February 9, 2016

Canadian Cartel Seizes 20,400 Pounds of Robert Hodge's Maple Syrup



Video interviews related to the New York Times article quoted below.



(p. B1) The scenic and narrow lane that leads to Robert Hodge's sugar camp is surrounded by a cat's cradle of plastic piping that draws sap from 12,000 trees. At the end of the lane, a ramshackle hut contains reverse osmosis pumps to concentrate the harvest. A stainless steel evaporator, about the size of a truck, finishes the conversion into maple syrup.

Just one thing is missing: the maple syrup.

For weeks, security guards, hired by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, kept watch over Mr. Hodge's farm. Then one day, the federation seized 20,400 pounds of maple syrup, his entire annual production, worth about 60,000 Canadian dollars, or nearly $46,000.

The incident was part of the escalating battle with farmers like Mr. Hodge who break the law by not participating in the federation's tightly controlled production and sales system.

"It's a good thing that I'm not 35, 40 years old because I'd pack up all my sugar equipment that's movable, and I'd go to the United States -- oh yes, in a minute, in a minute," said Mr. Hodge, 68.

While many Americans associate Vermont with maple syrup, Quebec is its center. The province's trees produce more than 70 (p. 4) percent of the world's supply and fill the majority of the United States' needs. The federation, in turn, has used that dominance to restrict supply and control prices of the pancake topping.


. . .


Mr. Hodge is similarly intransigent. At this point in the season, Mr. Hodge would normally have sold his syrup, turning his attention to his cattle and other crops. But this year he had nothing to sell. He contends that farmers should be allowed to set their own level of production and sell directly to large buyers, regardless of what the law says.

"They call us rebels, say we're in a sugar war or something. I've heard rumors of that," said Mr. Hodge, at his farm in Bury, Quebec.

"Yeah, I guess you could call it that."

Across the table, Whitney, his 20-year-old daughter, who also farms, looked up from her smartphone and interjected.

"A war over maple syrup, like how pathetic can you get?"


. . .


Prices are set by the federation, in negotiation with a buyers' group. The federation holds most of the power, given that it controls a majority of the world's production.

Such domestic systems are facing scrutiny in a global marketplace. One major hurdle in the talks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade deal with 12 countries, has been Canada's refusal to dismantle a similar quota system for dairy and poultry farmers.

Maple syrup buyers, including some American companies, have bristled at the federation's tactics. They appreciate the steady supply. But some have taken issue with the aggressive enforcement efforts, including large fines for companies buying from Quebec producers outside the system, and the rising prices.

The situation, critics contend, could prompt buyers and producers to shift to the neighboring province of New Brunswick, and Vermont in the United States. Or consumers might simply pour artificial syrup instead.

"People will always eat chicken," said Antoine Aylwin, a Montreal lawyer who has represented several buyers in disputes with the federation, including some American companies. "But they will not always eat maple syrup if they think that they can't afford it."

Defying the Law

Mr. Hodge was shocked in 2009 when the federation demanded 278,000 Canadian dollars for not joining the system and for selling directly to a buyer in Ontario.

Most years, Mr. Hodge's sugar bush grosses about 50,000 Canadian dollars. About half the money goes to cover electricity for the vacuum pumps and oil for the evaporator.

"I'd have to give them 100 percent of what I gross for five years, and I would have nothing for production cost," he said. "That just ain't possible."

Mr. Hodge openly acknowledges that he is defying the law. When the quota and centralized selling system were introduced, he continued to sell directly to a buyer in Ontario.


. . .


Like others who have invoked the federation's wrath, Mr. Hodge's battle seems as much about principle as avoiding a potentially crippling fine.

In Mr. Hodge's view, the system's restrictions are stunting the growth of Quebec's industry. It is less bureaucratic and less expensive, he explains, for buyers to go to Vermont or New Brunswick. He said that he had no problem with paying the federation its 12 cents a pound tax for various services, like promoting maple syrup in new markets, particularly in Asia. But he will not adhere to the quotas.

"Well, I don't accept the system because I don't believe in not being able to sell our product," he said. "We just think that that product is ours. We bought the land. We've done all the work. Why should we not be able to sell our product the way we want as long as we legitimately put it on our income tax?"

That's a question that exasperates Mr. Trépanier of the federation. While Mr. Trépanier studiously avoids calling the organization a cartel, he has described it as the OPEC of maple syrup in the past, referring to the group of oil-producing countries. The system, he said, is doomed to collapse without production discipline.



For the full story, see:

IAN AUSTEN. "The Maple Syrup Mavericks." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 20, 2015, and has the title "Canadian Maple Syrup 'Rebels' Clash With Law.")






February 8, 2016

Only a Founder Has the Moral Authority to Shake Up a Company



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Shortly after Twitter's board of directors began its search for a new chief executive in June [2015], it said it would only accept someone willing to commit to the job full time. It was a not-so-subtle message to Twitter's co-founder and interim boss, Jack Dorsey, that he would have to give up his job running Square, a mobile payments start-up, if he wanted to run Twitter on a permanent basis.

On Monday [Oct. 5, 2015], the eight-member board reversed itself, announcing that it had decided to allow Mr. Dorsey, its chairman, to head both companies after all.


. . .


(p. B8) This is Mr. Dorsey's second go-round as Twitter's chief executive.

Evan Williams, a board member and co-founder of Twitter who was instrumental in firing him in 2008, noted that the board considered many candidates before settling on Mr. Dorsey.

"I honestly didn't think we'd land on Jack when we started unless he could step away from Square," Mr. Williams wrote in a post on Medium, the social media site he now runs. "But ultimately, we decided it was worth it."

In the end, Mr. Dorsey made a compelling case that he had matured and grown as a leader and that only a founder would have the moral authority to truly shake up a company that has been struggling to attract new users and compete for advertising dollars.



For the full story, see:

VINDU GOEL and MIKE ISAAC. "Delegating, Dorsey Will Lead Twitter and Square." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 6, 2015): B1 & B8.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 5, 2015, and has the title "Delegating, Jack Dorsey Will Lead Twitter and Square.")






February 7, 2016

Communist Chinese One Child Laws Violated Basic Human Rights



On Sat., Jan. 17, 2016 I caught the re-broadcast of an interview with Mei Fong that C-SPAN's web site suggests was first broadcast on Jan. 11, 2016. The interview focused on Fong's book on the history, causes and effects of China's one child laws. Fong is understated in her style, but it is clear that the Chinese communist government violated the rights of many Chinese citizens by forcing them to have unwanted abortions, and to undergo unwanted sterilizations. In many cases, when their "one child" died in a disaster, or of natural causes, parents desperately rushed to try to have the forced sterilization reversed.

Fong's book, that she discussed on C-SPAN, is:

Fong, Mei. One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






February 6, 2016

French Union Activists Rip Shirts Off Backs of Executives and Force Them to Escape Over Fence



(p. B3) PARIS -- Angry workers stormed Air France headquarters on Monday [October 5, 2016] as top managers were meeting to discuss plans to shed more than 2,900 jobs, forcing two executives to flee over a fence and in the process ripping the shirts from their backs.

The violence at the Air France offices near Charles de Gaulle Airport broke out shortly after 9:30 a.m. Officials, including the chief executive officer, Frédéric Gagey, had informed the company's workers council that 900 flight attendants, 1,700 ground crew members and 300 pilots could be laid off as the airline strives to return to profitability.

The talks at the company, which is facing headwinds from an economic downturn and competition from low-cost carriers, had been tense for more than a year. While violence had not marred previous negotiations, the protests Monday were the latest in a series of incidents in France in which workers have held company bosses hostage or damaged property to make their point.

As the Air France executives detailed the latest restructuring plan, union activists swarmed into the room, waving flags and chanting protests, prompting Mr. Gagey to make a hasty exit.



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Workers Storm Air France Offices as Job Cuts Are Discussed." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 6, 2015): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 5, 2015, and has the title "Angry Workers Storm Air France Meeting on Job Cuts.")






February 5, 2016

Health Spending Rises Faster



HealthCostGrowthGraphs2016-01-21.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A3) WASHINGTON--Growth in U.S. health-care spending is accelerating after reaching historic lows, a pickup largely attributed to the millions of Americans who have gotten health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Spending on all health care increased 5.3% in 2014, according to a report Wednesday [Dec. 2, 2015] from actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That compares with the 2.9% growth in 2013, which marked the lowest rate since the government began tracking the gains 55 years ago.

The return to more robust growth after a slowdown in spending had been anticipated by economists. Still, it is likely to add to criticism that the 2010 health law isn't doing enough to rein in costs. The report, based on 2014 government numbers and published in the journal Health Affairs, follows five consecutive years where average spending growth was less than 4% annually.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE ARMOUR. "Health Spending Picks Up." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 3, 2015): A3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 2, 2015, and has the title "Growth in U.S. Health-Care Spending Picks Up.")






February 4, 2016

Medical Establishment Relies on "Accepted Dogma"



(p. A3) The Food and Drug Administration and leading cardiologists are warning that aortic heart valves from animal tissue--implanted surgically in thousands of patients world-wide--can develop tiny blood clots, causing the valves to function improperly.

The findings hit the field of cardiology as something of a shock, as these valves from pig and cow tissue have been used for three decades in patients with malfunctioning valves. In addition, the tissue valves have been regarded as less likely to produce blood clots than mechanical valves made of synthetic materials.


. . .


Cardiologist Eric Topol, chief academic officer at Scripps Health in San Diego, called it "remarkable" that such a finding could emerge after three decades of use of the animal-tissue valves. The idea that they lead to less clotting, he said, was "accepted dogma that wasn't looked at."



For the full story, see:

THOMAS M. BURTON. "Clot Risk Is Seen in Some Heart Valves." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 6, 2015): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 5, 2015, and has the title "Clot Risk Is Seen in Some Heart Valves." Where there were minor differences between the print and online versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)


Eric Topol, quoted above, has written persuasively for more medical innovation, in his:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.






February 3, 2016

Unusual Array of Groups Strongly Push Breast-Feeding



C-SPAN on Sat., Jan. 17, 2016 broadcast a thought-provoking presentation by Courtney Jung on her book Lactivism. Jung argues that an unusual array of groups strongly advocate breast-feeding for reasons that are independent of the fairly modest health benefits, for baby and mother, that result from breast-feeding.

Jung's book, that she discussed on C-SPAN, is:

Jung, Courtney. Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy. New York: Basic Books, 2015.






February 2, 2016

Gene Therapy Again Showing Promise



(p. B2) Biotechnology startup Spark Therapeutics Inc. said its experimental gene therapy improved vision among patients with hereditary vision impairment in a clinical trial, without the serious safety problems that have dogged the emerging field of gene therapy in the past.


. . .


Spark said it plans to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to market its treatment next year, which could make it the first gene therapy to reach the U.S. market if regulators approve it for sale. . . .

Gene therapy involves the injection of genetic material into a person's cells to treat or prevent a disease. The research stalled after some study participants died or developed cancer after receiving gene therapies in the late 1990s and 2000s.

But gene therapy is gaining ground again. In 2012, the European Commission approved the Western world's first gene therapy, UniQure NV's Glybera, for the treatment of patients with a rare enzyme deficiency. The therapy hasn't been approved for sale in the U.S.



For the full story, see:

PETER LOFTUS. "Eye Gene Therapy Shows Promise." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 6, 2015): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 5, 2015, and has the title "Gene Therapy for Visually Impaired Shows Promise." Where there were minor differences between the print and online versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)






February 1, 2016

"America Represents Wilderness and Freedom, and Also a Big House"



(p. A1) JACKSON HOLE, China -- Yearning to breathe untainted air, the band of harried urbanites flocked to this parched, wild land, bringing along their dreams of a free and uncomplicated life.

But unlike the bedraggled pioneers who settled the American West, the first inhabitants of Jackson Hole, a resort community on the outskirts of the Chinese capital, arrived by Audi and Land Rover, their trunks filled with French wine and their bank accounts flush with cash.

Over the past decade, more than a thousand families have settled into timber-frame houses with generous backyards, on streets with names like Aspen, Moose and Route 66. On Sundays, some worship at a clapboard church that anchors the genteel town square, outfitted with bronze cowboys and a giant Victrola that sprays water.

"America represents wilderness and freedom, and also a big house," said Qin You, 42, who works in private equity and owns a six-bedroom home that features a koi pond, a year-round (p. A8) Christmas tree and what he proudly described as "American-style" electric baseboard heating. His parents live in the house and he goes there on weekends. "The United States is cool," he says.


. . .


. . . , Communist Party edicts and conservative commentators have sought to demonize so-called Western values like human rights and democracy as existential threats. Even if the menace is seldom identified by name, the purveyor of such threats is widely understood to be the United States.


. . .


Gao Zi, 60, a retired military employee who organizes an oil painting club for Jackson Hole residents, said that "we accepted the propaganda" back in the 1950s, when China was a closed society. "But now people have the opportunity to travel abroad and see the truth for ourselves."

Like Ms. Gao, Mr. Qin, the investment executive, has never been to the United States but he has long admired American ideals like personal liberty and blind justice. Five years ago, after his wife gave birth to their second child, Mr. Qin says the government fined him nearly $30,000 for violating the country's population-control policies. "This is not freedom," he said, before continuing a tour of his expansive back patio.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "JACKSON HOLE JOURNAL; Living a Frontier Dream on Beijing's Outskirts." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 11, 2015): A1 & A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 8, 2015, and has the title "JACKSON HOLE JOURNAL; Living a Frontier Dream on the Outskirts of China's Capital.")






January 31, 2016

Founder Title Gives Dorsey "the Leeway to Make Significant Changes"



(p. B1) Twitter Inc. is handing the chief executive reins back to Jack Dorsey, entrusting its founding architect to reassure investors and revive the social-media service's sagging user growth.


. . .


(p. B10) Company insiders say there was nothing interim about the way Mr. Dorsey carried himself since July 1, when Dick Costolo stepped down as CEO. He initiated debates about fundamental product features, including Twitter's trademark 140-character limit per tweet. He frequently sends companywide emails late at night, which include news stories that highlight Twitter's value in the world. These messages and his close involvement have shifted the tone and boosted morale, according to these people.


. . .


His reputation as a product visionary will be tested as he tackles his priority: to figure out how to make Twitter easy enough to use by anyone. More than his product ideas, however, Mr. Currie endorsed Mr. Dorsey's leadership skills as the reason the board decided to bring him back on a permanent basis.

In the eyes of employees and users, the founder title gives him the leeway to make significant changes that weren't afforded by Mr. Costolo.



For the full story, see:


YOREE KOH. "Dorsey Is CEO of Twitter Once Again." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 6, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 5, 2015, and has the title "Twitter Names Co-Founder Jack Dorsey CEO.")









Eight Most Recent Comments:



Ed Rector said:

There are more than 2000 colleges in the USA offering tens of thousands of degrees/majors. Oh yes, there are also a few thousand JC's, trade schools and apprentice programs that train welders. Who should decide what any individual student wants to study?? Senator Rubio, the Mercatus Center or the individual student?? And you call yourselves 'freedom-loving Libertarians' !!



Aaron said:

You need a "like" button. Here's to enjoying bacon and eggs on an unusually warm fall day and doing so guilt free.



Aaron said:

I'd also suggest that work is just part of who some people are and a reason they got rich. A friend's dad comes to mind; he's a millionaire and in his 60s and a couple years ago I saw him cleaning one of his rental houses and wondered why he didn't pay someone to do it, but he's just one of those guys who'd rather work than golf or relax.



Jim Rose said:

It is often forgotten that the Minister for International trade and industry in the late 1960s up until 1971 was Tanaka – the most corrupt man in postwar Japanese politics. He had previously been Minister for Public Works, but to generate the necessary bribe income to pay an entire generation of Japanese politicians to step aside to allow him to become Prime Minister in the early 1970s at a young age, he thought the Ministry of International trade and industry was a better position to garner influence and donations. My professors in Japan worked in the Ministry of International trade and industry and the Ministry of Finance in the 1970s and 1960s. None of them seemed to carry over their picking winners skills into their private portfolios when they retired. see http://utopiayouarestandinginit.com/2014/03/14/if-you-are-so-smart-why-arent-you-rich/



Aaron said:

Interested to see how not only did Hamilton gain a vote, but also how Jefferson lost one.



Dave Megan said:

Merging of companies is always better when they have a better goal. It will give better service for the public.



Ed Rector said:

The 'quickened pace of production' of the early Reagan years was directly attributable to RR's massive deficit spending. The national debt almost tripled under the watch of St. Ronnie. BO will have to work overtime to even approach this record of accomplishment.



Aaron said:

The last two paragraphs comport perfectly with what Paul Tough describes in a book you posted on a few months ago, "How Children Succeed." Tough advocates that a stable, loving relationship between kids and their parents, especially in the first few years of life, produces self-assured and less anxious adults due to brain formation or chemical reactions that take place in a baby's brain (simplified summary). As always, appreciate the posts, especially the Paul Tough book.





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