October 22, 2011

The Farm Bill; Occupy the Land


The anti-democratic “Super Committee” is about to take a whack at the Farm Bill. Quietly, this is about to be the first big assault to come out of last summer’s bipartisan deficit terrorist kabuki.
The farm bill is loaded with corporate welfare for big farms, has many small programs nominally dedicated to helping small farms, and contains critical conservation and nutrition programs.
Although there’s been big talk about cutting back on corporate welfare, by far the largest chunk of it (crop insurance) was implicitly declared untouchable from the beginning. Instead, the talk has focused on cutting back on direct payments, countercyclical payments, and the ever-popular “closing loopholes”.
From the point of view of most of the food movement, support for the 2002 and especially the 2008 farm bills was dedicated to the notion that it’s better to support a farm bill with many small helps for small farms even though it remained predominantly a Big Ag welfare trough.
The so-called “mandatory” funding (it doesn’t actually mean mandatory, yet many movement advocates insist on parroting this Orwellism) for these crumbs was never fully funded in practice, and much of what did exist was gutted early in 2011, even prior to the deficit charade.
So prior to the advent of the anti-democratic Super Committee, the reformist gravy-train-and-crumbs game plan was already failing. Now we’re about to see the farm bill, something normally wrangled over at great length in the public eye, subject to the Bush-Obama model of legislative “efficiency”.
Here’s how things work under Obama’s budget Star Chamber. The Agriculture Committee sends a letter to the Super Committee proposing its own cuts. If the SC accepts these, they go back to the full Congress for an up-or-down vote, no silly democratic debate. If the letter is never sent, $15 billion in cuts automatically go into effect. These could not touch the Conservation Reserve Program or food stamps.
So this past week the letter was sent, and it calls for $23 billion in cuts:

As we reported earlier, the Agriculture Committee leadership is proposing a net reduction of $23 billion over the next ten years from the farm bill. According to an article by David Rogers at Politico.com, the structure discussed by the leadership includes at $14 to $15 billion reduction to commodity program payments, a $6.5 billion reduction to conservation programs, and a $4 to $5 billion reduction in nutrition programs including food stamps. Those cuts would translate to a 20+, 10, and less than one percent reduction for commodities, conservation, and nutrition, respectively.

This is worse than the automatic version would have been, since the cuts for corporate ag are just a flesh wound while those for small farms and conservation look to be devastating. As the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition puts it:

This proposal would wipe out over 40 percent of the funding increases for conservation and environmental initiatives achieved in the 2002 and 2008 food and farm bills, setting the clock back and “un-greening” the farm bill. Moreover, it is unclear what the proposal would do to the fair and healthy farm and food system programs won in 2008 with your help, but in need of being renewed in the new farm bill. It could potentially wipe out all of those gains as well.

This, like every other action of government, is directly counter to the will of the people. A recent survey found very different priorities, if democracy could function:

69 percent said reducing the use of chemicals that contribute to water pollution should be a top priority of agriculture policy.

60 percent said farmers should be required to meet environmental standards such as protecting water quality or soil health as a condition of receiving subsidy payments and subsidized crop insurance. That number jumped to 65 percent in the six biggest ethanol-producing states (IA, NE, IL, MN, SD, IN).

57 percent did not agree with cutting funding for farm conservation programs, saying that these programs save money by preventing pollution.

52 percent said subsidies for crops such as corn and soybeans should top the list of programs to be cut, and 49 percent named crop insurance as the next target. Only 31 percent ranked conservation programs as top targets for cuts and just 23 percent wanted to cut food aid for low income Americans.

38 percent said protecting soil and farmland to ensure future food security should be the top priority of conservation programs, while 34 percent put protecting water quality at the top.

I mentioned above that the reformist gravy-train-and-crumbs game plan was already failing even prior to the advent of the anti-democratic Super Committee. It seems that we’re looking at yet another of the unanimous refutations of reformism.Yet its advocates continue to dream. I’d love to see them turn out to be right, but I fear that not only will it again be proven wrong, very soon, but once again we’ll see them refuse to learn from this proof.
NSAC’s call to action contains this ironic line:

Please act today for a chance you have only once every 5 years to reform our food and farming system and protect our natural resources.

The point of food sovereignty is to reform our food and farming system and protect our natural resources every day, ourselves, through our direct action on the ground. The point of democracy, as is being demonstrated by Occupy Wall Street, is to exercise democracy every day. The point of humanity is to exercise humanity every day. It’s the enemies of all democracy and humanity who want to reduce our vision of these to the wretched charade of voting every few years, or in this case of commenting on a bill every five years. The spirit of democracy demands we Occupy the Land and farm it. Latin America’s Landless Workers’ Movement has been doing inspirational work for years now. If only these Occupations, often permanent, were as well known.
We can only own what we farm, and we must farm what we own. When shall we the landless farmers and workers of America begin to take back our land and farm it?


  1. did you see this: Senate votes to end millionaire farm subsidies

    “Unable to agree on whether millionaires should be taxed more, Democrats and Republicans are in rare accord on one issue: Growers with million-dollar incomes shouldn’t reap farm subsidies.

    “In an emphatic vote early Friday, 84 senators voted to discontinue certain farm subsidies for people who make more than a million dollars in adjusted gross income. The practical impact of the vote may be marginal — current limits are about $1.2 million at most — but it represents a sea change in how the heavily rural Senate views farm support. In recent years, many votes to limit subsidies have failed in the Senate.”

    Comment by Rady — October 22, 2011 @ 9:31 am

    • Thanks Rady. It’s one small improvement, although the most bloated welfare program, crop insurance, remains sacrosanct.

      Still, I guess the optimistic way of looking at it is that Big Ag can’t get 100% of what it wants, though it’ll still come pretty close.

      Comment by Russ — October 22, 2011 @ 11:31 am

    • Thanks for the link. I actually found this article to be on-topic insofar as it deals with the thought structures underpinning public policy and perception that allows for the mass privatization of public farm lands for the purpose of extracting food rents, thus raising the general cost of living and effectively eroding public welfare. Of course, given America’s vast farming resources, we still maintain a relatively high level of food prosperity, even though the nutritional density of our foodstock is compromised by monoculture. If only enough more people could read and comprehend the thrust of Hudson’s argument. I told my neoclassical econ professor from college who I was reading these days (Hudson, Keene). Not surprisingly, he had never heard of them.

      Comment by sandorgb — October 22, 2011 @ 11:15 am

      • That’s no surprise. I remember when Krugman’s hero Samuelson died, he felt the need to engage Hudson’s 70s-era attack on the neoclassical synthesist which was floating around at the time.

        Needless to say K said it was all wrong, but the funniest part was how he felt such supercilious outrage that a peasant nobody like Hudson would DARE criticize the great Samuelson, that he couldn’t even bring himself to mention Hudson’s name. He just referred to “this piece” or something like that.

        Comment by Russ — October 22, 2011 @ 11:35 am

  2. Last night I watched Lubitsch’s “Ninotchka” on DVD (admittedly a little LUXURY I allow myself from time to time..).
    You should check it out. It would interest you to hear how much WE, and our public “debate” are sounding more and more like Communist Russia all the time.
    On another note, I have decided that things are definitely heading towards the DOMESTICATION of the human animal on a very large scale.
    I think that my friend Friedrich would agree with me on this one…
    Domestication has some definite disadvantages that our constant harangues on “progress” have not compassed yet…
    The INSURANCE edifice is a big part of the domestication PLAN.
    But… “insurance” comes in the form of crop insurance AND…. health insurance.
    In my opinion.
    I think that the founding fathers would be pretty mystified and horrified by the importance of the insurance edifice in our modern world.
    THEY would have disapproved of the resulting loss of liberty involved…

    Comment by Debra — October 23, 2011 @ 3:39 am

    • I don’t see anything which looks specifically like Communist Russia. I see the corporate state, including aspects which were universal across all modern States.

      “Insurance” in the broad sense can be a cooperative institution, and there it’s a beneficial thing. It’s malevolent where hijacked by profiteers, and where its costs are shifted from beneficiaries to third parties. Federal crop insurance is an example of the latter (it’s also bloated far beyond any legitimate insurance need); privatized health insurance is an example of both.

      Comment by Russ — October 23, 2011 @ 4:56 am

      • I agree with Ivan Illich’s basic observations about the way the world works. Shifting the responsibility for solidarity from individuals with names, faces, and bodies to nameless, faceless institutions working for the public good diminishes the individual’s sense of connectedness with his neighbor, and his sense of local community.
        Watch “Ninotchka” and listen to the way people are talking behind the façade of institutional regimes. The planned economy looks the same in a capitalist or in a “communist” country. The film is a great way to spend a couple of hours thinking while enjoying yourself.
        I feel that most analysis on our modern ills is flawed by our incapacity to understand how SYSTEM inflects the outcome much more at this time than the faces that we want to assign to system (profiteers…)
        Idolatry of money is the way THE SYSTEM is working these days. Not just… the profiteers.
        What that means basically is that money HAS BECOME THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS. IN OUR COLLECTIVE MIND. (Too bad that more and more we seem to have a collective mind, blame… Internet and the rest)
        When you stop to meditate on those few words, their implications and import are tremendous.
        The system ? : how the words themselves do their little combining act to skew things, inevitably producing corruption and perversion.
        But perversion is always perversion from a certain perspective.
        Ironically, the more I perceive the nature of the social FABRIC, the more I feel the necessity for eschewing any kind of PUBLIC ACTION at this time.
        An extremist view, granted.
        But then, I am an extremist. An activist for intimacy ? LOL

        Comment by Debra — October 23, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

      • Public action is an essential part of how we’re going to knit a new social fabric. That public action will be accomplished only by individuals coming together to form new forms of solidarity.

        While it’s true that existing institutions won’t and can’t fight for the public good, and will more often fight against it, that makes it all the more critical that we build new forms of public action from the bottom up.

        Comment by Russ — October 24, 2011 @ 4:49 am

  3. I like the expression “knit a new social fabric”. I like..KNITTING. Literally. When you think about it, those TEXTILE metaphors were pretty powerful. If you contrast “social fabric” with the French word “réseau”, the NET, for example, interesting things happen.
    First association that comes to mind with the net… the net that Clytemnestra catches Agamemnon in after the Trojan War.
    If my memory serves me well, the Greeks were suspicious of nets… you can do all kinds of nasty things with them…
    Social fabric sounds a little more HOMEY to me, and less technical/mechanical than net. INTER or… the NET of public transport, for example.
    Is it any wonder that the social FABRIC, a textile metaphor, is intricately bound up in traditional woman’s work, IN THE HOME ??
    While the net… just think about what Clytemnestra did to Agamemnon in it… Makes me shiver…

    Comment by Debra — October 25, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

    • In the traditional telling Agamemnon is caught in his own net. The Greeks were most suspicious of hubris, through which one casts the net upon oneself. Let’s see if we can help write our own myths in the here and now. There are plenty of possible nets for the wicked.

      As for real work of all sorts, including the domestic work of the core economy often called “women’s work”, the way to revalue all of it is to overcome capitalism, all coercive economic hierarchy, money. It’s these modes of domination which systematically devalue the real foundational work of society and the economy.

      Comment by Russ — October 25, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

      • Thanks for setting me straight.
        I think that our most important problem remains.. the “one size fits all” mentality…

        Comment by Debra — October 26, 2011 @ 7:54 am

      • Yes indeed, and that goes back to one of the core problems with legislation like the Farm Bill, which seeks to force modes of food commodification, which is naturally a miniscule phenomenon, upon all food production and distribution.

        Comment by Russ — October 26, 2011 @ 10:31 am

  4. Good post. Its a bit difficult to grasp for the layman, though. I request you to simplify your future posts. Really looking forward!

    Comment by Tax Savings — October 28, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  5. I really liked this post. For one thing, I could actually understand most of it 🙂 . You’re so right, Russ-acting to unite on the local level is imperative. Smart people can write al kinds of brilliant articles and books ,but as always actions speak louder than words.

    I hope that wasn’t a silly simplistic waste of space:-)

    Comment by DualPersonality — November 9, 2011 @ 5:52 am

    • I’m glad you like it, DP. And a friendly comment is never a waste of space, especially when it’s speaking straightforward truth. 🙂

      Comment by Russ — November 9, 2011 @ 6:02 am

  6. Excuse my typo 😦

    Comment by DualPersonality — November 9, 2011 @ 5:53 am

    • I forgive you. 😉

      Comment by Russ — November 9, 2011 @ 6:03 am

  7. […] of the food movement and the Occupy phenomenon. (This was just a few days after I wrote that MST and OWS are on the same wavelength.) This collaboration in spirit promises a galvanizing collaboration in action, as the movement for […]

    Pingback by Occupy and Land Redemption « Volatility — February 17, 2012 @ 5:12 am

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