Subsidizing Wrong Food

After World War II, starvation was a real danger, and calories were in short supply. The US Dept. of Agriculture put in place subsidies to grow calories, which have evolved to this day to a system exactly contrary to what is needed.

The USDA itself says that Americans consume only 11% of the fruits and vegetables needed for good health, while consuming way too many calories in the form of fats and sugars.

Yet this same USDA gives massive subsidies to the calories, following its historic mandate back from WWII, while less than 1% goes to fruit and vegetable farmers.

Many people make their grocery choices based on price, and the subsidized empty calories, fried foods, processed foods are the best buy.

Most of these subsidies go to farmers in the Mississippi River basin, the source of 75% of the nitrate pollution that is killing the Gulf of Mexico.

So to make McDonalds burgers and fries and Cokes cheap, we are sacrificing our greatest fishery, the shrimp, oysters, crabs and fish of the Gulf of Mexico. The Dead Zone gets bigger and bigger every year, and soon we will cross the point of no return and the fish just won’t come back. Besides killing the Gulf of Mexico, this same process of Government subsidized nitrate, herbicide, pesticide cultivation is killing fisheries around the world. The United Nations Environmental Group says that nitrates are the biggest threat to our oceans, ahead even of over fishing. Millions of people in the United States drink water with unsafe levels of nitrates, herbicides, and pesticides, a major cause of our cancer epidemic.

Our agriculture is constantly touted as “efficient,” but the measure Big Ag likes to use is how many bushels are produced per acre, ignoring the lack of nutrients and corresponding epidemic rise in chronic disease of our population. This subsidized food is itself one cause of our cancer epidemic, according to the President’s Cancer Panel. With Lance Armstrong on the panel, their report states that “we heavily subsidize the growth of foods (e.g., corn, soy) that in their processed forms (e.g., high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated corn and soybean oils, grain-fed cattle) are known contributors to obesity and associated chronic diseases, including cancer.”

The so called “efficiency” of our chemical agriculture also ignores the massive amount of water wasted (Many cities along the Mississippi don’t have safe drinking water), as well as the sacrifice of our best fisheries. It ignores the green house gases caused by giant tractors plowing the earth and removing the mulch, which sequesters the CO2 in the ground. And it ignores the loss of our farmers and farming communities, as farmers who use sustainable methods such as crop rotation, or who grow food for the table rather than for the factories, do not get the subsidies and cannot compete against those who do.

This is the major cause of the unprecedented immigration from South America to the United States, and from Africa to Europe.

What is the alternative?

We could take the entire $50 billion dollar subsidy that now goes to mega corporate junk food agriculture and divide it up locally.

Instead of depending on nitrates from the Middle East, we could use the sun. In a city of one million people, dividing the $50 billion dollars annually by 300 million people, that would be $166 a person, so $166 million dollars A YEAR to subsidize a local agriculture. Fresh fruits and vegetables that the government says we need to be eating to be healthy would suddenly be cheap and plentiful. Local agriculture would be cost effective. New Jersey could once again be the garden state. Pastures will lock the green house gases in the earth where they belong, and the fats from pastured animals are the ones we need for health, as opposed to the “bad” fats created by feeding corn to animals intended for lives led in the grassy fields.

By the simple matter of transferring the agricultural subsidy to a fruit, vegetable, pasture and orchard based agriculture, we can reverse the modern epidemics of diabetes and heart disease, reverse global warming, save our drinking water and our oceans, and stop the massive unprecedented immigration caused by driving small farmers off their land. This type of thinking is underway with new Obama appointee Tom Vilsack at the USDA who proposes giving farmers carbon credits where deserved. This would bring us back around to a sustainable and wholesome agriculture.

Janet Gilles
Austin, Texas

Win the Class War

I enjoyed, “Class Warfare? Bring It On” by Joan Walsh in the 4/1/09 TPP. She points out that pundits paid to spout Republican talking points blame Obama for class warfare. Obama did not start it.

Class warfare started three decades ago with slogans like, “Trickle Down”, and “Government is the problem.” We began to financially reward the powerful at the expense of the middle class and the poor. Those who objected to this onslaught were accused of trying to start the very class warfare to which they objected. Voices of conservatives and liberals alike were drowned out by neo-conservatives like Reagan and both Bushes, and to a lesser extent by neo-liberals like Bill Clinton. Indeed class warfare is the root cause of the current recession/depression.

Economists agree that there is no such thing as free trade, but “Free Trade Treaties” allowed corporations to exploit labor here and abroad. Labor became a commodity, to be bought cheaply. A recent report showed that seventy percent of the money paid by corporations in wages, salaries, and bonuses went to one percent of those paid.

Economics is the study of the production and distribution of goods and services. Distribution (trade) requires markets. Markets require customers who can pay. When underpaid working people couldn’t pay for their needs, they borrowed. That led to a boom in unregulated financial markets which were the first to crash.

When the people who actually work and produce are underpaid, then the market collapses for lack of customers. Free trade agreements reduced spending power across borders, hence this collapse is international. You don’t need a degree in economics to know this.

Joe Hohlfeld
Cedar Falls, Iowa

Draft Drug Testers

I found Jonathan Cantu’s article (“Real Opportunity for Food Safety,” 3/15/09 TPP) on the tug-of-war between the USDA and FDA intriguing and agree with his suggestion to create a single national food safety agency. Unfortunately, Americans will still be subject to the voluntary self-regulation of imported foods thanks to Bush-era trade agreements. Oh well ... I am sure we will all be just fine with our cutting-edge, world-class health care system.

The point I truly wish to make is that we still have an FDA problem. Not enough money or scientists or objectivity to test and guarantee the safety and usefulness of drugs. It used to be common practice for academic scientists to test drug company research for pay from drug companies. The majority of such scientists no longer do that, for obvious ethical reasons (something the FDA should also have figured out).

Most academic scientists receive government-funded grants for their research. It seems that, just as courts can require lawyers to represent indigent defendants in the name of justice, the government should be able to require blind testing of drug company submissions by academic scientists. The drug companies would pay a fee for the testing, but would not know who (which school/scientist) did the testing for the FDA. The scientists and schools would not know which drug company made the submission. The benefits would be a faster turn around for drug submissions, and an increase in the quality of drug testing through use of an external objective group of highly trained scientists with no links to the drug industry. There would, of course, have to be safeguards to protect both the drug companies’ work and the scientists’ time. I think there might even be some cost savings and smaller government ideas in here that Republicans could benefit from!

Leslie Judge
Chicago, Ill.

End Shameful Chapter

In your 2/15/09 issue Joan Walsh expresses her joy regarding President Obama’s plans to close down Gitmo. Supporters of this prison system have inadvertently concluded that by holding the “baddest of the bad” is good for our security. We all remember Mitt Romney’s campaign slogan — that he would double the size of this prison and was received by cheers thinking that this is one “tough hombre.” This same group of people will not stand to be proven wrong. They have already started giving examples of the few released prisoners who have taken up arms against our interest (definitely not 61— the number quoted by Dick Cheney). President Obama has to make the difficult decision—it will be inevitable that some of those whom we have released will go on the “avenge” path, but how do we know for sure that all these years the family and friends of those whom we have tortured and imprisoned have not already taken up arms against us? If, for instance, my father or brother was jailed illegally for more than five years I would not hesitate to fight against America. Gitmo was no doubt a foolish venture and have left us to choose between the lesser of the two evils. I hope the president sticks to his plans and brings an end to this shameful chapter in our history.

M. Askarian
New York, N.Y.

Blind Patriotism

Patriotism, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is love of country. Little to argue with there. The disagreement comes with how that love is expressed.

Is it blindly supporting a President who is misleading the country and is breaking his vow to defend the constitution? Is slapping a magnetic “Support our troops” sticker on a car patriotic? It is if it means opposing putting them in harm’s way in an illegitimate war. I have both a support our troops bumper sticker and T-shirt but there is a second line on the sticker that says “End The War” and the back of the t-shirt says the same thing. While heading for my car in a Lowes parking lot I was approached by a young man heading for the store. “Like your shirt” he said. “Thanks” I replied and added “how do you like the back” as I turned around. His response included calling me both a F***ing bastard and a commy liberal so my guess is that he didn’t approve of it. Ever wondered why expressing an opinion not sanctioned by the likes of Rush Limbaugh so often gets one branded as a commy liberal in a time that a communist country is our biggest trading partner and is financing our deficits?

Why is wearing a flag pin nearly mandatory for a candidate for office in a time when it has become an updated version of the Catch 22’s loyalty oath? I refuse to wear it for the same reason that I am no longer a Republican. I don’t want to be identified with people I vehemently disagree with.

We are entering a time when the bills for blind patriotism and an unsustainable life style are coming due and the time has come for the country to stop hiding behind magnetic stickers and flag pins and to address the real issues facing us.

Charles Roger Leach
Lynchburg, Ohio

Health Care Blackout

Our health care system is not going to be overhauled as it should be because the media refuses to properly air health care systems that the rest of the industrialized world adopted years ago.

Why the reluctance on the part of virtually all newspapers, radio and tv stations to “touch” a concept such as one payer?

The answer is simple. Ad revenue buys editorial policy. That is more true today than ever. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations have seen their income from ads reduced ... some to the point of going out of business.

And we all have seen ad after ad in the media from pharmaceutical and health insurance companies dominate. Let’s face it, if you operate a media business that is hanging on by the fingernails, are you going to allow a reporter to write glowing articles of how countries such as Canada, Britain and France have coverage for all at less cost, can select their own doctor and is accepted by the populace receiving the care? Of course not.

If an editor was that foolish to tell the truth about one payer, he’d see his ads from big pharma and the health insurance industry disappear.

It’s one of America’s best kept secrets. If an industry buys lots of advertising they’re also buying editorial policy.

Herbert B. Mosher
Orchard Park, N.Y.

Gradual Socialism

The right wing insists on calling Obama’s policies “socialist.” Of course, it is motivated by political slander and driven by paranoia. Yet, historically it is right in essence. According to Karl Marx, just as capitalism developed slowly in the “inter-stices of feudalism,” so socialism is springing gradually from the common stream of capitalism. Socialism is essentially a growing control of popularly elected government over the economy and an increase of the common people’s share of social product. In this sense liberal measures, such as the minimum wage and the strengthening of public education and health care, qualify as socialistic, for they reduce the power and wealth of the capitalist class. It is true that liberal reforms are not full socialism, but they bring us closer to it, in spite of the indignant denials of liberals and the prejudiced opposition of conservatives.

Mr. Louvan Nolting
Lewes, Del.

Cut Obama Slack

This kid we installed in the White House is an exceptional talent.  I’m inclined to cut him some slack.

President Obama’s instincts are conservative. As president, he has a huge stake in the status quo. But the only solutions to our crisis of crapitalism are socialist. Mr. Obama is bright enough (refreshing in itself) to apply these solutions with some sort of Yankee Doodle veneer.

Our republic has lain dormant for some time. We have tolerated a serial dictatorship since FDR. (A case can be made for fascism managed by liberals. What if Hitler had been all about the Volkswagens instead of folks in ovens?) Americans are practical enough to clamor for a Caesar not Caligula.

Barack Obama’s historical purpose is to coax America back from the brink of fascism. He must project calm—no sudden moves. I’ll settle for a rational administration without radical reforms if Obama can just finish with a farewell address as frank and portentous as Eisenhower’s.

M. Warner
Minneapolis, Minn.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2009

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