Ship of Fools
Families are making summer vacation plans, but some folks get bored with the same old trips to the shore. Well, Bucko, don’t get all mopey. Perk up your life with something different, something guaranteed to cause a buzz back at the office: a cruise! Not the geezer cruise with shuffleboard and an endless buffet, but a cruise with cachet and topical relevancy-a cruise to watch global warming as it’s happening! Yes, instead of just talking about climate change, you can literally go look at it, thanks to a boom in something called “global warming tourism.”
One company, Betchart Expeditions, offers a 12-day excursion up the Greenland Coast to witness the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. About 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle, you will lay eyes on a brand-new landmark aptly named Warming Island. It was discovered in 2005 emerging from beneath the melting ice sheet. Just think-your very own Hummer might have contributed to the sudden appearance of this unique chunk of geography!
And you can see it in style aboard Betchart’s 50-foot passenger ship. The bare-bones price for a steerage cabin with shared bath is $5,000. Add $2,000 and you get a “superior” cabin with a private john. The company notes that you can be among the first humans to see this spectacular island, which it describes as “a compelling indicator of the rapid speed of global warming.”
Of course, this is a cruise loaded with irony. As a climate change expert says, “If enough people expend enough fossil fuels to visit Warming Island, they will ensure that there will be many more.” So bon voyage – and don’t forget to buy the t-shirt.
Shouldn’t chocolate contain, you know, chocolate? By which I mean cocoa butter and solids, derived from the cacao tree, which the dictionary specifically says is “the source of chocolate.”
No, say Hershey, NestlÃ©, and other industrial candy makers that are petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to let them blatantly lie to consumers about what’s in their confections. They want to use no chocolate at all – substituting artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated and chemically modified vegetable fats, and other artificial ingredients – yet still call their product chocolate. You don’t have to be a chocoholic to see that this is a raw deal.
To add insult to injury, Hershey blames us for its proposed rip-off, claiming the deceptive label is needed to keep up with changing “consumer taste preference.” Oh, right – I’m sure there’s an explosion of pent-up consumer demand for that yummy taste of chemically modified trans fats.
What we have here is a crass play by big manufacturers to use cheap ingredients, then advertise and sell the product as fine chocolate. Gary Guillard of Guillard Chocolate Company is one of many real chocolate makers appalled by this perversion. He says that the manufacturers’ proposal would “cheapen chocolate’s great taste, all in pursuit of shortchanging the consumer, and putting that change in their own pockets.”
If you want real chocolate instead of the fake stuff, which one group calls “mockolate,” now is the time to speak up. The FDA’s public comment period for the industry’s proposal runs until June 25.
BOUGHT AND PAID FOR
If you rob a bank, you’re looking at 10 to 20 years hard time. But if a bank robs you, that’s an entirely different deal. Unlike you, national banks that do wrong generally don’t fear the cop on the beat, because this cop’s salary is paid by the banks.
Most of the Big Boys of the banking world operate under national charters, rather than state, and all national banks are regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. This federal office does not go through the congressional appropriations process for its multimillion dollar budget. Instead, it’s financed almost exclusively by the banks it regulates-70 percent of its funds come from the very largest banks.
As pointed out by Robert Morgenthau, the venerable district attorney of Manhattan, these payments amount to protection money, because the Office of the Comptroller “has shown itself to be a timid regulator, even in the face of flagrant wrongdoing.” Morgenthau notes that when such banking outfits as Bank of America, Riggs, and Wells Fargo have been caught breaking our country’s money-laundering laws, the comptroller’s office was more than lenient-it took no formal enforcement action at all.
Worse, the banking cop has aided bank larceny, going to court to stop states and cities from banning certain ATM and check-cashing fees. In essence, the big banks are paying their cop to help them rob you.
In 2003, the Office of the Comptroller provided an extraordinary favor for national banks by decreeing that their subsidiaries are exempt from regulation by state banking authorities. If a branch of a national bank does you wrong, your state officials can’t help you. Your only recourse is the comptroller’s office – which the banks own.
And bankers wonder why no one loves them.
For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com.