Daily Essentials | 11 May 2015

Via twitter: https://twitter.com/ThinkMexican/status/597163628584837121

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Dozens injured as farmworkers, police clash in Baja California

The San Quintin agricultural region of Baja California erupted in violence Saturday as protesters pelted police with rocks and took over a government building. Police retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets in running skirmishes that left dozens of people injured, according to farmworker leaders and Mexican authorities.

The rioting came a day after the cancellation of a meeting between Mexican federal government officials and farmworker leaders in this region about 200 miles south of San Diego. Farmworkers have been seeking higher wages, at least $13 per day, and government benefits, and patience on both sides seems to be wearing thin as negotiations, now in their eighth week, remain at an impasse.

NEW YORK TIMES: Cuomo’s Push to Raise Wages Lifts Spirits of New York’s Fast-Food Workers

The fast-food workers converged on Union Square in Manhattan last week, chanting and cheering and celebrating a man who some had viewed as a reluctant champion of their cause: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York.

For months, some low-wage workers and their advocates have complained that Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, seemed unwilling to throw his considerable political muscle behind the effort to raise the state’s minimum wage. And indeed, this year he dropped his plan to boost the rate in the face of Republican opposition in the Legislature.

But on Thursday, the governor laid out a new plan to unilaterally raise the pay of the tens of thousands of fast-food workers in New York. He said he would direct the state labor commissioner to convene a panel to study wages in the industry and, within short order, “raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to a livable wage.”

WASHINGTON POST | WONKBLOG: The next labor fight is over when you work, not how much you make

If there’s one labor issue that’s come to the forefront of political agendas over the past few years, it’s the minimum wage: Cities and states around the country are taking action to boost worker pay, as federal efforts seem doomed to fail.

But a new wave of reform is already in the works. Instead of how much you earn, it addresses when you work — pushing back against the longstanding corporate trend toward timing shifts exactly when labor is needed, sometimes in tiny increments, or at the very last minute. That practice, nicknamed “just-in-time” scheduling, can wreak havoc on the lives of workers who can’t plan around work obligations that might pop up at any time.

GRIST | NATHANAEL JOHNSON: Who controls California’s tap? Here’s what I learned from a fat book

Like lots of people in drought-desiccated California, I have been hustling to educate myself about the power dynamics of water in the state. And so I read this appreciation of California water historian, Norris Hundley, Jr., with great interest. It portrays Hundley as the historian whose picture is the most realistic — the one who surveyed the academic skirmishes among his colleagues, and came away with something better.

John Christensen, an environmental writer with too many titles to list here, wrote that appreciation of Hundley. I asked him: If I wanted to read just one book about water in California, should I choose Hundley’s The Great Thirst? His answer: Yep.

Another writer, John Fleck, echoed the endorsement. Fleck points out that, while others have portrayed California’s water shenanigans as the schemes of “a conspiratorial power elite” (Hundley’s words), Hundley delves into the muddled mess of democracy: “a compound of interest-group pressures, local and regional considerations, political trade-offs, and the larger context of American political culture.”

CIVIL EATS: Will Ben and Jerry’s Help Improve Conditions for Dairy Workers?

Dairy is the heart of Vermont’s economy: 868 dairy farms bring in $2.2 billion in economic activity each year. Over the last nine decades, the number of dairy farms in the state decreased 96 percent. With steep decline in farms, productivity per farm has increased, resulting in an increase in the hiring of outside labor to manage larger herd sizes. Vermont’s 1,200-1,500 migrant workers often bear the brunt of this shift. According to Balcazar, there is little to no enforcement of existing health and safety laws, wage and hour laws, or housing codes.

That’s where Migrant Justice’s new Milk with Dignity campaign enters the picture. The group publically called upon Ben & Jerry’s last week in a march through Vermont’s state capitol to ask the company to sign onto the campaign, in hopes of securing dignified working conditions and livable wages for farmworkers in the dairy industry. The ice cream company is the campaign’s first focus, but they have a long list of companies they hope will come on board to change conditions for dairy workers.

MOTHER JONES | TOM PHILPOTT: What Do Iran Trade Sanctions Have to Do With California Pistachios?

What does Iran have to do with California pistachios? Pretty much everything, it turns out. Flash back to 1979. Iran, governed for decades by the US-friendly dictator the Shah, dominated the global pistachio trade. Pistachios barely registered as a crop in California. Then came the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis; overnight, the nation went from trusted trading partner to pariah—a status it has held, more or less, ever since. With Iranian pistachios banned in the US, California farmers sensed an opportunity and started putting in groves. By 1990, the state’s pistachio acreage had more than doubled. By 2014, it stood at more than 294,000 acres—nearly ten-fold growth since the Shah’s fall. (Numbers here.)

But if the Iran nuke deal goes into effect, trade barriers will tumble and Iranian pistachios will again be available in the US—exposing California farmers to competition and possibly threatening those windfall profits being brandished by Resnick. “Iran has far more clout in the market for cocktail nibbles than it does in crude trading,” Bloomberg notes.”While it ranks only as the world’s seventh-largest oil producer, the Middle Eastern country vies with the U.S. to be the biggest pistachio grower.”

NEW YORK TIMES: Monsanto, in Bid for Syngenta, Reaches for a Business It Left Behind

Over the last two decades Monsanto has cast off its century-long history as a chemical company and refashioned itself as an agricultural life sciences company, led by its genetically engineered seeds.

But with its $45 billion bid to acquire the agricultural chemical giant Syngenta — a bid Syngenta rejected on Friday as inadequate — Monsanto appears to be trying to get back into a business it largely abandoned. That is a possible acknowledgment, some analysts say, that the biotech seeds might not be the engine to carry the company forward much longer.

“If you go back 10 years, they put all their marbles on biotechnology and they’ve done fantastically well there,” said William R. Young, managing director of ChemSpeak, a consulting firm following the chemical industry. “But going forward, maybe the growth is limited,” he said. Buying Syngenta “allows for some diversification in product line.”

FORBES | STEVE SAVAGE: Pests in Paradise

I learned something very important about crop pests in a most unexpected setting – a paradise-like wilderness area in the Colorado Rockies. It was the summer of 1978 and I had gotten married the year before. This was my first chance to share a favorite place, the Snowmass/Maroon Bells Wilderness Area, with my wife. We backpacked into Snowmass Lake and day-hiked to high passes through huge meadows filled with beautiful wildflowers. However, on this trip, I noticed details I had never observed on earlier visits as a suburb-dwelling teen. With “new eyes” from my first year of agricultural training, I saw that many of the plants showed signs of insect feeding damage or gall formation. They exhibited symptoms of fungal infection – such as rusts and leafspots. There were pests in this paradise! And they were host specific – not interlopers carried in on the boots of visitors like us.

On one hand, we might say that a “pest” is simply a human concept for cases where this natural phenomenon interferes with our agenda. However, it seems that plants “agree” with our assessment that these damaging, dependent organisms are pesty. Plants are obvious targets, but they don’t just take it. I once heard a presentation about the genetics of a particular alpine wildflower that grows in exactly the same kind of meadows we were visiting in 1978. This species has genetic “factions” employing two different strategies to deal with insects that want to eat it. One is to put energy into rapid growth and seed production, so that even with bug damage, the species survives. The other strategy is making chemicals to protect the plant from the bugs, leaving less energy for seed production. Depending on the season, one strategy or the other is more successful.

Chemical defense is common among plants. In some cases we have come to like the pesticidal chemicals they make. The caffeine in coffee and the capsaicin in hot peppers were “intended” by those plants to ward off “pests.”

Please consider supporting FAFDL.org by ongoing contribution of $1, $2, $3, $5 or $10 a month on Patreon.
Become a patron at Patreon!