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Boomer talks Chiquita bananas

Plus, Duke Energy should tap shareholders' funds



Welcome to another luminous edition of Ask Boomer With Attitude, the Q&A column brought to you live from Charlotte, N.C., where the Occupiers keep hanging in there, and the two biggest members of the city's signature banking industry are accused of illegally foreclosing on U.S. soldiers fighting overseas. Note: Only one of the following questions was actually sent in by a reader (we made up the others); see if you can pick it out.

Dear BWA: Isn't the relocation of Chiquita's headquarters to Charlotte just the neatest, most exciting thing? — Fruit Fly

Dear Fly: No, not really. For four reasons. One, as my colleague Rhi Fionn pointed out on the CL blog, nobody knows how many jobs Chiquita will generate for Charlotteans. Could be 400, could be next to none. It depends on how many Cincinnati Chiquitians want to move to Charlotte. Two, Chiquita, formerly known as the United Fruit Company, has a looooong, sordid, horrific history of predatory abuse of a number of Latin American countries, where the company often operated as a law unto itself (which is where the term "banana republic" comes from). The company worked its native laborers half to death for poverty-level wages; and brutalized, including murdering, anyone caught trying to unionize their workers. Three, Chiquita was caught paying millions to the AUC, a Colombian right-wing terrorist group, to "protect" its workers from left-wing guerillas in the nation's banana-growing region. The AUC, known to be heavily involved in cocaine trafficking, has also killed union supporters among Chiquita's banana workers. And four, there's just something cheap and seedy about the fawning, submissive whoring out of Charlotte by city and state officials. So, again, no, it's not such a neat-o thing. Bad enough that the city's dominant industry is plagued by enormous ethical problems. Why would we want another one, especially if it's not creating all that many local jobs?

Dear BWA: What happened to Duke Energy's request for another rate increase? And didn't they just get one last year? — Fired Up

Dear Fired: I feel your pain. Duke last raised its rates for residential customers 7 percent in 2009. This year they wanted an 18.6 percent increase, primarily to finance new power plants. After massive complaints, Duke lowered its request to 7.2 percent, an amount that N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper says is still too high, as he has told the N.C. Utilities Commission. So, in short, the rate increase is still up in the air. How Duke expected to get a nearly 20-percent rate hike in the middle of an economic downturn is beyond me — particularly when the "downturn" has turned into a quasi-Depression for many residents of North and South Carolina, where a lot of Duke's customers live. Consider also that Duke Energy reported more than a billion dollars in profits for 2010, yet not only did it not pay taxes on that profit, Duke got back $5 million in 2010 from the IRS.

Here's a thought: Hard times call for new ways of thinking. If Duke Energy wants to build new power plants, let the company's shareholders pay for them. Hey, Duke says those plants will increase company profits, so shareholders shouldn't mind taking a temporary reduction in dividends with such future riches awaiting them. Even if they do mind, it's a much fairer way to bankroll Duke Energy's expansion than to keep yanking money out of increasingly strapped customers. As a friend says, "It's not like you have a choice of power companies. They should be working for us, not the other way around." [Thanks to Sue Sturgis at the Institute for Southern Studies for some of these figures.]

Dear Ask BWA: First, they cut funds for schools, then Voter ID's, reductions in early voting, mandatory ultrasounds and fundamentalist teachings for women seeking an abortion, and the anti-same-sex-marriage amendment. Now, they repeal the Racial Justice Act. What is wrong with the people running the state legislature? — Bumfuzzled

Dear Bumfuzzled: I agree — and the Racial Justice Act repeal, which will make it more likely that an innocent person will be executed in N.C., was the last straw. The biggest problem with the GOP majority in the legislature is that it was essentially taken over by Tea Partiers with few new ideas, giant chips on their shoulders, and apparently not much interaction with the modern world. Polls are showing increasingly severe cases of "voters' remorse" in states where Tea Party candidates gained power, which is at least one hopeful sign. I can just see the Democrats' campaign slogan for 2012: OK, We May Not Be Much, But At Least We're Not Batshit Crazy. A sad choice, but there you have it.

If you have a question for Boomer With Attitude, please e-mail him at Love offerings also accepted.

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