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June 15, 2011

The true cost of tomatoes

Improved Conditions for Florida Tomato-Harvest Workers - NYTimes.com
Mass-produced tomatoes have become redder, more tender and slightly more flavorful than the crunchy orange “cello-wrapped” specimens of a couple of decades ago, but the lives of the workers who grow and pick them haven’t improved much since Edward R. Murrow’s revealing and deservedly famous Harvest of Shame report of 1960, which contained the infamous quote, “We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them.” . . . A third of our tomatoes are grown in Florida, and much of that production is concentrated around Immokalee (rhymes with “broccoli”), a town that sits near the edge of the great “river of grass,” or the Everglades, the draining of which began in the late 19th century, thus setting the stage for industrial agriculture. Immokalee is a poor (average annual per-capita income: $8,576), immigrant (70 percent of the population is Latino, mostly Mexican) working town, to the outsider at least a depressing community with few signs of hope. The tomato fields of Immokalee are vast and surreal. An unplanted field looks like a lousy beach: the “soil,” which is white sand, contains little in the way of nutrients and won’t hold any water. To grow tomatoes there requires mind-boggling amounts of fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides (on roughly the same acreage of tomatoes, Florida uses about eight times as many chemicals as California). The tomatoes are, in effect, grown hydroponically, and the sand seems useful mostly as a medium for holding stakes in place. Most of the big purchasers, like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, want firm, “slicing” tomatoes, because their destination is a burger or a sandwich, so the tomatoes are picked at what is called “mature green,” which isn’t mature at all but bordering on it. Tomatoes with any color other than green are too ripe to ship, and left to rot; I’ve posted a couple of pictures I took of those on my blog. The green tomatoes are gassed — “de-greened” is the chosen euphemism — to “ripen” them; the plants themselves are often killed with an herbicide to hasten their demise and get ready for the next crop. . . .

Bank CEO pay went up 36% last year

What recession? Bank CEO Pay Rose 36 Percent Last Year | ThinkProgress
According to data compiled for the Financial Times, “bank chiefs’ average pay in the US and Europe leapt 36 percent last year to $9.7 million.” Workers in private industry, meanwhile, saw their wages rise by just two percent. Between 2001 and 2009, as workers experienced a “lost decade” for wages, bank CEO’s made $19 million per year.

The $500,000 bitcoin heist

Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer extra-governmental internet-based currency. Nerds love it. People who want to buy drugs over the web love it. But there are some problems with a currency that isn't backed by any government, namely that when you get ripped off you have no recourse. Welcome to the exciting new future. A risky currency? Alleged $500,000 Bitcoin heist raises questions
The user known as "allinvain" is a long-time contributor to the Bitcoin forums. He says he's been mining Bitcoins for over a year, and had amassed a fortune of 25,000 BTC. This was a modest sum a few months ago, when Bitcoins were worth pennies, but over the last two months the value of a Bitcoin skyrocketed to around $20, which means 25,000 BTC would have been worth half a million dollars. "I remember watching the price like a hawk," he wrote. And then disaster struck. "I just woke up to see a very large chunk of my bitcoin balance gone," he wrote. "Needles [sic] to say I feel like I have lost faith in bitcoin." He speculated that a Windows security flaw may have allowed the culprit to gain access to his digital wallet. "I feel like killing myself now," he said. Some other members of the Bitcoin forum expressed skepticism about allinvain's story, but most believed it. Another member of the Bitcoin forums chimed in to report that he'd lost a smaller amount of money to the same Bitcoin address. Forum members discussed several options, including calling the police and asking MtGox, the popular Bitcoin currency exchange, to block the funds from being converted into more traditional currencies.

Unemployment rates in Gaza nearly as bad as unemployment rates in Detroit

Detroit's unemployment is over 50%. Unemployment In Gaza Reaches 45 Percent | ThinkProgress
A report released this week by the U.N. Agency for Palestine Refugees says unemployment in Gaza in the second half of 2010 reached 45.2 percent — one of the highest in the world. The private sector took an especially hard hit, shedding over 8,000 jobs in the second half of 2010. The Hamas-dominated public sector, meanwhile, saw a modest gain of 3 percent in the same period.