US congress about to increase ‘Subsidies of Mass Destruction’?

H’mmm, I’ve recently been writing about the numbers of people killed by Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction back in the 1980s. I guess it was around 25,000 people at the time– though many of the 100,000 Iranians contaminated by the Iraqi CW suffered mightily over the years that followed (and until today.)
The number of women, men, and children who die quite avoidable deaths in low-income countries every few months because of the completely unfair (and under WTO rules, most probably actually illegal) subsidies that the US and other rich countries give to their agricultural producers is almost certainly higher than that.
Therefore I think we ought to get used to calling them Subsidies of Mass Destruction (SMD’s.)
And right now, the US Congress is considering provisions in the 2007-2012 Farm Bill that are set not just to keep the US’s agricultural subsidies in place, but also to increase them. The House of Representatives passed its version of the five-year Farm Bill on July 27. This PDF info sheet from the House Ag Committee tells us “proudly” that the bill preserves and increases subsidies paid on 25 different commodities, including those two “Kings” of the traditional US plantation/slavery system, cotton and rice, which still are “Kings” in this Farm Bill.
Oh, also, shock, horror. This bill is going to put a “hard cap” on the income of anyone who’s eligible for getting the subsidies. It’s as low (irony alert) as one million dollars per person…
So you can really see that these subsidies are not really about “preserving the small American family farmer”, at all. They’re about massive taxpayer handouts to Big Agribusiness.
Oxfam has done a lot of solid research over the past few years into how the US cotton subsidies destroy the livelihoods of miliions of farmers in low-income countries around the world.
For example, this press release from September 2002. It said:

    US subsidies to cotton producers are contributing to mass poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries, according to a report published today by the international development agency Oxfam.
    Government support to the 25,000 domestic cotton producers in the US totals $3.9 billion annually, more than three times the US foreign assistance to Africa’s 500 million people.
    “The US is the world’s strongest proponent of free trade, but when poor cotton farmers in Mali try to trade on the world market, they must compete against massively subsidized American cotton,” says Phil Twyford. “This makes a mockery of the idea of a level playing field. The rules are rigged against the poor.”
    American cotton subsidies are highly targeted to benefit the largest farming operations. The largest 10 per cent of American cotton agro-businesses received three-quarters of the total subsidies.
    The Government of Brazil is launching a complaint with the World Trade Organization, claiming that US cotton support constitutes an unfair trade practice.
    More than 10 million people in Central and West Africa depend directly on cotton. It is a major source of revenue for countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin. The amount of money America spends on cotton is more than the entire GDP of Burkina Faso, where 2 million people depend on cotton and half of who live below the poverty line.
    Oxfam says that Africa is losing $300 million a year, based on estimates from the International Cotton Advisory Council, and that the withdrawal of US subsidies would raise the world price of cotton by 11 cents a pound.
    World cotton prices have sunk to as low now as any time since the Great Depression. The US subsidies are pushing prices even further into collapse…

Well, in March 2005 the Brazilians did win the “case” against the US cotton subsidies that they’d lodged with the WTO’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism… Do you think that put an end to the US cotton subsidies??
Short answer: No.
Today, I found a handful of great online resources about the nature of the US cotton subsidies, and the industry that has grown up around them.
First of all, I found this totally awesome online database, that’s produced by an outfit called the Environmental Working Group. The EWG’s doughty researchers used FOIA applications to the US Dept of Agriculture to free up some much-needed public information about the structure of the subsidies. That page there shows you how strongly receipt of the subsidies was concentrated into a few hands in 2005. If you noodle around that database a little bit you can find out all kinds of information about the recipients of the subsidies, too.
On this page, fairly low down, I found out that in 2005, cotton subsidies totaled $3.3 billion. Ah, and here is the cotton page itself. More great figures there.
But here was one of my greatest online finds of today: A brilliantly researched and written investigative piece about the whole cotton subsidy phenomenon written by CNN-Money reporter G. Pascal Zachary in December 2005.
His whole article is well worth reading by anyone interested in this whole crazy/lethal enterprise of US cotton subsidies.
Here are my highlights:

    The federal government now pays more than $2 billion a year to farmers and traders to produce cotton that the world, already awash in cotton, simply does not need… By a broader measurement of subsidies used by the World Trade Organization, American cotton growers got $4 billion in 2004 alone and are expected to collect roughly the same amount this year.
    The cascade of money leads to an unending series of perverse incentives and damaging outcomes, at least to the wider world beyond U.S. cotton farmers and traders: As the subsidies stimulate higher production, global prices are further depressed, dealing punishing blows to cotton farmers in poor countries, particularly in Africa. Nor is the program done much credit by who gets the money. It’s not generally the stalwart family farmer, although there are some subsidy recipients who still might fit that mythic American mold. Mostly it is large corporate agricultural operations. Some are indeed owned by families–including many millionaires and even a billionaire or two, like members of the Boswell family, which runs one of the nation’s largest farming enterprises and has received tens of millions of dollars in cotton subsidies over the decades. Other subsidies go to a handful of powerful international trading firms that market U.S. cotton. Cargill, the Minneapolis-based agribusiness giant that’s one of the richest privately owned companies in the country, received $155 million in government payments during the past decade for trading U.S. cotton abroad. Subsidies aren’t even limited to American companies: Louis Dreyfus Co., the global commodities trading power based in France, got $34.6 million in U.S. subsidies last year alone. “Cotton subsidies,” says economist Pietra Rivoli, a professor at Georgetown University, “are way too high, unfair, and embarrassingly hypocritical in a country that’s the world’s self-proclaimed free trade champion.”

He describes how the subsidy system actually works:

    Basically, growers are supported from preplanting through harvest, making cotton essentially a risk-free venture. A direct payment based on a farmer’s historical acreage goes to every cotton grower every year before an acre is planted, even if the farmer isn’t going to raise cotton that year. (The payment is sometimes used to fund a different, more valuable crop.) A second payment kicks in at planting time. Then a grower can borrow against the crop, using the newly sown cotton as collateral. But the loan is no normal loan. If the price of cotton falls below 52 cents per pound on world markets, the government–not the farmer–takes any loss on the loan. And there’s a third payment, from a so-called countercyclical program. If prices fall below 65 cents per pound, the grower gets a payment from the government of roughly 13 cents per pound. With cotton trading in the 50s, countercyclical payments are triggered all the time. Another element of the program, called Step 2, pays trading firms to market U.S. cotton.
    Most of the subsidies go to farmers. But it’s not easy sorting out which ones, and subsidy recipients are rarely identified publicly. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s tracking system for the payments is difficult to decipher, and many farmers have mastered the art of subdividing their operations under numerous different names, partnerships, and ownership structures to skirt payment limitations. (In cotton country, that’s called “harvesting the program.”) Farmers are disinclined to say much about the program. They seem to have taken to heart an old adage of J.G. Boswell, the patriarch of the cotton-growing Boswell family: “As long as the whale never surfaces, it is never harpooned,” he liked to say. The family and related interests today own more than 140,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley [of California] and elsewhere; they’re one of the biggest cotton growers in the United States. Boswell, who came to the area in 1921, always kept a low profile. Current leaders of the family, whose net worth is in the billions, have occasionally surfaced long enough to say they’re opposed to subsidies. But they’ve accepted some nonetheless: Federal data compiled by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy group, shows that between 2000 and 2003, J.G. Boswell Co. got $16.8 million for cotton.

He writes about Parkdale America, a privately owned maker of yarn, that received $135 million in Step 2 payments for the 10 years ending in 2004. He notes that Parkdale is likely America’s largest producer of textiles and one of the few that haven’t succumbed to foreign competition, and adds: “Economists point out that Parkdale could probably import foreign cotton cheaply enough that it might not need the subsidy, just as Apple Computer buys foreign-made memory chips and is none the worse for it. Parkdale could, that is, if the government did not impose steep tariffs on cheap foreign cotton that effectively bars it from the U.S. market.”
He writes:

    American cotton has made up roughly half of the cotton traded across borders for many years. But the market distortions the program creates are severe and damaging. Terry Townsend, a leading cotton analyst, says dumping [um, probably not a great verb to use there Pascal??] U.S. subsidies would instantly raise world prices by as much as 10 cents a pound and cut U.S. production by at least 15 percent. The effect would be particularly beneficial in places that desperately need economic help, notably West African countries like Burkina Faso that are significant exporters but can’t make money at today’s prices and whose governments are far too poor to provide any subsidies. The environment, too, would catch a break from reduced production; growing cotton can be tough on the planet, especially now that genetically modified seeds encourage U.S. growers to soak their fields in a defoliant that kills everything from bugs to the cotton bush itself and knocks the unharmed bolls to the ground, where they can be scooped up by mechanical harvesters. All in all, U.S. subsidies are “too harmful,” says John Baffes, the World Bank’s top cotton expert. “They need to be reduced.”

Ok, so you may still be asking just why the US taxpayers are still investing in these Subsidies of Mass Destruction??
Zachary provides one possible answer…. It’s all about fighting terrorism!
At the end of his piece, he has this great vignette from a meeting that US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns held in late November 2005, with hundreds of cotton farmers who had gathered at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, cotton’s top research university…

    The farmers have come from across the country… It’s standing room only, and the event is being broadcast on live radio statewide. Three local congressmen share the stage with Johanns.
    Johanns leads the farmers in the pledge of allegiance. A military honor guard marches in, bearing colors, and a student sings the national anthem. Soon farmers line up before a lectern to speak to the secretary. Many emphasize that the cotton program is vital to national security. “In view of terrorist activity,” one farmer advises, America must not rely on foreign cotton. Other dark warnings follow about China’s surging production, Brazil’s potential as a cotton exporter, and the damage cutting subsidies would do to farm communities and the American way of life in general. Secretary Johanns nods. The congressmen nod. The other farmers in the hall nod.

Well, the “anti-terrorism” argument is one argument. Hilarious though it no doubt seems to most rational people in this context. I mean, for goodness sake, if the US is quite happy to import computer chips and software systems from overseas (without tariffs or other barriers), and doesn’t seem to worry about the effects of that trade on our national security, can we honestly take seriously a claim that cotton goods are even more “sensitive” for our national security than those??
Another, more plausible explanation for the longevity of these subsidies– as, actually for subsidies in many other portions of the federal budget, including aid to Israel– has a lot more to do with sheer lobbying muscle than any rhetorical claims that may be made in the name of “counter-terrorism.” And here, I think AIPAC should probably cede first place to the National Cotton Council (and maybe to the National Rifle Association, too. But that’s another issue.)
Zachary’s great article there has a few references to the NCC. But you can learn a lot more about it here. Including that you can learn— no surprise here at all– that “The NCC is pleased with House Passage of New Farm Legislation.”
I reckon that the NCC’s lobbying muscle is the only explanation for, for example, the otherwise inexplicable position adopted on the latest Farm Bill by California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is generally a very sane and forward-looking person.
Last week, she was reported by the SF Chronicle as being opposed to a proposal to reduce the “income cap” for farm subsidy recipients from that $1 million figure in the House Bill, down to a “mere” $250,000:

    “It’s not an easy issue for California,” Boxer said. “We have our rice people and we have our cotton people.”

The reporter there, Carolyn Lochhead, noted that generally Boxer is “an ardent supporter of environmental programs who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.” Lochhead adds,

    The [farm] bill drew sharp criticism from many environmental and food activists as well as economists and budget groups who said it largely leaves intact Depression-era crop subsidies that send billions of dollars a year to the nation’s wealthiest growers of five commodities – cotton, rice, corn, wheat and soybeans – at the expense of environmental and nutrition programs.

As Lochhead (and also Pascal Zahary) noted, a good alternative approach for US agriculture would to divert funding from these huge subsidies to traditional-style Big Ag, and to invest it instead into environmentally sustainable and organic land-use projects.
So I’ll just end up this post with a link to this fascinating and generally well-thought-out article by Will Allen, Eddie DeAnda, and Kate Duesterberg on the website of the Organic Consumers Association. They make the very important argument that, in this whole business of farm subsidies, US farmers should not consider themselves to be in any kind of a zero-sum contest with farmers in low-income countries. Far from it, indeed…

21 thoughts on “US congress about to increase ‘Subsidies of Mass Destruction’?”

  1. Great job, Helena.
    If you have a moment you might like to look at my precis of the speech that Jacob Zuma made to the Congress of the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) yesterday in Durban, for a view from this side, of this problem.
    It is in “COSATU Today”, today, Friday, issue 6 of this week, downloadable by a link from this page:
    In the same issue you will also see statements about the sacking of our hero Quaker-Communist (now former) Deputy Minister of Health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.

  2. our hero Quaker-Communist
    I don’t know if Quaker a small community structured as if a different poetical community hosting under its umbrella a “Quaker-Communist” may be there is a “Quaker-imperlimses” or even a “Quaker-neocon’s”!!

  3. Nothing prevents an American citizen from joining both the Friends Church and Communist Party. To my knowledge, Communists do not countenance any role for religion in the affairs of state. Good for them. That sounds quite “friendly” and “American” to me.
    Religious organizations and political parties in America — except in the case of reactionary Republicans and Zionists (pardon the redundancies) — do not necessarily coincide, nor should they. As a matter of seldom-noticed fact, the Constitution of the United States quite specifically proclaims that they cannot do so.
    Not that America exists any longer as a constitutional republic. Emperor Constantine’s “fatal gift” (i.e., the unification of Church and State) has seen to that. In 1789, Benjamin Franklin said that he and his fellow Founders had given us a republic, if we could keep it. We haven’t.

  4. It seems to me that it would do you all a lot of good in the old USA if you were to let your communists come home, literally if possible but also metaphorically or spiritually.

  5. Was I dreaming, or did I see two posts from Scott here, very interesting to us in SA, touching on the ethanol-induced food price rizes in the USA, which we also have (e.g. recent big increase in the price of bread)?

  6. “recent 85th Anniversary issue1, were the Quakers. In the 1700s and early 1800s, probably because their legendary simplicity and thrift endowed them with the capital to invest, they dominated the British economy, owners of more than half of the country’s ironworks and key players in banking, consumer goods, and transatlantic trading. Their emphasis on reliability, absolute honesty, and rigorous record-keeping gave them trust as they dealt with one another, and other observant merchants came to see that being trustworthy went hand-in-hand with business success. Self-interest, in short, demanded virtue.”
    What Went Wrong in Corporate America?

  7. Hi Dominic, Nope, your quick eye had it. Shortly after making those posts though, I discovered I had made an error, referencing a family issue, and felt it best to pull the whole posts, ’til I could check it out.
    Yet I have indeed been fascinated by the questions surrounding considerable price increases in certain basic foodstuffs – like corn and dairy. Even as the gov’t keeps telling us that food inflation remains “tame” (or so CNBC dutifully parrots), families I know are deeply concerned about 25% increases (and more) in many basic grocery items this year, beginning with milk.
    At our local Giant, they have a big “red” sign up above the dairy case alerting customers that milk prices are up substantially because of higher feed (corn) and transport (gasoline) costs. I don’t have the exact quote handy, but that’s the gist.
    Farmers are getting much higher prices for corn this year, and I gather than a key reason is ethanol production. (which is heavily subsidized by our tax dollars too — and it also is often severely criticized as consuming nearly as much, if not more, energy to make it as it produces…..)
    Whatever happened to the president’s “switchgrass” proposal? Why do I smell a corn state lobbyist (the ethanol racket) at work in keeping funds away from developing switchgrass?
    So back to corn, we have corn prices dramatically higher, because of greater demand for it to go into ethanol production. (I even read something about tortillas are dramatically higher in Mexico — another basic foodstuff)
    And oh, this one I’m sure of — delivered retail propane prices are at RECORD highs right now, even though crude oil and gasoline prices have dramatically dropped in recent months….. Natural gas prices are VERY cheap for a change, in part as natural gas inventories are at near record highs.
    So what gives with propane? (Again, average delivered prices are at near record highs — in the SUMMER, when historically, prices drop 30% and more — back when there was serious competition in the industry.)
    I can dig out the US EIA #’s, but the core issue I’m detecting is that propane consumption nation-wide this past spring and summer has been running extremely high, and as a shocking result, inventories of propane are 25% less than where they historically are this time of year. (I detected this pattern also last summer, then the first time it EVER happened.)
    US EIA commentaries are mum on an explanation, but I think I found it…. (First, it has nothing to do with “fuel switching” — no utility or business in their right mind with the capacity to switch would be going to propane right now, with dramatically cheaper natural gas options)
    The process to make ethanol apparently utilizes PROPANE. (If anybody has a detailed technical source on that, I’d like to confirm)
    By the way, next time you see one of those slick Amerigas commercials for the “efficiency” and cost-effectiveness of propane, remember this — it’s a flagrant LIE. (If you go to their near-monopoly web site for the industry –, you’ll see energy calculators for propane — which slyly still assume just over $1 a gallon for delivered propane. (It’s now nearly tripled in less than 3 years — and as I’ve already hinted, something other than high crude or natural gas prices is the culprit)
    Again, the likely possibility — subsidized ETHANOL production.
    So where the heck is the media on this one? I suspect that the lobbyists for the ethanol, dairy, and propane industries are all delighted by the super high prices — based on supply & demand they’ll tell us. Never mind that the artificial demand is created by a government subsidized program to produce energy in-efficient ETHANOL.
    Ah, but the argument that will likely stifle debate or even inquiry — BUT we gotta reduce our “dependence” on “foreign oil.” (so instead, let’s line the pockets of the big boys and put it onto the backs of families who struggle just to pay groceries and heat their rural homes w/ propane…. Oh, but the lobbyists will so earnestly tell Kudlow & Bartaromo that’s it’s “shared sacrifice” that we all gotto “do our part” — !)
    Yahdi dah dah dah.

  8. Back to Helena’s original argument, it seems to me that anyone seeking to make a dent in the power of the subsidies for the agriculture industry has a huge p.r. problem.
    Sure, Americans may be moved if you can make the linkage between high US subsidies and ruined economies in third world areas, esp. Africa. But will they be willing to give up the subsidies to the alleged yeoman farmer ???
    NOT EASILY. It’s incredibly ingrained (pardon the pun) in our political culture.
    It seems to me the argument will also, and more directly, need to be made that something fundamentally rotten :-} is afoot process — and that’s is creating economic pain not just for others, for ourselves too.
    By the way, that data base Helena references truly is extraordinary. One can also rather readily discern if your “independent” ant-government neighbors and relatives really are still as “independent” of reliance on the government as you might have assumed…. :-}

  9. I am curious about the “hard cap” of the $1 million AGI for farmers to cross before they lose the crop subsidies. (They may sound like a huge amount, yet I’m curious as to just “who” will be affected.)
    As far as I know, :-} my relatives who’ve apparently gotten these crop subsidies in the past really are in the category of the “mythic” yeoman farmers (the chaps who work 7 days a week, 16 hour days on family farm operations — or in three cases, are struggling to buy their own — almost impossible these days)
    And no, I’d be amazed if their AGI’s (after expenses, etc.) are anywhere close to even the 6 figure realms, much less the mentioned 7 figure “cap.” (even as dairy farm operations, even the small ones, can quickly run multi-million budgets….)
    Yet the apparent difficulty of reducing the “cap” even further to $250 K is revealing.
    I’d also be amazed if the new reforms will affect the subsidies to the mega-agribusinesses. Here in Virginia, the top 1% of the recipients get 41% of the subsidies distributed here. (Can you say chicken — check the data base, they’re all the big corporate farms….. )
    Is Tyson really going to lose its subsidy? (If so, that’d an earthquake.) The committee broad-sheet doesn’t seem to say.
    Perhaps this reform is aimed just at individuals. Further on that, there’s also a provision that I take to respond to the Scottie Pippen’s and Dave Letterman’s — requiring that 66% of their income be from farm sources to qualify for the subsidy.

  10. Hi Scott,
    What you call corn, we call “mielies”, or maize. Mielie-meal is the staple of the poor in many African countries, including South Africa, as well as being food for livestock and a major source of cooking oil. Since we have “import-parity pricing” and a “global market” the effect of pulling millions of tons of maize out of the food chain in the USA for use as automobile fuel is to immediately raize the money price of basic human survival all around the world.
    US automobiles can easily consume the entire possible maize crop of the whole world, and US drivers have the money to outbid what the poor can pay for it as food. This situation has the makings of a global genocide of the poor by the rich. There is no moral “brake” on the market. In fact the “market” is used, politically, as a moral cut-out, as if the situation was “natural”, so to speak.
    The one who has written most powerfully about all this is Fidel Castro. You may know that he has been turning out a series of well-written and well-researched articles during his convalescence (I do hope his doctors don’t mind and that the mental exercise is doing him good).
    There is a good collection of six of these articles, having to do with the ethanol question in particular, in PDF and formatted for printing as a booklet, on a US web site at:
    In case that one should fail, I have stashed the PDF here:
    Fidel’s articles are also available from Granma and Prensa Latina and other Cuban English-language sites.
    One of the articles is called “Nobody Wants to Take the Bull by the Horns”. Precisely!
    What is shocking is how quickly Fidel’s predictions have come to pass. The following is from a very recent COSATU article by Patrick Craven triggered by a steep rise in the price of bread here in South Africa:
    “The local wheat price has indeed rocketed, from R1 500 a ton this time last year to R2 850 a ton now. It has risen by more than 43% already this year. In the month of June alone wheat prices went up by 10%.
    “The poorest consumers are already reeling from maize going up more than 50% so far this year, by 5% in June alone. The rises in wheat and maize are having knock-on effects on meat and dairy products and processed food. Overall local food inflation is over 9%, well above the general level of inflation, and this latest bread price rise will push it up even further.”
    This in a country with 40% unemployment.

  11. Bread prices (COSATU press release)
    Patrick Craven, 3 August 2007
    The Congress of South African Trade Unions is shocked at the news that Albany Bakery is to increase the price of its bread by 45c a loaf from next Monday. The effect on the poor will be devastating.
    Other firms are expected to make similar increases, though they are likely to announce it separately, since the last time the three big companies – Albany, Sasko and Blue Ribbon – simultaneously announced price rises in December 2006, a Cape Town independent bread distributor referred them to the Competition Commission, which is still to rule on his accusation that there was collusion and price fixing.
    Albany claims that it is faced with a dramatic jump in wheat costs. The local wheat price has indeed rocketed, from R1 500 a ton this time last year to R2 850 a ton now. It has risen by more than 43% already this year. In the month of June alone wheat prices went up by 10%.
    The poorest consumers are already reeling from maize going up more than 50% so far this year, by 5% in June alone. The rises in wheat and maize are having knock-on effects on meat and dairy products and processed food. Overall local food inflation is over 9%, well above the general level of inflation, and this latest bread price rise will push it up even further.
    The biggest problem is that the biggest price rises have been in products which form a high proportion of the regular expenditure of the poorest consumers, on products like bread and mielie flour.
    Among the reasons given for the rise in wheat prices are the high oil price, the big growth of grain exports to China and the scramble by the US and Europe to source bio-fuels from maize and wheat, all of which have led to a global rise in demand for cereals and therefore in wheat prices.
    If this last reason is true it confirms the fears already expressed that using grain for fuel would inevitably lead to price increases which could be permanent and risk putting essential food products beyond the reach of poor consumers, as supplies are channelled into the bio-fuel industry.
    All this exposes the grim reality of the capitalist market economy. Rather than grow food and produce other goods to meet the needs of the people, production is for profit. There is no real free competition. What happens between Sasko, Blue Ribbon and Albany locally mirrors the collusion and price-fixing that takes place when the prices of wheat and other cereals are fixed internationally at the futures exchange in Chicago.
    The South African government must intervene to regulate the market, by pegging the price of bread and other essential foods, while conducting an inquiry into the way the industry is dominated by three companies and examining the possibility that they are operating as a monopoly or cartel in order to keep prices high. At the same time they must promote the expansion of food production, particularly through by making more land available to the majority communities and through cooperatives.
    COSATU unions will use the latest food price rises to intensify its struggles for substantial pay increases that compensate workers for the rising cost of these basic necessities.

  12. Dominic, thanks so much for all that information. You are quite right that the “hidden hand” business about the market is really just a moral copout deployed by the people who quite knowingly have structured the market so strongly in their favor in the first place.
    I know the biofuels issue is huge in Mexico too. I guess I should write a separate post on that, whenever I can get the time, because it really is a separate issue from the “normal” farm subsidies issue.
    But the impact on food prices in horrendous.

  13. Regarding “subsidies of mass destruction,” we can of course point to the hypocrical case of “capitalist” America excoriating countries with other economic/political systems from subsidizing their domestic workers and industries while America lavishes such subsidies on itself: meaning, its “competitive” giant Agri-business, certainly, but especially its homicidal military/industrial complex, what I prefer to call the Lunatic Leviathan.
    So, speaking of subsidies for even more mass destruction, we await now with baited breath the breathtaking arrival soon of golden-boy ticket-puncher, General David Petraeus, who will demand even more exhorbitant subsidies for the “geat progress” that he has so often heralded in Iraq yet never produced. In a recent interview, someone asked him:
    “Do you still stand by all of those [past, optimistic] statements or has time shown in some of those cases the progress to which you were referring was not exactly as great as may have been implied?
    Answered PETRAEUS: “No, I certainly do.”
    After I quit trying futilely to parse all the irrelevant references contained in that utter nonsense, a little lyric from a song my mother used to like kept suggesting itself to me as a possible translation of the general’s gobbledegook:
    “Yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today.”
    I know we don’t get our senior military officers from the deep end of America’s intellectual gene pool, so to speak, but can’t we find someone more honest and credible than this guy to insist that we go on fatuously funding fantasy, fiction, fable, foolishness, fabrication, falsehood and fraud? Now I know what Bruce Hornsby meant in “Defenders of the Flag,” when he sang: “If these guys are the good ones, I don’t want to know the bad.”
    Unfortunately for both America and Iraq, the lyric to my mom’s old song requires a sleight revision: “Yes, we have a banana republic. We have a banana republic today.” Thus, we’ve got a bootlicking general coming back to America real soon now to tell us all how “optimistic” he feels about “the great success” that we must all go on subsidizing indefinitely — or at least until he retires and the other culpable cretins responsible for this slaughter saunter out of office unscathed by accountability, instead of collectively swinging from a hangman’s gibbet for the sport of their own crows.

  14. Hi Helena,
    I do see that the case of maize, and the knock-on to other grains, is different to the case of cotton, and rice. Sort of.
    Even so, I think it can be fruitful to “noodle around” a little freely in the general vicinity, as Fidel is currently licencing himself to do.
    Otherwise you may let the whale off, simply because he is choosing to surface in a slightly different stretch of water for the moment.
    There are certain common factors as between the West African cotton farmer, say, and the unemployed urban “squatter” in SA, or the garament girls of Bangladesh.
    Among these would be:
    * The shadow of the B52
    * Globaloney all day long
    * “Good governance” (technocracy) driving out democracy (now now disparaged as “populism”)
    * Any amount of “human rights” finger-wagging and “humanitarian” sentiment but strict rejection of humanism.
    * A subterranean war on liberation theology
    * Subsidy to all kinds of stooges, quislings and sellouts.
    Concerning the first, this would be expressed in SA by the more craven politicians and all the “analysts” as “the new conditions in the world since the fall of the Soviet Union”.
    Concerning the last, have you seen what As’ad the Angry has reported about the subsidies to the Lebanon “Daily Star” for “investigative journalism”, and how that works out.
    Concerning the whole lot, the whale is quite visible at the present time in my opinion in the WTO negotiations and the simultaneous attempt to impose unequal bilateral “EPAs”.
    Let’s keep on noodling.

  15. Sorry to be so eclectic, as it may seem, but my noodling has turned up another whale-like manifestation.
    It is an article by Johen Busby called “A little makes a lot?” which is on the site of Sanders Research at:
    This article addresses iteself to the argument and counter argument concerning the “small amount of uranium” that is required to power a nuclear power station, and shows quite well that the same or a similar amount of material must be mined, and then expensively and energy-intensively processed, so that the net gain that is claimed for nuclear may not exist (as with ethanol, as Scott points out above).
    South Africa is a big uranium producer, and it hurts. 32 mineworkers with uranium sickness were dismissed last week from the Hartebeesfontein uranium mine, for example.
    If anybody is interested in noodling around in reports of what the effect is of mining radioactoive materials (not only uranium) look at the new reports on the site of the South African National Nuclear Regulator and download those new PDFs before they disappear (“WCA Report” and related reports).
    You will find them here:
    Noodling the whale,

  16. Helena,
    I took your article over to Daily Kos, where they were discussing the new farm bill. The thread might be interesting to you. In discussing the case of Mexico, objections were raised to my fingering the subsidies as the culprit, preferring to blame instead the ADM/Gruma/Maseca deal. I need to sit down and slowly digest the information (for which I am grateful to you for providing in your piece here).
    I am currently researching the CAFTA-DR impact on textile assembly but have been increasingly drawn to the agricultural issues (not my area).

  17. Just reminder, Looks Dominc forgot what he wrote about peopl with multi comments!!
    posting as a tranin, as if no one just him here commenting!!!

  18. D. Mathews, thanks so much for taking this over to Kos. I wish I had a lot more time/energy to get the whole issue of the effects these US subsidies have on so many millions of farmers in v. low-income countries really put front and center into Americans’ consciousness and our national political discourse. So anything you can do in this regard is great!
    Btw, that looked like a good discussion over there at Kos that you got started. Well done.

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