It’s the 199th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth

An excerpt from Whitman’s “Democratic Vistas,” published in 1871:

I say we had best look our times and lands searchingly in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease. Never was there, perhaps, more hollowness at heart than at present, and here in the United States. Genuine belief seems to have left us. The underlying principles of the States are not honestly believ’d in, (for all this hectic glow, and these melodramatic screamings,) nor is humanity itself believ’d in. What penetrating eye does not everywhere see through the mask? The spectacle is appaling. We live in an atmosphere of hypocrisy throughout. The men believe not in the women, nor the women in the men. A scornful superciliousness rules in literature. The aim of all the littérateurs is to find something to make fun of. A lot of churches, sects, &c., the most dismal phantasms I know, usurp the name of religion. Conversation is a mass of badinage. From deceit in the spirit, the mother of all false deeds, the offspring is already incalculable. An acute and candid person, in the revenue department in Washington, who is led by the course of his employment to regularly visit the cities, north, south and west, to investigate frauds, has talk’d much with me about his discoveries. The depravity of the business classes of our country is not less than has been supposed, but infinitely greater. The official services of America, national, state, and municipal, in all their branches and departments, except the judiciary, are saturated in corruption, bribery, falsehood, mal-administration; and the judiciary is tainted. The great cities reek with respectable as much as non-respectable robbery and scoundrelism. In fashionable life, flippancy, tepid amours, weak infidelism, small aims, or no aims at all, only to kill time. In business, (this all-devouring modern word, business,) the one sole object is, by any means, pecuniary gain. The magician’s serpent in the fable ate up all the other serpents; and money-making is our magician’s serpent, remaining to-day sole master of the field.

The best class we show, is but a mob of fashionably dress’d speculators and vulgarians…

CLICK HERE to read the entire work from Walt Whitman.

–courtesy of Tom Giessel

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Vicious Circles – Big meat packers continue to suck the blood out of cattle industry

For no reason whatsoever, other than they can, the big meat packers, while currently making $300 per head, took another $130 to $150 per head off the value of live cattle last week, leaving a decaying carcass of what’s left of the cattle industry.

Few people know the history of meat packing in the U.S. and the reason the ruthless meatpacker monopoly as broken up in the 1920’s, only to return bigger and even more powerful today.

An excerpt of the story of how IBP (now Tyson/IBP) fell under the control of the New York Mafia follows. Today, not much has changed. The top executives of Brazil’s JBS, the world’s biggest meat packer, are either in jail or out wearing ankle bracelets, after bribing 2,000 politicians and meat inspectors. Also, Brazil’s Marfrig, the world’s second biggest meat packer, just purchased fourth largest U.S. beef packer, National Beef. Marfrig’s chairman has offered to cover $22.98 million in damages in a recent corruption probe.

On opening day of trial in 2004, I called Tyson/IBP gangsters, thugs and thieves. Tyson didn’t like it and threatened to sue me if I didn’t retract the statement. Here’s my response to the Tyson lawyers.

Much more is revealed in Christopher Leonard’s book, The Meat Racket.

Do we want a no-rules food system in which the biggest cheaters win, and global monopolies control our food supply? It’s what we have today.

On April 25, 1970, a scruffy, half-literate little manipulator named Moe Steinman shuffled into a suite at the elegant Stanhope Hotel overlooking Central Park in Manhattan, pulled the blinds, and within a few hours assumed a stature that even the most celebrated racketeers in history hadn’t dreamed of.

Other mobsters had gone only partway. Gurrah Shapiro had controlled the garment center, and Joe Bonanno the Brooklyn dairy products district. Steinman had also gone partway – he had dominated the Fourteenth Street meat market. Some racketeers before Steinman had persuaded the heads of rival Mafia families to unite behind a single organized shakedown system. Thus had Steinman united racketeers from three powerful Mafia families, Genovese, Gambino, and Lucchese, and become the meat industry front for all of them. Other racketeers, before Steinman, had achieved nationwide control over certain specialty products, like mozzarella cheese, or over an atomized industry, like trucking.

But on this day, Moe Steinman, as a front for the Mafia, would achieve what no one else had achieved, even in the days of Al Capone or Lucky Luciano. Moe Steinman, who had risen from the gutter only by his lack of scruples, would tighten his fist around one of the biggest corporations in the country, a corporation that dominated a major national industry. It was an industry that almost every American depended on almost every day. It was an industry – unlike trucking – that was clothed with all the garments of Wall Street respectability.

Into this darkened room at the Stanhope Hotel, Moe Steinman would summon Currier J. Holman, founder and head of Iowa Beef Processors Inc., by far the largest meat company in the world. Then, as now, Iowa Beef’s name was listed in the upper levels of the Fortune 500 ranking of largest corporations. Its shares were traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Its financing was handled by a syndicate of the biggest banks in the country. Then, as now, its sales were in the billions of dollars, and its food was on the tables of millions of Americans from Bangor to San Diego.

And Currier J. Holman, the tall, graying Notre Dame alumnus and widely-recognized business genius who organized and ran this mammoth operation, was to come crawling all the way from the Great Plains, bringing with him his co-chairman, his executive vice-president, and his general counsel, all at the beck of a foul-mouthed alcoholic hoodlum.

“Iowa Beef, though founded only in 1961, already in 1970 dominated the meat industry the way few other industries are dominated by anyone.”

Iowa Beef, though founded only in 1961, already in 1970 dominated the meat industry the way few other industries are dominated by anyone. Since then, in partnership with Steinman and his family and friends, Iowa Beef has grown more dominant still. It was as if the Mafia had moved into the automobile industry by summoning the executive committee of General Motors, or the computer industry by summoning the heads of IBM, or the oil industry by bringing Exxon to its knees. Moe Steinman and the band of murderers and thugs he represented had effectively kidnapped a giant business. Its leaders were coming to pay him the ransom, a ransom that turned out to be both enormous and enduring.

“Moe Steinman and the band of murderers and thugs he represented had effectively kidnapped a giant business [IBP].”

As a result of the meeting in the darkened suite at the Stanhope that day in 1970, Iowa Beef would send millions of dollars to Steinman and his family under an arrangement that continued at least until 1978. After the meeting, millions more would go to a lifelong pal of Steinman and his Mafia friends, a man who had gone to prison for using slimy, diseased meat in filling millions of dollars in orders (he bribed the meat inspectors) and who wound up on Iowa Beef’s board of directors. Consequent to the meeting in the Stanhope Hotel, Iowa Beef would reorganize its entire marketing apparatus to allow Steinman’s organization complete control over the company’s largest market, and influence over its operations coast-to-coast. In 1975, Iowa Beef would bring Moe Steinman’s son-in-law and protege to its headquarters near Sioux City to run the company’s largest division and throw his voice into vital corporate decisions. But, most important, a mood would be struck in the Stanhope that day – a mood of callous disregard for decency and the law. Iowa Beef would proceed to sell its butcher employees out to the Teamsters union, to turn its trucking operations over to Mafia-connected manipulators, and to play fast and loose with anti-trust laws.

“… a man who had gone to prison for using slimy, diseased meat in filling millions of dollars in orders (he bribed the meat inspectors) and who wound up on Iowa Beef’s board of directors.”

Because of their hold on Iowa Beef, the racketeers’ control of other segments of the meat industry would expand and harden. And as a result of all this, the price of meat for the American consumer – the very thing Currier Holman had done so much to reduce – would rise. Meyer Lansky once said that the Syndicate was bigger than U.S. Steel. When Iowa Beef Processors caved in on that April day in 1970, the Syndicate, as far as the meat industry was concerned, became U.S. Steel.

“Because of their hold on Iowa Beef, the racketeers’ control of other segments of the meat industry would expand and harden.”

Moe Steinman is not impressive to look at. He is of average height, but seems shorter. He isn’t fat, but there’s something overweight about him. He has a sad, doberman-like face, that is pockmarked and ruddy like a drunk’s. Steinman is often drunk. His clothes are sometimes flashy, but seldom tasteful. He is appallingly inarticulate when he talks. But everybody knows what he means.

Detective Bob Nicholson once stood near the bar of the Black Angus restaurant and saw a slightly tipsy Moe Steinman point his stubby finger at John “Johnny Dio” Dioguardi, the foremost active labor racketeer in the Lucchese Mafia family. “You listen here, Johnny,” Steinman said. “You don’t tell me how to run my business. I tell you.” The boast rocked Nicholson (and Dio may not have cared for it, either). Ultimately, the Mafia retained its power, through its violent system of justice. But the fact that Steinman was allowed to get away with such bragadoccio – and he did it repeatedly – showed just how indispensable he had become to the Mafia’s design on controlling the marketplace. There is a story in the industry that once in the late 1960s Steinman brazenly cheated Peter Castellana, a relative and high aide of boss Carlo Gambino. Steinman is said to have short changed Castellana on the sale of a load of hijacked turkeys. And nobody raised a finger.

Industry sources also talk about a speech Steinman gave in 1970 at a retirement party for a Grand Union supermarket executive. The party, naturally enough, was at the Black Angus, which was owned by a retired executive from the rival Bohack chain, who had acquired it from the family of the retired head of the butchers’ union. While the departing Grand Union official was guest of honor at the party, the center of attention was Johnny Dio, who also was about to depart, in his case for prison, where he was being sent as a result of illegal deals in the kosher meat industry. Steinman, it’s said, stood up before the assembled guests, openly recalled how close he was to Dio, and assured everyone that he personally would “take care of business” while Dio was away.

Only once, in the mid-1960s, is Steinman said to have suffered Mob disfavor. There are reliable reports that he was beaten up once in a supermarket warehouse, and hospitalized. Nobody who is willing to talk seems to know for sure what the beating was about.

Bob Nicholson had been impressed the first time he heard Steinman’s name, back in 1964 in the Merkel horsemeat scandal. When Merkel’s boss, Nat Lokietz, wanted a connection in government so he could bribe his way out of trouble, he had called Moe Steinman. Steinman didn’t arrange the bribe meeting – Tino De Angelis did – because Steinman was out of town. But after the bribery attempt backfired, Lokietz went to Steinman again ina last-ditch effort to keep Merkel afloat. In the spring of 1965, Steinman had met with Lokietz at the Long Island home of a Big Apple supermarket meat buyer, who acted as intermediary. The buyer was in Steinman’s pocket; he would later plead guilty to evading income taxes on payoffs he took from Steinman. Through subsequent conversations that were wiretapped, police learned that Lokeitz had asked Steinman to get the Mafia to rescue Merkel. Some money, some political clout, and Lokietz could be back on his feet again. Steinman huddled with Dio over the idea one night at the Red Coach Inn in Westchester County, but with the horsemeat scandal all over the papers and Dio involved in some promising new rackets, they decided to let Merkel go on down the drain.

As a result of these meetings, however, Steinman was called in for questioning before the Merkel grand jury. Nicholson was sent to serve the subpoena, and thus got to meet the racketeer for the first time. Immediately Nicholson saw the arrogant conniver that was Steinman, a man who thought he could wheel and deal his way out of anything.

Nicholson found Steinman at the Luxor Baths, the famous old establishment on West Forty-sixth Street where the wealthiest of New York’s European immigrant community used to go. There they relived the old-country male ritual of a steam bath, a massage, and a nap. Numerous business and entertainment celebrities had visited the Luxor over the decades. But by the late 1950s, the clientele had cheapened a bit and mobsters were more in evidence. The bathhouse was a frequent hangout for the likes of Johnny Dio, Anthony “Tony Bender” Strollo, and Lorenzo “Chappy the Dude” Brescia. Wiretaps would later reveal that the Luxor served as a convenient location for underworld plotting and the passing of payoffs. It was at the Luxor that Steinman often took care of supermarket executives and butchers’ union officials. In 1975, the Luxor Baths closed, and reopened as a house of prostitution.

Nicholson remembers going into the lobby of the Luxor with his subpoena in 1965, and paging Steinman. The stocky (but not fat) racketeer came down in his bathrobe and turned on his crude charm.

“Can you tell me what this is about?” he asked Nicholson.

“Sorry,” he was told. “I can’t discuss it.”

“Why don’t we sit down to talk?”

Nicholson looked around at the well-appointed lobby, and then at Steinman in his bathrobe.

“Come on into the steam room. We’ll have a nice bath,” Steinman said.

Nicholson turned him down, but kept him talking. Maybe there would be an open offer of a bribe.

“After we have a bath,” Steinman said, “we can talk. We’ll have a few drinks, maybe we can go out to dinner.”

Nicholson kept him talking.

“Are you married?” Steinman went on.

Nicholson said he wasn’t.

“Do you have a girlfriend? May I could get you a girlfriend. I’m a nice guy. You’ll like me.”

“I had to say, ‘No thanks,'” Nicholson recalls now. “Anything further would have been a compromise. But that’s the way Moe Steinman operates. He never gets caught.”

Others have noticed the same phenomenon. Says a partner in a large and long-established New York meat supply company, “Steinman bribes people in the bank not to sign him in or out when he goes to his safety deposit boxes. He has boxes all over the city. Once I was with him on a trip overseas and he bribed the guy at the airline counter $20 to avoid a $50 overweight charge. He didn’t need the money. It’s just a game with him.”

Steinman was wrong when he thought he could bribe Bob Nicholson. But there were ways over Nicholson and around Nicholson. Even when the law had Steinman absolutely dead to rights in 1975, he was able to manipulate his way out of trouble. Bob Nicholson was right about one thing: “He never gets caught.”

Moe Steinman has declined numerous requests for an interview. His communications to the author have consisted mostly of grunted greetings and monosyllabic comments in the hallways of various courthouses. There was also a very pregnant stare on day in a visitors’ room at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan when Steinman showed up at what I had been told would be a secret meeting between me and a cellmate of his.

Much of Steinman’s story, however, can be told from the public record. He has testified several times about his background (while his veracity has not been constant, certain facts can be verified). And many persons in the meat industry, including his son-in-law Walter Bodenstein, have contributed information to the following sketch.

Steinman was born in Poland around 1918. He came to the United States with his parents at age eight. His father, a butcher, settled in Brooklyn. He quit school after eighth grade and ran off to be a porter or cary worker at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. He returned to Brooklyn, where a young greengrocer named Ira Waldbaum had decided to lease out sections of his stores to meat dealers. This was, of course, long before Waldbaum’s became the major regional supermarket chain it is today.

A dealer who had leased the meat departments in two Waldbaum’s stores hired young Moe Steinman to run them, and the budding hoodlum was on his way. Steinman bought his first meat from Sam Goldberger, who would later go to prison for selling adulterated meat and bribing federal food inspectors. And Steinman made connections with two other Polish-Jewish immigrants, Max and Louis Block, who had just left their own Brooklyn butcher business to organize the Amalgamated Meat Cutters’ union under rights obtained through mobsters Little Augie Pisano and George Scalise. Pisano and Scalise were of an older generation, but there was a younger, more contemporary Mafia figure whom the Blocks and Steinman and Goldberger began to meet – Johnny Dio.

Soon Steinman was expanding his meat counter operations to the Bronx …

Posted in General Advocacy | Comments Food monopolies Continue to Plunder and Pillage

by Mike Callicrate | May 18, 2018

1940: Farmers’ Share Does Not Increase As Price Margins Widen

Despite the efficiency of large-scale production, the farmer has continued to get a smaller and smaller share of the consumer’s dollar as monopoly control has increased over the past 25 years. An analysis of figures put out by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics shows that the margin going to the processors and distributors has swollen considerably over this period.

In a recent report the Agricultural Advisory Council stated that on food-stuffs alone the farmers are losing $2,000,000,000 a year because of the present disparity between farm prices and other prices.

While a one cent reduction in the farmer’s share of the consumer’s dollar seems like a trivial sum, the cumulative effect adds up to a staggering total. Thus, in the case of dairy products, the farmer’s share has dropped from 55 cents in 1913 to 42 cents in 1939. The effect of this shift is to reduce the income of dairy farmers by approximately a third of a billion dollars annually.

The farmer’s margin has decreased on practically all food products, but two most extreme cases are white flour and pork products. Though the farmer got 58 cents on the consumer’s flour dollar in 1913, this proportion had gradually dropped until by 1939 it was only 39 cents. In the case of pork products, the farmers had been getting 80 cents in 1913, but this had fallen by 57 cents by 1939.

Click here to view larger.

The most striking point about middlemen’s margins is their rigidity and fixity in recent times. Price changes are passed either forward or backward, but absolute price spreads remain surprisingly constant despite vigorous changes in farm and retail prices.

Prior to 1915 the farmer received about 53 cents out of the consumer’s dollar spent for all foods. Durin gthe 20’s the farmer’s share dropped to about 47 cents. In 1938 and ’39 it remained unchanged at 40.5 cents.

These price spreads are figured in terms of a standard budget comprising 58 foods selected by the Department of Labor as typical of an average workingman’s family.

–courtesy of Tom Giessel

The National Farmer’s Union currently reports farm share of the consumer dollar at an all-time low of 14.8%.

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98.3 KXDJ Radio asks what can the Trump administration do to help agricultural producers?

Listen to the KXDJ Radio Interview with Mike Callicrate by clicking here

How did we lose our markets? See the following editorial from 2013:

It’s Still Called Stealing

By Mike Callicrate | April 5,2013

Grade and yield buying used to be called “Grade and Steal” by most cattlemen. Today, it’s called Value-Based Marketing by the big packers and their cheerleaders, like Certified Angus Beef’s (CAB) Miranda Reiman. In her March 4th article, “Value-based cattle marketing dominates”, Reiman attempts to mentally condition Angus breeders and other cattlemen to accept their fate in Big Food’s supply chain where performance enhancing drugs, added flavorings, Pink Slime, various pre-digestion methods, and meat recalls, do more to damage demand than CAB quality can possibly do to help it.

Cattle feeders once knew better than to let the packer decide what their cattle were worth after the hide was removed. It was just plain bad business not to negotiate the price. Economics professor, Dr. John Helmuth once said, “Somewhere between when a calf is born and the steak hits the plate, price has to be discussed”. Not known for their benevolence, the packer, admittedly, always wants to pay the lowest price possible. Giving the packer the ability to solely determine the value was considered foolish.

Those born after 1975 (Miranda Reiman) have likely not participated in a competitive market for fat cattle. By the spring of 1994, the big meat packers proved they had essentially eliminated competition for live (fat) cattle. IBP, following the advice of the Boston Consulting Group, had decided in the late 1970’s that it was more profitable to cooperate than compete with the other very large packers. Together, the biggest packers systematically eliminated most of the smaller independent regional packing companies, drastically reducing competition. Additionally, they were feeding more of their own cattle and making preferential pricing and exclusive market access deals with the biggest feeders for additional large volumes of cattle that they didn’t have to bid on. Armed with enough captive supply cattle to stay out of the cash market for an extended period, the packers dropped the price of fat cattle $17 per cwt. in six weeks – a loss in value of around $200 per head. Over a thousand angry cattlemen packed the Holiday Inn in Omaha, Nebraska. The packers got the message. The market recovered about $12 per cwt. right away. The packers learned an important lesson – without competition, the market, and people’s perceptions, would have to be managed.

From deep in the meat packers’ pockets, the economists, market touts, and those receiving preferential treatment, bleated all kinds of phony excuses for the price drop – from ‘supply and demand’, to the standard ‘too much chicken and pork’, and, of course, cattle feeders were poor marketers. Dr. Helmuth’s explanation was simple and accurate, “There’s an economic term to describe this phenomenon, it’s called stealing”.

Big packers fear two things – Competition and court rooms

Attorney Robert M. Cook, representing one of the biggest cattle feeders in Nebraska, described forcefully in “Helmuth” language what the packers had done to the market – IBP sued him.

The trial revealed the accuracy of Cook’s statements:

“At times, the company over purchases its entire needs, with forward contracts. (See Supp. App.Ex. 197) Exhibit 197 shows that during April-June of 1994, a time critical to this case, IBP contracted for as much as 122%, and as little as 53%, of its entire projected kill with cattle contracted for forward delivery. IBP’s corporate policies required it to sell these cattle on the commodities market before they were contracted for purchase from a cattle feeder. IBP killed 180,000 head of cattle per week in 1994.”

When closing argument was presented against IBP in the Cook case (USDC Neb. 1995) I argued to the jury that IBP had become the largest owner of cattle feedyards in America through the artifice of contracting. Forward contracts had permitted IBP to buy up, control, and therefore effectively own, an overwhelming portion of America’s cattle production capacities “without buying one acre of land, pouring one cubic yard of concrete, installing one linear foot of feed lot, digging one post hole, stringing one wire, or investing one dime.”

The jury reacted to the argument with widened eyes, then, as I could see the thought sink in, their amazement turned to disgust.

They rewarded my client with their verdict.
– David Domina, Attorney for Robert M. Cook

Awarding cattlemen $1.28 billion in a 2004 trial, the jury found Tyson/IBP had manipulated the cattle market with as much as 170% captive supply (70% more cattle than they needed), more than in the spring of 1994. Additionally, head cattle buyer Bruce Bass admitted that IBP paid less for cash cattle when captive supplies were plentiful. Grade and yield data showed that the cash cattle IBP was forced to bid on (to set the price for captive cattle), were better quality than their so-called value-based purchases. Judge Lyle B. Strom, a Reagan appointed “de-regulation”-“bigger is better” judge, reversed the jury’s verdict, handing the cattlemen’s win over to Tyson/IBP and sticking cattlemen with Tyson’s court costs.

Like losers in a Monopoly game, independent producers are out of money and sitting on the couch. The so called value-based, moving-target, grade-and-yield fools game, where quantity trumps quality and discounts are often ten times the premiums, is leaving independent producers, from ranchers to feeders, with no chance for a fair price and no hope of survival. Honesty, integrity, and meat quality have disappeared along with antitrust law enforcement and a fair cash market. The retailer monopoly (Walmart, Kroger, Safeway, etc.) is charging record high prices for beef as independent producers are slaughtered with their livestock.

Epilog 2018: According to USDA data, between 1990 and 2012 we lost 204,000 ranching operations, and between 1996 and 2016 we lost 81,887 feedlots.

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Crop Statisticans, 1908

Send them to prison

Texas Union Would Adopt Extreme Measures Against Crop Statisticans

The Farmer’s Union of Reagan, Texas, has taken an advanced stand on the question of crop statistics by adopting the following resolution:

Resolved, That Reagan Union No. 4279 ask all unions in the United States to instruct our legislative agents at Washington and in all the State legislatures where we have unions organized to do away with the bureau of crop statistics, as it has cost the farmers many millions of dollars and is of no benefit to us, but keeps the gamblers posted with reports in their favor; in fact, the whole thing is against the farmer and increases his burdens to the amount of $25,000,000 in the Nation and State, and it should be a penal offense to give out any news as to crops, and should have not less than five years’ servitude attached.

–courtesy of Tom Giessel

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