The global food crisis won’t go away any time soon. Capitalism has the average consumer by the belly. Amid growing signs of famine and outrage, the entire chain of commodities and resources of the world are now being cornered by giant corporations. Farmland, water, fertilizer, seed, energy, and most of the basic necessities of life are falling under corporate control, providing increased wealth and power to the ruling elite while the rest of humanity struggles.
Commodity scarcity in India was recently reflected in the need to distribute fertilizer from the police station in Hingoli. Now police have to control the lines that form outside of dealer outlets, because the dealers won’t open for business otherwise. Without this intervention there would be no fertilizer for the planting that must take place before the rain comes. In Akola and Nanded, police involvement is also needed. Agriculture officers have fled their work places to escape angry farmers. In Karnataka, a farmer was shot dead during protests, while farmers stormed meetings and set up road blocks in other districts.
Despite the success of the genetically engineered Bt cotton crops, the trend in India is now back to soybeans because they cost less to grow and need less fertilizer than cotton.
And it’s not just fertilizer that is scarce. Seeds are also in short supply which is being blamed on agitation that has interfered with freight train traffic. However, the shortfall in seeds is 60 percent, a level more indicative of corporate intervention to drive up prices than the actions of powerless farmers.
As farmers fume, the Wall Street Journal heralds the whopping 42 percent jump in the fiscal third quarter profits of huge agriculture giant Archer-Daniels Midland. This increase includes a sevenfold rise in new income in units that store, transport and grade grains such as wheat, corn and soybeans.
The answer of Federal District Court Judge John D. Bates to the Bushies argument for why Karl Rove, Harriet Miers et al. can blow off a subpoena to appear before Congress can be condensed as such:
"The Executive presents a litany of contrary arguments, all of which are unavailing."
Last June, Congress subpoenaed former Bush legal counsel Harriet Miers to answer questions about the political retribution firings of numerous United States Attorneys in the Justice Department. Even though Miers had left the Bush administration and was a private citizen, she said she was told by Bush that she could not testify before Congress. On what grounds? That the President had deciderered that all senior presidential staff have absolute immunity to refuse to testify before Congress -- forevah.
So Congress took Miers, Bush and the whole crooked crew to federal district court. Republican, Bush-appointed federal judge John Bates heard the case and bodyslammed Bush. Here are some quotes from Judge Bates' 93-page decision. [Note: In Bates' decision, "Executive" refers to Bush; "Committee" is the House Judiciary Committee.]
Judge Catches Bushies Telling Him Lies
"[T]he Executive takes the Committee to task for failing to utilize its inherent contempt authority. But there are serious problems presented by the prospect of inherent contempt, not the least of which is that the Executive is attempting to have it both ways on this point."
"At the very least, however, the Executive cannot simultaneously question the sufficiency and availability of an alternative remedy but nevertheless insist that the Committee must attempt to “exhaust” it before a civil cause of action is available."
"Lisa, the whole reason we have elected officials is so we don't have to think all the time. Just like that rainforest scare a few years back. Our officials saw there was a problem and they fixed it, didn't they?" -- Homer Simpson"
On June 24, 2008, Louie and I curled up on the couch to watch seven of the nation's foremost water resources experts testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
This was a new experience for us. For my part, the issue to be addressed -- "Comprehensive Watershed Management Planning" -- was certainly a change of pace from the subjects I ordinarily follow in Judiciary and Intelligence Committee hearings. I wasn't even entirely sure what a "watershed" was. I knew that, in a metaphorical sense, the word referred to a turning point, but I was a bit fuzzy about its meaning in the world of hydrology. (It's the term used to describe "all land and water areas that drain toward a river or lake.")
What was strange from Louie's point of view was not the topic of the day, but that we were stuck in the house. Usually at that hour, we'd be working in the backyard, where he can better leverage his skill set, which includes chasing squirrels, digging up tomato plants, eating wicker patio chairs, etc. On this particular afternoon, however, the typically cornflower-blue San Jose sky was the color of wet cement, and thick soot was charging down from the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. Sitting outside would have been about as pleasant as relaxing in a large ashtray.
It would have been difficult, on such a day, not to think about water.
June 24, 2008: Water on the Brain
In California, of course, it was the lack thereof. Thanks to the driest spring on record in many areas -- including in San Jose, where recordkeeping began in 1875 -- the whole state was parched. Far worse, large chunks of it were burning. To be precise, on June 24th, there were 842 wildfires blazing, the result of "dry lightning," which -- I've now learned -- happens when conditions are so dry that the rain never makes it to the plain. It evaporates in mid-air.
In the Midwest, on the other hand, water was everywhere, cascading across the land and through towns; or, it was threatening to do so, as terrified homeowners and volunteers desperately hoisted sandbags onto levees that were failing, due to forces as powerful as the mighty Mississippi and as seemingly innocuous as burrowing muskrats. The flooding had been ongoing for weeks, killing dozens of people, displacing thousands, and causing billions of dollars of crop, building, and other damage. With California burning and Iowa underwater, the Red Cross national disaster relief fund for 2008 was already entirely depleted, although six months of potential weather devastation of various sorts still lie ahead. The balance, its finance director had announced, was "zero."
It's big, black, and heavy, but requires no electricity. It does need a ribbon of ink, rudimentary typing ability, paper, and some creativity. This particular model dates from the mid to late 1920s, probably 1926 or thereabouts, as best I can determine. It's a Corona Four typewriter.
Why do I keep it around when I have a contemporary computer? First, I'm drawn to this kind of thing, both in terms of historical interest and aesthetics. Second, having it around reminds me of how a lot of writing was done until, relatively speaking, quite recently. Third, it reminds me to slow down and carefully consider the writing process.
Typing on a typewriter is quite a different experience than typing on a contemporary computer. We've grown accustomed to illuminated screens, cutting and pasting, easily spewing out text (sometimes without giving it much thought), making quick corrections, and the associated wizardry that word processing software can accomplish. I don't diminish the value of such software, but, rather, try to keep it in perspective.
But to place a sheet of paper in a typewriter, get it ready to go, and see it in front of you is a tactile experience. You set up the paper, you prepare the typewriter, you begin to type, and the words appear immediately on paper. There is no correction key, no cutting and pasting unless scissors are involved, no computerized spell checking. I believe typing on a typewriter for creative purposes (I exclude government memos and such) likely resulted in more careful thought on the part of the writer and, therefore, better writing.