V143: Villains

Biofuel production is certainly one of the culprits in the current global food crisis. But while the diversion of corn from food to biofuel feedstock has been a factor in food prices shooting up, the more primordial problem has been the conversion of economies that are largely food-self-sufficient into chronic food importers. Here the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) figure as much more important villains.

Whether in Latin America, Asia, or Africa, the story has been the same: the destabilization of peasant producers by a one-two punch of IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programs that gutted government investment in the countryside followed by the massive influx of subsidized U.S. and European Union agricultural imports after the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture pried open markets.

African agriculture is a case study of how doctrinaire economics serving corporate interests can destroy a whole continent’s productive base.
I read this first thing this morning. Missing from the above Villainous Lineup are the Hedge Fund Speculators recently called out by Greenpa at Little Blog in the Woods. His lede:

One HUNDRED MILLION MORE people are hungry today than only 6 months ago. He cites an article in Der Spiegel
The futures market is a traditional tool for farmers to sell their harvests ahead of time. In a futures contract, quantities, prices and delivery dates are fixed, sometimes even before crops have been planted. Futures contracts allow farmers and grain wholesalers a measure of protection against adverse weather conditions and excessive price fluctuations. They can also help a farmer plan how much to plant for a given year.
But now speculators are taking advantage of this mechanism. They can buy futures contracts for wheat, for example, at a low price, betting that the price will go up. If the price of the grain rises by the agreed delivery date, they profit.
Greenpa’s action plan was simple – make noise. He listed who to contact and what to say. I was happy to see a tiny bit in the Corporate Media about the role these profiteers played in escalating the world hunger crisis.

Last year at this time was when I first saw this heartbreaking photo. It is seared into my brain. I learned about rich white men exploitative private creditor vultures in this country and Britain on Democracy Now.

When Democracy Now interviewed BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast in February 2007 and aired part of his exposé on vulture funds, showing the role of the White House in allowing debt relief funding to be used to pay the exploitative private creditors of developing countries, two members of Congress brought the issue to President Bush the next day, pressuring him to address issue at June’s G8 summit. Palast later said: “Until they heard the Democracy Now report – a lot of members of Congress listen to this program – they had no idea that the money was being sucked up.”
The June 11, 2007 program included this introduction:
Investigative reporter Greg Palast looks at the battle to end “vulture funds”, where companies buy up debts of poor nations cheaply and then sue for the full amount.
This exchange between Amy and Greg was riveting and it included Palast’s attempts to interview the vulture, Michael Francis Sheehan, known as Goldfinger, The program ended with the following:

GREG PALAST: It’s all up to George Bush right now. This is what is driving the other members of the G8, that is, the incoming Prime Minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, has made this like number one priority. I mean, you have to understand, debt relief for Africa is real serious business for Europe. And about half—about half of the money for aid to Africa is being sucked up by these “Vultures” who are seizing the funds. It all comes down to George Bush. It’s also driving Congressman Conyers crazy. And he’s basically said, “Look. If Bush doesn’t do the right thing, this is the next investigation. He just made a big splash with investigating the prosecutor firings. That ain’t done yet. But as soon as that’s done, he moves right into "Vultures” if Bush doesn’t act. Now what is it—what’s the deal with Bush? You see—under US—what’s happening is these “Vultures” are seizing the money from US bank accounts, principally. And George Bush can–of these poor nations. In other words, they’re given money to buy AIDS drugs, they have resources to, you know, for–basically earmarked for education, AIDS. They’re sucking up the AIDS money. Bush can put a stop to it tomorrow morning. No one can sue a foreign government in the United States without the approval of the US government, in particular the President of the United States. Its under the Separations of Powers clause of our Constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did Bush respond to, Conyers?
GREG PALAST: Well you know, it’s been the, he does that, you know: “I missed school that day. I don’t know what’s going on.” You know, deer in the headlights. “I’ll check it out. I’ll do something about it.” Now, as you know, we had this dramatic situation, which both Congressman Conyers, the chairman, powerful chairman, and Don Payne, head of the Africa Committee, two powerful cats, were both heading to the White House for meetings, both of them listening to Democracy Now!. They both had the same idea: “We don’t care what’s on the agenda with the President. This, the "Vultures” is what we have to talk about at—these billions of dollars. And, as Conyers said, until they heard the Democracy Now! report, a lot of members of Congress listen to this program! They had no idea that the money was being sucked up. They were voting for billions of dollars for Africa, and they didn’t know that Bush’s friends—now when I say Bush’s friends—you have to understand, the biggest single “Vulture Fund”, the biggest predator is, uh, operations owned by a guy named Paul Singer, who is the number one donor for George Bush and the Republican Party in New York. He’s also the big fund-raiser, he’s raising 10 million dollars for Rudy Giuliani. This isn’t the sidelight for this guy, this is the only way he makes money. So George Bush has to know that his big money is basically coming from kickbacks, from money taken from aid for Africa. If he didn’t know before, Conyers and Payne, after hearing Democracy Now! put it right in his face. The reason is, they didn’t want they don’t want the President to say “I don’t know, it’s a lower-level thing.” The President knows. And the G8 members, personally. When I say G8—these are the world leaders, Chancellor Merkel in Germany…
AMY GOODMAN: Did Bush do something about it at the G8 summit?
GREG PALAST: Um, I think he hid in the boy’s room. He didn’t come out when they were supposed to some discussions, you know. So it’s been this kind of, you know, duck and run operation.

As far as I can see (via Google) there hasn’t been progress on eliminating or prosecuting vultures in this last year. And as I said above, the hedge fund vultures have joined in with the vulture fund boys, the World Bank, IMF, World Trade Organization – the toadies to Multinational Power Brokers. But we all know what has happened in the poorest countries in Africa. Life grows worse not better.
And then there is Monsanto . . . evil incarnate conducting the biggest science experiment in all human history with all life on the planet as the test subjects. Treehugger’s quote of the day on Wednesday was from Barbara Kingsolver:

I believe there is absolutely a direct relationship between living with too much and living with not enough… we have in every part of the world lost control of our food systems to agribusiness… [referring to Monsanto] a number of companies… have quite systematically removed seed banks, have contaminated [and] diminished the genetic material that all people in the world have with which to feed themselves, and it’s a terrifying problem. [T]he only way we can reclaim control over our food systems is to [first] step away, to any extent that we can, from the dismal presumption that it’s too late, because it’s not, it can’t be (we owe this to our kids to try) and to try whatever we can to reinvest in [and re-energize] our local [diversified and sustainable] food systems. If you can do that, you are helping the farmers in India because you’re walking away from agribusiness; you are forcing them to relinquish absolute control.
I do believe that we must try. A year ago I was nearly immobilized by my own despair and loss of hope. I’d counted on my political involvement and the big D democratic party. The betrayal of what I thought was a progressive party was actually just my own realization that the political process is completely compromised by corporate money and power. This year’s Democratic primary sealed that conviction.

Three months ago I wrote about Howard Zinn and how his words resonated for me.

Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war.

Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.
I repeat what I wrote then, but I need to add “and the financial / corporate power creating the international food situation” to the first line.
I started make-a-(green)plan because of my own disenchantment with the political situation.

It is a really formidable task to tune out this orchestrated election crap. The sustainable blogs I read are growing in the recognition of how important it is to step away from our computers and our television screens. Like any addiction it is tough. But feeling miserable seems almost a prerequisite to change. Why do we think we should change the world without inconvenience, discomfort, depression, anger, etc?

Vulture villain drawing
The photo of the child was taken in Sudan by Kevin Carter for LIFE magazine in 1993. It won the Pulitzer Prize for photography.

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