Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hidden Ways our Government Favors the Rich, part 1

I’m rereading “Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich” by Kevin Phillips, published in 2003, and it has really sensitized me to ways our government's policies are slanted towards the rich.

For instance, today I read an op-ed, The Famine Next Time, in the New York Times about the current famine in Africa. The article asks: why do we never solve the problem of famine? There’s enough food in the world. The crisis builds slowly over months if not years; action could be taken before it becomes a full-blown catastrophe. Yet we seem to have to wait until we see starving infants on TV before we are moved to act.

What jumped out at me was this line: “By the end of June, with the crisis in full swing, the United States had committed a total of about $64 million to Kenya, much of it in the form of food supplies (this doesn’t include relief for the Somali refugees). But food aid loses at least half of its value, according to the Government Accountability Office, because we ship actual food instead of sending cash for local purchase, like most countries.”

What is this food aid but a subsidy to American agriculture, particularly the large-scale companies like Archer Daniels Midland? In a similar way we “give” military aid to various countries around the world with the stipulation that they purchase Americans weapons with that money. Our foreign aid is just another way to funnel cash into our corporations and their principal beneficiaries, the investor class, in other words, the rich.

The article describes a farm in Kenya, in the middle of the famine/drought zone that was
a green oasis — a farm, a greenhouse, a well, a water pump, a windmill. Running around were the first happy, healthy-looking children I had seen. This is the Kutulo Farm, a women’s cooperative in Wagberi, where they grow kale, cabbage and peppers. They received money for the well from the European Union, but otherwise have done everything on their own. They would like to expand, said Adey Issack, one of the founders, but have no access to credit.
Programs like the Kutulo Farm are significantly cheaper to start and maintain than sending mounds of food aid at the last minute, in large part because they leverage the skills and knowledge of local residents to do the work. The current crisis is a painful demonstration of how well such an approach works: those few communities that received small, well-designed assistance are weathering the drought relatively well.
Rajiv Shah, the head of U.S.A.I.D., told me during a trip he made in July to Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. “It is one-tenth the cost to provide effective agricultural support and help communities gain food security than it is to provide food aid at a time of famine.”
Our aid dollars could go TEN times further if we gave the aid in cash instead of sending food.

I titled this "part 1" because I am sure I will be adding lots more examples here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Kind of Country Do We Want?

The editors of Adbuster magazine (where the Occupy movement was first conceived) published an article about the future of the movement in the Washington Post last weekend, "Why Occupy Wall Street Will Keep Up the Fight":
Occupy was born because we the people feel that our country and our economy are moving precipitously in the wrong direction; that America has evolved into a kind of corporate oligarchic state, a “corporatocracy”; and yes, that what is needed is a regime change — a Tahrir moment of truth in America.
This winter, they suggest, will be a time for the movement to regroup, network, and brainstorm. In my experience talking to people there is a hunger out here among the older generation who want to be part but can’t, for various reasons, be part of an occupation group. What are we hungry for? I think the people of this country want to have a conversation about what sort of country we want to be.

Do we want to be a plutocracy, a nation run by and for the one percent?

Do we want to be the world’s merchant of death, selling weapons to the world? With a military that dwarfs the rest of world's forces combined? A country that maintains enough nuclear weapons on alert to kill the entire human race? That spends half of its budget on the military instead education, infrastructure, and research to improve the lives of its citizens?

Do we want to be the country with the highest percentage of its citizens in jail? Do we want to be a country that imprisons people so that corporations can make a profit on their imprisonment?

Do we want to be the country with the worst health care outcomes in the world because the medical-industrial complex likes it that way?

Do we want to be the country with the lowest living standards for the developed world?

Do we want to be the country with the most limited social mobility?