Monday, December 31, 2012

Soaring Economic Inequality

It’s the biggest issue in the United States. Some think if we downsize government in a huge way, jobs will spring up like weeds. In the absence of consumer demand and facing exceptionally unstable economic times, downsizing (“austerity”) creates the exactly same kind of GDP-reducing, job-cutting results that have slammed into Europe after European Union leaders – with a huge push from Germany (the EU’s equivalent Tea Party nation) – adopted the same government-downsizing policy.
With most of the EU back into a formal recession directly because of this failed policy, you’d think there would be enough representatives in Congress with the ability to learn from the mistakes of others. Instead they see a Grover Norquist god with a slogan-solution that has consistently proved more harm than good. With government demand taken out of the equation through austerity cuts, less money in the system means a whole lot less cash in the pockets of the vast majority of Americans who work for a living, but the tax cuts and a separate tax code and regulatory system for the top 1% generate an even greater shift of wealth to the top. I guess their 42% of America’s wealth just isn’t enough. Downsizing government in harsh economic times has proven time and again to be a failed policy. It just sounds good to folks who are fact-averse and driven more by myth than reality. Of course there is a deficit to deal with, but we need timing and balance in our approach.
The solution to this increased weighting-of-wealth has always been the upward mobility engendered by post-high school education. Today, for all practical purposes that access to mobility has all but stopped. Even for those at the bottom and the middle who actually make it through that educational system and get a degree, the lack of entry-level jobs combined with the staggering new levels of student loans crushes the income out of their lives in unprecedented ways. What’s worse the rising cost of such schools, well above the inflation rate, was once cushioned by scholarships and grants. Today, most of the burden of heavy tuition has been shifted back to students and their families via student loans, and revisions in bankruptcy codes have made escaping those loans all but impossible.
The above chart (, October 24th) shows the issue clearly. Wikipedia adds this explanation to the mix as well: “During the 11-year period charted, both public and private, nonprofit colleges regularly posted tuition increases well above inflation rates. Peak increases for private colleges were in 1997, after the U.S. economy began booming growth. Peak increases for public colleges were in 2003, after state budgets supporting most of them were crimped by a sharp economic recession. Over this period, annual, inflation-adjusted tuition increases at public colleges averaged 4.0 percent, while those at private, non-profit colleges averaged 3.5 percent. Cumulative results over this period are average public tuitions growing 53 percent above inflation, and average private, nonprofit tuitions growing 47 percent above inflation. As of 2004, private, nonprofit colleges cost on average 3.3 times as much as public colleges attended by residents of their states.” Add a few more years to this analysis, and the 47% and 53% become 60%.
But the real cost of education is not simply a measure of room, board and tuition increases; we also have to factor in the loss of grants and the increase of loans. We should examine the real cost of the distractions to less affluent students who have to work part- or even full-time (and hence cannot study full time) to fund their studies as compared with students who “are covered” by family wealth. If you can dedicate more time to studies, you have a better chance at getting better grades… and better grades… well, you get it. Add one additional factor: many students from poor families (with no prior college experience) lack the familial and community psychological and logistical support found in more established strata. For those who succumb to the financial burdens and drop out before graduating, they get the double whammy of incomplete skills with huge student loans that still have to be repaid.
The December 22nd New York Times adds these sobering statistics that show how those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder wind up with increasingly less of the pie: “Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans who earned bachelor’s degrees, according to Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski of the University of Michigan. Now the gap is 45 points…  While both groups improved their odds of finishing college, the affluent improved much more, widening their sizable lead.
“Likely reasons include soaring incomes at the top and changes in family structure, which have left fewer low-income students with the support of two-parent homes. Neighborhoods have grown more segregated by class, leaving lower-income students increasingly concentrated in lower-quality schools. And even after accounting for financial aid, the costs of attending a public university have risen 60 percent in the past two decades. Many low-income students, feeling the need to help out at home, are deterred by the thought of years of lost wages and piles of debt…
“[Students from the higher and lower social classes each] showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.
“The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them… ‘Everyone wants to think of education as an equalizer — the place where upward mobility gets started,” said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. ‘But on virtually every measure we have, the gaps between high- and low-income kids are widening. It’s very disheartening.’”
As white-bread America slides into a generic minority status in the village electorate, this inequality will dominate our political landscape for the foreseeable future. It is behind every political debate and every election. Incumbents who have want to preserve their way of life without subsidizing those who don’t… even though in the long run having more and better educated/productive consumers puts more money in everyone’s pocket (the mantra of both the IMF and the World Bank). We simply have to figure out how to equalize early education and re-open our post-secondary educational system to all qualified students without requiring crushing and unsustainable financial costs that simply undo the benefits of the education that they should be receiving. This must be America’s biggest priority. Or we may well lose our country.
Without addressing this growing inequality, we are sinking America’s prospects for long-term economic growth and global competitiveness. We are also creating classes of bitter and angry people, digging in their heels and unwilling to find compromise… and there are an awful lot of sophisticated guns out there with way too many people who really do know how to use them. They just need their leaders to point out exactly whom they can blame for their woes, take aim and… Hopelessness and anger are not a good mix.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if we just look at those who have pursued these catastrophic polarizing policies over history, there is no sane reason for us to continue on the self-destructive path we have chosen.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Hidden Price of Redistricting

It’s a bad habit, but both the GOP and the Dems do it when they have the power: redistricting to maximize the power of the party and the incumbent (if he/she is a member of the party in power). Squeeze all your opponents into a single Congressional district (or as few as you can muster), even if you have to redraw the map so it looks like an amoeba on acid – twist, turn and encircle, but round them up where they are limited and minimized. Give yourself a comfortable majority in as many districts as you can, and hope that you can lock these artificial borders long enough to sway all the relevant legislation you want in your direction. In the last few Congressional elections, the GOP has redefined the House to fit this pattern well, but rest assured the Democrats have done and will do this if given the chance.

The obvious problem of this restructuring – politely referred to as Gerrymandering – is that the United States often is not so clearly delineated into partisan enclaves where such twisted redistricting is implemented. So such machinations effectively distort the body politic, giving more voice than is actually justified to one party or another. Such efforts can give a well-structured minority the voice of a majority… or at least the power to block legislation they oppose.

The less obvious problem is what causes the logjam we call the House of Representatives, more reflective of the votes within the Gerrymandered district. It is how we got the “sequestration” bill in the first place and why there is so much intransigence among the GOP: their districts are so overwhelmingly one-sided in a conservative bent that their constituents often don’t care if the nation ceases to function (they like smaller government) when if falls off a fiscal cliff. There are pockets of strong isolationists, powerful anti-gun control factions and groups who will oppose taxes, regulations, and social programs… because. Thus for an elected conservative, cooperating to get a fiscal cliff reprieve just doesn’t get you reelected, and what’s best for the country takes second place to that harsh political reality.

Nate Silver, writing for the December 27th New York Times, explains the hard numbers behind this destructive movement: “In 1992, there were 103 members of the House of Representatives elected from what might be called swing districts: those in which the margin in the presidential race was within five percentage points of the national result. But based on an analysis of this year’s presidential returns, I estimate that there are only 35 such Congressional districts remaining, barely a third of the total 20 years ago.

“Instead, the number of landslide districts — those in which the presidential vote margin deviated by at least 20 percentage points from the national result — has roughly doubled. In 1992, there were 123 such districts (65 of them strongly Democratic and 58 strongly Republican). Today, there are 242 of them (of these, 117 favor Democrats and 125 Republicans)… So why is compromise so hard in the House? Some commentators, especially liberals, attribute it to what they say is the irrationality of Republican members of Congress.
“But the answer could be this instead: individual members of Congress are responding fairly rationally to their incentives. Most members of the House now come from hyperpartisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party. Instead, primary challenges, especially for Republicans, may be the more serious risk.” Vote for a tax increase to save the country, and you are likely to see a Grover Norquist-linked opponent trying to unseat you in the next election… which in the House takes place every two years.

Silver’s chart above analyzes the partisan trends in the House over the years. Just a quick cast of the eye shows how that yellow band in the middle has narrowed over the years, reflecting the polarization, that “unable to get compromised legislation to pass” logjam we call the House of Representatives. It is the ugly stepchild of Gerrymandered redistricting, and it is a legacy that will hamstring this nation for the years to come, effectively hogtying this nation into a rather profound inability to deal with the rather serious issues that are pounding us every day. “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 10% of Likely Voters rate Congress’ job performance as good or excellent, while 56% say they are doing a poor job.”, December 6th.

The effects of such Gerrymandering will continue to tank our national credit rating, impair the value of our currency, leave serious problems without any meaningful attempt at a solution and continue to engender disapproval, if not bitter anger, among the electorate. If we are unable to face our future with the flexibility to deal with it effectively, the precious notion of one nation, under God, will perish from this earth.

I’m Peter Dekom, and I thought learning to play together was something we dealt with in kindergarten!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Citizen is More than a Watch

Some of the most interesting solutions to our seemingly unending economic malaise require a substantial alteration in the way many of us think or in the “American values” that we believe define our nation. Take for example making citizens out of “illegal aliens” who are working here. The Center for the Study of Immigration Integration at the University of Southern California has issued a report (December 2012) entitled: Citizen Gain: The Economic Benefits of Naturalization for Immigrants and the Economy. What it says would help add billions to our struggling financial plague is fascinating: “[The report notes] that citizenship, alone, can boost individual earnings by 8 to 11 percent, leading to a potential $21-45 billion increase in cumulative earnings over ten years that will have ripple effects on the national economy.”

“The study aimed to estimate the economic impact of naturalizing immigrants who have established legal residency in the United States. According to the study’s authors, citizenship opens up job opportunities and encourages people to start businesses in the United States or to make investments in their education and training that are tailored to the U.S. market…

“Almost 40 million immigrants live in the United States, of whom about 8.5 million are eligible for naturalization, according to the study. The country of origin with the highest number of immigrants eligible for naturalization is Mexico, with 2.65 million -- 31 percent of the total. With 330,000 immigrants eligible for naturalization, the Philippines is a distant second.” Huffington Post, December 14th.

OK, that’s interesting. Any other value-twisting suggestions? Well, now that Colorado and Washington allow the recreational use of marijuana, how much money would legalizing this drug save in enforcement/earn in taxes? “The states could see a major economic boon because of the legalization. The new measure is expected to bring the two states more than $550 million combined, with more than 300 economists previously estimating that legalizing pot could save the U.S. up to $14 billion a year.” Huffington Post, November 7th. Want more details?

“More than 300 economists, including three Nobel laureates, have signed a petition calling attention to the findings of a paper by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, which suggests that if the government legalized marijuana it would save $7.7 billion annually by not having to enforce the current prohibition on the drug. The report added that legalization would save an additional $6 billion per year if the government taxed marijuana at rates similar to alcohol and tobacco.” Huffington Post, August 26th.

We could save a bit more on the cost of jailing such offenders: “Inmates incarcerated on marijuana-related charges cost U.S. prisons $1 billion annually, according to a 2007 study, AlterNet reports.” Huffington Post, August 26th. The cited report adds: “According to [a report from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics entitled ‘Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004]: ‘12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for drug violations are serving time for marijuana offenses. Combining these percentages with separate U.S. Department of Justice statistics on the total number of state and federal drug prisoners suggests that there are now about 33,655 state inmates and 10,785 federal inmates behind bars for marijuana offenses. The report failed to include estimates on the percentage of inmates incarcerated in county and/or local jails for pot-related offenses.’”

With half the prisoners in the U.S. incarcerated for drug related crimes (and half of those for possession or dealing), adding other drugs to the permitted list would have a decided revenue impact, but we might have a whole lot more in DUI offenses. Having spent trillions to stop American drug usage and failed stem that tide on whit, it is time we consider a few alternatives. What are your thoughts?

I’m Peter Dekom, and we need to consider pragmatic solutions to issues we are not really solving.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Air Apparent

With the Doha Climate Change Conference a bust and with the “R” word – regulation – resonating badly in the halls of Congress, the fact that greenhouse emissions are already playing havoc with our environment has done little to motivate the United States to set air pollution standards that make a difference. As China belches coal-fuel and automotive effluents into the atmosphere at unprecedented rates, most environmental scientists are just giving up. We seem to be accepting that the tipping point and radical climate issues will be our lot for the foreseeable and beyond. Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and the great Mid-Western drought are becoming the new normal.
But our here in the west, there is one state of radicals that is still trying to push back… and may lose a few more precious jobs along the way. California of course. Fer sure, like totally… and even signed into law by a Republican governor. Here is how the Cal Air Resources Board describes the relevant statute: “In 2006, the Legislature passed and Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which set the 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal into law. It directed the California Air Resources Board (ARB or Board) to begin developing discrete early actions to reduce greenhouse gases while also preparing a scoping plan to identify how best to reach the 2020 limit.”
But of particular interest is a provision that kicked in on January 1, 2013: “In 2011, the Board adopted the cap-and-trade regulation. The cap-and-trade program covers major sources of GHG [greenhouse gases] emissions in the State such as refineries, power plants, industrial facilities, and transportation fuels. The cap-and-trade program includes an enforceable emissions cap that will decline over time. The State will distribute allowances, which are tradable permits, equal to the emissions allowed under the cap. Sources under the cap will need to surrender allowances and offsets equal to their emissions at the end of each compliance period.” Basically, if you are not willing to cut your carbon emissions to a legal limit, you have to buy your way to continue to pollute, money that will be used for environmental programs.
About 600 facilities with hefty emissions are covered by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Oil refiners, electric utilities and cement makers, whose greenhouse-gas output totals in the millions of metric tons annually, are the biggest. But overall, dozens of industries are affected… In recent months, as the start date of the new cap-and-trade program neared, California regulators have fine-tuned the rules, industry by industry, to avoid imposing severe economic hardship while trying to keep the rules stringent. It is a delicate balance. Regulators do not want California companies to lose their competitive edge, because that could make other state governments reluctant to adopt this approach.” New York Times, December 24th.  Indeed the focus of so many companies is cost. How to pay for it, either through the cap and trade payments or upgrades… or simply by moving their plant to another state. The fact that the rules get stricter over time may push more than a few employers to more friendly states.
That’s the bad news, and very few incumbent companies are actually looking at the deep silver linings in what appears to be a regulatory financial cloud. One way or another, even if it just to enable people to breathe without dying or to preserve dwindling fossil fuel reserves, emission control efficiencies are clearly going to spur a whole lot of new jobs – employment that will of necessity be based significantly at large facilities and manufacturing plants. Invention, research, testing, manufacturing and installing. Stop thinking about short-term cutbacks. “[M]any economists said they think such a cost-centric analysis ignores the jobs and economic activity that the law could generate. Emission and efficiency standards for cars, buildings and appliances in California over the last four decades have succeeded in cleaning the air, making residents’ per-capita energy use rate among the lowest in the country and spurring innovations and new industries, like the one that arose around catalytic converters.” NY Times. The big issue for companies is simply to stabilize the cost of carbon-based commodities. Using alternative energy is definitely on the table, but so is using carbon more efficiently.
California continues to lead the United States… the world… in environmental controls. It is doing us a huge favor by creating nascent demand for new technologies that will eventually become global standards, and in the process, I will predict, this state will also reap the economic benefits of building this market. But the ARB isn’t just setting rates with grinning glee: “The Air Resources Board is also wary of this competitive situation, which is why it has been flexible about adjusting its regulation…  Steven Cliff, the California regulator most familiar with food processing, said that companies need the free allocations in the early years. ‘In a global marketplace you can’t pass along all of your costs,’ he said.
More allocations go to industries that are at risk of leaving the state and emitting their pollution elsewhere or of ceding market share to foreign companies that are likely to be big emitters. The term of art for the problem is ‘leakage.’ The more leakage, the less effective the California law will be at reducing greenhouse gas emissions over all.” Environmental quality impacts our quality of life… even our life expectancy. What is your country/state doing about the environment? What are you doing to let them know how you feel about it?
I’m Peter Dekom, and in the long run, maximizing the environment we live in will create vastly more benefits than any shorter-term economic losses such policies may impose.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Afghan Bite

Afghanistan is poor, with a GDP somewhere above $29 billion and a population of about 30 million, it works out to about $1,000 per person per annum. With extensive mineral wealth – but an extremely dangerous effort required to lift the value out – and an incredible illegal economy in the opium trade (90% of the global supply), the skew of wealth makes the per capita for the average Afghani a whole lot less than $1,000/year.
Corruption is identified as a problem within the Afghan government but Westerners often think of it in too simplistic of terms – ‘Corruption is corruption.’ Afghans distinguish between different types of corruption: administrative corruption (اداری فساد), corruption (فساد), and a low level bribe (بخشيش - baksheesh). A baksheesh is between 100-1000 Afs, and it's kind of like a tip….An example of administrative corruption is a governor paying the Ministry of Interior for a preferred post, or receiving payment from a party wanting X plots of government land...'Corruption' might be policemen taking a bribe to release a prisoner (the word for the actual bribe is رشوت - reshwat)… An example of baksheesh is an additional fee charged on the base price of an identity card (تذکيره - tazkira) application. Rather than asking for a ‘baksheesh’ outright, people might say, ‘Here is your tea (chai),’ when giving small denominations to a low level official. It’s like a pre-emptive tip, which helps grease the wheels and move things along.”, February 23, 2011.
But we’re not talking about baksheesh here! The rich get really richer, and corruption ripples through this society from micro-bribes at the local level to huge siphoning of drug money, paying a higher-up for a lucrative (bribe-infested) job or purloined values generated by moving aide projects and CIA contracts and money from their intended targets to the pockets and Swiss bank accounts of those at the top. The cronyism is simply staggering.
Conservative estimates from the United Nations speak of corruption displacing about $2.5 billion a year, but – wink wink – it does depend on how you define “corruption.” It is quite amusing – in a bad way – when President Hamid Karzai speaks of stamping out that graft-seeking element, when his own family is heavy on the illicit gravy trail, from hot heroin to just about every possible large-level bribe and major resource allocation available. How does Karzai put it? It’s our fault? The bigger corruption is the corruption in contracts. The contracts are not issued by the Afghan government. The contracts are issued by the international community, mainly by the United States… Now whether this corruption in Afghanistan is an accident, a byproduct of the situation in the past 10 years or is it perpetrated also on purpose is today my main question.” Interview given on December 7th. Did Karzai’s pockets jingle when he exited the interview?
So exactly how corrupt is this government we helped install? Average for a third world country? As bad as Nigeria? Check your email recently? Well, out of 180 countries surveyed by Transparency International, at least Afghanistan was not the most corrupt land on the planet. That dubious distinction falls to warlord-dominated Somalia. Nope, Afghanistan isn’t quite that bad… it came in at 179th, so there’s still one notch to fall if Somali pirates and warlords ever opt for even the slightest improvement in stability.
And while our departure from Afghanistan will create battles between regional warlords and the nefarious Taliban, the least likely government to survive is the incumbency we still think of as the legitimate, democratically-elected (yeah, right!) Karzai regime… which, by the way, is termed out unless they change the constitution. No matter, enough of their wealth is in untraceable bank accounts, they’re not worried. So what if the Taliban will push this country back into the stone age, destroy any education of young girls and eradicate the 27% of women in the Afghan parliament (our own Congress is only 18% women).
We tried to impose our form of government on a multi-lingual nation steeped in tribalism, rather illiterate with absolutely no basis for such participatory governance. It didn’t work, and corruption killed even the slightest chance of success. So Afghans are willing to take austere and hated Taliban over the more hated mega-corrupt Karzai cronies, a government that literally controls the capital Kabul and the immediate environs… and nothing else. Oh, and they want the insensitive foreigners out.
How would you feel if the Chinese successfully invaded the United States, held their troops in place for over a decade, instilled their centralized “communism” as the benevolent form of government for our own good, and attempted to help us solve our big issues out of their desire to win our hearts and minds? Assume that they grappled with our deficit and helped stabilize our economy. They might be expecting gratitude, but all we would want from them is to get their butts out of our country. This is the United States… and not China. We do things our way…. 
Oh… you mean that place in Central Asia that we invaded actually doesn’t appreciate our presence? They don’t like the government we imposed, even though “it’s good for them”? They aren’t giving us their hearts and minds? They just want us out, even though life under the Taliban will be brutal? Ah, they’d rather have their own local brutes than foreign invaders who burn their holy books, go house-to-house to shoot women and children and pee on their dead? Noooo! And when exactly are we going to realize that folks really don’t like being invaded. “Liberating” is taking the bad guys out fast and then leaving even faster.
I’m Peter Dekom, and Americans really have to stop taking stupid-arrogance pills by the handful!


There are so many people out there who think inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are a waste of money – they always use the words “job killers” when they really mean “unwarranted and often dishonest profit-killer” – that we do not need environmental controls and that our financial sector can regulate itself (I forgot to send a thank you note to the unregulated financial industry for triggering a “job-killing” global recession from which only they seem to have recovered.) Today, I will focus on one small segment of consumer regulation, honesty in food labeling… and targeted at one example – how restaurants and grocery stores mislabel fish, meat and poultry all the time.
When you go into a restaurant, what do you think the risks are if the proprietor tells you the beef was Kobe or the poultry was raised in natural “free range” conditions or when a food is supposed to be organic… and it’s not? Here’s what the USDA says ( is a rough definition of “organic” under their fairly strict National Organic Program certification process: “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.” With budget cuts and pressure to reduce regulation, the odds of that restaurant owner’s getting caught by a USDA inspector hover around zero.
So in New York City, Oceana, an international organization dedicated to ocean conservation, released a scathing report in early December noting widespread fraud in labeling seafood. Their reports jibe fairly consistently with the almost immutable principle that companies that are left to self-regulate or even comply with legal requirements where compliance inspection is almost non-existent just don’t. Doesn’t hurt jobs or job retention; it’s just more profitable to cheat, abuse the public trust we call the environment and cut corners, even if fraud or suffering are the inevitable result. Oceana has been at this a while. They also released a report in the Spring of 2011 (finding that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25% to 70% of the time), but their methodology remains the same.
Oceana’s researchers took the CSI route to identify the problem, DNA testing more 1,000 fish fillet samples from more than 50 cities. The result: Fish species were mislabeled an average of 50% of the time. Commonly mislabeled seafood includes yellowtail (labeled as mahi mahi), mako shark (labeled as swordfish), and sea bass (labeled as halibut).
“There are economic incentives for producers to mislabel seafood--they may want to avoid a tariff on a particular species, for example, or simply imitate a more expensive variety. And there is no incentive for producers to stop fraudulent practices, either: 84% of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported, but only 2% is inspected and less than 0.001% is inspected specifically for fraud. So who cares as long as the fish tastes good? You should, especially if you have seafood allergies. Oceana explains:
‘Allergens may be the most life-threatening risk of seafood fraud. Fish and shellfish are among the most common food allergies in the U.S., along with peanuts and tree nuts (HHS 2011). Failure to declare potential allergens involving shellfish, shrimp, and other species is considered an emerging problem for public health... The World Health Organization has identified crustaceans, including lobster, crabs, and shrimp, as key allergens that must be identified on packaged foods based on how common severe allergic reactions can be.’
“Fraudulent fish labeling also creates a market for illegal fishing by making it simpler to launder illegally caught seafood. Illegally caught species may be overfished--or fishermen may be involved in other destructive practices (i.e. fishing in protected areas or without the proper permit). “, May 26, 2011, addressing the 2011 report.
Seafood? Mislabeling? How pervasive is the practice today? Accord to the December 2012 report from Oceana, it’s still massive. “Every one of 16 sushi bars investigated sold the researchers mislabeled fish. In all, 39 percent of the seafood from 81 grocery stores and restaurants was not what the establishment claimed it was.” New York Times, December 15th.
And it’s not just New York. “During the Florida grouper scandal of 2006, the state attorney general’s economic crimes division prosecuted 17 restaurants in the Tampa area and a large food-service company for selling Cambodian ponga instead of the more expensive Florida grouper… The Boston Globe conducted a similar investigation last year and discovered that Massachusetts consumers routinely paid for more expensive fish and got cheaper substitutes… In some cases, as many as three-quarters of the samples tested were different fish than what the stores or restaurants said they were. Although state and federal lawmakers said they would improve oversight, a follow-up investigation published this month found that the problem was still widespread.” NY Times.
The practice continues in almost every segment of the food services business where the product is an expensive centerpiece of the menu. “At [celebrity chef Tom] Colicchio’s New York restaurants, all but about 5 percent of the meat he serves is from animals raised without antibiotics, he said. It costs him about 30 percent more, so he charges more. ‘Yet I have a restaurant down the street that says they have organic chicken when they don’t, and they charge less money for it,’ he said. ‘It’s all part of mislabeling and duping the public.’
Consumers are misled most frequently when they buy fish, investigators say, because there are so many fish in the sea and such limited knowledge among diners. The Food and Drug Administration lists 519 acceptable market names for fish, but more than 1,700 species are sold, said Morgan Liscinsky, a spokesman with the agency…  Marketing thousands of species in the ocean to a dining public who often has to be coaxed to move beyond the top five — shrimp, tuna, salmon, pollock and tilapia — is not an exact science… Robert DeMasco, who owns Pierless Fish, a wholesaler in New York, used a profanity to describe someone who buys farm-raised fish and sells it as wild.” NY Times.
I am more inclined to want my government to protect me from fraudulent/destructive financial practices, mislabeled/dangerous meds and foods I actually ingest or impact the air I breathe and the water I drink/bathe in than in maintaining a “defense” budget with a strike force capacity based on spending 41% of the planet’s aggregate military budget. Come to think of it, I would also like a government that might even attempt to regulate giving maniacs’ access to assault weapons and oversized magazines whose only purpose is to kill human beings efficiently! Want to cut the budget, House idiots? After you vote to cut your pay (you aren’t doing the job anyway!), relegate your retirement solely to Social Security and buy your own health insurance in the open market, how about not cutting the government programs that so completely impact the daily existence of everyone in this country?!
I’m Peter Dekom, and when I hear a high powered CEO complain about over-regulation, I am thinking maybe his or her company would be a really good place to send an inspector.