New tools for grave digging

A few tools for digging our own graves
Submitted: Dec 29, 2012
Badlands Journal editorial board

Cities with highest unemployment:

    El Centro, Calif. 27.2
    Yuma, Ariz. 23.7
    Merced, Calif. 16.9
    Yuba City, Calif. 16.8
    Fresno, Calif. 15.7
    Modesto, Calif. 15.5
    Stockton, Calif. 15.5
    Visalia-Porterville, Calif. 15
    Hanford-Corcoran, Calif. 14.7
    Madera-Chowchilla, Calif. 14.3

Cities with the lowest unemployment rates were as follows:

    Bismarck, N.D. 2.8
    Fargo, N.D. 3.1
    Lincoln, Neb. 3.2
    Burlington-South Burlington, Vt. 3.7
    Sioux Falls, S.D. 3.8
    Iowa City, Iowa 3.8
    Ames, Iowa 3.8
    Logan, Utah 3.9
    Mankato-North Mankato, Minn. 4
    Midland, Texas 4.1
(, 1-4-12)

The lists above contain the US cities with the highest and lowest unemployment in the US. Although taken a year ago the longterm proportions remain. Both the highest and the lowest unemployment-rate cities are from major agricultural regions of the country.In the highest unemployment list, every city is from the San Joaquin Valley except Yuba, El Centro and Yuma. The cities with the lowest rates of unemployment are mainly in the Midwest, three of them state capitals.
Every one of the 10 highest unemployment cities are county seats. Unemployment has been institutionalized in the San Joaquin Valley since the era of the Working Tramp.

Just on the level of employment, setting aside ecological, political and social devastation, we can see that the San Joaquin Valley, when compared with the Midwest,  is the world's premier laboratory for display of all that is wrong with agribusiness as a form of economic development.

Today, we await construction of the first leg of the high speed railroad system, from Merced to Fresno. About the only positive thing immediately evident about the project is that it will transect a few sections owned by agribusiness plutocrats along its route. The screams of outrage from these subsidized darlings echo from Sacramento to Washington.
"The nerve of these railroad people! The inconvenience!!"
The system is planned to connect the Bay Area with LA, Sacramento and Silicon Valley. It will create something of a construction boom, followed by a bust. It will create more bedroom communities like six of the Valley cities on the list. STockton has already declared bankruptcy and several of the other "commuter towns" are on the verge of it. The top 10 low unemployment cities provide workplaces rather than warehousing workers for employment elsewhere. All that can be imagined for Valley communities through which the famous high speed rail will pass is another Wall street managed real estate boom and bust.

These perennially high San Joaquin Valley unemployment figures should make us wonder about our well advertised "public/private-win/win partnerships for growth." We need to ask -- again, again and again -- who these investments, often of large amounts of public funds -- really benefit. We can see in these statistics who they do not benefit.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently visited Modesto to praise the California almond industry for its contribution to foreign trade. In large part because the products of off-shored US manufacturers are counted as imports, the US balance of trade is disastrously out of balance as well as being the principle cause for the shrinking of the middle class.

The California almond industry is rapidly becoming a global monopoly. Its price-setting ability keep attracting new capital, deep-ripping seasonal pasture land on both sides of the Valley for new orchards that sink gigantic new wells. These super wells lower the water table all around them and in some cases contribute to land subsidence. Investors benefit from tax write-offs during the early years of the orchards, federal marketing and shipping subsidies for exports, ownership of land for future real estate development and water that can be sold wherever "conveyance" is available, for example through Westlands Water District's extensive pipe system. The pasturelands these new orchards are taking are the place where rain and mountain runoff percolates into groundwater for local farmers and nearby cities as well.

In this quintessential agribusiness crop, labor has been reduced to an absolute minimum by automation. Nevertheless, the intentionally broken immigration system operates as another de facto federal subsidy for low cost, obedient, legally defenseless, contract labor.

Pollinating the California almond crop is “the largest managed pollination event in the history of the world … “ (Beesource,  Oct. 14, 2007). Since 2007,  a catastrophic disease called Collapsed Colony Disorder has swept through the population of honey bees and the research on it – has wandered about looking for a diagnosis acceptable to agribusiness/USDA funding sources. The crisis got off to a bad beginning with a Congressional hearing chaired by Big Nut's own Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. During his foul career, Cardoza was also known locally as the Fairy Shrimp Slayer or the Pimlico Kid in recognition of his hatred for all species except the ponies. Finding a cure is as likely as tax-code reform.
Meanwhile, the bees keep on dying, threatening not only almonds but more than 90 major human food crops.

The almond industry is not good for bees or labor and, having attracted large, non-farm investors, is rapidly becoming bad for farmers. On its way down to chronic overproduction, the public will be asked to fund more and more subsidies arranged behind doors in Congress.

We were informed two weeks ago that the US Bureau of Land Management held an oil lease auction on 18,000 acres in Fresno, San Benito and Monterey counties in the Diablo Range that separates the San Joaquin Valley from San Benito and Salinas valleys.

In this area the Hayward, Calaveras and San Andreas earthquake faults meet.
The technique that will be used for extraction of the heavy oil and shale oil in the auction area is fracking.

"Two new papers tie a recent increase in significant earthquakes to reinjection of wastewater fluids from unconventional oil and gas drilling. The first study notes “significant earthquakes are increasingly occurring within the United States midcontinent.” In the specific case of Oklahoma, a Magnitude “5.7 earthquake and a prolific sequence of related events … were likely triggered by fluid injection.”

"The second study, of the Raton Basin of Southern Colorado/Northern New Mexico by a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team, concludes “the majority, if not all of the earthquakes since August 2001 have been triggered by the deep injection of
wastewater related to the production of natural gas from the coal-bed methane field here.” (Joe Romm,, Dec. 4, 2012)

The lease area is the most active part of the Diablo Range earthquake zone.

Fracking is simply more of the nation's murderous energy policy, collateral damage at home as well as abroad.

The other problem that will occur (already observed in established areas of agricultural and oil interface) is that fracking liquids will contaminate groundwater for agriculture. Given the impacts from salts steadily rising in the regions on both
sides of the Diablo Range, hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland could be at risk, including a few thousand acres in new almond orchards.

The profits for investments in high speed rail, the growth and monopoly power of the almond industry, and heavy/shale oil exploration in the Diablo Range will be extracted by financial interests far from the region. The costs from bonds, permanently high unemployment and low wages, perpetual boom/bust economic disruption and "development" by speculator, pollution of groundwater, surface water, land and air are being paid and will be paid by the regional public.

It is a hallowed San Joaquin Valley tradition that the public is never to stop digging its own grave.

The Ignorant Economist