Monday, May 26, 2008

manufacturing a food crisis

The Nation, by way of, explores the food crisis in Mexico and the Phillipines. One never has to read far before finding the usual suspects: International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and neoliberal economic policies wreaking bloody havoc.

When tens of thousands of people staged demonstrations in Mexico last year to protest a 60 percent increase in the price of tortillas, many analysts pointed to biofuel as the culprit. Because of U.S. government subsidies, American farmers were devoting more and more acreage to corn for ethanol than for food, which sparked a steep rise in corn prices. The diversion of corn from tortillas to biofuel was certainly one cause of skyrocketing prices, though speculation on biofuel demand by transnational middlemen may have played a bigger role. However, an intriguing question escaped many observers: how on earth did Mexicans, who live in the land where corn was domesticated, become dependent on U.S. imports in the first place?

The Mexican food crisis cannot be fully understood without taking into account the fact that in the years preceding the tortilla crisis, the homeland of corn had been converted to a corn-importing economy by "free market" policies promoted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and Washington. The process began with the early 1980s debt crisis. One of the two largest developing-country debtors, Mexico was forced to beg for money from the Bank and IMF to service its debt to international commercial banks. The quid pro quo for a multibillion-dollar bailout was what a member of the World Bank executive board described as "unprecedented thoroughgoing interventionism" designed to eliminate high tariffs, state regulations and government support institutions, which neoliberal doctrine identified as barriers to economic efficiency.

There is no justification for this continuing effort to institute policies that practically guarantee an impoverished citizenry, the privatization and wholesaling to foreign entities of a nation's wealth, crushing debt, spiraling interest payments, and loss of independence and autonomy.

The classic definition of insanity proffered by Alcoholics Anonymous et al is doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different result. Since the Chicago school economists first began fucking around in South America, the results have been predictable and bloody and destructive, yet the same theories are repeatedly put into practice, despite having proven disastrous around the globe.

Of course they've not been disastrous for everyone. Huge multinational corporations have benefited greatly. They've been immensely enriched on the backs of the world's poor, so depending upon one's point of view, what I consider a disaster may not be so: I think starvation and death due to economic terrorism is a disaster. You?

There are heartening developments in South America and I'm hopeful that they'll continue. One bright spot is the South American Union agreed upon last Friday in a meeting of national leaders, with further talks now about a single currency for the region. It's a tenuous start and likely to falter, but the effort was based on the sound premises that there must be an alternative to American hegemony and that nations should band together to avoid falling victim to thuggish institutions like the IMF and the World Bank.

Whether it will fall apart if Venezuela's Hugo Chavez fails to win reelection remains to be seen; certainly his anti-American stance has been a driving force behind the general move of South American nations to fight US domination and that stance, too, has been the fuel for US efforts to derail his presidency. Chavez is feisty, but in a head to head battle, Chavez v. CIA, the CIA will likely be the ultimate victor.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

armed liberal

Thoughts on liberals, guns and the second amendment, posted at Sirens Chronicles.

(Thanks to Dusty, blogmadame of Sirens, for the visual ~ love it!)

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

no thank you

A note to the right wing: You are everywhere. Your voices have been heard at a level that is deafening and contrary to the health of this country. You are everywhere with your rants and your ravings, your misinformation, your accusations and lies masquerading as truth and shouted out at such volume that we are finally willing to accept the false as true if only to silence you, to be free of the unbearable racket of you locked-in-step talking-points-spouting no-thinking fools.

I understand you, to a degree. My voice is often raised in protest, in outrage, in anger, and sadness. I despair over what has happened to my country and I blame you. All of you. Your superficial, judgmental, condemning approach to virtually all of America's problems sickens me. Your insistence that we're all out for ourselves, that we've no responsibility for one another, that there is no future in caring about our fellow citizens makes me want to hurt you. And isn't that crazy? Me, wanting to hurt you? Or anyone? I can't even kill a cockroach.

Yet your virulent ranting and your attacks and constant verbal assaults, the fact that you have infiltrated every public arena, that yours are the voices behind the news, behind the politicians, yours are the voices that shriek the loudest and thus get the most attention, well it drives me nearly mad.

Your refusal to recognize the corporate power behind our political structure, the actual fact of people dying every day so that our nation can become richer, or at least the very few of us who actually do become richer. And that's not you, you idiots, though you're willing to eat the shit of those who disdain you and use your allegiance to suit their purposes; an audience of the blind, deluded by the powerful who laugh at you and your sworn fealty to their causes, not yours. Wake up.

I am sick of it. Sick of you. Fuck you, all of you. Enjoy the disaster you have wrought in this country. Continue to lick the boots of your idiot "leaders" like Limbaugh and Coulter and Hannity and all of the rest of the lunatic fringe. You are despicable, so sick with the disease of hate and yes, I hate you, passionately, and so I am sick with it too.

No more. Enjoy yourselves somewhere else. I am past done with you. Fuck you, every single one of you who refuse to open your goddamned eyes and look around you, to recognize the path we are on, the changes that must be made, and quickly, if we are to survive as a nation, if this world is to survive. Fuck you. And to your comments, no thank you. Spread your disease somewhere else.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

hungry yet?

You may be soon. The food crisis worldwide is growing daily, creating desperate conditions for millions of people who rely on commodities of wheat and corn and rice. Almost everything I read mentions ethanol as a prime reason, but few sources note that the US has vast acreages of tillable land which could be turned to corn production if farmers weren't being paid to let it lie fallow.

Mr. Bush suggests that India is eating better, thus throwing the world into panic. India's justifiable response is "fuck you fat American pigs" and rightfully so. Nouveau riche China is increasing its consumption of meat and this, too, is blamed for the worldwide, spreading crisis in food.

But there's little discussion of how countries like Haiti lost their small farmers, because that is a tragedy that relates to mindnumbingly complex intervention by the never-benevolent IMF and World Bank, subsidized exports from this and other first world countries. It is mind numbing and important, because the destruction wrought upon Haiti and other 3d world nations by globalization and free market economics has been devastating. Another post, another day.

But almost none of the articles I read about the food crisis mention hedge funds and the speculation that is part and parcel of those secretive enterprises. They operate with billions and billions of capital with virtually no oversight or regulation. None of our presidential candidates, Democrat or Republican, have any interest in exploring the possibility of regulating these incredibly powerful financial institutions.

One hedge fund manager took home $3.8 billion last year. That's about $1.9 million an hour, assuming a standard work week of 40 hours and a standard (ha!) vacation of two weeks and that math takes me back to Teddy Kennedy's rant on the minimum wage, his desperate fight to get it raised to a little over $7 an hour for the lowest wage workers in this nation.

$3.8 billion in a year. That is, honestly, obscene. Obscene. And riches accumulated through hedge fund "work" are generally taxed at 15% ~ about what your average low- to mid-range wage worker pays in taxes.

I don't like hedge funds. I don't like the secretive nature of them, their ability to do on an incredibly damaging and very large scale what one-man-and-a-keyboard day traders were accused of doing to the stock market in the late '90s. That is manipulation on an unimaginable scale; having the ability to wreak havoc in the world's economy with no accountability at all. They can make money from things going well, but they can make as much, or more, when the economy goes to hell and the world is in crisis and it's a tiny little step to creating that very crisis in the interest of more profit.

Which brings me back to food. Britain's New Statesman says it far better than I.

This latest food emergency has developed in an incredibly short space of time - essentially over the past 18 months. The reason for food "shortages" is speculation in commodity futures following the collapse of the financial derivatives markets. Desperate for quick returns, dealers are taking trillions of dollars out of equities and mortgage bonds and ploughing them into food and raw materials. It's called the "commodities super-cycle" on Wall Street, and it is likely to cause starvation on an epic scale.

The rocketing price of wheat, soybeans, sugar, coffee - you name it - is a direct result of debt defaults that have caused financial panic in the west and encouraged investors to seek "stores of value". These range from gold and oil at one end to corn, cocoa and cattle at the other; speculators are even placing bets on water prices.

Just like the boom in house prices, commodity price inflation feeds on itself. The more prices rise, and big profits are made, the more others invest, hoping for big returns. Look at the financial websites: everyone and their mother is piling into commodities. It is the great bull market of the Noughties. The trouble is that if you are one of the 2.8 billion people, almost half the world's population, who live on less than $2 a day, you may pay for these profits with your life.

So we now have a food crisis, fast on the heels of a housing crisis, essentially created by the same conscienceless investment organizations whose sole aim is to turn a profit no matter the cost. I recognize that's the purpose of business; that's why the pure free market as proposed by Milton Friedman and other neoliberal economic asshats will never work. Unbridled greed is dangerous to living things.

At this point, there is little or no political interest in providing oversight of the hedge funds and their activities. No one is seriously proposing limiting them in any way; not in this country, never here, where we worship the myth of the free market, the very one subsidized by taxpayers in the form of corporate welfare.

In this country, most of us can suck it up and pay higher prices at the grocery store and cut back a little elsewhere. But we are fortunate, far more so than the world as a whole. What we can suck up and deal with, too many in the rest of the world cannot.

Just for one day ~ one single day ~ I would like to see Wall Street awash in the blood of innocents destroyed by greed. How much is enough for us? How much is enough for the man who takes home $3.8 billion dollars? How much is enough when that profit is taken at the cost of thousands of lives, of millions? And when will America wake up?

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

why i love teddy kennedy

I believe that, to his dying breath, he will advocate for the poor and disenfranchised in this country. I love this man and his passion and his sense of social justice. I pray that he will recover from his recent health scare and can continue his irreplaceable work in the Senate throughout the next president's term.

Here he takes Republicans to task for blocking the minimum wage bill. He is magnificent.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

unfuckingbelievable: US drugs deportees

More US government jackassery, courtesy of the Washington Post.

The U.S. government has injected hundreds of foreigners it has deported with dangerous psychotropic drugs against their will to keep them sedated during the trip back to their home country, according to medical records, internal documents and interviews with people who have been drugged.

The government's forced use of antipsychotic drugs, in people who have no history of mental illness, includes dozens of cases in which the "pre-flight cocktail," as a document calls it, had such a potent effect that federal guards needed a wheelchair to move the slumped deportee onto an airplane. . . .

Involuntary chemical restraint of detainees, unless there is a medical justification, is a violation of some international human rights codes. The practice is banned by several countries where, confidential documents make clear, U.S. escorts have been unable to inject deportees with extra doses of drugs during layovers en route to faraway places.

I don't know why I should actually be surprised that these cowboys occupying the US government should continue to act in defiance of agreed world standards, but I am. God save us from this fuckheaded idiots. Can somebody please invade us and remove these criminals? Doesn't any country besides the US practice regime change? Somebody save us from these thugs!!

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