We know from the childhood song that Old McDonald had a farm — but e-i-e-i-o — look who's got his farm now!
It's groups like American Farmland and Farmland Partners. These aren't dirt farmers wearing overalls and brogans, but Wall Street hucksters in Armani suits and Gucci loafers. The latest fast-buck fad for high-roller investment trusts, hedge funds and venture capital speculators is "farming." Not that these dude ranch dandies are actually plowing and planting. No, no — these are soft-hands people, buying up farmlands with billions of rich investors' dollars, and then tilling the tax laws and threshing the farmers who do the real cultivation.
For example, American Farmland Company — which owns 16 farms — is a combine of the largest real estate empire in New York City, two Florida sugar barons, a wealth management outfit, and the real estate brokerage arm of insurance giant Prudential. None of these nouveau sodbusters has a speck of dirt under its fingernails, but they've figured out how to work the land without touching it and still harvest a sweet profit. The founder of this scheme says, "It's like gold, but better, because there is this cash flow."
Cash flow? Yes, farmers are charged rent to till the Wall Streeters' land. Then the financiers get a prime cut of any profits from the crops that the farmers produce. Also, the combine is set up as a real estate investment trust, providing an enormous tax break for the Wall Street plowboys. And, of course, there's the mega-pay the moneyed elites will reap when they convert their scheme into securities for sale on the stock exchange.
The rich few get richer, farmers are turned into tenant laborers, and the farms are switched to high-profit crops that require heavy pesticide dosages and soak up scarce water resources. What a deal!
The fact of the matter is that gabillionaires who invest in hedge funds generally have the ethical and aesthetic sensibilities of dirt clods. They don't care whether the fund managers put their money into toxic derivatives or skunk pelt futures — as long as the investment pays a super-fat return. But since Wall Street's 2008 crash revealed that so many of these investment schemes were based on nothing more than financial cobwebs and fairy dust, some of the clods began seeking hedge funds that would put their money into something more tangible and down to earth. And this is how Wall Street discovered dirt. More specifically, farmland.
Such money handlers as BlackRock (the world's largest asset manager) and multi-billionaire money manager George Soros now offer big pieces of America's heartland as an asset that faraway super-rich penthouse dwellers can own and till for mega profits. As a result, ag professors report that their farmbelt conferences on land economics — which have normally drawn an audience of farmers and local farm lenders — are dominated these days by Wall Street speculators. Moreover, seminars on investing in American farmland are being held in such financial centers as Dubai and Singapore.
But this Wall Street land rush is as flimsy as the debt-derivatives fad proved to be, for it's not based on economic realities. While crop prices are at record highs today, the painful historic record is that they will plummet tomorrow, destroying the cash flow that makes the hedge fund investment in land work. Then, of course, the gabillionaires will rush to shed their overalls. But — who will line up to buy the land? Certainly not real farmers, who can't afford the inflated Wall Street price. And especially not young people who want to farm, but find it hard to locate affordable land. America desperately needs this next generation of food producers, yet we're letting Wall Street speculators literally wall the land they need. To learn more, contact the National Young Farmers Coalition: www.youngfarmers.org.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
To The Daily Sun,
I would like to say thank you to Margaret DeSisto for having the courage to write her letter posted in The Sun on Tuesday, Sept. 23. The tone of her message reveals how fed up she is with the approach the leaders in our community have taken toward a situation that has multiple life safety issues and has a devastating rippling effect on the general public. I agree with what she has to say.
I applaud Mrs. DeSisto for speaking up and including all the names and numbers of the council members and other city officials. Not long ago, I wrote to my councilor with some similar concerns. Three weeks later, I had to call the councilor to get a response, and I was told that these were touchy subjects. Yes, they are, that is why I wrote to you. I was born and raised in this city and even though I left for college and for careers, I noticed the difference when I returned just seven years later.
There is an attitude here where certain types of people think they are a bad-ass and that the rules do not apply to them. There are too many rednecks, criminals, frauds (this includes some of our community leaders) and one can just feel the tension in the air just running errands around town.
Unfortunately (for most of us not working for a public or non-profit enterprise), the county is a community service-based region. That means a large percentage of people will be receiving public assistance or considered transients or homeless people. Obviously, this directly affects economics as these "needy" people need to be subsidized. Look at all the budget shortfalls or just look at the staggering figure that approximately 60 percent of the public school students receive free or reduced price lunch. That is an appalling amount and the county should be trying to reduce that figure, not encourage it. This has definitely created an entitlement attitude and people move here from other states because we are so service oriented to these folks.
Concord, Rochester and Laconia are prime locations. Methadone addicts just need to go get their drink in Concord each day and then go home and veg out and find mischief with all their free time on their hands. Someone close to us had information on a heroin dealer in town, but the police would not even return a call after three attempts by this person. They gave up, no doubt since they were already in fear.
These same "needy" people are causing an inconvenience to everyone who wants to do the right thing and live a peaceful life. These "needy" people live among us and we see it every day. They are your neighbors, your brother-in-law, a friend of a friend, etc., etc.
What is really saddening to me is that these people are my fellow Americans. The problem is that no one does anything about it. Nobody getting free stuff is dumb enough to do something to jeopardize that free stuff. A good example is the apartment building recently condemned on Main Street in Concord, in plain view of the state's Capitol. There it is hiding in plain view. No one reports it because they don't want to rock their own boat and not be on the freebie parade of life.
Many of the employees working for agencies that provide services to these "needy" people know their clients are drug abusers, cheaters, crooks, using their kid's disability not to work, etc., but do not do anything because of retaliation from the agency or they just turn a blind eye. If a client of one of these agencies commits murder, dies in a fire or is involved with causing a major motor vehicle accident it is swept under the rug and then city buries the evidence and withholds that information from the public. All the while the taxpayers are paying for the services in the first place.
I find it quite contradictory of the agency mission statement to help make productive citizens that are independent and give back to the community. That's a laugh. I also know this firsthand from working as a maintenance technician for local non-profits. Oh, the stories I could tell you. Our leaders seem to think they are above the law, hell-bent on their own agenda, all the while enabling these issues to accumulate.
My neighborhood in the South End and particularly my street recently, is a microcosm of our society and sounds eerily similar to what Mrs. DeSisto has to endure. I invite anyone to come spend the day and see what really goes on. I have only noticed these happenings because of a sudden illness in which I am unable to work or drive a car anymore. As I go through the process of applying for the benefits that I worked all my life contributing to, I am being scrutinized and I amazed at how intelligent these "needy" people are to be able to complete all the documentation on their own.
Personally, I do not feel safe either. Not on my property, my neighborhood or most of the city.
Unfortunately, our concerns tend to fall on deaf ears, and I am not sure how to resolve that. I do know that if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. It is past time for people to be held accountable and accept responsibility for their actions.
We all have a choice in what we do. I hate to be negative, but we have some serious issues to address. I wish the good people could get together and take back our community and our country. Thanks for reading and I hope you truly give some thought to the best direction for the community to go forward. We need to do what is best for all, not just some.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:52
To The Daily Sun,
The Belknap County Commissioners and Representatives Frank Tilton, chair of the executive committee of the state reps's delegation, and Rep. Collette Worsman, chair of the delegation itself, were in court again on Tuesday. The commissioners had asked Rep. Tilton to schedule a meeting this week to approve budget transfers that were needed immediately.
According to the jail superintendent, nursing home administrator, and the sheriff, the county will not be able to pay some employees on Friday if the transfers are not approved. Staffing levels at the nursing home, jail, and dispatch center would fall to dangerous levels. Nonetheless, Rep. Tilton refused to schedule the meeting saying he had already scheduled a meeting for the following Monday. Facing an emergency situation, the commissioners returned to Judge O'Neil for help.
It is important to know that the commissioners have not over-spent the budget. The money is available but it's in the wrong "lines." Just like at home, when you budget money for a vacation and the dryer quits. You move the money you need from the vacation "line" to the dryer "line." There is plenty of money in the nursing home budget for full-time nurses but they haven't been able to hire enough full-time nurses for full coverage as they had anticipated when they prepared the budget. Instead they've hired part-timers to cover. Problem is, they don't have enough money in the part time salary "line" and would like to transfer money, as they have done as standard practice in the past, from the full-time "line" to cover it. But they are now legally prohibited from doing so by the injunction sought by these same two representatives. Either the commissioners risk being in contempt of court by moving the money, or they risk damage to the important institutions they manage.
If Reps. Tilton and Worsman want to take over management of the county from the duly elected commissioners, then they have to meet. It is as simple as that. The refusal to meet is not only self-defeating, it puts the residents of our nursing home, the inmates, and the staff in both institutions at unacceptable risk. What are the local police chiefs going to say when the county dispatch center closes over the weekend and they have to be their own dispatchers? Will we be able to call them at home?
This is one of the reasons New Hampshire counties are run by commissioners. It just takes two to make a decision, but the executive committee needs a quorum. Why were our two reps willing to spend five hours in court on Tuesday to argue that they shouldn't have a two-hour meeting on Thursday? What did the reps achieve by wasting a day of work for the county's department heads, administrator, and finance director. Who pays these attorneys? Where does the money come from for all this unnecessary legal wrangling?
Rep. Tilton lost his race for county commissioner in 2008 but still wants to run the county, apparently. He should do as Rep. Burchell has done and run for the commission.
Candidate for Belknap County Commission
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:48
To The Daily Sun,
(Editor's note: The following letter was written before Judge James O'Neill issued his Wednesday ruling denying a request to force the executive committee of the Belknap County Convention to meet on Friday, Sept. 26 to consider requests by the Belknap County Commission for the transfer of sums from some budget categories to others.)
The county commissioners tell us we are facing a crisis in the county because of an urgent need to transfer funds from various line items to other lines. The cry is that a "shut down" is at hand. The Laconia Daily Sun has run a headline that, "Emergency budget transfer needed to sustain county operations." In fact, the commissioners are reported to have said on Sept. 18 that if something is not done immediately "staffing issues, particularly at the nursing home, would arise within a week."
By Sept. 23, the "crisis" had grown. The commissioners were in court telling the judge that numerous county department are facing cuts that could require the transfer of nursing home residents and jail inmates to other facilities.
The "crisis" was first brought to the attention of the convention via a letter dated Sept. 18 to Rep. Frank Tilton, chairman of the executive committee of the county convention. It is that committee that is empowered to approve requests by the commissioners to move budgeted money from one line item to another. Apparently no "crisis" existed on Sept. 15 when the executive committee met to review the budget and "to consider any transfer requests from the commissioners." The letter mentioned above said that two commissioners and the administrator had conflicts, but apparently the third commissioner chose not to attend. The county finance officer, who normally attends the meeting, was absent. Importantly, transfer requests must be in writing but do not require the presence of any actual person to present the request. Thus, all that was necessary to make a transfer request on the 15th was to put the details of what was being requested and why in writing and submit it. No such written transfer request was submitted. If there was in fact a real crisis, it was either then unknown or being kept secret.
As background to the instant "crisis," it should be noted that despite the explicit language of the controlling state statute to the contrary, the commissioners have for the last two years been arguing that they have the power to move money from one line item to another without convention consent so long as the move is within the same county department. So under their previously claimed authority, the commissioners could, without convention approval, move money from any nursing home line item to any other nursing home line item. And for the last year and a half, this is what they have been doing over the continuing objections of the convention. Finally, the convention filed a lawsuit to stop the practice.
On Aug. 28, Judge O'Neill ruled in that suit that the practice of the commissioners had to stop pending the outcome of the case because the practice was so contrary to the "overall statutory scheme governing county convention authority" as to make an outcome in the case favoring the convention highly likely.
Sometime earlier in August, a regular meeting of the executive committee had been scheduled for Sept. 15. In early September, apparently around the 4th, it was communicated to the executive committee that neither the commissioners nor the county administrator would be attending that meeting.
As could be expected after the court's ruling, there were conversations about the need for a meeting to discuss transfers. In these conversations no details were provided by the commissioners and no urgency was suggested. In fact, the county administrator is quoted in the Sept. 22 edition of The Laconia Daily Sun as saying, "there has been a crisis coming since the judge issued his order, but did we call in a panic earlier? No." In other words, we kept the "crisis" a secret until we announced it on the 18th. So the fact of a crisis and its alleged particulars did not come to light until the public announcement of the commissioners at their Sept. 18 meeting that county operations were within days of being threatened.
When the facts are examined, one is left with three possible explanations of the "crisis."
The first possibility is that the commissioners have known since Aug. 28 that they would need money moved, but chose to keep quiet about it to produce the appearance of crisis and perhaps in an effort to make Judge O'Neill question the wisdom of his prior ruling.
Second, and most unlikely, they didn't realize they had an immediate crisis until shortly before they announced it at their Sept. 18 meeting. Under this scenario, the commissioners would have acquired knowledge of the pending budget "crisis" somehow between the 16th and 18th of September. If this is the case, it speaks loudly of the competence, or lack there of, in the administration of county business.
The third possibility is that there is no crisis at all. The hearing before Judge O'Neill on Sept. 23 exposes the "crisis" as having been fabricated for strategic reasons. The commissioners argued that they could not wait for the transfer issue to be resolved at the Sept. 29 meeting of the executive committee. The "crisis" was simply too big and too immediate. The attorney representing the commissioners certified to the court that "the county now finds itself in an emergency situation, wherein several county departments are over-expended without the ability to provide vital county services." To remedy this so-called "crisis", the commissioners initially asked the court for an order allowing them to transfer $617,872.20. When the court questioned the amount that had been represented as immediately needed, a recess was declared. After conferring with the commissioners, their attorney reduced the amount that was immediately needed down to $455,500.
The two numbers that were requested Tuesday by the commissioners say a lot about the credibility of their position. One way to roughly gauge the reasonableness of the amount of a seven-day transfer request is to compare it on a per day basis with the per day break down of the total budget. The total Belknap County budget is $25,596,863, which produces a per diem number of a little over $70,000.
The commissioners first requested number that contemplated an expenditure of $88,000 per day. Thus clearly a number not based on the seven day "crisis" that the commissioners were trying to sell.
Apparently someone got out a calculator during recess. The new number produces a seven day per diem of approximately $65,000. Thus unlike the first number, this one is at least theoretically possible.
However, it also lacks any semblance of credibility. For transfers of that amount of money to be necessary would mean that almost 93 percent of the total appropriated money is now on a line inconsistent with current operations. It is difficult to believe that one could get a projected one-year budget so out of line with actual operations even if one tried.
Because of this, I am confident that the representation made to the court that a transfer of $455,500 is essential to continued county operation was untrue.
While I don't know how the court will rule on the so-called "crisis," I believe that it is clear that the so-called "crisis" was pre-planned, kept secret to the last minute and then sprung on both the executive committee and the court on short notice. Moreover, the amount of transfer money represented as immediately necessary totally lacks credibility. And to think that we, the taxpayers of Belknap County, are paying the high priced lawyers from Exeter to assist the commissioners in their game.
Going forward, it is my hope that this sort of game-playing will end. Certainly to make county employees, nursing home residents and jail inmates pawns in such a power play is inexcusable.
As you look at what has happened and evaluate the conduct of the commissioners, ask yourself one simple question: If there was a truly urgent problem on the horizon, why did the commissioners not make a timely and detailed transfer request to the executive committee?
Hopefully, we will soon see a day where cooperative effort replaces "gotcha games" in the governance of our county.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:41
To The Daily Sun,
I'm supporting state Sen. Andrew Hosmer in this election because he's been a strong advocate for education and he works tirelessly for the people in our community.
As a mother of two public school children, I would like to see them receive a great education so that they have the opportunity to achieve success.
If New Hampshire is to have a strong economy it must support education from kindergarten through technical school and college. Whether it's our public schools, charter schools, the Huot Technical Center, Lakes Region Community College or New Hampshire's University system, Sen. Hosmer is a strong, committed advocate for teachers, parents and students. He was a leader in the fight to freeze tuitions in New Hampshire. Because of his work higher education is now more accessible and affordable.
If you believe a robust economy needs strong schools and a well-educated workforce, please join me in supporting Andrew Hosmer on Nov. 4.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:32