US exports misery and death: the failure of capitalism
The US has done more to create the current worldwide food crisis than any other nation. It is an outrage and one more reason why I find myself feeling ashamed of my country. This purported free market, the darling of right wingers everywhere, is supposed to save the world. But freedom is only free for the ultra rich and the biggest multinational corporations which line their pockets with government subsidies. The very, very few reap rich benefits from government policies and the actions of the IMF and the World Bank, while destroying entire cultures and indenturing the developing world. And now starving it. Profit over life. What a fucking shame.
In 1995, as a condition of providing a desperately needed loan, the International Monetary Fund required Haiti to cut its tariff on imported rice from 35% to 3%, the lowest in the Caribbean. The result was a massive influx of U.S. rice that sold for half the price of Haitian-grown rice. Thousands of rice farmers lost their lands and livelihoods, and today three-quarters of the rice eaten in Haiti comes from the U.S.
U.S. rice didn’t take over the Haitian market because it tastes better, or because U.S. rice growers are more efficient. It won out because rice exports are heavily subsidized by the U.S. government. In 2003, U.S. rice growers received $1.7 billion in government subsidies, an average of $232 per hectare of rice grown. That money, most of which went to a handful of very large landowners and agribusiness corporations, allowed U.S. exporters to sell rice at 30% to 50% below their real production costs.
In short, Haiti was forced to abandon government protection of domestic agriculture – and the U.S. then used its government protection schemes to take over the market.
There have been many variations on this theme, with rich countries of the north imposing “liberalization” policies on poor and debt-ridden southern countries and then taking advantage of that liberalization to capture the market. Government subsidies account for 30% of farm revenue in the world’s 30 richest countries, a total of US$280 billion a year, an unbeatable advantage in a “free” market where the rich write the rules.
The global food trade game is rigged, and the poor have been left with reduced crops and no protections.
In addition, for several decades the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have refused to advance loans to poor countries unless they agree to “Structural Adjustment Programs” (SAP) that require the loan recipients to devalue their currencies, cut taxes, privatize utilities, and reduce or eliminate support programs for farmers.
All this was done with the promise that the market would produce economic growth and prosperity – instead, poverty increased and support for agriculture was eliminated.
When Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, burst into the public consciousness a while back, I'd only been an Obama convert for about a month. I watched the endless loops of Wright hollering God damn America and was horrified. In part, it was because I assumed that these tapes signaled the end of Obama's candidacy.
Even though I stay pissed at my country these days, it felt like a slap. It wasn't just the God damn America stuff, but what I heard was racist and that hurt. It's what I heard. With cooler head and less emotion a few days later, I listened to what the man was saying and I realized that I'd thought and believed many of the same things.
I believe that our foreign policy decisions and our disregard for the sovereignty of other nations led us to the point that we were attacked by terrorists on September 11. Some of the other things Wright said were nothing new, but seemed a bit harder to swallow. I'd heard before that the US government infected African Americans with HIV and I'd heard before that the US was behind the crack epidemic and honestly, I gave those things little thought. I am prone to donning my tinfoil hat at times and I am happy to allow others to don their own.
It's so easy to stay on the surface of things, surface thinking, not bothering to go any deeper than what's just obviously apparent because it's easy and quick and much less painful. But the reality is that this country has infected people with diseases in order to study the results. Right here in this country, in an experiment running from 1932 to 1972, scientists withheld treatment from black men with syphilis in order to see how the disease would run its course. Even after 1947, when the disease was curable with penicillin, treatment was withheld even though it could have saved the lives of the study participants because scientists wanted to see exactly how the disease kills. Participants were prevented from seeking treatment elsewhere and the study wasn't discontinued until it was leaked to the press. Black men. Expendable. Of no real import, nothing more than lab rats.
In 1963, 20 chronically ill non-cancer patients were injected with cancer cells without their knowledge as part of a USPHS study. In 1953, an infant was given high levels of oxygen without parental consent. Oxygen was suspected to cause blindness. It did. Severely retarded children at Willowbrook State Hospital in New York were deliberately infected with the hepatitis virus, while their parents "gave consent" by signing a document which implied the children were being vaccinated against hepatitis. In Cincinnati between 1960-1972, a group of black men were given huge doses of whole body radiation without their consent. The men thought they were receiving treatment for cancer. Instead they became terribly ill from radiation sickness, experienced painful burns, and some died prematurely. That travesty was courtesy of the US Army. There's more, but you get the point.
So yeah, the US has done some dirty shit to its people, especially its people of darker hues. But drugs? Seriously? Oh . . . well, there have always been vague rumors about the CIA and dope in Vietnam. And the CIA and dope in South America. The CIA and military and dope and Iran-Contra. There are whole websites devoted to this and I won't go into it. But I will say that on this point, and at this point in time, I would put nothing past my government. Nothing.
So I was fairly quickly okay with the Wright thing, wishing it would go away, that it had never happened. Then comes Bill Moyers, one of the last true journalists in this country, and his interview with Reverend Wright last night.
How many times do I have to learn this lesson ~ that soundbytes mean nothing without context ~ before I really get it? In 40-45 minutes or so with Moyers, Jeremiah Wright provides the context for what seems to be so shocking taken in disjointed bits. He tells us about his church and what it means to him and the good they've done and will continue to do.
Wright is a gentle man, a good man and if the whole Wright controversy has bothered you at all, even if you're over it at this point, listen to him. He is intelligent, thoughtful, generous, kind. He's a real American, a patriot, a man who loves his country enough to stand up and dissent when it's necessary. It's an excellent interview. Please listen to this man. I did, and came away feeling that I'd be a better person if I'd had the good fortune to associate with him for 20 years.
I am patriotic and I love my country, but I hate most of what has happened to it in the last seven years. I don't drink Kool-aid and I can't stomach the rah-rah destructive crap that has passed for patriotism in this country since 9/11. I never believed in this war, not for a minute, and I was attacked for it by the gung-ho boot-in-your ass don't-fuck-with-the-yooo-esssss-aye crowd that has controlled the public discourse for far too fucking long, led on by the most incompetent, most ignorant, most destructive, most shameful president ever. Ever.
So when I came across this piece at The Agonist, it had a profound effect on me. I have never believed that we are invincible in this country or that we are special and thus deserving of special treatment, special rights, that the rules of good world citizenship don't apply to us. There's a tragic irony in the fact that we helped set up the rules of good world citizenship, yet we've shrugged off those restraints and discarded them as if they mean nothing.
I don't discount that we can be pretty kickass in a lot of ways, creative and innovative, generous and high spirited and just good fun. But our aggressive, bellicose posturing when it comes to foreign affairs has always offended me deeply, and the grotesque bullying arrogance that has passed for foreign policy since 9/11 is a horror and makes me ashamed of my country.
Because I am still a product of my raising, I have to confess that I was aware of this, of the impact of war around the world, but vaguely. To see the actual numbers was deeply disturbing. In general, in this country, we tend not to try to see things from the viewpoint of others. That's considered a weakness which we attribute to liberals, commies and misguided socialists. So when France was not on board with Iraq, we poked fun at the weaklings and we renamed our fried potatoes and I was inundated with emails from strangers chastising me for selling French antiques.
But it's true that we have little context in this country for the bloody reality of war. War is hell for everyone, but it's a special kind of hell when it's fought where you live. That's not our experience here, and so it is, perhaps, a bit easier to be somewhat cavalier about the next war and the next one. For all of our tough and hawkish posturing, we've never suffered the kinds of losses that other countries have. Not even close.
In World War I the US suffered slightly fewer than 120,000 combat deaths. For the UK, France, and Germany the figures are respectively 885,000, 1.4 million, and over 2 million. In World War II, when the US lost about 420,000 armed forces in combat, Japan lost 2.1 million, China 3.8 million, Germany 5.5 million, and the Soviet Union an estimated 10.7 million. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., records the deaths of 58,195 Americans over the course of a war lasting fifteen years: but the French army lost double that number in six weeks of fighting in May–June 1940. In the US Army's costliest engagement of the century—the Ardennes offensive of December 1944–January 1945 (the "Battle of the Bulge")—19,300 American soldiers were killed. In the first twenty-four hours of the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916), the British army lost more than 20,000 dead. At the Battle of Stalingrad, the Red Army lost 750,000 men and the Wehrmacht almost as many.
With the exception of the generation of men who fought in World War II, the United States thus has no modern memory of combat or loss remotely comparable to that of the armed forces of other countries. But it is civilian casualties that leave the most enduring mark on national memory and here the contrast is piquant indeed. In World War II alone the British suffered 67,000 civilian dead. In continental Europe, France lost 270,000 civilians. Yugoslavia recorded over half a million civilian deaths, Germany 1.8 million, Poland 5.5 million, and the Soviet Union an estimated 11.4 million. These aggregate figures include some 5.8 million Jewish dead. Further afield, in China, the death count exceeded 16 million. American civilian losses (excluding the merchant navy) in both world wars amounted to less than 2,000 dead.
As The Agonist's Sean-Paul Kelly writes, "We don't even begin to comprehend what suffering war causes."
state of oklahoma mandates vaginal probes for women
My sorry assed fucking state just passed one of the most regressive anti-abortion bills in the country. In order to freely determine what happens to her body once SB 1878 goes into effect in Oklahoma, any woman who has made the decision to terminate a pregnancy will have to undergo an ultrasound an hour before the procedure.
This is a trans-vaginal ultrasound, which requires a probe to be inserted into the vagina. This will be mandated by the state. Along with this physical violation, "medical personnel must then provide an explanation of the ultrasound. They also must display the ultrasound so the woman can view it, although she may avert her eyes."
She. may. avert. her. eyes. Really? Doesn't the state fucking own her goddamned eyes too??? I have written about abortion before and I know from my own experience that it is a rare woman who makes that decision lightly.
This fucking law intrudes into the private life of a woman at what is, for most, a vulnerable and difficult time of life. I am outraged. I really can't believe it. Our democratic governor, Brad Henry, vetoed the bill, but only because he thought it didn't provide exceptions for rape/incest victims.
His veto was overriden by the legislature, including dozens of democrats. And it's them I'm most pissed off about. It's one thing to have some fuckheaded right wing lunatic like Sally Kern blathering on about gays and hate. At least she is what she is and it's evident for all to see. These fucking democrats are selling us out at every level of government, everywhere. I am sick. Furious. Disgusted. I hate my state today.
That seems impossible. Fifty-one year olds are old, doddering, wrinkled. Old. How can I continue to feel 25 when my back cracks and my knees shoot the occasional warning pain? It's bizarre that there are no significant wrinkles, yet keeping away the gray is a weekly endeavor. Fifty one years ago on Palm Sunday, eight pounds of dark eyed, curly-haired baby girl dashed her daddy's last hope for a son. Life is filled with disappointments, yes? And joys. Yes. Happy day to all of you.
Seriously, our health care system is totally fucked. The "self administered medication" in question? Two 2.5 mg Percocets I took in recovery, post-surgery. How could it possibly cost $72.63 for a nurse to shake two pills from her bottle, walk five steps, hand me a cup of water and two tablets?
My insurance company will undoubtedly bargain this down significantly. But what of those who have no insurance? How can any single uninsured working person possibly afford to pay $8,900 for the facility fee only for a 90 minute outpatient surgery? That's not even counting the pathologist's fee, the anesthesiologist, the surgeon's hefty pound of flesh, or any of the assorted radiology or lab fees that always fill the mailbox after an encounter with a hospital.
George Bush's solution is "health care savings accounts," whereby American can surely pay for . . . I don't know, maybe a typical prescription which, without insurance, generally runs at least $100 and often as much as $400-500. With the US savings rate in the negative, can anyone besides the ultra rich save money at a pace which could easily cover an unexpected health event like this one? Ninety minutes in the hospital. Ninety. Minutes. Two. Pills. $8,900 and more to come. It's madness.
Having been under the weather a bit, and utterly exhausted by the yapping of the newsheads on MSNBC and CNN and the rest, I have been reading more than my usual a lot.
Inspired by Al's recent posts on Naomi Klein's End of America, I gave up trying to find it at the library and it's just arrived from Amazon today. I did, however, snag her Shock Doctrine just yesterday, a book I've put off reading because I find it so horrifying.
On a more escapist note, I've just finished That Old Ace in the Hole, Annie Proulx's story of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, the wretchedness of corporate hog farms, and finding community in unexpected places. Wonderful, especially for anyone who's ever lived anywhere near the prairie.
I've just put Kiara Brinkman's Up High in the Trees, again thanks to Al. So since all of us loosely connected blogger folk have such great tastes in reading material, what are you reading? What have you just read? What do you recommend for the library list?
I had hoped to make it through life with all body parts intact. Alas, 'tis not to be. I am being punctured at 7 a.m. to remove my "great BIG stones and the gallbladder's packed full!" Such indignities associated with any medical procedures. Boo.