Sunday, July 27, 2008

Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis

Aditya Chakrabortty
The Guardian, Friday July 4 2008

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

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The use of crops to produce Bio-fuels is clearly a factor in soaring global food prices. Although this is the first report (from the World Bank no less) I’ve seen that indicates the significance of the relationship between Bio-fuels and increasing food prices.

Bio-fuels seem to be just another example of Capitalism’s focus on short term profit while ignoring more long term consequences such as sustainability and social costs. The conflict between the use of land resources to grow crops for fuel instead of human consumption was inevitable. Sadly the US and EU support of Bio-fuels for their self interests have impacted food prices and has had a disproportionately negative effect on poor developing nations.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Global South Leaders Agree: More Integration is Key

July 8, 2008

Last week, two developing country organizations, Mercosur and the Non-Aligned Movement met in Latin America. Of course the US press largely ignored the many calls for third world unity coming from the reunions, except to paint Chavez as alone in his dislike of the reactivation of the US Navy's Fourth Fleet or in his condemnation of the EU's new anti-immigrant law. But a cursory glance at the Spanish language press reveals widespread backing of both views. Brazil's Lula, among others, is also concerned as to why the US intends to send a huge naval battalion to a "region at peace" (that is if you don't count Colombian airstrikes backed by the US). Lula believes it's a little more than a coincidence the 4th's reactivation occurred "now that we have discovered oil 300 kilometers from our coasts."

Other highlights from the meetings include:

- The Margarita Declaration, an agreement to create a Non-Aligned Movement information network between African, Asian, and Latin American countries.

- A proposal for OPEC, or some of its members to subsidize oil for the 50 poorest countries.

- A proposal for Venezuela to contribute $1 of every barrel of oil sold over for $100 towards an emergency food fund for Latin America.

- There were many other proposals, but overall, the theme was more 3rd world unity. Or as Cristina de Kirchner said, "integration" is the "new independence."

Pooling resources to benefit the Global South? Man this Chavez is such a d-bag.

Thoughts on Immigration

Picture taken from ZNET

I could never be angry at someone immigrating in the hopes of providing themselves and their family with better standards of living. Why should I be so privileged simply because I was born here? Rarely do we think about why people immigrate in the first place. Recent waves of immigration like many in the past are primarily driven by inequalities in economic development. In other words conditions in the destination country are better than those of the native country, which of course is something immigrants have absolutely no control over. Capitalism has fueled and in fact thrives on this uneven development of nations. Whether or not you believe there are alternatives to Capitalism, that Capitalism can be reformed or that there is no alternative (TINA) doesn’t change this fact. Global Capitalism has created these conditions and until we acknowledge this there is no way we can adequately address the issue. We need international dialog not inhumane and ultimately ineffective state policies that fail to acknowledge the roots of immigration let alone address the economic conditions that bring about such migration to begin with. If increasing food prices continue to price large segments of the global population out of the market and as global warming brings about predicted climate change, developed nations are likely to see more immigration not less.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Fighting Food Fascism

Counter Punch

Like many third world countries Bolivia is experiencing food shortages and rising food prices attributable to a global food marketing system driven by multinational agribusiness corporations. With sixty percent of the Bolivian population living in poverty and thirty-three percent in extreme poverty, the price of the basic food canasta--including wheat, rice, corn, soy oil and potatoes, as well as meat—has risen twenty-five percent over the past year with prices gyrating wildly in the local markets.

As in most other countries affected by the food crisis, the overall rise in food prices is attributable to the workings of the free market—when the price of one or several commodities goes up, the consumers turn to other food stuffs, thereby driving up these prices as well. In an effort to halt the effects of this unregulated market, the government has enacted price controls and even prohibited the export of beef, most of which is produced on haciendas. But these measures have been largely ineffective: A black market flourishes as agrarian commercial interests openly flaunt the central government’s price controls, even directly exporting commodities like beef and cooking oil at higher prices to the neighboring countries of Chile and Peru.

This is taking place as Bolivia’s first Indian president, Evo Morales, is facing a sustained challenge by a right wing movement for autonomy that is integrally linked to the very agribusiness corporations that are profiting from the upsurge in food prices. Based in the eastern province of Santa Cruz, a powerful agrarian bourgeoisie is determined to upend the government’s agrarian reform program and to halt Morales’ efforts to more equitably distribute the wealth that flows from Bolivia’s oil and gas fields. Its ultimate goal is to topple Morales and the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) that backs him

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The Coup

The Coup - We Are The Ones

The Coup - Ride The Fence

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Haiti's food riots

ISR Issue 59, May–June 2008

MARK SCHULLER reports from Haiti

IN EARLY April, Haiti was gripped by a nationwide mobilization to protest high food prices, which reached a crescendo when people burned tires and blocked national highways and city streets in Port-au-Prince as thousands took to the streets. Clashes with police and UN troops resulted in an official count of five dead. A handful of individuals also looted stores.

Mainstream media coverage tells an all too familiar story of Haiti. The UN troops broke up a demonstration with rubber bullets, and the U.S. State Department responded by issuing a warning against its citizens entering the country. And almost as quickly as it appeared on the news, Haiti disappeared, leaving the residual image of being a hopeless, violent, and dangerous place.

As awful as the loss of life, property damage, and the resulting climate of fear are, it is at the very least explainable. To understand the situation we need to look at three levels of analysis, not simply turn our attention to the most visible, the individual “rioters.” In addition to the people, there are also the Haitian government and international community.

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Afghanistan: Mirage of the Good War

New Left Review 50, March-April 2008

Rarely has there been such an enthusiastic display of international unity as that which greeted the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Support for the war was universal in the chanceries of the West, even before its aims and parameters had been declared. NATO governments rushed to assert themselves ‘all for one’. Blair jetted round the world, proselytizing the ‘doctrine of the international community’ and the opportunities for peace-keeping and nation-building in the Hindu Kush. Putin welcomed the extension of American bases along Russia’s southern borders. Every mainstream Western party endorsed the war; every media network—with BBC World and CNN in the lead—became its megaphone. For the German Greens, as for Laura Bush and Cherie Blair, it was a war for the liberation of the women of Afghanistan. For the White House, a fight for civilization. For Iran, the impending defeat of the Wahhabi enemy.

Three years later, as the chaos in Iraq deepened, Afghanistan became the ‘good war’ by comparison. It had been legitimized by the un—even if the resolution was not passed until after the bombs had finished falling—and backed by NATO. If tactical differences had sharpened over Iraq, they could be resolved in Afghanistan. First Zapatero, then Prodi, then Rudd, compensated for pulling troops out of Iraq by dispatching them to Kabul. France and Germany could extol their peace-keeping or civilizing roles there. As suicide bombings increased in Baghdad, Afghanistan was now—for American Democrats keen to prove their ‘security’ credentials—the ‘real front’ of the war on terror, supported by every US presidential candidate in the run-up to the 2008 elections, with SeNator Obama pressuring the White House to violate Pakistani sovereignty whenever necessary. With varying degrees of firmness, the occupation of Afghanistan was also supported by China, Iran and Russia; though in the case of the latter, there was always a strong element of Schadenfreude. Soviet veterans of the Afghan war were amazed to see their mistakes now being repeated by the United States in a war even more inhumane than its predecessor.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Barack Obama, Latin America and the "White Man’s Burden"

The term the "White Man’s Burden" was coined in the title of a poem by Rudyard Kipling celebrating the superiority of western culture, and the responsibility, thus the "burden" of western nations to "civilize" non-white peoples presumed to be culturally and racially inferior. The poem was published in 1899 under the subtitle of "The United States and the Philippine Islands" and served to place a humanitarian face on the US violent exploitation of the Philippines.

While not as blatantly racist, today this mindset of superiority and obligation of the United States to intervene in the affairs of other nations in order to save a "lesser" people from themselves continues to remain part of the US government’s justification to pursue its interests in the name of humanitarian concerns.

The history of US intervention in Latin America demonstrates the emptiness of this supposedly humanitarian agenda. While the US rhetoric publicly championed the ideals of democracy and human rights, such ideals mean absolutely nothing when they stand in the path of US interests. Whether this means overthrowing democratically elected regimes as in the case of Chile, Guatemala and Haiti or the sponsorship of death squads and brutal regimes through out Latin America, the history makes clear where the US government’s priorities really lie.

Barack Obama may possibly be the very first US president of color. He has promised a departure from the US foreign policy on Latin America embraced by the Bush administration and the similarly militant policies supported by John McCain, but in reality is the very same policy with the familiar patronizing concern. In his speech to the Cuban American National Foundation, Obama made very clear his Americentric view of the world and his belief that US interests can be advanced in the region by preventing "lesser" people from behaving "foolishly".

According to Obama, in light of the Bush administration’s policies it is "no wonder, ... that demagogues like Hugo Chavez have stepped into this vacuum."

Obama would have us believe that it was the US government’s failure to act that resulted in people democratically electing leaders such as Hugo Chavez. Similarly Chavez’s unchecked influence is responsible for the powerful social movements in Bolivia which have lead to the election of Evo Morales and the rise of MAS. These social movements in Bolivia and other parts of Latin America have little to do with Chavez but instead are a reaction to unresponsive governments and bankrupt economic policies pushed on Latin America by the US and other developed nations through the IMF and World Bank.

Obama continued his tirade against Chavez and demonized him for his "anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy", the first two being the standard blanket criticisms the US likes to hurl at those that oppose it’s interests and the last can only be aimed at Chavez’s commitment to policy to reduce poverty and increase regional cooperation.

When it comes to the embargo on Cuba, which only serves to punish the Cuban population and for years has been condemned by the UN as a violation of international law, Obama states the embargo is "strong, smart and principled diplomacy" and that such hostility will inevitably "bring about real change in Cuba." This despite the fact that the embargo has not toppled the Cuban government as the US had hoped and can only serve to make progressive change in Cuba more difficult.

Obama means to remedy the Bush administration policies which have proved "incapable of advancing our interests in the region" while insisting that "the United States must be a relentless advocate for democracy." Predictably the two have often proved incompatible and when push comes to shove it is the US interests that have prevailed at the expense of the democratic freedoms and human rights of those we profess to care about.

When it comes to foreign policy in Latin America Obama offers nothing more than "The White Man’s Burden" mentality. It is this same mentality historically held among the US politically elite and that many Latin American nations have fallen victim to.

Other articles of Interest
Obama Is a Truly Democratic Expansionist - by John Pilger
Losing Latin America: What Will the Obama Doctrine Be Like? - by Greg Grandin
Obama and the US-Latin America Time Bomb - The Narco News Bulletin
Obama on Latin American Trade: Muddled and Confused - Council of on Hemispheric Affairs
Text of Barack Obama's Policy Speech to the Cuban American National Foundation

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Land Reform and the Food Crisis

Sections of this are partially adopted from a paper I wrote on Bolivia a few months back.

While the food subsidies held by the US and EU, whose institutions, the IMF and World Bank preach the virtues of the "free" markets to developing nations and use of crops for Bio-fuels are important contributors the Food Crisis. The need for land reform in developing countries is an important and necessary reform to fight hunger in these nations. Land ownership in developing nations is typically very concentrated among a small minority of the population, much of which is often sits idle.

Land re-distribution addresses economic capabilities and sustainability in a number of ways the most obvious being decreasing poverty by providing the poor with assets. The use of land can further improve conditions of the poor by providing opportunities to grow crops for sustenance or to be sold on the market. However economic policies that promote agriculture, particularly policies which targets small scale production are important determinants to the success of such land reforms. (Boyce, Rosset, and Stanton 2005) For example farmers may need access to credit or assistance to purchase necessary tools and equipment to cultivate crops. Government policy such as trade negotiations with other nations may help to provide small farmers with foreign markets to sell their crops.

Although small scale farming is generally less productive in terms of output per labor unit than larger scale farming, the circumstances in which reforms often take place is one where land is scare and labor abundant. In a number of ways small scale farming can be more productive in that small farmers tend to cultivate a larger percentage of their land, grow more crops per year given on a given amount of land, grow higher value crops and produce greater yields per acre. (Boyce, Rosset, and Stanton 2005) Additionally since often times the land being targeted by these policies is idle, redistribution increases agricultural output by placing ownership with people that often have greater incentive to cultivate and make use of the land.

Small scale farming may also be more environmental friendlier than larger scale production because of the labor intensive methods used depend less on chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, which may result in harmful toxins and degrade the quality of the soil compared to the use more organic methods whose use over time has proved to be successful and sustainable. Small scale farmers may also possess greater knowledge about the local environment such as weather, crop varieties, soil, insects and plant disease. Use of local crop varieties may encourage biodiversity since such seed varieties may be better adapted to various local conditions such as seasonal flooding or growing on hill side terrains. Small farmers may also have a greater incentive in sustainable farming out of concern of their economic livelihood as farmers and their ability to pass the land on to future generations.

Boyce, James K. Rosset, Peter. and Stanton, Elizabeth A. 2005. Land Reform and Sustainable Development. University of Massachusetts. Working Paper Series.

Additional articles of interest
Market Madness: How Speculators are Manipulating & Profiting from the Global Food Crisis
Manufacturing a Food Crisis
Historical Failure of the Capitalist Model Food Crisis - Part 1
Capitalism, Agribusiness and the Food Sovereignty Alternative Food Crisis - Part 2

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

BBC uncovers lost Iraq billions

By Jane Corbin
BBC News
Tuesday, 10 June 2008

A BBC investigation estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq.

For the first time, the extent to which some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding has been researched by the BBC's Panorama using US and Iraqi government sources.

A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations.

The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.

War profiteering

While George Bush remains in the White House, it is unlikely the gagging orders will be lifted.

To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq.

The president's Democrat opponents are keeping up the pressure over war profiteering in Iraq.

Henry Waxman who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said: "The money that's gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, its egregious.

"It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history."

In the run-up to the invasion one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth seven billion that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company, which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president.

Unusually only Halliburton got to bid - and won.

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