Sunday, November 14, 2010

California and the world's water should not be a privately owned commodity for sale.

Sorting Pistachios at Paramount Farms' processing plant

 Stewart and Lynda Resnick are billionaires who live in what Business Week describes as a “sumptuous mansion” in Beverly Hills. They are very important people and have a $54 million pavilion named after them at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

They are super rich because they own one of California’s largest farms, a 188 square mile spread they’ve named Paramount. They grow fruit there including pomegranates, Pom Wonderful, as well as Fiji Water are a couple of the brands belonging to their private company, Roll International.

These two “are the biggest pomegranate, almond, and pistachio growers in the US” according to Business Week.* They also own their own processing plant so they also buy produce from other growers. The Paramount processing plant “cleans, roasts and packages 60% of the domestic pistachio crop, or about 30% of the pistachios in the world” . It’s staggering when you think about it that a couple of billionaires control 30% of a global food source.                                                                                   Stu and Lynda's  home

Such a set up is not the apex of civilization; it’s not even the beginning of it. It is in fact, barbaric.

Workers look at the world differently from these individuals. Yes, they produce food, but this is incidental. They could be producing condoms for all they care. They are after profit, if investing in the production of pistachios produces the acceptable return then pistachios it is.

Business Week describes a conversation between Mr. Resnick and some of his senior executives in a conference room in LA. So far, this year is California’s biggest pistachio harvest. Things are looking good and the guys are getting together to Discuss "how to sell 300 million pounds of pistachios.”
Below: Stu and Lynda

You have to love the serious capitalist press, this sort of conversation rarely appears in the pages of the mass media:

“Well, the growers should be happy”
, says Resnick.

“The growers should be very happy”
says Dave Szeflin, who manages the processing plant.

“They should be beyond happy---ecstatic,”
says Resnick

The process plant manager tells Resnick that a grower stopped by to tell him just how ecstatic he was. He said, “The sound of money is when a harvester goes next to a tree in an orchard with 7000 pounds of pistachios and shakes it. That sound, when the pistachios hit the catch frame, that’s the sound of money.”
“It’s like a Vegas slot machine,” one executive responds.

“Record prices and record deals,” says the processing plant manager.

“It’s good for Stewart. He’s got both,” adds another, referring to Resnick

These are not the words of a small farmer, of those that capitalism and Wall Street has driven from their land. This is not a conversation between a group of small producers whose life is in the land and the land in them. Money for their produce is important for them of course, to feed their families, purchase the necessary tools needed to produce their crops or feed their cattle and to feed their own families and live a decent life.But they have farming in their soul.

This is a conversation between an oligarch and his cronies who have a staggering ability to influence the production of food on a global scale. It is an influence that we need to put an end to, a set up that needs changing I would say.

As if this isn’t insane enough, there’s more.

Resnick’s farm has a “water bank” this is exactly what it sounds like, a bank for holding water just like Wells Fargo holds money. Paramount’s water bank, occupies 32 square miles in California’s Kern County and is the biggest in the US (maybe the world) in a state where water is gold. We’ve all seen Chinatown, right.

We’ve seen numerous cowboy movies and TV shows about water barons and ranchers killing each other and smaller homesteaders to control water. In California, water is power and wealth; it is a valuable commodity. The Paramount water bank has six members, but Resnick is the biggest shareholder with 52%. The other five are water districts serving farmers and the rest of the public. Members deposit water in wet times and withdraw it in dry, just like a bank except with a limited clientele.

Resnick’s outfit made out pretty darned well too when the State of California set up a water trading system during wet years and he bought up billions of gallons of water and stored it in his account at the bank. From what I gather, Resnick then sold back the water to the state during dry times at much higher prices. “’Paramount was the single largest beneficiary of the scheme’ earning tens of millions of dollars and quite possibly more” says one conservationist.  
                                                             Below: Worker's labor paid for this.

Three environmental groups have sued claiming that a resource like water should not be in private hands. They are absolutely right of course. Food production and the production of all society’s major needs should not be in private hands. It is not just that it is a barbaric and anarchic way to produce our energy, food, or any other necessity, agricultural production in this way does untold damage to the environment. Same with the production of energy; the BP catastrophe comes to mind. It is not even democratic at the very simplest level to have a handful of executives determine how 30% of a global food product is produced and distributed.

Resnick himself describes exactly what the land means to him. When he flies over his land enjoying the view, he reminisces, “I first bought some land in the late 1970’s as a hedge against inflation,” he says, It could have been a suburban office park for all he cared, Business Week adds. “I thought I’d buy a piece of land for my kids and hopefully it would go up in value.” He concludes.

It is the private ownership of these resources and of the production of social main needs that causes poverty and the mass starvation and misery we see throughout the world. No society that claims the mantle of civilization, meaning in some way advanced, can do so when this situation dominates. We are not talking about the local barber shop, plumber or grocery store here.

People like Resnick have a right to a decent life as we all do. By that we mean shelter, security and an environment in which we can develop our human potential to the fullest. I would fight for Resnick to have that right. But a right we have to fight to deprive him and the other few thousand oligarchs that rule society of is to accumulate their massive wealth at the expense of the rest of society, those that work. If we think for a moment, there are generations of migrant agricultural workers and their families who have very few rights in this country and who certainly should have more right to benefit from the fruits of their labor on California land than the likes of Resnick who is a parasite by comparison.

As we fight in the communities, our Unions and the streets for the right to collectively control the productive life of society, we must also recognize that part of our struggle against the Resnicks’ of this world is building a mass political alternative to the two capitalist parties we have here in the United States; an independent working people’s party based in our workplaces and communities. As it stands now, the entire California legislature, Democrat and Republican, are there to protect the interest of capital, of people who don’t do productive work but live off those that do.

* A Pistachio Farmer, Pom Wonderful, and the FTC

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