Two Gottsches and a Buffett climbed aboard a 1967 John Deere in Elkhorn last week, planting the seeds for the nation's farmers to support local food banks.
The tractor ride kicked off a campaign that will include a live broadcast on RFD-TV in August, a documentary that traces a crop from planting to sale and an appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day — a float trailed by antique tractors buzzing down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, Calif.
The Gottsches were Patrick, the president of RFD-TV's Rural Media Group, and his brother, Mickey, a farmer. The Buffett was Howard W., grandson of Omaha investor Warren Buffett and an executive with his father's Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
The tractor planted about an acre of seed corn in a five-acre plot at 222nd Street and West Center Road owned by Patrick Gottsch.
The foundation originated the “Invest an Acre” campaign earlier this year in cooperation with Archer Daniels Midland Co., the grain processing giant. Gottsch's rural-oriented RFD-TV signed on as a partner to promote the campaign.
“Rural hunger is just as serious an issue as urban hunger,” said Brian Barks, development director for Food Bank for the Heartland. Food banks in Omaha and Lincoln, which send food to the needy throughout Nebraska and western Iowa, could harvest $50,000 a year from the new campaign.
Although Nebraska is a leading food production state, Barks said, an estimated 200,000 Nebraskans, including 92,000 children, are “food insecure,” meaning they aren't sure where their next meal will come from. “That's just not right.”
A U.S. Department of Agriculture report said 14.7 percent of rural households ran short of food in 2010. The rate was 17 percent in urban areas, but food distribution is difficult in rural areas because of the distances and thin population.
Michael Irons, from ADM's Nebraska division, said the campaign relies on the generosity of farmers. They need only decide how many bushels to donate when they sell grain to one of ADM's 250 U.S. grain elevators. ADM takes care of the transaction, issuing a donation receipt and forwarding the money to local food banks through Feeding America, a network that includes most food banks. The foundation will pay administrative costs.
Once the U.S. campaign is established, Patrick Gottsch said, RFD-TV's goal would be to spread it to Brazil and other agriculture-rich countries. The Gottsch family has long been involved in the farming, cattle and land-development businesses in Nebraska.
One of RFD-TV's goals, he said, is to bring rural and urban people together, increasing their understanding so they can work toward common goals such as eliminating hunger.
On board with order
Jordan Hansell had a purchase in mind — $9.6 billion worth of business jets over the next decade.
That's enough money that he wanted to let the boss, Warren Buffett, know about the plan.
“He just wanted to make sure we were getting planes that our owners would like, and I think we succeeded in doing that,” Hansell said last week. He is CEO of NetJets, the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary that operates a fleet of jets and sells partial ownership shares to individuals and businesses.
Berkshire CEO Buffett, a NetJets consumer himself, was on board with the order, Hansell said, so NetJets is going ahead with its purchase of up to 425 jets from Bombardier Inc. and Cessna, the Wichita-based division of Textron Inc.
It was NetJets' third big purchase in less than two years, a “long-term bet on the global economy,” Hansell said during a conference call with reporters, echoing Buffett's sentiment that the economy will survive its present uncertainties.
So far, 125 of the orders are “firm,” with deliveries starting in 2014. It's the largest order ever for business aircraft, bigger than the $6.7 billion order NetJets placed in March 2011 and its $1.05 billion order from October 2010.
“Those at the top have managed to design a tax system in which they pay less than their fair share — they pay a lower fraction of their income than do those who are much poorer. We call such tax systems regressive.”
Is that Buffett complaining again that his income tax rate is too low in comparison to his secretary's?
Nope, that's Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz in his new book, “The Price of Inequality,” (W.W. Norton Publishing 398 pages, $27.95).
Stiglitz was chairman of President Bill Clinton's council of economic advisers from 1995 to 1997 and chief economist for the World Bank from 1997 to 2000. He shared the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001.
He cites Buffett's arguments about high-income people whose tax rates are low, adding: “Warren Buffett put it correctly when he said, ‘There's been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won.' ”
Stiglitz also mentions Buffett's warnings about the U.S. trade deficit and about the complex financial instruments known as derivatives, which Buffett has called “financial weapons of mass destruction.”
Buffett doesn't object to people earning high salaries but says Congress should change the tax code so that people who earn more than $1 million in a year should pay at least 30 percent of that in federal income taxes.
Stiglitz goes further, arguing that income and wealth inequality are out of control, eroding the nation's economic character. “The chances of an American citizen making his way from the bottom to the top are less than those of citizens in other advanced industrial countries,” he wrote, threatening to kill one of the basic tenets of the American dream.
The recent “occupy” protests are rooted in a loss of the sense of fair play, he wrote.
While Buffett believes capitalism is the best economic system, Stiglitz said the protesters believe that “capitalism is failing to produce what was promised, but is delivering on what was not promised — inequality, pollution, unemployment, and, most important of all, the degradation of values to the point where everything is acceptable and no one is accountable.”
Program has graduates
Buffett attended a graduation ceremony in Chicago for 37 people who completed a management program started in 2009 by Buffett and investment bank Goldman Sachs in the wake of criticisms about Wall Street misconduct and the 2008 financial crisis.
The ceremony, held at Malcolm X College, marked the end of a 20-week program for small-business owners, the first for the Chicago area, the Chicago Tribune reported. The program also operates in Houston, New Orleans, New York City, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Calif., and Cleveland.
Goldman committed $500 million to the program, designed to give practical business knowledge and access to capital to people who are starting and operating small businesses. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein also attended the graduation ceremony.
“I feel like I got more than an MBA,” said Dennis Deer, a small-business owner and psychologist whose business provides training and counseling for police departments. He said he learned to delegate responsibility rather than trying to manage everything himself. Thanks to the program, he said, “I'm a better leader.”
The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
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