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Banjos Playing Through the Broken Glass

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The Alabama Slave Code of 1834 required slave owners to provide four walls and a roof for their "property." They were further required to properly feed the slaves and could be criminally charged if they didn't. If a slave were sick or injured, the owner was required to provide a doctor for his or her property, and if an owner maliciously injured a slave, the owner could be charged for his action as if it had been done to a free man. Alabama at the time was a very rural state and the chances of being caught, or further still convicted, were slim. It does, however, point out to us that even in this 19th century barbarity, there was at least a faint glimmer of humanity.

Having lived in Alabama I can tell you that the legislature is not an overly ambitious lot, and I feel certain that they learned this from their predecessors. So the fact that the legislature would draft, debate, committee and pass codes for the protection of human property shows to us what the world was like before they adopted a pro-business environment. In some grimy little newspaper office, some Tyrannosaurus Rex editor, some would-be Glen Beck, was writing, "By what powers of the Constitution does the state tell a lawful white man what he can do with his own property?" In these words were the seeds of the Civil War, and thank God in Heaven slavery was abolished.

Well, no, it wasn't, not really; it merely morphed into a new capitalist model without the protections to which even a slave was entitled. Sharecropper, tenant farmer, apprentice, trainee, intern. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard some conservative say, "We don't need those protections anymore, people don't act like that anymore," I'd be living on my sailboat in the Caribbean and you'd hear from my fat ass no more!

Come one, come all! This is a great opportunity not to be missed!

Dec. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Until last year, people in the Ethiopian settlement of Elliah earned a living by farming their land and fishing. Now, they are employees. Dozens of women and children pack dirt into bags for palm seedlings along the banks of the Baro River, seedlings whose oil will be exported to India and China. They work for Bangalore-based Karuturi Global Ltd.

"My business is the third wave of outsourcing," Sai Ramakrishna Karutuni, the 44-year-old managing director of Karuturi Global, said at the company's dusty office in the western town of Gambella. "Everyone is investing in China for manufacturing; everyone is investing in India for services. Everybody needs to invest in Africa for food."

Yes, management companies from around the world are jumping on the bandwagon to take advantage of the "Last Frontier." Miro Asset Management of Dubai has set up a $350 million investment fund for African agriculture, and why not?

"African agricultural land is cheap relative to similar land elsewhere; it is probably the last frontier," said Paul Christie, marketing director at Emergent Asset Management in London. The hedge fund manager has farm holdings in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

"Land of similar quality in Malaysia and Indonesia would cost about $350 per hectare per year, and tracts of that size aren't available in Karuturi Global's native India," Karuturi said.

How much does the land in Ethiopia cost? It's free! Well, it's almost free. Under an agreement with Ethiopia's government, Karuturi pays no rent for the land for the first six years. After that, it will pay (U.S. $1.18) per hectare per year for the next 84 years. Karuturi Global hopes to earn an annual profit of $100,000,000, and how do they keep their profit margin so high? The jobs pay the slaves er, ah, employees, less than a $1.25 per day. Less than the cost of subsistence, less than the World Bank's poverty threshold.

Best of all for investors, no pesky slave code, no responsibility to care or feed the slaves, sorry, employees, it's just so easy to get the two mixed up. I'll try to keep it straight by remembering that slaves had at least a vestige of civil rights while these employees have none.

"The project will give the government revenue from corporate income taxes and from future leases, as well as from job creation," said Omod Obang Olom, president of Ethiopia's Gambella region and an ally of Prime Minister Meles Zenwai's ruling party.

I can hear the voices of ghosts from the antebellum verandas, "Why, we're giving them jobs, and after all we pay taxes for these sorts of things!"

"This strategy will build up capitalism," Mr. Olom said in an interview in Gambella. "The message I want to convey is there is room for any investor. We have very fertile land, there is good labor here, we can support them." The government plans to allot 3 million hectares, or about 4 percent of its arable land, to foreign investors over the next three years.

Only the president of the Gambella region forgot to tell the people who live there about it.

"Workers in Elliah say they weren't consulted on the deal to lease land around the village, and that not much of the money is trickling down.

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I who am I? Born at the pinnacle of American prosperity to parents raised during the last great depression. I was the youngest child of the youngest children born almost between the generations and that in fact clouds and obscures who it is that (more...)

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