Nov 16, 2013

How One State Protects Taxpayers From Privatization Pitfalls | Alternet

Arguments for privatization too often hide its true costs.

Photo Credit: 36
November 14, 2013 |

This article first appeared on TruthOut.

One hundred years ago, New York state senator George Washington Plunkitt, a member of the Tammany Hall gang, became wealthy through what he called "honest graft" - or, what honest people would call plundering the public purse. Eventually, when the facts came out, the public was enraged and insisted on good government laws to put an end to the Plunkittocracy.

Today, state and federal "sunshine" laws give the public important anticorruption protection, such as open meetings acts, freedom of information acts and civil service regulations that require government decisions to hire or fire be based on facts and merit - not "honest" graft.

This December, Massachusetts can celebrate the 20th anniversary of another important sunshine law - the Pacheco-Menard Law. This law protects the state treasury and infrastructure - and the people of Massachusetts - from looting. But critics of the law treat the decision about whether public services or infrastructure should be private or public as if it were a choice of paper or plastic, or a team sport where you cheer on Team Privatization.

The Pacheco-Menard law is based on facts that will ensure that the "citizens of the commonwealth receive high quality public services at low cost, with due regard for the taxpayers of the commonwealth and the needs of public and private workers." It creates an open process with fair standards to guide decision-making and ensure that privatization does not cost more. It stops destructive practices by contractors, such as lowering pay and benefits or moving jobs to other states or countries. While it may look as if money has been saved, the reality is that the state loses tax revenue, while the displaced workers draw unemployment and other benefits. The result is less money in the state treasury, no savings and greater costs.

The costs to the public of unemployment and retirement benefits and the monitoring and administering of contract performance add up, but they are often not included in decisions to privatize. The Pacheco law forbids hiding these costs. Before a bid can be accepted, a comprehensive written analysis of the contract cost must be prepared, and the bid must include "the costs of transition from public to private operation." Other public protections include preventing contractors from making lowball bids based on cutting employee wages and benefits and requiring contractors to submit quarterly payroll records to show whether the contractor has underpaid its workers.

Private and Public Sector Accountability

Hard lessons led to some things being provided by the public sector, while others are provided by the private sector. These decisions come down to accountability, but different types of accountability are needed for the private and public sectors.

Private sector accountability is based on robust market competition that leads to better goods and services at lower cost. Services and infrastructure now provided by state and local government are the result of hard experience with poor service and graft. There is no reason to believe that accountability and quality problems will not recur if public services are privatized.

One privatization advocate claims that "Private firms have access to two federal subsidies that are not available to public agencies: tax deductions for accelerated depreciation on capital equipment and interest payments on borrowed funds" and that "under certain circumstances, the combined effect of these can enable a firm to deliver better services at a lower cost than a public agency can."

But, a tax deduction to the private sector is a subsidy that shifts costs to the public and makes less money available for public needs. Moreover, if private contractors need a government handout to do the same job that the public sector does without a tax deduction, that is an admission that the private sector costs more.

It is possible to dream up many theories about why the private sector might do a better job than the public sector. But in the real world, facts are facts, and a law that promotes good decision-making is definitely in the public interest.
How One State Protects Taxpayers From Privatization Pitfalls | Alternet

Nov 14, 2013

3 New Homemade Nature Viewing Benches Constructed for Hines Farm

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We love the simple strong construction... using some left-over framing lumber and rough sawed walnut lumber from the farm... Monte & Eileen

Nov 13, 2013


Nov 12, 5:00 PM EST



CORYDON, Iowa (AP) -- The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America's push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply.

Even the cemetery that disappeared like an apparition into a cornfield.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. See Complete AP Story

Miscellaneous Hines Farm Fall Photos

Our Buddies Ready For A Ride!
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On Alert!
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Harvesting acorns - Iowa steel plant in backgound
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Family Meal...
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Nov 12, 2013

Push is on for Iowa to clean up its water | The Des Moines Register

One Iowa farmer works to improve our waterways  Written by Donnelle Eller Eagle Grove farmer Tim Smith says cover crops, like the cereal rye shown here in a soybean field, are one beneficial way farmers can help reduce nutrient levels in waterways. Eagle Grove farmer Tim Smith has taken measures, including planting cover crops and building a bioreactor, to reduce the amount of nutrients in Iowa waterways. / Mary Willie/Register photos EAGLE GROVE, IA. — When Tim Smith heard about nitrates that Iowa cities were struggling to remove from drinking water — or that were killing shrimp and fish in the Gulf of Mexico — he believed they were mostly coming from urban golf courses, lawns and businesses. “I thought I was doing the best I could,” Smith said. Then he looked at tests that showed about 90 percent of the nitrogen entering his watershed was coming from farmland. “Once I realized where the nitrates were coming from, I was willing to do something about it,” said Smith, who now plants a winter cover crop and built a bioreactor to help keep nutrients on his farm near Eagle Grove from going into a nearby stream. Under pressure from environmentalists to produce results, state leaders are counting on thousands more farmers like Smith to adopt conservation practices such as cover crops, bioreactors, buffer strips and wetlands that can reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous that enters Iowa’s waterways. So far the effort, outlined in the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce hypoxia in the Gulf, has been voluntary. But the Iowa Environmental Council, Environmental Law & Policy Center and other groups are pushing the state to begin setting standards and goals that would make the state — and farmers — more accountable for results. “We have the science that demonstrates there’s a problem, we’ve recognized the problem, and we need to act on that to create water quality standards that will provide protections and a framework for cleaning up the problem,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an environmental law attorney. At the same time, Des Moines Water Works, serving the state’s largest metro area, is threatening a lawsuit after spending nearly $1 million this year to remove nitrates from the region’s drinking water. Smith said Iowa farmers need to determine what works best for themselves to hold nutrients before they’re forced to act. “Voluntary but not optional” is how he sees Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. “Farmers are a pretty independent group. We don’t want regulations hanging over our heads,” he said. Farmers looking long term Groups like the Iowa Soybean Association say the conservation practices are a good long-term investment in farm operations. They’ll help improve soil health and yields, with increased organic matter, reduce what farmers spend on nitrogen fertilizer, and help them better withstand extreme weather conditions. For example, experts say cover crops can better pull precipitation into the ground and hold it, helping corn and soybeans during drought conditions. “We’re going to generate economic value by retaining those nutrients in the state and by growing those crops more productively,” said Roger Wolf, director of environmental programs at the soybean association. Last month, the group invited about 50 state lawmakers, government leaders and growers to Smith’s farm and others to see up-close practices that farmers are beginning to embrace. “If we want to grow 300-bushel corn, we’re going to need 300-bushel corn soil,” Wolf said. “The only way we’re going to get there is to get better at managing organic matter and water.” State leaders like Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Bill Northey, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, say getting farmers to participate voluntarily is the right path to improve Iowa’s water quality and to reduce the Gulf dead zone. And, they say, interest is growing. Gipp said he sees once-black fields now green with cereal rye, radishes and other cover crops as he drives from Des Moines to his Decorah home. “There’s been a sea change in attitudes,” he said. Gipp also points to Northey co-leading the 31-state Hypoxia Task Force as an example of how seriously farmers and the industry are taking concerns about reducing nutrients in waterways. “He was elected and re-elected on that platform,” Gipp said. Northey said Iowa’s efforts are beginning to grow. The state is doubling annually the number of acres that are planted over winter with cover crops, although it’s still less than 1 percent of Iowa’s 31 million farm acres. Dropping seeds from above But five years ago, Northey said he rarely saw farmers using airplanes to sow cover crops on fields in the fall, before the harvest begins. Now, it’s becoming more common. He’s among the farmers giving it a try. “At the time I harvested in mid-October, that rye was beginning to come up underneath that crop. It should have time to green up before a hard freeze comes and in the spring because it got a nice start in the fall,” said Northey, who farms in northern Iowa. Northey said farmers are looking at which types of cover crops might work best for them, although cereal rye is used by most farmers to hold nitrogen in the farmland and prevent erosion. Some crops combat compaction and other soil challenges. Experts say cover crop plants feed soil microorganisms that build organic matter and soil health. In the spring, farmers use chemicals to kill the crops or till them into their fields before they plant. “It made sense for me to try it as much as I talk about it. I wanted to get my own experience,” Northey said. Northey said he paid for the cover crop himself and didn’t participate in the $2.8 million state program to encourage greater adoption of cover crops, no-till and strip-till conservation planting. Farmers also are being encouraged to apply nitrogen in the spring, when possible, when plants need it. The state demonstration money was tapped within days of becoming available. Mandelbaum, the Environmental Law attorney, points to this year’s cover crop program as a good example of how the state needs a more results-based approach to tackling water-quality issues generated from farmland. He said the state could have targeted the first-come, first-served dollars in the watersheds where their use would have had the greatest impact. Or used the money to leverage more conservation practices — or even to collect more information. “We don’t even have a baseline of how many farmers are voluntarily planting cover crops,” he said. Northey and Wolf say no one conservation method works the same on Iowa’s diverse landscape. Soil types vary greatly, the terrain is diverse — from rolling hills to tiled farmland — and weather greatly influences the amount of nutrients entering waterways. For example, last year’s drought meant nitrogen might not have been fully used by corn plants, then flooding this spring made it harder to keep nutrients on farms. Farmers will likely need a suite of practices to get the best results, Northey said. “There’s no silver bullet. It will be more like silver buckshot,” he said. Iowa farmers need time to try conservation practices to see how they work and assess the cost and benefits, some of which may take a few years to materialize, Northey and Wolf say. Making long-term investments in land becomes more complicated when about 60 percent of Iowa farmland is rented, leased or in a crop-share arrangement. It may be a harder sell to farmers, who face high costs for rent, fertilizer, seed and other farming costs at the same time prices for corn and soybeans have dropped about 40 percent from record highs a year ago. “That’s always a question: Who is going to pay for all this work?” said Wolf, adding that conservation funding comes from the U.S. farm bill and state programs. Farmer learned from neighbor Smith, the Eagle Grove farmer, decided to participate in the Mississippi River basin initiative, a national effort to improve watersheds, after seeing his neighbor Arlo Van Diest using conservation methods such as strip-till planting. Rather than plow a whole field, strips are tilled, leaving corn stalks and other residue, while still allowing a cleared space for the seed bed. Van Diest said he was tired of seeing a farmer’s greatest asset blow away. “In the 1960s, you couldn’t see across the highway because of all the dirt that was blowing,” he said. “It made me physically ill.” He started experimenting with different conservation practices to prevent erosion and improve the soil health. Smith liked what Van Diest was doing and decided to give it a shot and enrolled in the federal conservation program. Smith has since become a believer. Before his bioreactor became active, testing showed nitrates leaving his farm were higher than the stream levels. With cover crops and the bioreactor, which uses good soil bacteria to reduce nitrogen from till drainage, Smith’s nitrogen levels are now about half the level of the stream. That tells him he’s making a difference. Now he’s looking at trying different cover crops, each of which comes with different benefits, and expanding where he uses them. Northey said there will be a lot of experimentation. “Not everything is going to be adopted overnight,” he said. “And there’s not a perfect answer.” Push is on for Iowa to clean up its water | The Des Moines Register |

Nov 11, 2013

Connected - A film for change - YouTube

Published on Nov 7, 2013

"'Connected' is a film made by Paul and Kate Maple, a UK based family who have made it their lives for the last 4 years. Worried about the future and the seemingly insurmountable mountain of problems in the world, Paul and Kate decided to ditch their busy lives and start working out if there was any way they could help create positive social change..."

Connected - A film for change - YouTube

Nov 10, 2013

Change The Earth - Gaiaisi - YouTube


I want to speak to the world out there, said
I want to speak to the world out there
I want to speak to the world out there, said
I want to speak to the world out there, I'll say...

(Verse 1)
The sun goes around, everything now
Seems like its heating up, steaming from the ground
Said the traffic lights go, everything slow
Engines still burning though, you can smell the smoke
Blowing and it rise, haze up in the sky
Coughing/Coffin on the ground, another day goes by
As we drip, drip die, struggling I
Wondering if life as I know can survive
Cause it seems like everything is gone before you blink
Politicians still smiling while we flying by the brink
Its like we on a ship, only thing different is
Where you gonna swim when the whole city sinks and...

Change, oh change gonna come
Some day, some day the waves are gonna rain and
Change, yeah change gonna come
Cause nothing remains the same, it'll become
Changed under the blazing sun
To something, oh I don't know what, but
Change, yeah change gonna come
You better wake up and run cause...

(Verse 2)
No matter location, dollar denomination
Political placement or religious persuasion
The nature of the globe is a single situation-
We all facing the same devastation, frame:
A rainforest where it ain't raining
That's what's happening in the Amazon Basin
Where deforestation leads to desertification
...No more trees to breathe, we'll be suffocating
I hope it won't happen, but I fear that it will
If we don't start to see how meat truly kills- its
More than just the chicken and the cow and the pig
Its the space it takes up to make them live
Gotta give the utmost place to Nature
So this sacred cradle can stay stable
And start protecting her last precious living bits
To nurture Earth, like the treasure that she is where....
( Chorus Same as 1st )

I don't really care if it all goes up tomorrow
Bodies dropping now gotta stop it today, ya
I don't really care now if my wallet is hollow
When the paper that its made of''s all going up in flames, ya
I don't really care now if you follow or go on your own
Sky is falling and we all in the same boat
I don't really care now if you profit or go broke
All I really care's life's got a place to grow
(Instrumental Break)

(Verse 3)
Alright now come on listen cause we
Really got no time to waste, we gotta face it
Flames on the rise today, try to escape it
But where you gonna hide away - asphyxiation
Make you wanna fry but wait- don't be afraid cause
There's still a little time to take for the occasion
'Fore it caves in and breaks, we better brace
Even if it makes you cry - the haste, for me to say
This could be one of the last days
...To change
Ever since the beginning
Of this civilized killing age we've been erasing
Cutting down the forests and plains and replacing
With stains but it can't sustain, cause its straining
The soils and the streams- our veins... now its changing
The weather and its getting so insane!
That the atmosphere depletes, feeling the pain
Now if the heat keeps raising and the rains...
This Earth may go up in flames

(Final Chorus)
Change, ohh change gonna come
One way or another something's gonna break and
Change, yea change gonna come
But what are we waiting for? Are we numb from
The pain, that makes us run
Away but we can't escape from the one:
Change, yea Change gonna come
Someday, some day has come

Something in the air
Something in the air out there, I smell
Something in the air
Something in the air out there, I see
Something in the air...

Change The Earth - Gaiaisi - YouTube

In the Light of Reverance

In the Light of Reverence is a documentary produced by Christopher McLeod and Malinda Maynor. It features three tribal nations, the Hopi, the Winnemem Wintu, and the Lakota Sioux, and their struggles to protect three sacred sites.
In the Light of Reverance