INDEX (full text of stories follow Democracy Now headlines)
- U.N.: Horn of Africa Hunger Crisis to Worsen
- Congressional Budget Office Findings Prompt Delay of Republican Budget Vote
- Environmentalist Tim DeChristopher Sentenced to 2 Years For Disrupting Federal Oil and Gas Auction
- Gaddafi Regime: End Bombing Before NATO Talks
- Israel, U.S. Denounce Palestinian Statehood Bid at United Nations
- Israel Raids Palestinian Children’s Theater
- Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez Among 12 Detained in Protest Marking 1 Million Deportations Under Obama
The essence of Obamacare, as of Romneycare, is a three-legged stool of regulation and subsidies: community rating requiring insurers to make the same policies available to everyone regardless of health status; an individual mandate, requiring everyone to purchase insurance, so that healthy people don’t opt out; and subsidies to keep insurance affordable for those with lower incomes.
The original Heritage plan from 1989 had all these features.
These days, Heritage strives mightily to deny the obvious; it picks at essentially minor differences between what it used to advocate and the plan Democrats actually passed, and tries to make them seem like a big deal. But this is disinformation. The essential features of the ACA — above all, the mandate — are ideas Republicans used to support.
from Robert Reich
How did we get into this mess?
I thought I’d seen Washington at its worst. I was there just after Watergate. I was there when Jimmy Carter imploded. I was there during the government shut-down of 1995.
But I hadn’t seen the worst. This is the worst.
How can it be that with over 9 percent unemployment, essentially no job growth, widening inequality, falling real wages, and an economy that’s almost dead in the water — we’re locked in a battle over how to cut the budget deficit?
Part of the answer is a Republican Party that’s the most irresponsible and rigidly ideological I’ve ever witnessed.
Part of the answer is the continuing gravitational pull of the Great Recession.
But another part of the answer lies with the President — and his inability or unwillingness to use the bully pulpit to tell Americans the truth, and mobilize them for what must be done.
Barack Obama is one of the most eloquent and intelligent people ever to grace the White House, which makes his failure to tell the story of our era all the more disappointing and puzzling. Many who were drawn to him in 2008 (including me) were dazzled by the power of his words and insights — his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, his autobiography and subsequent policy book, his talks about race and other divisive issues during the campaign.
We were excited by the prospect of a leader who could educate — an “educator in chief” who would use the bully pulpit to explaini what has happened to the United States in recent decades, where we must go, and why.
But the man who has occupied the Oval Office since January, 2009 is someone entirely different — a man seemingly without a compass, a tactician who veers rightward one day and leftward the next, an inside-the Beltway dealmaker who doesn’t explain his comprises in light of larger goals.
In his inaugural address, Obama warned that “the nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.” In private, he professes to understand taht the growing concentration of income and wealth at the top has robbed the middle class of the purchasing power it needs to keep the economy going. And it has distorted our politics.
He is well aware that the Great Recession wiped out $7.8 trillion of home values, crushing the nest eggs and eliminating the collateral that had allowed the middle class to keep spending despite declining real wages — a decrease in consumption that’s directly responsible for the anemic recovery.
But instead of explaining this to the American people, he joins the GOP in making a fetish of feducing the budget deficit, and enters into a hair-raising game of chicken with House Republicans over whether the debt ceiling will be raised.
Never once does he tell the public why reducing the deficit has become his number one economic priority. Americans can only conclude that the Republicans must be correct — that diminishing the deficit will somehoe revive economic growth and restore jobs.
Instead of powerful explanations we get the type of bromides that issue from every White House. America must “win the future,” Obama says, by which he means making public investments in infrastructure, education, and basic R&D. But then he submits a budget proposal that would cut nondefense discretionary spending (of which these investments constitute more than half) to its lowest level as a share of gross domestic product in over half a century.
A president can be forgiven for compromising, if his base understands why he is doing so. That the health-care law doesn’t include a public option, that financial reform doesn’t limit the size of the biggest Wall Street banks, even that cuts may have to be made to Medicare or Social Security — all could be accepted in light of the practical necessities of politics, if only we understood where the President is leading us.
Why is Obama not using the bully pulpit? Perhaps he’s too embroiled in the tactical maneuvers that pass for policy making in Washington, or too intent on preserving political capital for the next skirmish, or cynical about how the media will relay or distort his message. He may also disdain the repetition necessary to break through the noise and drive home the larger purpose of his presidency. I have known (and worked for) presidents who succumbed to all these, at least for a time.
A more disturbing explanation is that he simply lacks the courage to tell the truth. He wants most of all to be seen as a responsible adult rather than a fighter. As such, he allows himself to be trapped by situations — the debt-ceiling imbroglio most recently — within which he tries to offer reasonable responses, rather than be the leader who shapes the circumstances from the start.
Obama cannot mobilize America around the truth, in other words, because he is continuously adapting to the prevailing view. This is not leadership.
John Boehner has been rallying his caucus to support his debt plan by saying that Obama hates it:
Boehner said he couldn’t understand why any Republicans would position themselves with Democrats opposing his plan.
“Barack Obama hates it, [Sen.] Harry Reid hates it, [Rep.] Nancy Pelosi hates it,” he said, naming off the Democratic leadership.
That kinda sums it up.
Some House Democratic leaders are saying enough already with the legislative games. It’s time to invoke the14th amendment:
A trio of House Democratic leaders is calling on President Obama to move unilaterally to raise the country’s debt ceiling next week if Congress passes anything less than a long-term extension of the federal borrowing limit.
House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.), Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) and Caucus Vice-Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said after a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday that they are calling on Obama both to veto a short-term deal and sign an executive order invoking the Constitution’s 14th Amendment to avert default on Aug. 2.
The White House has repeatedly ruled out that option. But, for two years, the White House also repeatedly said the President absolutely had to defend DOMA — until he didn’t have to defend DOMA.
Here’s how Section 4 of the 14th amendment reads:
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by Gaius Publius
Expected. It’s going to be a tough fight. Greg Sargent (my emphasis):
If you want to get a good sense of what’s really happening in the Wisconsin recall wars, keep an eye on the right wing money that’s now flooding into the races, in a last ditch effort to keep the state senate in Republican hands.
Club for Growth Wisconsin has dumped at least $1.5 million into the recall races, according to the progressive group One Wisconsin Now, which tells me it got the information from its ad tracker.
Even more tellingly, the Club has poured a surprising $400,000 into the battle to recall state senator Alberta Darling, who was once viewed as safe, One Wisconsin Now’s executive director Scot Ross tells me. Ross adds that his media tracker found that the Club sank the money into the race right after a Dem poll found that Darling is getting edged by her Dem recall challenger, Rep. Sandy Pasch.
Darling would be an important win, in that she is “co-chair of the legislative committee that passed Scott Walker’s union-busting proposals” and has the longest run in office of all the recalled senators.
Sargent notes that union money (he doesn’t say how much) is also funding the races, but adds that the outside right-wing money is new.
About those recall races, Chris Bowers at Daily Kos has the latest polls. Click to see the table and sources, but the bottom line in the six races is:
Kapanke, Hopper & Olsen are losing to Dems
(by 14 pts, 3 pts & 2 pts respectively)
Darling, Cowles & Harnsdorf are leading Dems
(by 2 pts, 4 pts & 5 pts respectively)
That looks like one strong lead, three tight but winnable races, and two longer shots.
These elections will be held August 9. If you can, vote. If you can’t, please help.
from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by Joe Sudbay (DC)
Okay, I realized we’re heading for a debacle if the debt limit isn’t increased. But, I did take some satisfaction reading this NYT article about how the Chamber funded a lot of teabagger candidates last year. Now, those teabaggers on a path of economic destruction — and they’re ignoring their old friends at the Chamber:
The chamber and other business groups have pressed with increasing urgency for Congress to raise the maximum amount that the government can borrow. They have cataloged the consequences of default at meetings, parties and dinners and over drinks.
On Tuesday, the chamber threw its weight behind the proposal of the House speaker, John A. Boehner, telling recalcitrant Republicans that a pending vote on the plan was a with-us-or-against-us moment that would be remembered during the next election campaign.
But as the government runs out of money, those efforts have not produced the desired result. The freshman class of House Republicans, along with longer-serving members, is balking at Mr. Boehner’s plan, let alone anything that Senate Democrats and the White House might be willing to accept.
Oh well. The Chamber got what it wanted: A GOP-led House. Seems like they made some bad investments:
Among the beneficiaries was Daniel Webster, a Florida Republican. The chamber spent $250,000 on ads blasting the Democratic incumbent, Representative Alan Grayson. Mr. Webster won.
In July, Mr. Webster introduced legislation instructing the Treasury to prioritize interest payments, then military spending, then Social Security checks, then Medicare payments, “in the event the debt ceiling is reached.” Experts regard the idea as unworkable.
The feeding frenzy at the top has to stop. It’s not possible to ask the middle class to fund wars and fund bailouts for bankers so they can continue to squeeze the system. The disappointment is that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are showing any serious signs of reform. If we’re supposed to be all in this together, then it’s time to start acting as though we’re all in this together.
Watching yet another money grab from the richest Americans, non-stop wars and funding for the military industrial complex along with business as usual for Congress hardly sounds like shared sacrifice. Before asking the middle class to sacrifice, have some decency and ask the privileged class to put their money where their mouth is. Until that time, go away.
Before the deadly attack in Norway that killed 76 people, suspect Anders Behring Breivik left a long trail of material meticulously outlining his political beliefs. His 1,500-page political manifesto titled, “A European Declaration of Independence,” seeks common cause with xenophobic right-wing groups around the world, particularly in the United States. It draws heavily on the writing of prominent anti-Islam American bloggers, as well as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. His writing reveals he is a right-wing nationalist fueled by a combined hatred of Muslims, Marxists, multiculturalists and feminist women. Even after the massacre in Norway, some right-wing pundits in the United States have come out in defense of Breivik’s analysis. We speak with Jeff Sharlet, an author who has written extensively about right-wing movements in the United States, who has read much of Breivik’s 1500-page manifesto. “What struck me most about this document is just how American it is in every way, a huge amount of it is from American sources,” Sharlet says. “He is a great admirer of America because the United States, unlike Europe, has maintained its ‘Christian identity.'”
Before Death, Acclaimed “Girl With Dragon Tattoo” Author Stieg Larsson Lamented Right-Wing Extremism
In the aftermath of the Norway attacks, we look at the work of Stieg Larsson, an author known less for his extensive research into right-wing extremism in Scandavia and Europe than for his international blockbuster books, published after his death and known as the Millennium Trilogy: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo;” “The Girl Who Played with Fire;” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.” As part of his passion to “counteract the growth of the extreme right and the white power-culture in schools and among young people,” Larsson founded the Swedish Expo Foundation and edited its magazine, Expo. We go to Stockholm, Sweden, to talk to speak with Larsson’s lifelong partner, Eva Gabrielsson, about the research they did together before his death.
In Texas, a hate crime victim is attempting to save the life of a convicted murderer who shot him in the face at close range after 9/11. Rais Bhuiyan is suing Governor Rick Perry in order to stop the execution of death row prisoner Mark Stroman scheduled for Wednesday. Stroman shot Bhuiyan in 2001, partially blinding him in his right eye. Stroman, an Aryan Brotherhood member, also killed Vasudev Patel, an Indian immigrant who was Hindu, and Waqar Hasan, a Muslim born in Pakistan. “I strongly believe what Mark Stroman did was a hate crime because of his ignorance, and he was not capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. Otherwise, he would not have done what he did,” Bhuiyan said. “The way my parents raised me, and my Islamic faith teaches me, that he is the best who can forgive easily. And my faith teaches that no one has a right to take another human life. Islam doesn’t allow for hate and killing.” In a statement written in prison, Stroman says, “Not only do I have all My friends and supporters trying to Save my Life, but now i have The Islamic Community Joining in … Spearheaded by one Very Remarkable man Named Rais Bhuiyan, Who is a Survivor of My Hate. His deep Islamic Beliefs Have gave him the strength to Forgive the Un-forgiveable … that is truly Inspiring to me, and should be an Example for us all. The Hate, has to stop, we are all in this world together.” [includes rush transcript]
from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by John Aravosis (DC)
Pat Buchanan on the Norwegian guy\ who car-bombed the Prime Minister’s office and murdered 80 people at a kid’s camp:
As for a climactic conflict between a once-Christian West and an Islamic world that is growing in numbers and advancing inexorably into Europe for the third time in 14 centuries, on this one, Breivik may be right.
Then again, Buchanan even had good things to say about Hitler.
I think a good rule of thumb is if you can’t find anything bad to say about Hitler, then it’s probably best not to open your mouth at all.
LABOR / THE ECONOMY
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: A heartfelt thanks to all of you who, in these dog days of summer, contributed $100 or more for a personalized, signed copy of Christian Parenti’s cutting-edge new book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. For those who meant to do so but didn’t, the offer stands only till Wednesday ends. So hustle to the TD donation page by clicking here! For those of you following the Norwegian nightmare, check out Max Blumenthal’s old TD piece, “The Great Islamophobic Crusade,” on the American movement from which Anders Behring Breivik drew such inspiration or check out his more recent post at MaxBlumenthal.com. Tom]
When it comes to the Murdoch scandal, where everyone’s having such a rollicking good time, it hasn’t been particularly hard for reporters, pundits, and commentators to connect a few dots, even across an ocean. Yes, you can find actual experts claiming in print and online that what’s happening to Murdoch & Co. in England might affect the American part of his imperial media conglomerate, and that it’s even possible the whole structure of his world could be on a collision course with itself and hell.
When it comes to something larger and far less enjoyable though, like the global economy, you would be hard-pressed to find a similar connecting of the dots. China’s economy soars on one side of the planet (though with a multitude of half-hidden problems), while that country continues to outpace all others when it comes to holding U.S. debt. On the other side of the same planet, from Greece and Ireland to Spain and Italy, Europe shudders and fears run wild. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the president and Congress have headed the economy merrily for the nearest cliff, while money is lacking even to keep court systems running in some parts of the country.
On all of this there is much reporting, much opining, many fears expressed, numerous teeth gnashed. Yet even when such pieces sit near each other on the same page or follow each other on the TV news, they are, with rare exceptions, treated as if they were remarkably separate problems, remarkably separate crises. And those long-distant days of the 1990s, when it was said everywhere that “globalization” was weaving our world into a single, vast economic mechanism, are now mere memory pieces.
And yet, what goes up…
Don’t even say it! Call it blindness, denial, what you will, but economically speaking, dots everywhere are almost religiously not connected, and so the thought that the global system itself might fail (as systems sometimes do) never quite manages to arise. Thank heavens, then, for Mike Davis, TomDispatch regular and author of Planet of Slums (and other books too numerous to mention), a man who has never seen a set of dots he didn’t care to connect. So take a break from denial for the following… (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Davis discusses a possible Chinese real estate crash and other perils of the global economic system, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
What Happens When Three Sputtering Economies Collide?
By Mike Davis
When my old gang and I were 14 or 15 years old, many centuries ago, we yearned for immortality in the fiery wreck of a bitchin’ ’40 Ford or ’57 Chevy. Our J.K. Rowling was Henry Felsen, the ex-Marine who wrote the bestselling masterpieces Hot Rod (1950), Street Rod (1953), and Crash Club (1958).
Officially, his books — highly praised by the National Safety Council — were deterrents, meant to scare my generation straight with huge dollops of teenage gore. In fact, he was our asphalt Homer, exalting doomed teenage heroes and inviting us to emulate their legend.
One of his books ends with an apocalyptic collision at a crossroads that more or less wipes out the entire graduating class of a small Iowa town. We loved this passage so much that we used to read it aloud to each other.
It’s hard not to think of the great Felsen, who died in 1995, while browsing the business pages these days. There, after all, are the Tea Party Republicans, accelerator punched to the floor, grinning like demons as they approach Deadman’s Curve. (John Boehner and David Brooks, in the back seat, are of course screaming in fear.)
The Felsen analogy seems even stronger when you leave local turf for a global view. From the air, where those Iowa cornstalks don’t conceal the pattern of blind convergence, the world economic situation looks distinctly like a crash waiting to happen. From three directions, the United States, the European Union, and China are blindly speeding toward the same intersection. The question is: Will anyone survive to attend the prom?
Shaking the Three Pillars of McWorld
Let me reprise the obvious, but seldom discussed. Even if debt-limit doomsday is averted, Obama has already hocked the farm and sold the kids. With breathtaking contempt for the liberal wing of his own party, he’s offered to put the sacrosanct remnant of the New Deal safety net on the auction bloc to appease a hypothetical “center” and win reelection at any price. (Dick Nixon, old socialist, where are you now that we need you?)
As a result, like the Phoenicians in the Bible, we’ll sacrifice our children (and their schoolteachers) to Moloch, now called Deficit. The bloodbath in the public sector, together with an abrupt shutoff of unemployment benefits, will negatively multiply through the demand side of the economy until joblessness is in teenage digits and Lady Gaga is singing “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
Lest we forget, we also live in a globalized economy where Americans are consumers of the last resort and the dollar is still the safe haven for the planet’s hoarded surplus value. The new recession that the Republicans are engineering with such impunity will instantly put into doubt all three pillars of McWorld, each already shakier than generally imagined: American consumption, European stability, and Chinese growth.
Across the Atlantic, the European Union is demonstrating that it is exclusively a union of big banks and mega-creditors, grimly determined to make the Greeks sell off the Parthenon and the Irish emigrate to Australia. One doesn’t have to be a Keynesian to know that, should this happen, the winds will only blow colder thereafter. (If German jobs have so far been saved, it is only because China and the other BRICs — Brazil, Russia, and India — have been buying so many machine tools and Mercedes.)
Boardwalk Empire Times 160
China, of course, now props up the world, but the question is: For how much longer? Officially, the People’s Republic of China is in the midst of an epochal transition from an export-based to a consumer-based economy. The ultimate goal of which is not only to turn the average Chinese into a suburban motorist, but also to break the perverse dependency that ties that country’s growth to an American trade deficit Beijing must, in turn, finance in order to keep the Yuan from appreciating.
Unfortunately for the Chinese, and possibly the world, that country’s planned consumer boom is quickly morphing into a dangerous real-estate bubble. China has caught the Dubai virus and now every city there with more than one million inhabitants (at least 160 at last count) aspires to brand itself with a Rem Koolhaas skyscraper or a destination mega-mall. The result has been an orgy of over-construction.
Despite the reassuring image of omniscient Beijing mandarins in cool control of the financial system, China actually seems to be functioning more like 160 iterations of Boardwalk Empire, where big city political bosses and allied private developers are able to forge their own backdoor deals with giant state banks.
In effect, a shadow banking system has arisen with big banks moving loans off their balance sheets into phony trust companies and thus evading official caps on total lending. Last week, Moody’s Business Service reported that the Chinese banking system was concealing one-half-trillion dollars in problematic loans, mainly for municipal vanity projects. Another rating service warned that non-performing loans could constitute as much as 30% of bank portfolios.
Real-estate speculation, meanwhile, is vacuuming up domestic savings as urban families, faced with soaring home values, rush to invest in property before they are priced out of the market. (Sound familiar?) According toBusiness Week, residential housing investment now accounts for 9% of the gross domestic product, up from only 3.4% in 2003.
So, will Chengdu become the next Orlando and China Construction Bank the next Lehman Brothers? Odd, the credulity of so many otherwise conservative pundits, who have bought into the idea that the Chinese Communist leadership has discovered the law of perpetual motion, creating a market economy immune to business cycles or speculative manias.
If China has a hard landing, it will also break the bones of leading suppliers like Brazil, Indonesia, and Australia. Japan, already mired in recession after triple mega-disasters, is acutely sensitive to further shocks from its principal markets. And the Arab Spring may turn to winter if new governments cannot grow employment or contain the inflation of food prices.
As the three great economic blocs accelerate toward synchronized depression, I find that I’m no longer as thrilled as I was at 14 by the prospect of a classic Felsen ending — all tangled metal and young bodies.
Mike Davis teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of Planet of Slums, among many other works. He’s currently writing a book about employment, global warming, and urban reconstruction for Metropolitan Books. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Davis discusses a possible Chinese real estate crash and other perils of the global economic system, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Mike Davis
[Note for Readers: A sample passage from Henry Felsen’s 1950 novelHot Rod:
“The crushed pile of twisted metal that had once been My-Son-Ralph’s Chevy was on its back in the ditch, its wheels up like paws of a dead dog. Two of the wheels were smashed, and two were turning slowly. Something that looked like a limp, ripped-open bag of laundry hung halfway out of a rear window. That was Marge.
“The motor of Ralph’s car had been driven back through the frame of the car, and its weight had made a fatal spear of the steering column. Somewhere in the mashed tangle of metal, wood and torn upholstery was Ralph. And deeper yet in the pile of mangled steel, wedged in between jagged sheet steel on one side, and red hot metal on the other, was what had been the shapely black head and dainty face of LaVerne.
“Walt’s car had spun around after being hit, and had rolled over and along the highway. It had left a trail of shattered glass, metal, and dark, motionless shapes that had been broken open like paper bags before they rolled to a stop. These had been Walt’s laughing passengers. Pinned inside his wrecked car, beyond knowing that battery acid ran in his eyes, lay Walt Thomas. Somehow the lower half of his body had been twisted completely around, and hung by a shred of skin.”]
© 2011 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175422/
Professional football is back in action after the resolution of a labor stand-off that brought the National Football League to a halt for 18 weeks. The NFL players’ union has voted to unanimously approve an agreement with team owners that makes several changes to promote player health and safety, including limiting of on-field practice time and contact, and increasing the number of off-days for players. Players will also have the opportunity to maintain their healthcare plan for life. These changes came about after a greater awareness of the toll football takes on players’ bodies, one of many issues tackled in “Not Just A Game,” a new documentary featuring Dave Zirin, sports columnist for The Nation magazine. Zirin talks about the film, the NFL deal, and the ongoing lockout threatening to derail the NBA’s upcoming season. “The owners in these leagues are getting less public subsidies than they thought they would get because of the economic crisis in 2008 and the trillion dollar bailouts of the banks,” Zirin says. “They’re saying, ‘We need to restore profitability and get more salary back from players because we’re getting less tax dollars than we thought we would get, and we will lock the doors and end the games unless we get more money back.’ That makes it to me a much more broader issue. We do not even get our sports now because Goldman Sachs needed a bailout?”
Are you kidding me? If we ever saw an even playing field in the American justice system, perhaps, but it rarely works out that way. If you are part of the privileged corporate elite you can get away with anything, but not as an individual. Halliburton defrauding the US government of millions in Iraq? Slap on the wrist. Wall Street defrauding customers and driving the country and world into recession? No dessert tonight and do better next time. Environmental activist protests Bush land giveaway to Big Oil? Go to jail for two years.
As Bidder No 70, DeChristopher disrupted what was seen as a last giveaway to the oil and gas industry by the Bush administration by bidding $1.8m (£1.1m) he did not have for the right to drill in remote areas of Utah. He was convicted of defrauding the government last March.
In a phone conversation with The Guardian, a day ahead of sentencing, he said he was expecting jail time: “I do think I will serve some time in prison. That is what I think will be the next chapter in my life.”
DeChristopher’s lawyers had argued that his actions in December 2008 were a one-off, and that the judge should show leniency. They argued DeChristopher had not intended to cause harm.
However, Judge Dee Benson said DeChristopher’s political beliefs did not excuse his actions.
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: I have a special summer offer today. Christian Parenti is new to this site, but not to readers of the Nation and other magazines for his fine reporting, often from war zones. His new book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (Nation Books), is just out. Mike Davis calls it “a brilliant weather report from the near future of world politics.” Andrew Bacevich says, “To read this disturbing, indeed frightening book is to appreciate fully the fix we’re in.” Naomi Klein adds, “This glimpse of the future we most fear arrives just in time to change course.” As a survey from the global frontlines where climate change, war, and upheaval meet, it’s way ahead of the curve.
As a signal of his support for TomDispatch, Parenti has agreed to sign a book for any TD reader or enthusiast willing to contribute $100 to this site. To take him (and us) up on this offer, just click here. (All contributions to TomDispatch.com are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.) If you don’t have that sort of money to spare, but want to buy Parenti’s book and you visit Amazon.com via any TomDispatch book link, including this one, we get a small cut of whatever purchase you make at no extra cost to you. Many thanks! Tom]
Get used to it. Food, weather, upheaval, and war. Those are likely to be in the headlines not only for decades to come, but tied together in all sorts of complicated and unsettling ways. Extreme weather and increasingly severe droughts, whether in Texas, China, or Somalia; crops burned to a frizzle or obliterated in some other fashion; starving peopledesperately on the move; incipient resource wars; and a world in which the basics of everyday life are increasingly beyond the buying power of tens of millions, if not billions of the poor — that’s a recipe for our future. Unfortunately, it’s also increasingly the present, as grain crops fail in various global breadbaskets and food prices soar. Already the poorest on this planet spend 80% of what incomes they have on food staples and those prices are expected to double in the next two decades.
Reporter Christian Parenti is just back from the global borderlands where soaring food and oil prices, climate chaos, other kinds of chaos, and resource scarcity add up to a challenging brew of trouble (as world leaders have begun to notice). His new book,Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, catches just how extreme weather, militarism, and free-market economics are creating failed states on what could someday be a failed planet — and the essence of this onrushing story can be told in terms of a single loaf of bread. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Parenti discusses the origins of his latest book and how climate change contributes to global violence, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
Reading the World In a Loaf of Bread
Soaring Food Prices, Wild Weather, Upheaval, and a Planetful of Trouble
By Christian Parenti
What can a humble loaf of bread tell us about the world?
The answer is: far more than you might imagine. For one thing, that loaf can be “read” as if it were a core sample extracted from the heart of a grim global economy. Looked at another way, it reveals some of the crucial fault lines of world politics, including the origins of the Arab spring that has now become a summer of discontent.
Consider this: between June 2010 and June 2011, world grain prices almost doubled. In many places on this planet, that proved an unmitigated catastrophe. In those same months, several governments fell, rioting broke out in cities from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to Nairobi, Kenya, and most disturbingly three new wars began in Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Even on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Bedouin tribes are now in revolt against the country’s interim government and manning their own armed roadblocks.
And in each of these situations, the initial trouble was traceable, at least in part, to the price of that loaf of bread. If these upheavals were not “resource conflicts” in the formal sense of the term, think of them at least as bread-triggered upheavals.
Growing Climate Change in a Wheat Field
Bread has classically been known as the staff of life. In much of the world, you can’t get more basic, since that daily loaf often stands between the mass of humanity and starvation. Still, to read present world politics from a loaf of bread, you first have to ask: of what exactly is that loaf made? Water, salt, and yeast, of course, but mainly wheat, which means when wheat prices increase globally, so does the price of that loaf — and so does trouble.
To imagine that there’s nothing else in bread, however, is to misunderstand modern global agriculture. Another key ingredient in our loaf — call it a “factor of production” — is petroleum. Yes, crude oil, which appears in our bread as fertilizer and tractor fuel. Without it, wheat wouldn’t be produced, processed, or moved across continents and oceans.
And don’t forget labor. It’s an ingredient in our loaf, too, but not perhaps in the way you might imagine. After all, mechanization has largely displaced workers from the field to the factory. Instead of untold thousands of peasants planting and harvesting wheat by hand, industrial workers now make tractors and threshers, produce fuel, chemical pesticides, and nitrogen fertilizer, all rendered from petroleum and all crucial to modern wheat growing. If the labor power of those workers is transferred to the wheat field, it happens in the form of technology. Today, a single person driving a huge $400,000 combine, burning 200 gallons of fuel daily, guided by computers and GPS satellite navigation, can cover 20 acres an hour, and harvest 8,000 to 10,000 bushels of wheat in a single day.
Next, without financial capital — money — our loaf of bread wouldn’t exist. It’s necessary to purchase the oil, the fertilizer, that combine, and so on. But financial capital may indirectly affect the price of our loaf even more powerfully. When there is too much liquid capital moving through the global financial system, speculators start to bid-up the price of various assets, including all the ingredients in bread. This sort of speculation naturally contributes to rising fuel and grain prices.
The final ingredients come from nature: sunlight, oxygen, water, and nutritious soil, all in just the correct amounts and at just the right time. And there’s one more input that can’t be ignored, a different kind of contribution from nature: climate change, just now really kicking in, and increasingly the key destabilizing element in bringing that loaf of bread disastrously to market.
When these ingredients mix in a way that sends the price of bread soaring, politics enters the picture. Consider this, for instance: the upheavals in Egypt lay at the heart of the Arab Spring. Egypt is also the world’s single largest wheat importer, followed closely by Algeria and Morocco. Keep in mind as well that the Arab Spring started in Tunisia when rising food prices, high unemployment, and a widening gap between rich and poor triggered deadly riots and finally the flight of the country’s autocratic ruler Zine Ben Ali. His last act was a vow to reduce the price of sugar, milk, and bread — and it was too little too late.
With that, protests began in Egypt and the Algerian government ordered increased wheat imports to stave off growing unrest over food prices. As global wheat prices surged by 70% between June and December 2010, bread consumption in Egypt started to decline under what economists termed “price rationing.” And that price kept rising all through the spring of 2011. By June, wheat cost 83% more than it had a year before. During the same time frame, corn prices surged by a staggering 91%. Egypt is the world’s fourth largest corn importer. When not used to make bread, corn is often employed as a food additive and to feed poultry and livestock. Algeria, Syria, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia are among the top 15 corn importers. As those wheat and corn prices surged, it was not just the standard of living of the Egyptian poor that was threatened, but their very lives as climate-change driven food prices triggered political violence.
In Egypt, food is a volatile political issue. After all, one in five Egyptians live on less than $1 a day and the government provides subsidized bread to 14.2 million people in a population of 83 million. Last year, overall food-price inflation in Egypt was running at more than 20%. This had an instant and devastating impact on Egyptian families, who spend on average 40% of their often exceedingly meager monthly incomes simply feeding themselves.
Against this backdrop, World Bank President Robert Zoellick fretted that the global food system was “one shock away from a full-fledged crisis.” And if you want to trace that near full-fledged crisis back to its environmental roots, the place to look is climate change, the increasingly extreme and devastating weather being experienced across this planet.
When it comes to bread, it went like this: In the summer of 2010, Russia, one of the world’s leading wheat exporters, suffered its worst drought in 100 years. Known as the Black Sea Drought, this extreme weather triggered fires that burnt down vast swathes of Russian forests, bleached farmlands, and damaged the country’s breadbasket wheat crop so badly that its leaders (urged on by western grain speculators) imposed a year-long ban on wheat exports. As Russia is among the top four wheat exporters in any year, this caused prices to surge upward.
At the same time, massive flooding occurred in Australia, another significant wheat exporter, while excessive rains in the American Midwest and Canada damaged corn production. Freakishly massive flooding in Pakistan, which put some 20% of that country under water, also spooked markets and spurred on the speculators.
And that’s when those climate-driven prices began to soar in Egypt. The ensuing crisis, triggered in part by that rise in the price of our loaf of bread, led to upheaval and finally the fall of the country’s reigning autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Tunisia and Egypt helped trigger a crisis that led to an incipient civil war and then western intervention in neighboring Libya, which meant most of that country’s production of 1.4 million barrels of oil a day went off-line. That, in turn, caused the price of crude oil to surge, at its height hitting $125 a barrel, which set off yet more speculation in food markets, further driving up grain prices.
And recent months haven’t brought much relief. Once again, significant, in some cases record, flooding has damaged crops in Canada, the United States, and Australia. Meanwhile, an unexpected spring drought in northern Europe has hurt grain crops as well. The global food system is visibly straining, if not snapping, under the intense pressure of rising demand, rising energy prices, growing water shortages, and most of all the onset of climate chaos.
And this, the experts tell us, is only the beginning. The price of our loaf of bread is forecast to increase by up to 90% over the next 20 years. That will mean yet more upheavals, more protest, greater desperation, heightened conflicts over water, increased migration, roiling ethnic and religious violence, banditry, civil war, and (if past history is any judge) possibly a raft of new interventions by imperial and possibly regional powers.
And how are we responding to this gathering crisis? Has there been a broad new international initiative focused on ensuring food security for the global poor — that is to say, a stable, affordable price for our loaf of bread? You already know the sad answer to that question.
Instead, massive corporations like Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trading company, and the privately held and secretive Cargill, the world’s biggest trader of agricultural commodities, are moving to further consolidatetheir control of world grain markets and vertically integrate their global supply chains in a new form of food imperialism designed to profit off global misery. While bread triggered war and revolution in the Middle East, Glencore made windfall profits on the surge in grain prices. And the more expensive our loaf of bread becomes the more money firms like Glencore and Cargill stand to make. Consider that just about the worst possible form of “adaptation” to the climate crisis.
So what text should flash through our brains when reading our loaf of bread? A warning, obviously. But so far, it seems, a warning ignored.
Christian Parenti, author of the just-published Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (Nation Books), is a contributing editor at the Nation magazine, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute, and a visiting scholar at the City University of New York. His articles have appeared in Fortune, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Mother Jones, among other places.He can be reached at Christian_parenti@yahoo.com. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Parenti discusses the origins of his latest book and how climate change contributes to global violence, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2012 Christian Parenti
© 2011 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175419/
GOP hero Chris Christie revealed his meetings with Fox News in the US (rather than being forced by a judge) but there are certainly many more secret meetings both in the US and UK between News Corp execs and politicians. It’s all been much too cozy and has to stop. The Guardian:
Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron’s chief of staff, last night found himself in the spotlight over phone hacking for the second time in a week after No 10 announced that he attended a Scotland Yard dinner attended by Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World.
Llewellyn and Andy Coulson, then communications director at No 10, attended a dinner hosted by Sir Paul Stephenson when he was Metropolitan police commissioner on 17 June last year.
Wallis, once Coulson’s deputy at the News of the World, had been hired as a media adviser by the Met and was present at the dinner. Earlier this month Wallis was arrested by the Met as part of Operation Weeting, the main investigation into allegations of phone hacking.