investment company that first came to widespread attention when it acquired Chrysler in 2007. (Chrysler later had to be rescued by taxpayers). With far less fanfare, Cerberus, through the Freedom Group, has been buying big names in guns and ammo.

From its headquarters in Manhattan, Cerberus has assembled a remarkable arsenal. It began with Bushmaster, which until recently was based here in Maine. Unlike military counterparts like automatic M-16s, rifles like those from Bushmaster don't spray bullets with one trigger pull. But, with gas-powered mechanisms, semiautomatics can fire rapid follow-up shots as fast as the trigger can be squeezed. They are often called "black guns" because of their color. The police tied a Bushmaster XM15 rifle to shootings in the Washington sniper case in 2002.

After Bushmaster, the Freedom Group moved in on Remington, which traces its history to the days of flintlocks and today is supplying M24 sniper rifles to the government of Afghanistan and making handguns for the first time in decades. The group has also acquired Marlin Firearms, which turned out a special model for Annie Oakley, as well as Dakota Arms, a maker of high-end big-game rifles. It has bought DPMS Firearms, another maker of semiautomatic, military-style rifles, as well as manufacturers of ammunition and tactical clothing.

"We believe our scale and product breadth are unmatched within the industry," the Freedom Group said in a filing last year with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Some gun enthusiasts have claimed that the power behind the company is actually George Soros, the hedge-fund billionaire and liberal activist. Soros, these people have warned, is buying U.S. gun companies so he can dismantle the industry, Second Amendment be damned.

The chatter grew so loud that the National Rifle Association issued a statement in October denying the rumors.

"NRA has had contact with officials from Cerberus and Freedom Group for some time," the NRA assured its members. "The owners and investors involved are strong supporters of the Second Amendment and are avid hunters and shooters."

Soros isn't behind the Freedom Group, but, ultimately, another financier is: Stephen Feinberg, the chief executive of Cerberus.

Cerberus is part of one of the signature Wall Street businesses of the past decade: private equity. Buyout kings like Feinberg, 51, try to acquire undervalued companies, often with borrowed money, fix them up and either take them public or sell at a profit to someone else.

Before the financial crisis of 2008, scores of well-known U.S. companies, from Chrysler down, passed into the hands of private-equity firms. For the financiers, the rewards were often enormous. But some companies that they acquired later ran into trouble, in part because they were burdened with debt from the takeovers.

Feinberg, a Princeton graduate who began his Wall Street career at Drexel Burnham Lambert, the junk bond powerhouse of Michael Milken fame, got into private equity in 1992. That year, he and William Richter founded Cerberus, which takes its name from the three-headed dog in Greek mythology that guards the gates of Hades.

Today, Feinberg presides over a private empire that rivals some of the mightiest public companies in the land. Cerberus manages more than $20 billion in capital. Together, the companies it owns generate annual revenue of about $40 billion - more than either Amazon or Coca-Cola last year.

Why Cerberus went after gun companies isn't clear. Many private investment firms shy away from such industries to avoid scaring off big investors like pension funds.

Yet, in many ways, the move is classic Cerberus. Feinberg has a history of investing in companies that other people may not want, but that Cerberus believes it can turn around. When Cerberus embarked on its acquisition spree in guns, it essentially had the field to itself.

"There's much less competition for buying these companies," says Steven N. Kaplan, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a private equity expert. "They must have decided there is an opportunity to make money by investing in the firearms industry and trying to build a big company."

Whatever the reason, Cerberus, through the Freedom Group, is now a major player.

It has sold weapons to the governments of Afghanistan, Thailand, Mexico and Malaysia, among others, and obtained new business from the U.S. Army, including a contract worth up to $28.2 million to upgrade the M24 sniper weapon system.

Cerberus brings connections to the table. The longtime chairman of its global investments group is Dan Quayle, the former vice president. The Freedom Group, meantime, has added two retired generals to its board. One is George Joulwan, who retired from the Army after serving as Supreme Allied Commander of Europe. The other is Michael Hagee, formerly commandant of the Marine Corps.

Jessica Kallam, a spokeswoman at the Freedom Group, said executives there declined to comment for this article. Timothy Price, a managing director of Cerberus, also declined to comment.Bushmaster was among the first to sell ordinary people on weapons that look and feel like the ones carried by soldiers. Today many gunmakers have embraced military-style weapons, a major but controversial source of growth for the commercial gun market, says Tom Diaz, a senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center, a research group that backs gun control.

[...]

"It's clear that the militarized stuff is the stuff that sells and is defining the industry," says Tom Diaz, a senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center, a research group that backs gun control.

Richard Dyke, former the principal owner and chairman of Bushmaster, says he's not sure why Bushmaster caught the eye of Cerberus. Whatever the case, when Cerberus came calling, Dyke, then past 70, was ready to sell. At the time, Bushmaster had $85 million in annual sales and several million dollars in debt, he says. In April 2006, he sold the company to Cerberus for about $76 million, he says, and Cerberus rented the Bushmaster plant here for five years.

The next year, Cerberus formed the Freedom Group.

Now Bushmaster is gone from Maine. Earlier this year, Dyke says, the Freedom Group notified him it was closing Bushmaster's operation in the state and moving it to a bigger plant owned by Remington, a typical consolidation play for a private investment firm looking to cut costs and increase efficiency. Remington, for its part, announced earlier this year that it was expanding its manufacturing capacity and hiring new employees to make Bushmasters.

Several months ago, Dyke started a new company, Windham Weaponry, at the old Bushmaster site and has rehired most of his former employees. But he's not planning to go head-to-head with the Freedom Group.

"It's the big gorilla in the room," he says, adding: "We don't have to do $100 million. We'd have hopes of doing $20 million."

Remington has been producing guns since 1816, when, according to lore, a young man named Eliphalet Remington made a flintlock rifle in his father's forge in Ilion Gulch, in upstate New York. By the 1870s, the brand was so popular that the company diversified into typewriters. In 2007, the Freedom Group swooped in and bought Remington for $370 million, including $252 million in assumed debt. In one stroke, the Freedom Group gained one of the most famous names in U.S. firearms, the largest domestic maker of shotguns and rifles and a major manufacturer of ammunition.

"That caused a lot of stir in the industry," says Dean J. Lockwood, a weapons systems analyst at Forecast International, a market research firm.

Next, the Freedom Group in rapid succession went after other firearms companies: DPMS; Marlin Firearms, a classic maker that came with two niche shotgun brands, Harrington & Richardson and L.C. Smith; and Dakota Arms. The Freedom Group also bought S&K industries, which supplies wood and laminate for gun stocks, as well as the Advanced Armament Corp., which makes silencers. It acquired Barnes Bullets, which makes copper-jacketed bullets popular with precision shooters and police departments.

The more the company diversifies its portfolio, analysts say, the more it has to offer to firearms distributors and leading retailers like Wal-Mart and Cabela's.

November 24, 2011

Corporate Seizure of Public Property at Bargain Prices is the Goal of Austerity Programs

Each and every day, people around the world are realizing that the one-world government is based upon a hybrid Socialism-Communism economics system — a system of corporate governance and ownership of natural resources, land, water, and complete control of human beings. It is a system based upon the marriage of corporations, science and politics. It is a system that is funded by us, the world’s people. But what do knowing people do? We can’t fight manufactured super viruses, HAARP and psychotronic weapons; and we certainly cannot fight global nuclear arsenals. But we can, however, refuse to think and participate in the global economics systems, which were set up to literally enslave humankind. - Nancy Levant, Get Off the Globalization Grid, Part 1, NewsWithViews.com, August 23, 2005

What’s Behind the Global Bankers’ Austerity Programs: Seizure of Public Property for Corporations

Wayne Madsen Report
June 15, 2011

What lies in store for Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and, in short order, the United States, is the wholesale sell-off of public property to private corporations at bargain basement prices.

What the despots who gather in their secretive lairs at Davos, Cernobbio, Bilderberg, and G8/G20 are bringing about is a world where no property is owned by the state, which by default means the people. Total corporate control over every facet of life equals extreme fascism.

What is occurring in Greece is a bellwether for what will befall other nations in Europe, as well as the United States, if the bankers get their way. And in Greece, the people know how generations of investments by the taxpayers are being turned over to vampire capitalists who have the full backing of the International Monetary Fund, European Commission, and the European Central Bank.

The European and global bankers have demanded that the Greek government sell off entirely or assume a minority stake in a number of state enterprises and utilities.

For example, this year global capitalists are slated to acquire 84 percent of OTE, the Greek telecommunications provider. In addition, private bankers will assume 66 percent ownership of the Greek Postal Savings Bank; 51 percent of the National Lottery; 60 percent of the Salonika Water Authority; 68 percent of DEPA, the natural gas utility; and 25 percent ownership of the ports of Piraeus and Salonika.

Next year, the capitalist grab for public property increases in intensity with Athens International Airport coming under 79 percent private ownership. The global capitalists will also obtain 100 percent ownership of the Egniata toll motorway; 60 percent of Hellenic Post; 66 percent of OPAP, the state-run video-lotto and online sports betting firm; 73 percent of the Athens Water Authority; 83 percent of DEI, the Greek Electric Authority; and 51 percent of the Greek Regional Airports Authority.

The Greek Communist Party has vowed to fight against the acquisition of public property by the private sector. In fact, it is the Communist parties of Europe that have been the most vocal against the power grab by the bankers but their opposition to the privatization moves receives very little attention by the corporate-controlled media.

Massive sell-off lists of public property are now being drawn up by the governments of Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Ireland. In the United States, there are calls for the privatization of the US Postal Service, Social Security, and Medicare.

One Libyan government official this reporter spoke to in Tripoli, during an intensive NATO bombing assault, opined that the same fate is in store for the Libyan Socialist Jamahiriyah. With the highest standard of living in Africa, Libyans could witness the U.S.- and NATO-backed rebel government begin to sell off Libyan government assets to global capitalists.

The Libyan official said, “These people [global bankers] would sell the air if they could get away with it.”

October 24, 2011

Private Operators Are Taking Over Roads and Increasing Tolls, Which Are No Different Than Tax Increases on the People

Ohio Turnpike Lease Plans Bring Toll Hike Fears

The Associated Press
July 3, 2011

Leasing Ohio's busy toll road that links the East Coast with the Midwest has the potential to bring billions of dollars to the cash-strapped state. It also could bring higher tolls and drive more traffic onto routes that meander through small towns, opponents say.

The governor wants to lease the Ohio Turnpike to a private operator, following the lead of a handful of states and cities that have pocketed cash for their toll roads in recent years.

Governments strapped by the Great Recession also are turning to selling off and leasing office towers, warehouses and prisons.

"We can get a big chunk of money that can be used to improve our infrastructure in the state," Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Friday during a news conference. "Indiana did it. Indiana made a lot of progress."

Neighboring Indiana last week marked the five-year anniversary of its $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road to foreign investors. The state has spent much of the money on highway projects and put $500 million into an investment fund for future road construction.

Chicago leased an 8-mile highway for nearly $2 billion five years ago, and an Australian company bought a 99-year lease on Pocahontas Parkway in Virginia. But a plan to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike fell through in recent years, in part because of fierce opposition from state and federal lawmakers.

Ohio's new budget allows the state to lease nearly all of Interstate 80, which carries about 50 million vehicles each year across northern Ohio from Pennsylvania to Indiana. It also gives the state's legislature some control over any potential deals after concerns were raised about whether a new owner would take care of the highway.

Much of the resistance is being led by officials from Ohio counties along the 241-mile turnpike, which is funded through tolls and the sale of gas and food at rest stops.

"It's a terribly unfair deal for northern Ohioans who have largely paid for the turnpike over the years," said Tim Brown, a commissioner in Wood County, just south of Toledo. "It's no different than a tax increase for us."

Among the main concerns is that tolls are almost certain to go up if a private operator takes over.

Tolls have nearly doubled since investors took over the Indiana Toll Road. A 10 percent increase took effect on Friday, bringing the price to cross the northern half of the state to $9 for most cars.

County officials in Ohio want to make sure there would be limits on future toll increases if the state's toll road is leased. It's now $15 for cars making a full trip. The turnpike collected a record $236 million from motorists last year. By comparison, Pennsylvania charges $32 to travel all 357 miles on its turnpike.

Kasich, a Republican, views the Ohio Turnpike as an asset that has potential to bring more revenue at a time when the state just completed a series of spending cuts to fill an estimated $6 billion budget hole.

He thinks the state could get at least $2.5 billion in leasing it and has said the money would pay for work on roads, bridges and harbors without raising taxes.

No deals are in the works yet. Kasich officials have said they envision a 30-year lease with an initial payment and a piece of annual toll revenues.

Still, there are many more details to work out.

A five-county planning body in northeast Ohio wants most of the money to go toward projects in northern Ohio, where the turnpike money is generated. It also wants to make sure there are guarantees that a private operator will keep up with highway maintenance.

The concern is that if the road becomes too costly or goes downhill, businesses that rely on the route might relocate or it will be tougher to attract new companies.

"There's a cost to the communities that are along the turnpike," said Stephen Hambley, a Medina County commissioner who heads the planning body in northeast Ohio. "We've been paying for it since the '50s. We feel we're a majority stockholder."

That's why state Sen. Mark Wagner, a Republican from Toledo, inserted a provision to Ohio's state budget giving lawmakers oversight of any lease deals.

"We owe it to northern Ohio to do it in a responsible way," he said.

Another worry is that truck traffic will move to secondary roads and clog up the small towns along the way. That's what happened when an 82 percent rate increase took full effect in 1999. The state responded by lowering tolls and increasing speeds for truckers.

More toll hikes if the turnpike is leased will likely push a lot more tractor-trailers onto other roads, said Joe Jones, a long-haul truck driver from Charlotte, N.C. He went out of his way to avoid the turnpike's toll booths while hauling machinery from upstate New York to Chicago on Friday.

"It puts another 60 miles on the trip, but I hate paying tolls," he said while refueling at a truck stop just outside Toledo.

Toll Road RFID Tags: A Threat to Privacy, Anonymity and Individual Liberty

RFID1984.com

Many people consider RFID technology to be a substantial threat to privacy and liberty, especially if it appears that remotely-readable RF tags will be incorporated into a National ID Card, passport or some other form of mandatory identification — an ID card that you will be required to present when opening a bank account, entering a federal building, or buying an airplane ticket.

I'm a little surprised that the people who are so vocal about domestic surveillance haven't said much about this issue.

There are thousands of Texas motorists who have already unwittingly opened the door to government surveillance by participating in TollTag, TxTag, or EZ Pass, programs that allow the use of toll roads and airport parking garages without having to stop and deposit coins at a toll booth. Each participating motorist attaches an RFID tag to his or her car's windshield, and a device at the toll booth detects the card as the motorist zooms unimpeded through the toll plaza.

In other areas of the country, similar programs have names like SunPass, Cruise Card, EXpressToll, Fast Lane, Fastrak, K-Tag, MnPass, PalmettoPass, Pikepass, Smart Tag, I-Pass — and the best name for such a device — eGo.

A serious problem, from the standpoint of privacy protection, is that not all of the RFID tag readers are on toll roads. In Dallas, TollTags can be used to pay for parking at Dallas Love Field and DFW International Airport.* In Houston, plans are under development to allow the use of EZ TAGs at both Hobby and Bush Intercontinental airports.*

The Dallas North Tollway was the first toll road in the world to use electronic toll collection when the technology became available in 1989.* A newer variation called TxTag allows access to toll roads throughout Texas.*

So the major airports have RFID tag readers, along with the tollways, as a matter of convenience. But there is no reason that TollTag readers could not be placed at other points all over the state. This would make it easier to locate a stolen car, for example, if it had an RFID tag.

Mysterious roadside antenna -- Click to enlarge More recently, a more mysterious development has taken shape: these square white modules have appeared on TXDOT poles along the freeways in the Dallas area. They are usually mounted on the same poles as the traffic surveillance cameras, but in some locations they stand alone.

This mysterious roadside antenna is on Spur 408 in southwest Dallas. The writer knows an antenna when he sees one, and the peculiar thing about this one is that it is tilted downward, about 20°, toward the traffic.

This specimen is located at 32°41'52.0" N., 96°56'10.1" W. An inquiry to the Texas Department of Transportation produced this reply:
The units are Smart Sensors manufactured by Wavetronix. The Smart Sensor is a digital wave radar used for vehicle detection. The Smart Sensor measures vehicle volume, occupancy, speed and classification. The information gathered is NOT used for law enforcement purposes. We use the information to generate the speed map shown on our web site and to generate the travel times displayed on the dynamic message signs on the freeways.
That's interesting. The system is sensitive enough to measure occupancy of each passing vehicle? Even more interesting is the claim that the information is not used for law enforcement purposes. Why not? If their system shows a steady stream of people driving at 90 mph on the freeway, or driving on the shoulders at 60 mph, isn't TXDOT obligated to notify the police?

Updated 9/13/2008:
Today I got an informative email from a reader who clarified the use of the word "occupancy" in TXDOT's explanation above. The term refers to the percentage of time that each of the lanes on the highway is occupied -- the traffic density, in other words, not the number of people in each passing car. Obviously I had overestimated the power of this system.

SmartSensor is a 10.525 GHz Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) radar.* Information about vehicle movements is collected and stored. To some extent, it is necessary to retain this information in the event of a billing dispute. But there's no way to know whether the data is retained, archived, or sold to the highest bidder, or whether the information is shared with other government agencies in real time.

If the SmartSensor devices are accompanied by TollTag readers, and (someday soon) they could easily be, the technology is in place to track the movements (and speed) of people all over town, not just on the toll roads. This could be a good thing — for example, if the police are looking for a stolen car — or it could be very bad, depending on Big Brother's use of the information.

Yes, but what if you don't have a TollTag on your car? Can you travel anonymously and blend in with the crowd, without being electronically followed? No, because the state is using license plate readers as well.

Highway 121's new lanes to open in July, sans toll collection. Once collections begin, [Texas State Highway] 121 will be the first toll road in the nation without tollbooths. Motorists will be able to use their North Texas Tollway Authority TollTag in addition to the transportation agency's TxTag stickers and the Harris County Toll Road Authority's EZ TAG. People who don't have toll tags, though, won't have to stop at a booth. Instead, video cameras will capture their license plate number and send them a bill, though that will cost about 33 percent more than toll tag users will have to pay.

The Editor says...
I went up the Dallas North Tollway several months ago and never saw a toll booth, so I didn't pay the toll. Nor did I ever get a bill in the mail. I hope there's not a warrant out for my arrest!

Texas Considers Putting RFID Tags in All Cars. New inspection stickers will "contain a tamper-resistant transponder, and at a minimum, be capable of storing: (1) the transponder's unique identification number; and (2) the make, model, and vehicle identification number of the vehicle to which the certificate is affixed."

The Editor states the obvious:
This would render Toll Tags obsolete. It would also make it fairly simple to locate a stolen car, and might be an easy way to enforce the speed limits on the open highway. For example, if your car is detected in Dallas at noon and in Houston at 2:30 p.m., you were obviously speeding on I-45.

Electronic Vehicle Registration Picks Up Speed. In South Africa, at least 500,000 RFID tags are now being affixed to metal license plates to automatically identify vehicles and verify they are properly registered. Within the next two years, 10 million cars in that country are expected to sport electronic license plates. In Bermuda, meanwhile, more than half of the island nation's cars and trucks currently have RFID-enabled registration stickers attached to their windshields, and all of its trucks and cars — nearly 25,000 — are expected to have them by June of this year. Other countries — including Brazil, China, Dubai, India and Mexico — have either already begun implementing or are currently eyeing RFID-enabled vehicle identification and registration systems.

Georgia 400 To Upgrade Cruise Card eGo Tags. Georgia's State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA), which operates the GA 400 toll road in Atlanta, will be the first toll facility within the continental United States to upgrade their radio frequency identification (RFID) toll collection technology to TransCore's paper-thin eGo® tags, a lower-cost, battery-less windshield sticker tag. Almost a million eGo tags are already deployed in transportation applications, including toll roads in Puerto Rico and Brazil.

TxDOT selects TransCore RFID for tracking and tolling throughout Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) selects TransCore's eGo® Plus radio frequency identification technology for use in the area's Central Texas Turnpike Program, a $2 billion transportation initiative. The multimillion-dollar contract allows for the initial release of 500,000 eGo Plus tags, branded locally as TxTag, with a total of 2 million tags over two years. The Central Texas Turnpike Program was designed to increase mobility by adding capacity and reducing congestion in the region.

Trusted traveler toll road system means the government will decide if and where you travel.

NAFTA Superhighway RFID Card For US Citizens. US citizens will be forced to adopt a de facto national identification card and have their freedom of mobility defined by the government under proposals set to derive from NAFTA superhighway toll road systems and the implementation of the American Union. Existing toll road systems operational at US borders such as SENTRI/NEXUS and the FAST program mandate that passing vehicles are enrolled in RFID passive tracking and identification programs linked to central databases.

Did someone mention the NAFTA Superhighway?

Pike needs to play fare: Tolls for all or no one. So now the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority is thinking about setting up something called "open-road tolling," which means that instead of robbing you at tollbooths, they would record every driver's license-plate number and then rob them with monthly bills. This raises a couple of interesting questions.

Highway Tolls Key to New Jersey Debt, Spending Reform Plan. In his January State of the State address, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) unveiled a long-awaited plan to capture the value of the state's toll roads. The state would receive approximately $38 billion in cash financed by the sale of bonds backed by toll increases. According to the plan, the cash would be used to significantly pay down New Jersey's $32 billion bonded indebtedness and finance transportation projects.

RFID: A Brief Technology Analysis. Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems have been deployed in limited numbers for years. Two of the most predominant have been in the form of toll road collection transponders and security badges. Toll road authorities around the country have equipped drivers with a transponder that is connected to their credit card. This allows them to pay their tolls at 40 miles-per-hour rather than stopping to throw quarters into a basket and slow the flow of traffic.

Skymeter: Skymeter's satellite data aggregation and price matching takes all of the pain out of getting a GPS billing feed [which] can be used for Road Use Charging, Pay as you go Insurance, Parking, and any application requiring payment for vehicle use.

National RFid Center General Newsletter 09/02/2006: The roadway, known as the "Golden Corridor" is the first in the country to install all-video toll collection. Using license plate information photographed by cameras, money will be deducted from customer accounts. Those without toll accounts will have bills sent to their address, based on information from their license plates.

Video eye to scan for Newton parking lapses. Automatic license plate recognition — a kind of RoboCop of the parking world that uses a panoramic video camera, laptop computer, and sophisticated software — detects cars that have been parked too long and sounds an alert to write a ticket. The city bought three systems for $50,000 and plans to install them in parking enforcement vehicles this month.

Police partner with license plate readers. A growing number of police departments are turning to mobile camera systems to fight motor vehicle theft and identify unregistered cars. The cameras read license plates of parked and moving cars — hundreds per minute — and check them against vehicle databases, said Lance Clem, a spokesman for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which purchased several systems for its police vehicles last fall.

This license plate-scanning technology has been around for a few years already, and is in use on side streets as well as freeways. The following commentary was written in 2004:
License Plate "Guns" and Privacy: New Haven police have a new law enforcement tool: a license-plate scanner. Similar to a radar gun, it reads the license plates of moving or parked cars and links with remote police databases, immediately providing information about the car and owner. Right now the police check if there are any taxes owed on the car, if the car or license plate is stolen, and if the car is unregistered or uninsured. A car that comes up positive is towed.
Even the most gung-ho devotee of big government would have to be a little concerned about the potential for totalitarianism at this point, even if privacy is not guaranteed. Wholesale monitoring of motorists on the streets and freeways is legal. The U.S. Supreme Court has said in two cases, U.S. v. Knotts and U.S. v. Karo, that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy when they're driving on a public street.*
"Our commuting to and from where we live and work is not done clandestinely". [Webb v. City of Shreveport, 371 So. 2d 316, 319 (La. Ct. App. 1979).]*
It is interesting that, at least for now, TollTag users can (and do) drive at speeds considerably in excess of the posted speed limit, and even though the TollTag system recognizes those drivers as they enter and exit the highway (and many points along the way), the system is not used to generate speeding tickets. This, I suspect, is to avoid making the TollTag into an unpopular snitch, and to avoid revealing that capability before some appointed hour yet to come -- perhaps after TollTags are mandatory.

Information about vehicle movements is collected and stored, at least for billing purposes. It is necessary to retain this information for some number of months, to resolve potential billing disputes. But there's no way to know whether the data is retained, archived, or sold to the highest bidder, or whether the information is shared with other government agencies in real time.

Incidentally, TollTags are vehicle-specific -- they can't be shared, even between two cars owned by the same person.* There are now over 1,000,000 of these electronic transponders in operation in the North Texas area.*

The use of the TollTag may seem to be sheer luxury, but there are places around Dallas where a vehicle without such a tag must stop and pay a toll two or three times. This results in a little more risk, more gas consumption, and more wear and tear on the brakes at every stop. TollTag users are rewarded with a discounted toll rate as well. If I needed to travel on the North Dallas Tollway every day, I would probably get a TollTag for my car. But I think I would find a way to wrap the TollTag in aluminum foil when I wasn't on the tollway. That might not keep Big Brother from following me around, but there's no reason to make that kind of surveillance any easier.

GMAC Insurance Low-Mileage Discount; Pay by the Mile for Your Insurance

GMAC

Pay for what you use and nothing more.

Would you buy a whole pizza if you only wanted a slice?

Common sense says to only use what you need -- and only pay for what you use. That's the thinking behind the GMAC Insurance Low-Mileage Discount, where those who drive less, save more on their auto insurance. Whatever the reason for hitting the road less often, GMAC Insurance can reward you for something you're already doing.

The less you drive, the more you save -- up to 54%* a year on your auto insurance premiums.

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