Friday, May 30, 2008

Bob's Listening Week

Or to put it in another way, these songs got me to and from work this week... as you might guess its not a fill list nor is it a long walk.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Deep Thoughts

Feeling down?

Cold and bored?

Need a giggle?

Go here for some very funny quotes

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The greatest story never told of our time

Frida Berrigan, The Pentagon Takes Over

Here are words to pin to the Bush years like a wilting corsage: "We don't know what we paid for." That's a quote from Mary Ugone, the Defense Department's deputy inspector general for auditing, concerning massive Pentagon payments made during the occupation and war in Iraq for which there is no existing (or grossly inadequate) documentation. In fact, according to the inspector general for the Defense Department, "the Pentagon cannot account for almost $15 billion worth of goods and services ranging from trucks, bottled water and mattresses to rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns that were bought from contractors in the Iraq reconstruction effort." An internal audit of $8 billion that the Pentagon paid out to U.S. and Iraqi private contractors found that "nearly every transaction failed to comply with federal laws or regulations aimed at preventing fraud, in some cases lacking even basic invoices explaining how the money was spent."

This is, admittedly, chump change for the Pentagon in the age of Bush. And even when "reform" is attempted, the medicine is often worse than the disease. Congressional critics and others have, for instance, accused the Houston-based private contractor KBR, formerly a division of Halliburton, of "wasteful spending and mismanagement and of exploiting its political ties to Vice President Dick Cheney" in fulfilling enormous contracts to support U.S. troops in Iraq. Now, the Pentagon is planning to make amends by dividing the latest contract for food, shelter, and basic services in Iraq between KBR and two other large contractors, Fluor Corporation and DynCorp International. According to the New York Times, "[T]he new three-company deal could actually result in higher costs for American taxpayers and weak oversight by the military."

These telling details rose last week from the subterranean depths of a bloated Bush-era Pentagon. As Frida Berrigan indicates in one of the more important pieces Tomdispatch has posted, the Pentagon's massive expansion on just about every front during George W. Bush's two terms in office may be the greatest story never told of our time. It might, in fact, be the most important American story of the new century and, while you can find many of its disparate parts in your daily papers, the mainstream media has yet to offer a significant overview of the Pentagon in our time. This suggests a great deal about what isn't being dealt with in our world. How, for instance, is it possible to have a presidential election campaign that goes on for years in which the size of the Pentagon never comes up as an issue (unless the candidates are all plunking for an expansion of American troop strength)?

As part of its ongoing consideration of the legacy Bush is leaving the American people, Tomdispatch today launches a three-part exploration of the Pentagon's role in the Bush years. (The other two parts will appear in the coming months.) The series is in the able hands of Frida Berrigan and Bill Hartung, military experts at the New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative. It is not to be missed. Tom

Entrenched, Embedded, and Here to StayThe Pentagon's Expansion Will Be Bush's Lasting Legacy
By Frida Berrigan

A full-fledged cottage industry is already focused on those who eagerly await the end of the Bush administration, offering calendars, magnets, and t-shirts for sale as well as counters and graphics to download onto blogs and websites. But when the countdown ends and George W. Bush vacates the Oval Office, he will leave a legacy to contend with. Certainly, he wills to his successor a world marred by war and battered by deprivation, but perhaps his most enduring legacy is now deeply embedded in Washington-area politics -- a Pentagon metastasized almost beyond recognition.
The Pentagon's massive bulk-up these last seven years will not be easily unbuilt, no matter who dons the presidential mantle on January 19, 2009. "The Pentagon" is now so much more than a five-sided building across the Potomac from Washington or even the seat of the Department of Defense. In many ways, it defies description or labeling.

Who, today, even remembers the debate at the end of the Cold War about what role U.S. military power should play in a "unipolar" world? Was U.S. supremacy so well established, pundits were then asking, that Washington could rely on softer economic and cultural power, with military power no more than a backup (and a domestic "peace dividend" thrown into the bargain)? Or was the U.S. to strap on the six-guns of a global sheriff and police the world as the fountainhead of "humanitarian interventions"? Or was it the moment to boldly declare ourselves the world's sole superpower and wield a high-tech military comparable to none, actively discouraging any other power or power bloc from even considering future rivalry?

The attacks of September 11, 2001 decisively ended that debate. The Bush administration promptly declared total war on every front -- against peoples, ideologies, and, above all, "terrorism" (a tactic of the weak). That very September, administration officials proudly leaked the information that they were ready to "target" up to 60 other nations and the terrorist movements within them.

The Pentagon's "footprint" was to be firmly planted, military base by military base, across the planet, with a special emphasis on its energy heartlands. Top administration officials began preparing the Pentagon to go anywhere and do anything, while rewriting, shredding, or ignoring whatever laws, national or international, stood in the way. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld officially articulated a new U.S. military posture that, in conception, was little short of revolutionary. It was called -- in classic Pentagon shorthand -- the 1-4-2-1 Defense Strategy (replacing the Clinton administration's already none-too-modest plan to be prepared to fight two major wars -- in the Middle East and Northeast Asia -- simultaneously).

Theoretically, this strategy meant that the Pentagon was to prepare to defend the United States, while building forces capable of deterring aggression and coercion in four "critical regions" (Europe, Northeast Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East). It would be able to defeat aggression in two of these regions simultaneously and "win decisively" in one of those conflicts "at a time and place of our choosing." Hence 1-4-2-1.

And that was just going to be the beginning. We had, by then, already entered the new age of the Mega-Pentagon. Almost six years later, the scale of that institution's expansion has yet to be fully grasped, so let's look at just seven of the major ways in which the Pentagon has experienced mission creep -- and leap -- dwarfing other institutions of government in the process.

1. The Budget-busting Pentagon: The Pentagon's core budget -- already a staggering $300 billion when George W. Bush took the presidency -- has almost doubled while he's been parked behind the big desk in the Oval Office. For fiscal year 2009, the regular Pentagon budget will total roughly $541 billion (including work on nuclear warheads and naval reactors at the Department of Energy).

The Bush administration has presided over one of the largest military buildups in the history of the United States. And that's before we even count "war spending." If the direct costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Global War on Terror, are factored in, "defense" spending has essentially tripled.

As of February 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office, lawmakers have appropriated $752 billion for the Iraq war and occupation, ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, and other activities associated with the Global War on Terror. The Pentagon estimates that it will need another $170 billion for fiscal 2009, which means, at $922 billion, that direct war spending since 2001 would be at the edge of the trillion-dollar mark.

As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has pointed out, if a stack of bills roughly six inches high is worth $1 million; then, a $1 billion stack would be as tall as the Washington Monument, and a $1 trillion stack would be 95 miles high. And note that none of these war-fighting funds are even counted as part of the annual military budget, but are raised from Congress in the form of "emergency supplementals" a few times a year.

With the war added to the Pentagon's core budget, the United States now spends nearly as much on military matters as the rest of the world combined. Military spending also throws all other parts of the federal budget into shadow, representing 58 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government on "discretionary programs" (those that Congress gets to vote up or down on an annual basis).

The total Pentagon budget represents more than our combined spending on education, environmental protection, justice administration, veteran's benefits, housing assistance, transportation, job training, agriculture, energy, and economic development. No wonder, then, that, as it collects ever more money, the Pentagon is taking on (or taking over) ever more functions and roles.

2. The Pentagon as Diplomat: The Bush administration has repeatedly exhibited its disdain for discussion and compromise, treaties and agreements, and an equally deep admiration for what can be won by threat and force. No surprise, then, that the White House's foreign policy agenda has increasingly been directed through the military. With a military budget more than 30 times that of all State Department operations and non-military foreign aid put together, the Pentagon has marched into State's two traditional strongholds -- diplomacy and development -- duplicating or replacing much of its work, often by refocusing Washington's diplomacy around military-to-military, rather than diplomat-to-diplomat, relations.

Since the late eighteenth century, the U.S. ambassador in any country has been considered the president's personal representative, responsible for ensuring that foreign policy goals are met. As one ambassador explained; "The rule is: if you're in country, you work for the ambassador. If you don't work for the ambassador, you don't get country clearance."

In the Bush era, the Pentagon has overturned this model. According to a 2006 Congressional report by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Embassies as Command Posts in the Anti-Terror Campaign, civilian personnel in many embassies now feel occupied by, outnumbered by, and subordinated to military personnel. They see themselves as the second team when it comes to decision-making. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates is aware of the problem, noting as he did last November that there are "only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers -- less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group." But, typically, he added that, while the State Department might need more resources, "Don't get me wrong, I'll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year." Another ambassador lamented that his foreign counterparts are "following the money" and developing relationships with U.S. military personnel rather than cultivating contacts with their State Department counterparts.

The Pentagon invariably couches its bureaucratic imperialism in terms of "interagency cooperation." For example, last year U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) released Command Strategy 2016, a document which identified poverty, crime, and corruption as key "security" problems in Latin America. It suggested that Southcom, a security command, should, in fact, be the "central actor in addressing… regional problems" previously the concern of civilian agencies. It then touted itself as the future focus of a "joint interagency security command... in support of security, stability and prosperity in the region."

As Southcom head Admiral James Stavridis vividly put the matter, the command now likes to see itself as "a big Velcro cube that these other agencies can hook to so we can collectively do what needs to be done in this region."

The Pentagon has generally followed this pattern globally since 2001. But what does "cooperation" mean when one entity dwarfs all others in personnel, resources, and access to decision-makers, while increasingly controlling the very definition of the "threats" to be dealt with.

3. The Pentagon as Arms Dealer: In the Bush years, the Pentagon has aggressively increased its role as the planet's foremost arms dealer, pumping up its weapons sales everywhere it can -- and so seeding the future with war and conflict.

By 2006 (the last year for which full data is available), the United States alone accounted for more than half the world's trade in arms with $14 billion in sales. Noteworthy were a $5 billion deal for F-16s to Pakistan and a $5.8 billion agreement to completely reequip Saudi Arabia's internal security force. U.S. arms sales for 2006 came in at roughly twice the level of any previous year of the Bush administration.

Number two arms dealer, Russia, registered a comparatively paltry $5.8 billion in deliveries, just over a third of the U.S. arms totals. Ally Great Britain was third at $3.3 billion -- and those three countries account for a whopping 85% of the weaponry sold that year, more than 70% of which went to the developing world.

Great at selling weapons, the Pentagon is slow to report its sales. Arms sales notifications issued by the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) do, however, offer one crude way to the take the Department of Defense's pulse; and, while not all reported deals are finalized, that pulse is clearly racing. Through May of 2008, DSCA had already issued more than $9.1 billion in arms sales notifications including smart bomb kits for Saudi Arabia, TOW missiles for Kuwait, F-16 combat aircraft for Romania, and Chinook helicopters for Canada.

To maintain market advantage, the Pentagon never stops its high-pressure campaigns to peddle weapons abroad. That's why, despite a broken shoulder, Secretary of Defense Gates took to the skies in February, to push weapons systems on countries like India and Indonesia, key growing markets for Pentagon arms dealers.

4. The Pentagon as Intelligence Analyst and Spy: In the area of "intelligence," the Pentagon's expansion -- the commandeering of information and analysis roles -- has been swift, clumsy, and catastrophic.

Tracing the Pentagon's take-over of intelligence is no easy task. For one thing, there are dozens of Pentagon agencies and offices that now collect and analyze information using everything from "humint" (human intelligence) to wiretaps and satellites. The task is only made tougher by the secrecy that surrounds U.S. intelligence operations and the "black budgets" into which so much intelligence money disappears.

But the end results are clear enough. The Pentagon's takeover of intelligence has meant fewer intelligence analysts who speak Arabic, Farsi, or Pashto and more dog-and-pony shows like those four-star generals and three-stripe admirals mouthing administration-approved talking points on cable news and the Sunday morning talk shows.

Intelligence budgets are secret, so what we know about them is not comprehensive -- but the glimpses analysts have gotten suggest that total intelligence spending was about $26 billion a decade ago. After 9/11, Congress pumped a lot of new money into intelligence so that by 2003, the total intelligence budget had already climbed to more than $40 billion.

In 2004, the 9/11 Commission highlighted the intelligence failures of the Central Intelligence Agency and others in the alphabet soup of the U.S. Intelligence Community charged with collecting and analyzing information on threats to the country. Congress then passed an intelligence "reform" bill, establishing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, designed to manage intelligence operations. Thanks to stiff resistance from pro-military lawmakers, the National Intelligence Directorate never assumed that role, however, and the Pentagon kept control of three key collection agencies -- the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Agency.

As a result, according to Tim Shorrock, investigative journalist and author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, the Pentagon now controls more than 80% of U.S. intelligence spending, which he estimated at about $60 billion in 2007. As Mel Goodman, former CIA official and now an analyst at the Center for International Policy, observed, "The Pentagon has been the big bureaucratic winner in all of this."

It is such a big winner that CIA Director Michael Hayden now controls only the budget for the CIA itself -- about $4 or 5 billion a year and no longer even gives the President his daily helping of intelligence.

The Pentagon's intelligence shadow looms large well beyond the corridors of Washington's bureaucracies. It stretches across the mountains of Afghanistan as well. After the U.S. invaded that country in 2001, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld recognized that, unless the Pentagon controlled information-gathering and took the lead in carrying out covert operations, it would remain dependent on -- and therefore subordinate to -- the Central Intelligence Agency with its grasp of "on-the-ground" intelligence.

In one of his now infamous memos, labeled "snowflakes" by a staff that watched them regularly flutter down from on high, he asserted that, if the War on Terror was going to stretch far into the future, he did not want to continue the Pentagon's "near total dependence on the CIA." And so Rumsfeld set up a new, directly competitive organization, the Pentagon's Strategic Support Branch, which put the intelligence gathering components of the U.S. Special Forces under one roof reporting directly to him. (Many in the intelligence community saw the office as illegitimate, but Rumsfeld was riding high and they were helpless to do anything.)

As Seymour Hersh, who repeatedly broke stories in the New Yorker on the Pentagon's misdeeds in the Global War on Terror, wrote in January 2005, the Bush administration had already "consolidated control over the military and intelligence communities' strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War II national-security state."

In the rush to invade Iraq, the civilians running the Pentagon also fused the administration's propaganda machine with military intelligence. In 2002, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith established the Office of Special Plans (OSP) in the Pentagon to provide "actionable information" to White House policymakers. Using existing intelligence reports "scrubbed" of qualifiers like "probably" or "may," or sometimes simply fabricated ones, the office was able to turn worst-case scenarios about Saddam Hussein's supposed programs to develop weapons of mass destruction into fact, and then, through leaks, use the news media to validate them.
Former CIA Director Robert Gates, who took over the Pentagon when Donald Rumsfeld resigned in November 2006, has been critical of the Pentagon's "dominance" in intelligence and "the decline in the CIA's central role." He has also signaled his intention to rollback the Pentagon's long intelligence shadow; but, even if he is serious, he will have his work cut out for him. In the meantime, the Pentagon continues to churn out "intelligence" which is, politely put, suspect -- from torture-induced confessions of terrorism suspects to exposés of the Iranian origins of sophisticated explosive devices found in Iraq.

5. The Pentagon as Domestic Disaster Manager: When the deciders in Washington start seeing the Pentagon as the world's problem solver, strange things happen. In fact, in the Bush years, the Pentagon has become the official first responder of last resort in case of just about any disaster -- from tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods to civil unrest, potential outbreaks of disease, or possible biological or chemical attacks. In 2002, in a telltale sign of Pentagon mission creep, President Bush established the first domestic military command since the civil war, the U.S. Northern Command (Northcom). Its mission: the "preparation for, prevention of, deterrence of, preemption of, defense against, and response to threats and aggression directed towards U.S. territory, sovereignty, domestic population, and infrastructure; as well as crisis management, consequence management, and other domestic civil support."

If it sounds like a tall order, it is.

In the last six years, Northcom has been remarkably unsuccessful at anything but expanding its theoretical reach. The command was initially assigned 1,300 Defense Department personnel, but has since grown into a force of more than 15,000. Even criticism only seems to strengthen its domestic role. For example, an April 2008 Government Accountability Office report found that Northcom had failed to communicate effectively with state and local leaders or National Guard units about its newly developed disaster and terror response plans. The result? Northcom says it will have its first brigade-sized unit of military personnel trained to help local authorities respond to chemical, biological, or nuclear incidents by this fall. Mark your calendars.

More than anything else, Northcom has provided the Pentagon with the opening it needed to move forcefully into domestic disaster areas previously handled by national, state and local civilian authorities.

For example, Northcom's deputy director, Brigadier General Robert Felderman, boasts that the command is now the United States's "global synchronizer -- the global coordinator -- for pandemic influenza across the combatant commands." Similarly, Northcom is now hosting annual hurricane preparation conferences and assuring anyone who will listen that it is "prepared to fully engage" in future Katrina-like situations "in order to save lives, reduce suffering and protect infrastructure."

Of course, at present, the Pentagon is the part of the government gobbling up the funds that might otherwise be spent shoring up America's Depression-era public works, ensuring that the Pentagon will have failure aplenty to respond to in the future.

The American Society for Civil Engineers, for example, estimates that $1.6 trillion is badly needed to bring the nation's infrastructure up to protectable snuff, or $320 billion a year for the next five years. Assessing present water systems, roads, bridges, and dams nationwide, the engineers gave the infrastructure a series of C and D grades.

In the meantime, the military is marching in. Katrina, for instance, made landfall on August 29, 2005. President Bush ordered troops deployed to New Orleans on September 2nd to coordinate the delivery of food and water and to serve as a deterrent against looting and violence. Less than a month later, President Bush asked Congress to shift responsibility for major future disasters from state governments and the Department of Homeland Security to the Pentagon.

The next month, President Bush again offered the military as his solution -- this time to global fears about outbreaks of the avian flu virus. He suggested that, to enforce a quarantine, "One option is the use of the military that's able to plan and move."

Already sinking under the weight of its expansion and two draining wars, many in the military have been cool to such suggestions, as has a Congress concerned about maintaining states' rights and civilian control. Offering the military as the solution to domestic natural disasters and flu outbreaks means giving other first responders the budgetary short shrift. It is unlikely, however, that Northcom, now riding the money train, will go quietly into oblivion in the years to come.

6. The Pentagon as Humanitarian Caregiver Abroad: The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department have traditionally been tasked with responding to disaster abroad; but, from Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged shores to Myanmar after the recent cyclone, natural catastrophe has become another presidential opportunity to "send in the Marines" (so to speak). The Pentagon has increasingly taken up humanitarian planning, gaining an ever larger share of U.S. humanitarian missions abroad.

From Kenya to Afghanistan, from the Philippines to Peru, the U.S. military is also now regularly the one building schools and dental clinics, repairing roads and shoring up bridges, tending to sick children and doling out much needed cash and food stuffs, all civilian responsibilities once upon a time.

The Center for Global Development finds that the Pentagon's share of "official development assistance" -- think "winning hearts and minds" or "nation-building" – has increased from 6% to 22% between 2002 and 2005. The Pentagon is fast taking over development from both the NGO-community and civilian agencies, slapping a smiley face on military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond.

Despite the obvious limitations of turning a force trained to kill and destroy into a cadre of caregivers, the Pentagon's mili-humanitarian project got a big boost from the cash that was seized from Saddam Hussein's secret coffers. Some of it was doled out to local American commanders to be used to deal with immediate Iraqi needs and seal deals in the months after Baghdad fell in April 2003. What was initially an ad hoc program now has an official name -- the Commander Emergency Response Program (CERP) -- and a line in the Pentagon budget.

Before the House Budget Committee last summer, Gordon England, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, told members of Congress that the CERP was a "particularly effective initiative," explaining that the program provided "limited but immediately available funds" to military commanders which they could spend "to make a concrete difference in people's daily lives." This, he claimed, was now a "key part of the broader counter insurgency approach." He added that it served the purpose of "complementing security initiatives" and that it was so successful many commanders consider it "the most powerful weapon in their arsenal."

In fact, the Pentagon doesn't do humanitarian work very well. In Afghanistan, for instance, food-packets dropped by U.S. planes were the same color as the cluster munitions also dropped by U.S. planes; while schools and clinics built by U.S. forces often became targets before they could even be put into use. In Iraq, money doled out to the Pentagon's sectarian-group-of-the-week for wells and generators turned out to be just as easily spent on explosives and AK-47s.

7. The Pentagon as Global Viceroy and Ruler of the Heavens: In the Bush years, the Pentagon finished dividing the globe into military "commands," which are functionally viceroyalties. True, even before 9/11, it was hard to imagine a place on the globe where the United States military was not, but until recently, the continent of Africa largely qualified.

Along with the creation of Northcom, however, the establishment of the U.S. Africa Command (Africom) in 2008 officially filled in the last Pentagon empty spot on the map. A key military document, the 2006 National Security Strategy for the United States signaled the move, asserting that "Africa holds growing geo-strategic importance and is a high-priority of this administration." (Think: oil and other key raw materials.)

In the meantime, funding for Africa under the largest U.S. military aid program, Foreign Military Financing, doubled from $10 to $20 million between 2000 and 2006, and the number of recipient nations grew from two to 14. Military training funding increased by 35% in that same period (rising from $8.1 million to $11 million). Now, the militaries of 47 African nations receive U.S. training.

In Pentagon planning terms, Africom has unified the continent for the first time. (Only Egypt remains under the aegis of the U.S. Central Command.) According to President Bush, this should "enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa."
Theresa Whelan, assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, continues to insist that Africom has been formed neither to facilitate the fighting of wars ("engaging kinetically in Africa"), nor to divvy up the continent's raw materials in the style of nineteenth century colonialism. "This is not," she says, "about a scramble for the continent." But about one thing there can be no question: It is about increasing the global reach of the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, should the Earth not be enough, there are always the heavens to control. In August 2006, building on earlier documents like the 1998 U.S. Space Command's Vision for 2020 (which called for a policy of "full spectrum dominance"), the Bush administration unveiled its "national space policy." It advocated establishing, defending, and enlarging U.S. control over space resources and argued for "unhindered" rights in space -- unhindered, that is, by international agreements preventing the weaponization of space. The document also asserted that "freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power."

As the document put it, "In the new century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage over those who do not." (The leaders of China, Russia, and other major states undoubtedly heard the loud slap of a gauntlet being thrown down.) At the moment, the Bush administration's rhetoric and plans outstrip the resources being devoted to space weapons technology, but in the recently announced budget, the President allocated nearly a billion dollars to space-based weapons programs.

Of all the frontiers of expansion, perhaps none is more striking than the Pentagon's sorties into the future. Does the Department of Transportation offer a Vision for 2030? Does the Environmental Protection Agency develop plans for the next fifty years? Does the Department of Health and Human Services have a team of power-point professionals working up dynamic graphics for what services for the elderly will look like in 2050?

These agencies project budgets just around the corner of the next decade. Only the Pentagon projects power and possibility decades into the future, colonizing the imagination with scads of different scenarios under which, each year, it will continue to control hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Complex 2030, Vision 2020, UAV Roadmap 2030, the Army's Future Combat Systems – the names, which seem unending, tell the tale.

As the clock ticks down to November 4, 2008, a lot of people are investing hope (as well as money and time) in the possibility of change at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But when it comes to the Pentagon, don't count too heavily on change, no matter who the new president may be. After all, seven years, four months, and a scattering of days into the Bush presidency, the Pentagon is deeply entrenched in Washington and still aggressively expanding. It has developed a taste for unrivaled power and unequaled access to the treasure of this country. It is an institution that has escaped the checks and balances of the nation.

Frida Berrigan is a Senior Program Associate at the New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative. She is a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus and a contributing editor at In These Times magazine. She is the author of reports on the arms trade and human rights, U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and the domestic politics of U.S. missile defense and space weapons policies. She can be reached at berrigan@newamerica.net.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Traveling Taps Brigade

Dismayed by Digital Substitutes, On-Call Buglers Step Up to Fill a Growing
Need

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 26, 2008

At the age of 71, this is how Joe Baldo spends his days. Retired and in the twilight of his life, he shuttles from cemetery to cemetery across Maryland. And everywhere he goes, he takes three pairs of white gloves, his meticulously pressed Air Force uniform and, in the back seat of his car, his 1933 Bach Stradivarius trumpet.

For 27 years, Baldo devoted his trumpet to his country. Day after day as a master sergeant in the Air Force, he sounded the sorrowful tune of taps at Arlington National Cemetery for soldiers' funerals.

When he retired, he thought he would finally give it all up. But then he heard about the boomboxes.

Cemeteries, struggling to keep up with droves of veterans and soldiers now dying, couldn't find enough trumpet players for the final honors. Some resorted to blasting taps from a boombox or CD player. Others began using "ceremonial bugles" -- horns inserted with digital devices that play taps at the push of a button.

"It's better than nothing, but faking taps just isn't good enough," Baldo said. "We're talking about people who served and sacrificed for our country. They should be buried with dignity and honor."

And so this is how he now spends his days. Each begins with a call to the Maryland National Guard's office to find out where he might be needed. Most burials are more than an hour's drive away from his home in Port Republic, Md. Some funerals take place as far as the Eastern Shore and Quantico. In the past four years, he has logged more than 100,000 miles in his little
green Honda.

All that time and distance on the road, to play a tune that lasts 50 seconds.

Veteran Population Aging

The math can be overwhelming at times.

About 1,800 veterans die every day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. This year alone, the department is expecting more than 657,000 deaths.

"We believe it's peaking," said Jim Rich, spokesman for the National Cemetery Administration. "You have World War II vets now in their 80s and the Korean and Vietnam generation approaching. . . . The military's getting smaller, and the veteran population is getting older."

Add to the situation the dwindling status of the military bugler. During the Civil War, every company had at least two musicians. Buglers regulated the time and duties in military camps and directed the action in battle.

"There used to be an expression: 'Either learn to play the bugle or learn to play the gun,' " said bugler historian Jari A. Villanueva, a retired Air Force master sergeant. "But as World War II went on, it became obvious bugle calls on the battlefield weren't that useful anymore."

Today, there are about 500 active-duty members who can play taps. And by federal law, veterans are allowed at least two honor guards at their funeral and a rendition of taps.

So what to do? Enter the digital bugle.

On the outside, it looks like a traditional horn, all brass and gleaming reflection. But inside the instrument's bell sits a black plastic device with a microchip recording and a booming speaker. When the device was released in 2002, the Defense Department called it a dignified solution to a
difficult problem.

Some, however, called it just plain wrong. In recent years, a small army of horn players from across the country have offered to play taps anywhere, anytime, at the drop of a hat.

Many are strictly volunteer. Others have teamed with the military in their area and are paid nominal fees for their work. The largest group, Bugles Across America, claims more than 5,000 volunteers in all 50 states.

"Our goal is to have a live bugler for every family that wants one," said Tom Day of Illinois, who founded the organization. Family and funeral directors can go to the group's Web site and type in a location, and e-mails are blasted out to all volunteer buglers within 100 miles.

The organization has a sizable presence in Maryland and Virginia but only a handful of players in the District, because the city's proximity to many bases already provides a decent supply of official military buglers. "But even here, there's a need," said the group's D.C. coordinator, Jim Miller. There are private cemeteries and small ceremonies that still need players,
said Miller, a Navy reservist.

In his home in Centreville, Va., Miller keeps a journal with a line noting every member of the service he has helped bury -- 260 names in all. For him, it began in 1993 after he flew home to help bury his stepfather, who had served in the Army during the 1960s.

"Not a single person was there," he said. "No military. Just me, my mom and my stepdad. It made me angry. I never wanted that to happen to anyone else's family."

Answering the Call

That rarely happens these days in Maryland. In 1998, the state became one of a few to assign military honor duties to its National Guard and fund a program to send such buglers as Baldo to as many burials as possible. Baldo and seven others receive about $15 an hour for their work with the National Guard. After travel expenses, it doesn't amount to much.

"No one does it for the money," Baldo said. "You do it so the families can bury the person with dignity."

Oftentimes, this means trudging through snow or standing at attention through summer heat. For Baldo last week, at Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery in Prince George's County, it meant dots of rain trickling onto his dark blue uniform. As he waited for the first service of the day, he talked about the nervousness that comes with each performance.

"You always want to do your best. You don't want anything to mess it up," he said, looking for his cue from the cemetery director.

He is sometimes plagued by sinus headaches. But that day, it was inflamed tendons in his foot. So when the cue finally came a few minutes later, it was with a slight limp that Baldo walked into the rain and began his sad, familiar melody.

Moments later, he walked off the mound wearing a horror-stricken grimace.

"I goofed. Did you hear the last notes? I had too much air inside and just choked," he said. The family didn't notice, but he apologized anyway and berated himself as he prepared for the next service.

The tune itself isn't technically difficult, he explained, just 24 simple notes. It's the feeling of the player that makes it whole.

Searching for that emotion when he plays, he sometimes thinks of the first time he performed taps -- as a fresh-faced 19-year-old at a ceremony in England for World War II bombers. He remembers how he gazed at the monument to the bombers and the tens of thousands of names carved into white marble. He recalls the humility that washed over him that first time.

He played all day last week at the Cheltenham cemetery. But as the day drew to a close, Baldo was still kicking himself for that morning's mistake.

"Too much air, just choked," he muttered as he packed to leave.

"I guess that's part of it, too," he said. "When you have a live bugler behind the horn instead of some recording, it's not going to be perfect. That's what makes it human, what gives it meaning."

Ducking into his car, he tucked his well-worn trumpet into the back seat and then climbed in, careful to avoid aggravating the inflamed tendons in his left foot.

Ahead lay the hour-long drive home, a night's rest and, after that, another a day of remembrance at the cemeteries, calling out sorrow and helping to lay old souls to rest.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

If you have nothing good to say, don't say anything at all

So today I shall just smile













it looks like a stunning but chilly day out there, if this is to be our winter I won't be complaining....much

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We live in a world...

We live in a world of corrupt radio, concert ticket price-gouging, product placement in songs, Wal-Mart censorship—not to mention war, poverty, and the collapse of our health care system.

Music keeps us going through it all. Music makes us feel good. Music carries us past the stress. Music inspires us. Music makes the connections between people that give us hope for the future. Music insists that a better world is possible and music makes us believe that this can be true.


The above was the introduction to a email asking me for money thsi morning, they aren't getting my money but damn they sure got my attention for as far as I am concerned the above is the truth, or at least to me.

Websta - is this cheery enough for ya?

Morning

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday can be a toughie

So here is a picture of a badger

















Take it easy out there!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Welcome to the Age of Homeland Insecurity

Kiss American Security Goodbye - 15 Numbers That Add Up to an Age of Insecurity
By Tom Engelhardt

Once upon a time, I studied the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi -- until, that is, I realized I would never locate my "chi." At that point, I threw in the towel and took up Western exercise. Still, the principle behind Tai Chi stayed with me -- that you could multiply the force of an act by giving way before the force of others; that a smaller person could use the strength of a bigger one against him.

Now, jump to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath -- and you know the Tai Chi version of history from there. Think of it as a grim cosmic joke -- that the 9/11 attacks, as apocalyptic as they looked, were anything but. The true disasters followed and the wounds were largely self-inflicted, as the most militarily powerful nation on the planet used its own force to disable itself.
Before that fateful day, the Bush administration had considered terrorism, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda subjects for suckers and wusses. What they were intent on was pouring money into developing an elaborate boondoggle of a missile defense system against future nuclear attacks by rogue states. Those Cold War high frontiersmen (and women) couldn't get enough of the idea of missiling up. That, after all, was where the money and the fun seemed to be. Nuclear was where the big boys -- the nation states -- played. "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.…," the CIA told the President that August. Yawn.

After 9/11, of course, George W. Bush and his top advisors almost instantly launched their crusade against Islam and then their various wars, all under the rubric of the Global War on Terror. (As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pungently put the matter that September, "We have a choice -- either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live; and we chose the latter.") By then, they were already heading out to "drain the swamp" of evil doers, 60 countries worth of them, if necessary. Meanwhile, they moved quickly to fight the last battle at home, the one just over, by squandering vast sums on an American Maginot Line of security. The porous new Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, the FBI, and other acronymic agencies were to lock down, surveill, and listen in on America. All this to prevent "the next 9/11."

In the process, they would treat bin Laden's scattered al-Qaeda network as if it were the Nazi or Soviet war machine (even comically dubbing his followers "Islamofascists"). In the blinking of an eye, and in the rubble of two enormous buildings in downtown Manhattan, bin Laden and his cronies had morphed from nobodies into supermen, a veritable Legion of Doom. (There was a curious parallel to this transformation in World War II. Before Pearl Harbor, American experts had considered the Japanese -- as historian John Dower so vividly documented in his book War Without Mercy -- bucktoothed, near-sighted military incompetents whose war planes were barely capable of flight. On December 8, 1941, they suddenly became a race of invincible supermen without, in the American imagination, ever passing through a human incarnation.)

When, in October 2001, Congress passed the Patriot Act, and an Office of Homeland Security (which, in 2002, became a "department") was established, it was welcome to the era of homeland insecurity. From then on, every major building, landmark, amusement park, petting zoo, flea market, popcorn stand, and toll booth anywhere in the country would be touted as a potential target for terrorists and in need of protection. Every police department from Arkansas to Ohio would be in desperate need of anti-terror funding. And why not, when the terrorists loomed so monstrously large, were so apocalyptically capable, and wanted so very badly to destroy our way of life. No wonder that, in the 2006 National Asset Database, compiled by the Department of Homeland Security, the state of Indiana, "with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation."

In the administration's imagination (and the American one), they were now capable of anything. From their camps in the backlands of Afghanistan (or was it the suburbs of Hamburg?), as well as in the murky global underworld of the arms black market, al-Qaeda's minions were toiling ferverishly to lay their hands on the most fiendish of plagues and pestilences -- smallpox, botulism, anthrax, you name it. They were preparing to fill suitcases with nuclear weapons for deposit in downtown Manhattan. They were gathering nuclear refuse for dirty bombs. Nothing was too mad or destructive for them. Every faint but strange odor -- the sweet smell of maple syrup floating across a city -- was a potential bio-attack. And everywhere, even in rural areas, politicians were strapping on their armor and preparing to run imminent-danger, anti-terror campaigns, while urging their constituents to run for cover. Meanwhile, that former Sodom of the New World, New York City, had somehow been transformed into an I-heart-NY T-shirt-and-cap combo.

So, thank you, Osama bin Laden for expediting the Department of Homeland Security, glutting an already bloated Pentagon with even more money, ensuring that all those "expeditionary forces" would sally forth to cause havoc and not find victory in two hopeless wars, enabling the establishment of a vast offshore prison network (and the torture techniques to go with it), and creating a whole new global "security" industry to "thwart terrorists" that was, by 2006, generating $60 billion a year in business and whose domestic wing was devoted to locking down America.

When the history of this era is finally written, based on the Tai Chi Principle, Osama bin Laden and his scattering of followers may be credited for goading the fundamentalist leaders of the United States into using the power in their grasp so -- not to put a fine point on it -- stupidly and profligately as to send the planet's "sole superpower" into decline. Above all, bin Laden and his crew of fanatics will have ensured one thing: that the real security problems of our age were ignored in Washington until far too late in favor of mad dreams and dark phantoms. In this lies a bleak but epic tale of folly worthy of a great American novelist (wherever she is).
In the meantime, consider the following little list -- 15 numbers that offer an indication of just what the Tai Chi Principle meant in action these last years; just where American energies did and did not flow; and, in the end, just how much less safe we are now than we were in January 2001, when George W. Bush entered the Oval Office:

536,000,000,000: the number of dollars the Pentagon is requesting for the 2009 military budget. This represents an increase of almost 70% over the Pentagon's 2001 budget of $316 billion -- and that's without factoring in "supplementary" requests to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the President's Global War on Terror. Add in those soaring sums and military spending has more than doubled in the Bush era. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since 2001, funding for "defense and related programs... has jumped at an annual average rate of 8%... -- four times faster than the average rate of growth for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (2%), and 27 times faster than the average rate for growth for domestic discretionary programs (0.3%)."

1,390,000: the number of subprime foreclosures over the next two years, as estimated by Credit Suisse analysts. They also predict that, by the end of 2012, 12.7% of all residential borrowers may be out of their homes as part of a housing crisis that caught the Bush administration totally off-guard.

1,000,000: the number of "missions" or "sorties" the U.S. Air Force proudly claims to have flown in the Global War on Terror since 9/11, more than one-third of them (about 353,000) in what it still likes to call Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is a good measure of where American energies (and oil purchases) have gone these last years.

509,000: the number of names found in 2007 on a "terrorist watch list" compiled by the FBI. No longer, in George Bush's America, is a 10 Most Wanted list adequate. According to ABC News, "U.S. lawmakers and their spouses have been detained because their names were on the watch list" and Saddam Hussein was on the list even when in U.S. custody. By February 2008, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the names on the same FBI list had ballooned to 900,000.

300,000: the number of American troops who now suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress, according to a recent RAND study. This represents almost one out of every five soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Even more -- approximately 320,000 -- "report possible brain injuries from explosions or other head wounds." This, RAND reports, represents a barely dealt with "major health crisis." The depression and PTSD alone will, the study reported, "cost the nation as much as $6.2 billion in the two years following deployment."

51,000: the number of post-surge Iraqi prisoners held in American and Iraqi jails at the end of 2007. In that country, the U.S. now runs "perhaps the world's largest extrajudicial internment camp," Camp Bucca, whose holding capacity is, even now, being expanded from 20,000 to 30,000 prisoners. Then there's Camp Cropper, with at least 4,000 prisoners, including "hundreds of juveniles." Many of these prisoners were simply swept up in surge raids and have been held without charges or access to lawyers or courts ever since. Add in prisoners (in unknown numbers) in our sizeable network of prisons in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo, and in our various offshore and borrowed prisons; add in, as well, the widespread mistreatment of prisoners at American hands; and you have the machinery for the manufacture of vast numbers of angry potential enemies, some undoubtedly willing to commit almost any act of revenge. Though there is no way to tabulate the numbers, hundreds of thousands of prisoners have certainly cycled through the Bush administration's various prisons in these last seven years, many emerging embittered. (And don't forget their embittered families.) Think of all this as an enormous dystopian experiment in "social networking," the Facebook from Hell without the Internet.

5,700: the number of trailers in New Orleans -- issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as temporary housing after Hurricane Katrina -- still occupied by people who lost their homes in the storm almost three years ago. Such trailers have also been found to contain toxic levels of formaldehyde fumes. Katrina ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") was but one of many security disasters for the Bush administration.

658: the number of suicide bombings worldwide last year, including 542 in Afghanistan and Iraq, "more than double the number in any of the past 25 years." Of all the suicide bombings in the past quarter century, more than 86% have occurred since 2001, according to U.S. government experts. At least one of those bombers -- who died in a recent coordinated wave of suicide bombings in the Iraqi city of Mosul -- was a Kuwaiti, Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi, who had spent years locked up in Guantanamo.

511: the number of applicants convicted of felony crimes, including burglary, grand larceny, and aggravated assault, who were accepted into the U.S. Army in 2007, more than double the 249 accepted in 2006. According to the New York Times, between 2006 and 2007, those enrolled with convictions for wrongful possession of drugs (not including marijuana) almost doubled, for burglaries almost tripled, for grand larceny/larceny more than doubled, for robbery more than tripled, for aggravated assault went up by 30%, and for "terroristic threats including bomb threats" doubled (from one to two). Feel more secure yet?

126: the number of dollars it took to buy a barrel of crude oil on the international market this week. Meanwhile, the average price of a gallon of regular gas at the pump in the U.S. hit $3.72, while the price of gas jumped almost 20 cents in Michigan in a week, 36 cents in Utah in a month, and busted the $4 ceiling in Westchester, New York, a rise of 65 cents in the last year. Just after the 9/11 attacks, a barrel of crude oil was still in the $20 range; at the time of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, it was at about $30. In other words, since 9/11, a barrel of crude has risen more than $100 without the Bush administration taking any serious steps to promote energy conservation, cut down on the U.S. oil "addiction," or develop alternative energy strategies (beyond a dubious program to produce more ethanol).

82: the percentage of Americans who think "things in this country… have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track," according to the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. This is the gloomiest Americans have been about the "direction" of the country in the last 15 years of such polling.

40: the percentage loss ("on a trade-weighted basis") in the value of the dollar since 2001. The dollar's share of total world foreign exchange reserves has also dropped from 73% to 64% in that same period. According to the Center for American Progress, "By early May 2008, a dollar bought 42.9% fewer euros, 35.7% fewer Canadian dollars, 37.7% fewer British pounds, and 17.3% fewer Japanese yen than in March 2001."

37: the number of countries that have experienced food protests or riots in recent months due to soaring food prices, a global crisis of insecurity that caught the Bush administration completely unprepared. In the last year, the price of wheat has risen by 130%, of rice by 74%, of soya by 87%, and of corn by 31%.

0: the number of terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda or similar groups inside the United States since September 11, 2001.

So consider "the homeland" secure. Mission accomplished.

And if you doubt that, here's one last figure, representative of the ultimate insecurity that, by conscious omission as well as commission, the Bush administration has left a harried future to deal with: That number is 387: Scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii just released new information on carbon dioxide -- the major greenhouse gas -- in the atmosphere, and it's at a record high of 387 parts per million, "up almost 40% since the industrial revolution and the highest for at least the last 650,000 years." Its rate of increase is on the rise as well. Behind all these figures lurks a potential world of insecurity with which this country has not yet come to grips.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Food Crisis (Part Two)

Capitalism, Agribusiness, and the Food Sovereignty Alternative
By Ian Angus

(Ian Angus is editor of Climate and Capitalism. Part One of this article was published in Socialist Voice and in The Bullet (Socialist Project), on April 28, 2008.)

“Nowhere in the world, in no act of genocide, in no war, are so many people killed per minute, per hour and per day as those who are killed by hunger and poverty on our planet.” —Fidel Castro, 1998

When food riots broke out in Haiti last month, the first country to respond was Venezuela. Within days, planes were on their way from Caracas, carrying 364 tons of badly needed food.
The people of Haiti are “suffering from the attacks of the empire’s global capitalism,” Venezuelan president Hugo Chàvez said. “This calls for genuine and profound solidarity from all of us. It is the least we can do for Haiti.”

Venezuela’s action is in the finest tradition of human solidarity. When people are hungry, we should do our best to feed them. Venezuela’s example should be applauded and emulated.
But aid, however necessary, is only a stopgap. To truly address the problem of world hunger, we must understand and then change the system that causes it.

No shortage of food

The starting point for our analysis must be this: there is no shortage of food in the world today.
Contrary to the 18th century warnings of Thomas Malthus and his modern followers, study after study shows that global food production has consistently outstripped population growth, and that there is more than enough food to feed everyone. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, enough food is produced in the world to provide over 2800 calories a day to everyone — substantially more than the minimum required for good health, and about 18% more calories per person than in the 1960s, despite a significant increase in total population.[1]

As the Food First Institute points out, “abundance, not scarcity, best describes the supply of food in the world today.”[2]

Despite that, the most commonly proposed solution to world hunger is new technology to increase food production.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, aims to develop “more productive and resilient varieties of Africa’s major food crops … to enable Africa’s small-scale farmers to produce larger, more diverse and reliable harvests.”[3]

Similarly, the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute has initiated a public-private partnership “to increase rice production across Asia via the accelerated development and introduction of hybrid rice technologies.”[4]

And the president of the World Bank promises to help developing countries gain “access to technology and science to boost yields.”[5]

Scientific research is vitally important to the development of agriculture, but initiatives that assume in advance that new seeds and chemicals are needed are neither credible nor truly scientific. The fact that there is already enough food to feed the world shows that the food crisis is not a technical problem — it is a social and political problem.

Rather than asking how to increase production, our first question should be why, when so much food is available, are over 850 million people hungry and malnourished? Why do 18,000 children die of hunger every day?

Why can’t the global food industry feed the hungry?

The profit system

The answer can be stated in one sentence. The global food industry is not organized to feed the hungry; it is organized to generate profits for corporate agribusiness.

The agribusiness giants are achieving that objective very well indeed. This year, agribusiness profits are soaring above last year’s levels, while hungry people from Haiti to Egypt to Senegal were taking to the streets to protest rising food prices. These figures are for just three months at the beginning of 2008.[6]

Grain Trading

Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). Gross profit: $1.15 billion, up 55% from last year
Cargill: Net earnings: $1.03 billion, up 86%
Bunge. Consolidated gross profit: $867 million, up 189%.

Seeds & herbicides

Monsanto. Gross profit: $2.23 billion, up 54%.
Dupont Agriculture and Nutrition. Pre-tax operating income: $786 million, up 21%

Fertilizer

Potash Corporation. Net income: $66 million, up 185.9%
Mosaic. Net earnings: $520.8 million, up more than 1,200%

The companies listed above, plus a few more, are the monopoly or near-monopoly buyers and sellers of agricultural products around the world. Six companies control 85% of the world trade in grain; three control 83% of cocoa; three control 80% of the banana trade.[7] ADM, Cargill and Bunge effectively control the world’s corn, which means that they alone decide how much of each year’s crop goes to make ethanol, sweeteners, animal feed or human food.

As the editors of Hungry for Profit write, “The enormous power exerted by the largest agribusiness/food corporations allows them essentially to control the cost of their raw materials purchased from farmers while at the same time keeping prices of food to the general public at high enough levels to ensure large profits.”[8]

Over the past three decades, transnational agribusiness companies have engineered a massive restructuring of global agriculture. Directly through their own market power and indirectly through governments and the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organization, they have changed the way food is grown and distributed around the world. The changes have had wonderful effects on their profits, while simultaneously making global hunger worse and food crises inevitable.

The assault on traditional farming

Today’s food crisis doesn’t stand alone: it is a manifestation of a farm crisis that has been building for decades.

As we saw in Part One of this article, over the past three decades the rich countries of the north have forced poor countries to open their markets, then flooded those markets with subsidized food, with devastating results for Third World farming.

But the restructuring of global agriculture to the advantage of agribusiness giants didn’t stop there. In the same period, southern countries were convinced, cajoled and bullied into adopting agricultural policies that promote export crops rather than food for domestic consumption, and favour large-scale industrial agriculture that requires single-crop (monoculture) production, heavy use of water, and massive quantities of fertilizer and pesticides. Increasingly, traditional farming, organized by and for communities and families, has been pushed aside by industrial farming organized by and for agribusinesses.

That transformation is the principal obstacle to a rational agriculture that could eliminate hunger.

The focus on export agriculture has produced the absurd and tragic result that millions of people are starving in countries that export food. In India, for example, over one-fifth of the population is chronically hungry and 48% of children under five years old are malnourished. Nevertheless, India exported US$1.5 billion worth of milled rice and $322 million worth of wheat in 2004.[9]
In other countries, farmland that used to grow food for domestic consumption now grows luxuries for the north. Colombia, where 13% of the population is malnourished, produces and exports 62% of all cut flowers sold in the United States.

In many cases the result of switching to export crops has produced results that would be laughable if they weren’t so damaging. Kenya was self-sufficient in food until about 25 years ago. Today it imports 80% of its food — and 80% of its exports are other agricultural products.[10]

The shift to industrial agriculture has driven millions of people off the land and into unemployment and poverty in the immense slums that now surround many of the world’s cities.
The people who best know the land are being separated from it; their farms enclosed into gigantic outdoor factories that produce only for export. Hundreds of millions of people now must depend on food that’s grown thousands of miles away because their homeland agriculture has been transformed to meet the needs of agribusiness corporations. As recent months have shown, the entire system is fragile: India’s decision to rebuild its rice stocks made food unaffordable for millions half a world away.

If the purpose of agriculture is to feed people, the changes to global agriculture in the past 30 years make no sense. Industrial farming in the Third World has produced increasing amounts of food, but at the cost of driving millions off the land and into lives of chronic hunger — and at the cost of poisoning air and water, and steadily decreasing the ability of the soil to deliver the food we need.

Contrary to the claims of agribusiness, the latest agricultural research, including more than a decade of concrete experience in Cuba, proves that small and mid-sized farms using sustainable agroecological methods are much more productive and vastly less damaging to the environment than huge industrial farms.[11]

Industrial farming continues not because it is more productive, but because it has been able, until now, to deliver uniform products in predictable quantities, bred specifically to resist damage during shipment to distant markets. That’s where the profit is, and profit is what counts, no matter what the effect may be on earth, air, and water — or even on hungry people.

Fighting for food sovereignty

The changes imposed by transnational agribusiness and its agencies have not gone unchallenged. One of the most important developments in the past 15 years has been the emergence of La Vía Campesina (Peasant Way), an umbrella body that encompasses more than 120 small farmers’ and peasants’ organizations in 56 countries, ranging from the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil to the National Farmers Union in Canada.

La Vía Campesina initially advanced its program as a challenge to the “World Food Summit,” a 1996 UN-organized conference on global hunger that was attended by official representatives of 185 countries. The participants in that meeting promised (and subsequently did nothing to achieve) the elimination of hunger and malnutrition by guaranteeing “sustainable food security for all people.”[12]

As is typical of such events, the working people who are actually affected were excluded from the discussions. Outside the doors, La Vía Campesina proposed food sovereignty as an alternative to food security. Simple access to food is not enough, they argued: what’s needed is access to land, water, and resources, and the people affected must have the right to know and to decide about food policies. Food is too important to be left to the global market and the manipulations of agribusiness: world hunger can only be ended by re-establishing small and mid-sized family farms as the key elements of food production.[13]

The central demand of the food sovereignty movement is that food should be treated primarily as a source of nutrition for the communities and countries where it is grown. In opposition to free-trade, agroexport policies, it urges a focus on domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency.

Contrary to the assertions of some critics, food sovereignty is not a call for economic isolationism or a return to an idealized rural past. Rather, it is a program for the defense and extension of human rights, for land reform, and for protection of the earth against capitalist ecocide. In addition to calling for food self-sufficiency and strengthening family farms, La Vía Campesina’s original call for food sovereignty included these points:

Guarantee everyone access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity.
Give landless and farming people — especially women — ownership and control of the land they work and return territories to indigenous peoples.
Ensure the care and use of natural resources, especially land, water and seeds. End dependence on chemical inputs, on cash-crop monocultures and intensive, industrialized production.
Oppose WTO, World Bank and IMF policies that facilitate the control of multinational corporations over agriculture. Regulate and tax speculative capital and enforce a strict Code of Conduct on transnational corporations.
End the use of food as a weapon. Stop the displacement, forced urbanization and repression of peasants.
Guarantee peasants and small farmers, and rural women in particular, direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels.[14]

La Vía Campesina’s demand for food sovereignty constitutes a powerful agrarian program for the 21st century. Labour and left movements worldwide should give full support to it and to the campaigns of working farmers and peasants for land reform and against the industrialization and globalization of food and farming.

Stop the war on Third World farmers

Within that framework, we in the global north can and must demand that our governments stop all activities that weaken or damage Third World farming.

Stop using food for fuel. La Vía Campesina has said it simply and clearly: “Industrial agrofuels are an economic, social and environmental nonsense. Their development should be halted and agricultural production should focus on food as a priority.”[15]

Cancel Third World debts. On April 30, Canada announced a special contribution of C$10 million for food relief to Haiti.[16] That’s positive – but during 2008 Haiti will pay five times that much in interest on its $1.5 billion foreign debt, much of which was incurred during the imperialist-supported Duvalier dictatorships.

Haiti’s situation is not unique and it is not an extreme case. The total external debt of Third World countries in 2005 was $2.7 trillion, and their debt payments that year totalled $513 billion.[17] Ending that cash drain, immediately and unconditionally, would provide essential resources to feed the hungry now and rebuild domestic farming over time.

Get the WTO out of agriculture. The regressive food policies that have been imposed on poor countries by the World Bank and IMF are codified and enforced by the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture. The AoA, as Afsar Jafri of Focus on the Global South writes, is “biased in favour of capital-intensive, corporate agribusiness-driven and export-oriented agriculture.”[18] That’s not surprising, since the U.S. official who drafted and then negotiated it was a former vice-president of agribusiness giant Cargill.

AoA should be abolished, and Third World countries should have the right to unilaterally cancel liberalization policies imposed through the World Bank, IMF, and WTO, as well as through bilateral free trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA.

Self-Determination for the Global South. The current attempts by the U.S. to destabilize and overthrow the anti-imperialist governments of the ALBA group — Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Grenada — continue a long history of actions by northern countries to prevent Third World countries from asserting control over their own destinies. Organizing against such interventions “in the belly of the monster” is thus a key component of the fight to win food sovereignty around the world.

* * *
More than a century ago, Karl Marx wrote that despite its support for technical improvements, “the capitalist system works against a rational agriculture … a rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system.”[19]

Today’s food and farm crises completely confirm that judgment. A system that puts profit ahead of human needs has driven millions of producers off the land, undermined the earth’s productivity while poisoning its air and water, and condemned nearly a billion people to chronic hunger and malnutrition.

The food crisis and farm crisis are rooted in an irrational, anti-human system. To feed the world, urban and rural working people must join hands to sweep that system away.

Footnotes

[1] Frederic Mousseau, Food Aid or Food Sovereignty? Ending World Hunger in Our Time. Oakland Institute, 2005. http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/pdfs/fasr.pdf.International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. Global Summary for Decision Makers. http://www.agassessment.org/docs/Global_SDM_210408_FINAL.pdf
[2] Francis Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, Peter Rosset. World Hunger: Twelve Myths. (Grove Press, New York, 1998) p. 8
[3] “About the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.”http://www.agra-alliance.org/about/about_more.html
[4] IRRI Press Release, April 4, 2008. http://www.irri.org/media/press/press.asp?id=171
[5] “World Bank President Calls for Plan to Fight Hunger in Pre-Spring Meetings Address.” News Release, April 2, 2008
[6] These figures are taken from the companies’ most recent quarterly reports, found on their websites. Because they report the numbers in different ways, they can’t be compared to each other, only to their own previous reports.
[7] Shawn Hattingh. “Liberalizing Food Trade to Death.” MRzine, May 6, 2008. http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/hattingh060508.html
[8] Fred Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster and Frederick H. Buttel. Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment. Monthly Review Press, New York, 2000. p. 11
[9] UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Key Statistics Of Food And Agriculture External Trade. http://www.fao.org/es/ess/toptrade/trade.asp?lang=EN&dir=exp&country=100
[10] J. Madeley. Hungry for Trade: How the poor pay for free trade. Cited in Ibid
[11] Jahi Campbell, “Shattering Myths: Can sustainable agriculture feed the world?” and ” Editorial. Lessons from the Green Revolution.” Food First Institute. www.foodfirst.org
[12] World Food Summit. http://www.fao.org/wfs/index_en.htm
[13] La Vía Campesina. “Food Sovereignty: A Future Without Hunger.” (1996) http://www.voiceoftheturtle.org/library/1996%20Declaration%20of%20Food%20Sovereignty.pdf
[14] Paraphrased and abridged from Ibid
[15] La Vía Campesina. “A response to the Global Food Prices Crisis: Sustainable family farming can feed the world.” http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=483&Itemid=38
[16] By way of comparison, this year Canada will spend $1 billion on the illegal occupation of and war in Afghanistan
[17] Jubilee Debt Campaign. “The Basics About Debt.” http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/?lid=98
[18] Afsar H. Jafri. “WTO: Agriculture at the Mercy of Rich Nations.” Focus on the Global South, November 7, 2005. http://www.focusweb.org/india/content/view/733/30/
[19] Capital, Volume III. Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 37, p. 123

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Food Crisis (Part One)

‘The greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model’


May 14, 2008 By Ian Angus
Source: Socialist Voice

"If the government cannot lower the cost of living it simply has to leave. If the police and UN troops want to shoot at us, that's OK, because in the end, if we are not killed by bullets, we'll die of hunger." — A demonstrator in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

In Haiti, where most people get 22% fewer calories than the minimum needed for good health, some are staving off their hunger pangs by eating "mud biscuits" made by mixing clay and water with a bit of vegetable oil and salt.[1]

Meanwhile, in Canada, the federal government is currently paying $225 for each pig killed in a mass cull of breeding swine, as part of a plan to reduce hog production. Hog farmers, squeezed by low hog prices and high feed costs, have responded so enthusiastically that the kill will likely use up all the allocated funds before the program ends in September.

Some of the slaughtered hogs may be given to local Food Banks, but most will be destroyed or made into pet food. None will go to Haiti.

This is the brutal world of capitalist agriculture — a world where some people destroy food because prices are too low, and others literally eat dirt because food prices are too high.

Record prices for staple foods

We are in the midst of an unprecedented worldwide food price inflation that has driven prices to their highest levels in decades. The increases affect most kinds of food, but in particular the most important staples — wheat, corn, and rice.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that between March 2007 and March 2008 prices of cereals increased 88%, oils and fats 106%, and dairy 48%. The FAO food price index as a whole rose 57% in one year — and most of the increase occurred in the past few months.

Another source, the World Bank, says that that in the 36 months ending February 2008, global wheat prices rose 181% and overall global food prices increased by 83%. The Bank expects most food prices to remain well above 2004 levels until at least 2015.

The most popular grade of Thailand rice sold for $198 a tonne five years ago and $323 a tonne a year ago. On April 24, the price hit $1,000.

Increases are even greater on local markets — in Haiti, the market price of a 50 kilo bag of rice doubled in one week at the end of March.

These increases are catastrophic for the 2.6 billion people around the world who live on less than US$2 a day and spend 60% to 80% of their incomes on food. Hundreds of millions cannot afford to eat.

This month, the hungry fought back.

Taking to the streets

In Haiti, on April 3, demonstrators in the southern city of Les Cayes built barricades, stopped trucks carrying rice and distributed the food, and tried to burn a United Nations compound. The protests quickly spread to the capital, Port-au-Prince, where thousands marched on the presidential palace, chanting "We are hungry!" Many called for the withdrawal of UN troops and the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the exiled president whose government was overthrown by foreign powers in 2004.

President René Préval, who initially said nothing could be done, has announced a 16% cut in the wholesale price of rice. This is at best a stop-gap measure, since the reduction is for one month only, and retailers are not obligated to cut their prices.

The actions in Haiti paralleled similar protests by hungry people in more than twenty other countries.

In Burkino Faso, a two-day general strike by unions and shopkeepers demanded "significant and effective" reductions in the price of rice and other staple foods.

In Bangladesh, over 20,000 workers from textile factories in Fatullah went on strike to demand lower prices and higher wages. They hurled bricks and stones at police, who fired tear gas into the crowd.

The Egyptian government sent thousands of troops into the Mahalla textile complex in the Nile Delta, to prevent a general strike demanding higher wages, an independent union, and lower prices. Two people were killed and over 600 have been jailed.

In Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, police used tear gas against women who had set up barricades, burned tires and closed major roads. Thousands marched to the President's home, chanting "We are hungry," and "Life is too expensive, you are killing us."

In Pakistan and Thailand, armed soldiers have been deployed to prevent the poor from seizing food from fields and warehouses.

Similar protests have taken place in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Zambia. On April 2, the president of the World Bank told a meeting in Washington that there are 33 countries where price hikes could cause social unrest.

A Senior Editor of Time magazine warned:

"The idea of the starving masses driven by their desperation to take to the streets and overthrow the ancien regime has seemed impossibly quaint since capitalism triumphed so decisively in the Cold War.... And yet, the headlines of the past month suggest that skyrocketing food prices are threatening the stability of a growing number of governments around the world. .... when circumstances render it impossible to feed their hungry children, normally passive citizens can very quickly become militants with nothing to lose."[2]

What's Driving Food Inflation?

Since the 1970s, food production has become increasingly globalized and concentrated. A handful of countries dominate the global trade in staple foods. 80% of wheat exports come from six exporters, as does 85% of rice. Three countries produce 70% of exported corn. This leaves the world's poorest countries, the ones that must import food to survive, at the mercy of economic trends and policies in those few exporting countries. When the global food trade system stops delivering, it's the poor who pay the price.

For several years, the global trade in staple foods has been heading towards a crisis. Four related trends have slowed production growth and pushed prices up.

The End of the Green Revolution: In the 1960s and 1970s, in an effort to counter peasant discontent in south and southeast Asia, the U.S. poured money and technical support into agricultural development in India and other countries. The "green revolution" — new seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, agricultural techniques and infrastructure — led to spectacular increases in food production, particularly rice. Yield per hectare continued expanding until the 1990s.

Today, it's not fashionable for governments to help poor people grow food for other poor people, because "the market" is supposed to take care of all problems. The Economist reports that "spending on farming as a share of total public spending in developing countries fell by half between 1980 and 2004."[3] Subsidies and R&D money have dried up, and production growth has stalled.

As a result, in seven of the past eight years the world consumed more grain than it produced, which means that rice was being removed from the inventories that governments and dealers normally hold as insurance against bad harvests. World grain stocks are now at their lowest point ever, leaving very little cushion for bad times.

Climate Change: Scientists say that climate change could cut food production in parts of the world by 50% in the next 12 years. But that isn't just a matter for the future:

Australia is normally the world's second-largest exporter of grain, but a savage multi-year drought has reduced the wheat crop by 60% and rice production has been completely wiped out.

In Bangladesh in November, one of the strongest cyclones in decades wiped out a million tonnes of rice and severely damaged the wheat crop, making the huge country even more dependent on imported food.

Other examples abound. It's clear that the global climate crisis is already here, and it is affecting food.

Agrofuels: It is now official policy in the U.S., Canada and Europe to convert food into fuel. U.S. vehicles burn enough corn to cover the entire import needs of the poorest 82 countries.[4]

Ethanol and biodiesel are very heavily subsidized, which means, inevitably, that crops like corn (maize) are being diverted out of the food chain and into gas tanks, and that new agricultural investment worldwide is being directed towards palm, soy, canola and other oil-producing plants. The demand for agrofuels increases the prices of those crops directly, and indirectly boosts the price of other grains by encouraging growers to switch to agrofuel.

As Canadian hog producers have found, it also drives up the cost of producing meat, since corn is the main ingredient in North American animal feed.

Oil Prices: The price of food is linked to the price of oil because food can be made into a substitute for oil. But rising oil prices also affect the cost of producing food. Fertilizer and pesticides are made from petroleum and natural gas. Gas and diesel fuel are used in planting, harvesting and shipping.[5]

It's been estimated that 80% of the costs of growing corn are fossil fuel costs — so it is no accident that food prices rise when oil prices rise.

* * *

By the end of 2007, reduced investment in third world agriculture, rising oil prices, and climate change meant that production growth was slowing and prices were rising. Good harvests and strong export growth might have staved off a crisis — but that isn't what happened. The trigger was rice, the staple food of three billion people.

Early this year, India announced that it was suspending most rice exports in order to rebuild its reserves. A few weeks later, Vietnam, whose rice crop was hit by a major insect infestation during the harvest, announced a four-month suspension of exports to ensure that enough would be available for its domestic market.

India and Vietnam together normally account for 30% of all rice exports, so their announcements were enough to push the already tight global rice market over the edge. Rice buyers immediately started buying up available stocks, hoarding whatever rice they could get in the expectation of future price increases, and bidding up the price for future crops. Prices soared. By mid-April, news reports described "panic buying" of rice futures on the Chicago Board of Trade, and there were rice shortages even on supermarket shelves in Canada and the U.S.

Why the rebellion?

There have been food price spikes before. Indeed, if we take inflation into account, global prices for staple foods were higher in the 1970s than they are today. So why has this inflationary explosion provoked mass protests around the world?

The answer is that since the 1970s the richest countries in the world, aided by the international agencies they control, have systematically undermined the poorest countries' ability to feed their populations and protect themselves in a crisis like this.

Haiti is a powerful and appalling example.

Rice has been grown in Haiti for centuries, and until twenty years ago Haitian farmers produced about 170,000 tonnes of rice a year, enough to cover 95% of domestic consumption. Rice farmers received no government subsidies, but, as in every other rice-producing country at the time, their access to local markets was protected by import tariffs.

In 1995, as a condition of providing a desperately needed loan, the International Monetary Fund required Haiti to cut its tariff on imported rice from 35% to 3%, the lowest in the Caribbean. The result was a massive influx of U.S. rice that sold for half the price of Haitian-grown rice. Thousands of rice farmers lost their lands and livelihoods, and today three-quarters of the rice eaten in Haiti comes from the U.S.[6]

U.S. rice didn't take over the Haitian market because it tastes better, or because U.S. rice growers are more efficient. It won out because rice exports are heavily subsidized by the U.S. government. In 2003, U.S. rice growers received $1.7 billion in government subsidies, an average of $232 per hectare of rice grown.[7] That money, most of which went to a handful of very large landowners and agribusiness corporations, allowed U.S. exporters to sell rice at 30% to 50% below their real production costs.

In short, Haiti was forced to abandon government protection of domestic agriculture — and the U.S. then used its government protection schemes to take over the market.

There have been many variations on this theme, with rich countries of the north imposing "liberalization" policies on poor and debt-ridden southern countries and then taking advantage of that liberalization to capture the market. Government subsidies account for 30% of farm revenue in the world's 30 richest countries, a total of US$280 billion a year,[8] an unbeatable advantage in a "free" market where the rich write the rules.

The global food trade game is rigged, and the poor have been left with reduced crops and no protections.

In addition, for several decades the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have refused to advance loans to poor countries unless they agree to "Structural Adjustment Programs" (SAP) that require the loan recipients to devalue their currencies, cut taxes, privatize utilities, and reduce or eliminate support programs for farmers.

All this was done with the promise that the market would produce economic growth and prosperity — instead, poverty increased and support for agriculture was eliminated.

"The investment in improved agricultural input packages and extension support tapered and eventually disappeared in most rural areas of Africa under SAP. Concern for boosting smallholders' productivity was abandoned. Not only were governments rolled back, foreign aid to agriculture dwindled. World Bank funding for agriculture itself declined markedly from 32% of total lending in 1976-8 to 11.7% in 1997-9."[9]

During previous waves of food price inflation, the poor often had at least some access to food they grew themselves, or to food that was grown locally and available at locally set prices. Today, in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, that's just not possible. Global markets now determine local prices — and often the only food available must be imported from far away.

* * *

Food is not just another commodity — it is absolutely essential for human survival. The very least that humanity should expect from any government or social system is that it try to prevent starvation — and above all that it not promote policies that deny food to hungry people.

That's why Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was absolutely correct on April 24, to describe the food crisis as "the greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model."

What needs to be done to end this crisis, and to ensure that doesn't happen again?Part Two of this article will examine those questions.

Ian Angus is the editor of Climate and Capitalism


Footnotes

[1] Kevin Pina. "Mud Cookie Economics in Haiti." Haiti Action Network, Feb. 10, 2008. http://www.haitiaction.net/News/HIP/2_10_8/2_10_8.html

[2] Tony Karon. "How Hunger Could Topple Regimes." Time, April 11, 2008. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1730107,00.html

[3] "The New Face of Hunger." The Economist, April 19, 2008.

[4] Mark Lynas. "How the Rich Starved the World." New Statesman, April 17, 2008. http://www.newstatesman.com/200804170025

[5] Dale Allen Pfeiffer. Eating Fossil Fuels. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island BC, 2006. p. 1

[6] Oxfam International Briefing Paper, April 2005. "Kicking Down the Door." http://www.oxfam.org/en/files/bp72_rice.pdf

[7] Ibid.

[8] OECD Background Note: Agricultural Policy and Trade Reform. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/52/23/36896656.pdf

[9] Kjell Havnevik, Deborah Bryceson, Lars-Erik Birgegård, Prosper Matondi & Atakilte Beyene. "African Agriculture and the World Bank: Development or Impoverishment?" Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, http://www.links.org.au/node/328