Volatility

November 10, 2010

Food Sovereignty vs. the Final Stage of Neoliberalism

 

What is globalization, really? Among other things, it’s the replacement of national sovereignty by corporate anti-sovereignty. Their own cadre, Dani Rodrik, wrote of how national sovereignty and democracy are incompatible with the corporate pseudo-sovereignty, and how if you want to maximize the latter you must destroy the former. This association of nation and democracy as the twin targets of the “free trade” onslaught demonstrates how national sovereignty itself can only arise out of the people. We can deduce from this that the only way to defend either and maximize both is to eradicate corporatism and elitism completely. It’s democracy which must be maximized: Direct democracy.
 
Who are the globalizers? Don’t look first at the World Bank, IMF, WTO and so on. Those are just the power launderers, the stooge cadres. In America, the real globalizers are Wall Street, the Republican and Democratic Parties, the weapons rackets, and the Big Ag rackets – Monsanto, Cargill, ADM, Tyson, Smithfield, and others. These are the players who concoct the “agreements” among “countries” which are really turf deals among gangster elites. The politicians sign these agreements and set up special organizations like the WTO and IMF to serve as the point men. But the WTO, and for that matter most of the Dems and Reps, are the hired goons. The “free” trade treaties are really corporate contracts, written by the likes of Monsanto and Cargill. But these contracts aren’t actual agreements among free parties. They’re instruments of tyranny to be imposed by elite diktat, from the top down, from the highest, most concentrated power, as a hail of rocks, burning ash, and poison upon the disenfranchised people below.
 
The proper legal term for a “contract” imposed by thuggery is an unconscionable contract of adhesion. Where there’s a huge power and need differential between the parties, it’s obviously impossible for them to freely contract with one another. Such contracts clearly have no moral validity. In theory these are also supposed to be legally invalid. But in practice the whole endeavor of neoliberalism, at every level, from the basic employer-employee “negotiation” to the most univeralized global trade agreements, is to replace actual freedom of contract with these contracts of adhesion. It’s to replace true economic freedom with gangster-imposed and enforced protection rackets and direct plunder.
 
All this proves how freedom of contract is impossible under conditions of wealth inequality. It’s been proven a thousand times – you can have one or the other, but never both.
 
What’s the final stage of neoliberalism? The elites have imposed financialization and are manipulating it to amass all power and real assets. This is positioning them for neofeudalism.
 
What’s neofeudalism? This is the elites’ strategy to achieve corporate totalitarianism and maintain as much of their material luxury as possible under Peak Oil and energy descent. Their strategy has been to use the corporate form, the propaganda of “capitalism” and “democracy”, and the forms of representative pseudo-democracy, to monopolize ever growing portions of wealth and power. Having achieved this position of dominance, they will now use it to push the rest of us down into actual medieval conditions. Their preferred path for doing this will be debt slavery. If necessary they’ll try to use the police state whose skeleton they’ve assiduously constructed, and even classical fascism.
 
Meanwhile, in various ways, they’ll attempt the shift from fossil fuels to alternate fuels, for the sake of their own luxury consumption. We’ve already seen a larger-scale version of this, with the diversion of vast amounts of food from the already-hungry people of the world to the gas tanks of the Western personal car. This is the industrial agrofuel strategy. Just like all other liquidations, this one’s coming home as well. America itself already has ever growing numbers of the hungry while more and more corn is hijacked for agrofuels. Obama just doubled down on the ethanol scam. So here we can see one iteration of the basic pattern I’ve called resource fascism. All ideas along the lines of corporate renewable energy buildouts have the same basic goal. Picture a network of fortresses powered by the “smart grid”, biofueled private jets travelling between, while outside the walls permanently indentured debtors slave in the fields and sleep in shantytowns, their labor compelled by the draconian penalties dangling over the heads of all defaulters, their debt compounding every day. That’s the goal of the political and economic elites.
 
How is the barbed wire being strung around us? For example, where it comes to food policy? The Green Revolution itself was intended to eradicate food self-sufficiency and economic independence. It hooks the farmer on fossil fuels, proprietary seeds, and growing cash crops for export. This then plunges him into the age-old vicious circle of debt indenture. The elites used petrodollar recycling to leverage the GR-imposed need for oil (which had to be bought with dollars) into brute power over those countries. As they sank into hopeless debt (enriching the Western banks along the way), the goon IMF could deploy its structural adjustment programs to use the existence of this unilaterally imposed debt to completely loot the people of the country, who had already been dispossessed by the same corporate process which imposed the odious debt upon them.
 
Once again we see the basic fraudulence and tyranny of the corporate “contract”.
 
Other assaults include the globalization “treaties” whose only goal was to destroy all barriers civil society and democracy posed for naked corporate aggression. The WTO, NAFTA, and subsequent proposed assaults like the FTAA, CAFTA, and the SPP, right up to the bilateral “agreements” of today, are intended to prevent messy elections or protests, or meddling laws and regulations, or any archaic notions that public property belongs to the people, from interfering with the corporate rampage. (These, including the bilateral pacts like the one Obama’s trying to impose on India, are of course agreements only among elite gangs; the respective peoples of these countries are disenfranchised in principle and are regarded as the targets for plunder in practice.)
 
There’s also the quest for domination via “patents” over seeds and genes. And then we have the new colonial land grabs. These are the maneuvers of rich countries brazenly trying to lock up their future food and biofuel supply by directly stealing the land of poor countries.
 
All of this takes place under the supervision of the big banks, who use globalization to impose their ideal of ruthless commodification upon every part of the economy.
 
As Sophia Murphy puts it:
 

The AoA [globalized Agreement on Agriculture] presupposes a particular model for agriculture and reinforces that model through the rules it establishes. It is a model for wealthy countries pursuing industrial agriculture, and for developing country governments that wish to follow suit. It ignores the needs and interests of the billions of farmers who do not live in that world. Only 10 to 15 percent of food is traded internationally, yet the AoA pressures all of agriculture to be run as if it was a trade concern.

 
This brings us back to the essence of globalization itself. The goal is to take what according to the capitalists’ own textbooks should be a small appendage of the economy and ruthlessly, recklessly, destructively impose its morals and culture on all of life. Not just economic life, but political, social, cultural, and private life as well. These “morals” and “culture” are really sociopathy and barbarism. Their goal is the absolute eradication of all competing values, which means all moral and cultural value as such. The intent and the practice is literally totalitarian, and neoliberalism is a totalitarian ideology and strategy in the classical sense.
 
Today in America the Food Tyranny bill intends to formally bring this globalization regime home. It would explicitly subordinate all domestic food policy to the WTO:
 

COMPLIANCE WITH INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS.

Nothing in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) shall be construed in a manner inconsistent with the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization or any other treaty or international agreement to which the United States is a party.

 
This overthrows the doctrine of “perfect protection”, enshrined in America from the outset of globalization, that these rules didn’t supersede our own domestic food sovereignty. (Perfect protection was of course hypocrisy on the part of US elites, since they were destroying the same principle elsewhere. But the point is that all peoples deserve food freedom, and should receive such protection if we’re to have “free trade” at all. But by now we know the very point of free trade was to wipe out all such protections. Now it’s coming home.)
 
The bill could also subordinate us to the Codex Alimentarius, which is a globalized version of the disaster capitalist “food safety” scam. Just as in America, so everywhere globalism reigns there’s the same pattern of allowing corporate agriculture to cause food outbreaks, then use these outbreaks as the pretext to impose further corporate domination. The Codex is one “legal” vehicle to empower administrative tyranny over food. Revolving door corporate bureaucrats could issue fiats banning medicinal herbs or vitamin supplements, while requiring all growers right down to the backyard gardener to use any kind of synthetic fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide, hormone in an animal, or GMO seed. (As always in this connection, let me remind the reader that if Obama’s health racket mandate is allowed to stand, that will provide another precedent for any and every corporate mandate. The exact same logic will allow the FDA or even the WTO to “constitutionally” force us to buy, for example, GMO seeds. I defy any Obama cultist to explain how that’s incorrect. But then, an Obama supporter probably also supports Monsanto. More here and here.)
 
The bill’s extended power of recall, forced destruction of animals and product based on the flimsiest allegations, and the goal of forcing all small producers to register their animals (via NAIS) and all the details of their land and facilities (via “traceability”) with corporate databases demonstrate how the plan is to bring all non-corporatized, independent food activity under the surveillance and then control of the big corporations.
 
These are a few examples of how the food bill seeks to impose the corporate anti-sovereign assault upon us in our own country. That this is being done as a bipartisan project of our own government proves that this is a rogue government which no longer serves the people but assaults the people on behalf of our enemies. And the bipartisanship of it is stark proof (as if we needed it by now) that both Parties are equally malevolent, criminal gangs out only to rob and hurt us.
 
We’ll never be free until we get rid of them completely.
 
So this food bill needs to be put in the big picture context of debt indenture, offshoring, Walmartization and the general destruction of jobs, the assault on civil liberties, “austerity”, and the ever-tightening stranglehold of corporatism everywhere.
 
What’s the common thread everywhere? They seek to steal what wealth is left and destroy all economic and political possibilities and our very freedom to try to improvise any way out of the trap.
 
Will we ever draw a line and say No Further? A good place to draw that line is at our food. We should resolve to be growers, farmers, seed savers, on our own and in tandem, to do it directly and to assist one another, in the direct act and in resisting criminal assaults upon us.
 
More affirmatively, we need the land. We must demand it in principle (demand it, not of the elites who stole it, but as exemplary toward reawakening the people to the fact that our land has been stolen, and that if we’re to survive and prosper we must redeem it) and flow like water onto all available land. Our tactics must embrace everything from guerrilla gardening to adverse possession and organized squatting to mass land reclamation movements. Food production stewardship, and any other mode of productive economic relocalization, must always be the basis.
 
This is the only road to growing the millions of small farmers America needs, and meeting the twin goals of growing sufficient food post-oil, and providing the economic and cultural basis for the redemption and flourishing of democracy itself.

August 25, 2010

Food For Thought: We Can Have Food And Thought, Or Else Neither

 

The salmonella egg scare is just the latest outbreak of corporate food-borne illness. I’m sure it won’t be the last or anywhere near the worst, in spite of the purported food safety bill now moving through the Senate to join the predatory bill the House already passed last year.
 
It’s already clear that even given corporate food production, the egg outbreak could have been prevented with the simple expedient of vaccination. Britain instituted this ten years ago and saw salmonella incidence plummet.
 
But of course our corporate-captured FDA decreed that there “wasn’t sufficient evidence” to take this measure. That’s a basic difference between Europe and the corporatized US: Over there they still recognize the precautionary principle, which is really just common sense. Where there’s any question, as there always is with any new development in industrial agriculture, the burden of proof must be on the technological or organizational “innovator” to prove his practice is safe, not on those who wish to take precautions to prove that it’s unsafe (which usually can’t be done until it’s too late).
 
So here we are again. One of the criminals responsible is a familiar name from previous outbreaks, worker abuse, accusations of rape, and endless incidents of contempt for the most basic rules of food safety, Jack DeCoster and his company, Wright County Farms. This guy’s record really is something to see. Sometimes real Mwa-ha-ha type evil finds room to gratify itself under the fig leaf of “business”. That’s an example of the FDA’s forbearance in action, and for whom it sees itself as working.
 
That seems unlikely to change under the food bill. I’ve written before about the House bill from last year (for example here and here), which systematically seeks to destroy small food producers by imposing a one-size-fits-all regime upon them. This regime is calculated to be a mere nuisance to the industrial producers while posing severe financial and logistical hardship on smaller producers. Small-scale producers obviously cannot cause large-scale outbreaks. Only factory farming (CAFOs are in fact unregulated bioweapons labs) and corporate distribution systems can do that. And they have been doing it, as every year brings more severe outbreaks. The swine flu may have originated at a Smithfield factory farm in Mexico*. It’s only a matter of time before a massively lethal pandemic originates at a CAFO.
 
But for the criminals in Congress the idea was to use these very corporate-caused outbreaks as the pretext to pass pro-monopoly food bills. This is exactly what happened with HR 2749. The Senate bill was originally crafted in the same disaster capitalist way.
 
[*These bills also seek to tighten the stranglehold of globalization over food, surrendering our food sovereignty completely to anti-sovereign syndicates like the WTO. Let’s recall globalization arch-cadre Paul Krugman’s celebration of CAFOs themselves.]
 
In committee there were several modifications to the Senate bill:
 
  • The amendment sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pertaining to farms that engage in value-added processing or that co-mingle product from several farms.  It will provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the authority to either exempt farms engaged in low or no risk processing or co-mingling activities from new regulatory requirements or to modify particular regulatory requirements for such farming operations.  Included within the purview of the amendment are exemptions or flexibilities with respect to requirements within S. 510 for food safety preventative control plans and FDA on-farm inspections.
  • The amendments sponsored by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation.  The Bennet language pertains to both the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill.  FDA is instructed to provide flexibility for small processors including on-farm processing, to minimize the burden of compliance with regulations, and to minimize the number of different standards that apply to separate foods.  FDA will also be prohibited from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire consultants to write food safety plans or to identify, implement, certify or audit those plans. With respect to produce standards, FDA will also be given the discretion to develop rules for categories of foods or for mixtures of foods rather than necessarily needing to have a separate rule for each specific commodity or to regulate specific crops if the real food safety issue involved mixtures only.
  • The amendment sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to provide for a USDA-delivered competitive grants program for food safety training for farmers, small processors and wholesalers.  The training projects will prioritize small and mid-scale farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and small food processors and wholesalers.  The program will be administered by USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture.  As is the case for all of the provisions in S. 510, funding for the bill and for this competitive grants program will happen through the annual agriculture appropriations bill process.
  • The effort championed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to strip the bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against “animal encroachment” of farms is also in the manager’s package.  It will require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat on farms.
  • An amendment proposed by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to amend the traceability and recordkeeping section of the bill that will exempt food that is direct marketed from farmers to consumers or to grocery stores and exempt food that has labeling that preserves the identity of the farm that produced the food.  The amendment also prevents FDA from requiring any farm from needing to keep records beyond the first point of sale when the product leaves the farm, except in the case of farms that co-mingle product from multiple farms, in which case they must also keep records one step back as well as one step forward. 

Not in the package but still under serious negotiation for inclusion in the bill when it reaches the floor of the Senate is an amendment by Senator John Tester (D-MT) to exempt food facilities with under a certain annual gross sales threshold from preventative control plan requirements and to exempt farmers who primarily direct market product to consumers, stores or restaurants from the bill’s produce standards regulations.  Our expectation is this amendment will be successfully negotiated over the coming weeks and will be accepted as part of the final bill once the bill reaches the Senate floor.

We also continue to note and emphasize the additional provisions NSAC helped secure when the bill was marked up in Committee last year.  Those changes included:

  • requiring FDA and USDA coordination (including with respect to organic farming);
  • limiting recordkeeping for farmers to just the initial sale to the first purchaser of the crop; and
  • language in the produce section directing FDA to create rules that are appropriate to the scale and diversity of the farm, that take into consideration conservation and environmental standards established by other federal agencies, that do not conflict with organic certification standards, and that prioritize high risk crops.
 
As a result, some sustainable food organizations now support this version of the bill, and would presumably support a final version which was closer to the Senate bill than the House bill. [Edit: The support of the NSAC, linked here, is contingent on inclusion of the Tester amendment; cf. comment below.]
 
The fixes still seem weak. The bill still gives the government too little power over the real threat, the industrial producers, and too much over the innocuous small producer. We know how “regulation” always works out. Sure enough, even as the FDA (and other agencies; I’m not even getting into the intentionally Byzantine regulatory structure whereby one agency is responsible for the eggs while they’re still in the shell, another once they’re liquefied and processed, and those federal agencies are responsible except where they’re not and the state is….) refuses to do its public interest job where it comes to the big producers, it’s been launching aggressive raids against small producers. (In principle the bill gives the bureaucracy immense power with little restraint. The implications for civil liberties and unaccountable authoritarianism are chilling.) 
 
This shows the kleptocracy’s real intent. The goal of these police actions, and the goal of the bills in Congress, has nothing to do with food safety and everything to do with corporate and social control. Corporate food wants a total monopoly on production and distribution. The nascent relocalization movement, which is necessarily focusing on food sustainability as one of its core goals, is a threat to this elite control.
 
Even if this bill ends up having been stripped of its most overtly aggressive features, it would be foolish to think that’s not just a temporary tactical retrenchment on the part of the power structure. Although some of what’s written about these bills sounds alarmist, the language is clearly being carefully crafted to provide scope for the most far-reaching power assaults, perhaps some years down the line.
 
That’s why we who want to build new economies and polities from the soil up will have to be ready for civil disobedience and self defense. Although many don’t want to think about it in those terms, I think that’ll be a necessary element for successful relocalization. I plan to develop the idea and try to figure out a strategy when I write more about how we have to conceive and fight the health racket mandate as our Stamp Act.
 
But as we see with the corporate food bill, there are in fact many Stamp Acts. Just as in the 1760s, the plan is systematic expropriation and feudal indenture. But since we’re commencing upon the descent of the industrial age rather than its ascent, the serfdom in store for us is far more bleak, far worse even than medieval, if we don’t rouse ourselves to redeem our country, our freedom, and our humanity.

August 11, 2010

Small Farms Beyond Thunderdome

Filed under: Food and Farms, Relocalization — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 6:00 pm

 

Energy and environmental factors decree that America needs millions of small farmers. Even today smaller farms are more productive, more energy-efficient, and more ecologically sound. Peak Oil and the looming energy descent mandate that we Get Small or Get Dead whether we want to or not.
 
With agriculture, we have the same situation as with energy. Just as with fossil fuel extraction, the industrial agriculture rackets have been heavily subsidized and empowered by the system in many other ways. Just as with renewables, alternatives to the agribusiness model (“get big or get out”, monoculture, heavy use of fossil-fuel based fertilizer and pesticide, GMOs and patenting of seeds) have been neglected where not actively assaulted.
 
In both cases the overarching feature is a giant centralized structure dependent upon cheap, plentiful fossil fuels. The result in both cases is a heavily tipped playing field.
 
While by now there’s little return on seeking reform within the system, I thought that just once for the record I’d jot down what should have been done by way of reform. (And also perhaps to help set standards for relocalization activists who might need to pretend to advocate solutions within the system, just to refute the charge of “all you do is criticize and demand the impossible” or some such garbage. Sort of like the way in some company I’ll still say something like “they should have included Kaufmann-Brown in the finance bill”, even though real freedom activists understand how pointless such complaints are.)
 
So here’s what I would advocate if I had to reform within the system. I’d strip away all government steroids for the already engorged, while deploying investment in transformative technologies, practices, structures.
 
In the case of agriculture this would mean such things as tax credits and loan guarantees for small farms, perhaps various carrots and sticks for states and municipalities to adopt policies more friendly to decentralized food production, organics, CSAs, single-plot gardening (why shouldn’t this get the same tax incentives as e.g. a home office?).
 
I would abolish corn ethanol subsidies and mandates, and end all support for biofuels in general. Ethanol is a pure racket which has never capitalistically supported itself and never will. It’s simply taking food from the mouths of the hungry (driving up the price and tying up vast tracts of land) in order to burn it in gas tanks to zombify the doomed car culture.
 
Factory farms, aka CAFOs, must be banned completely. They’re absolute economic, social, environmental, and animal cruelty disasters. Worst of all, by concentrating so many animal pathogens in such crowded spaces they cause constant epidemic outbreaks. This chronic state of disease is met with an ever-escalating regimen of antibiotics, which are in turn counteracted by constantly mutating germs. It’s simply a biological arms race. The odds are that when the next great lethal pandemic afflicts mankind, it will have arisen at a CAFO. (The swine flu is believed to have arisen at a Smithfield facility in Mexico. Just a little gift from Rahm, Clinton, and NAFTA. Since Obama hired Rahm the swine flu becomes his baby too.)  Factory farms are literally unregulated bioweapons laboratories.
 
Since the biotech companies themselves claim genetic modification is indistinguishable from age-old hybridization techniques, it follows that they shouldn’t be able to patent genes or organisms.
 
What’s more, since the food supply is a social good and a strategic element, it shouldn’t be held hostage to any corporate interest at any point. The genetics of the world ecosystem are public property, and no one ever had a right to enclose them or to allow them to be enclosed. So right there all such patents are invalid and vacated. The fact is, man does not need GMOs, just like we didn’t need monoculture in the first place. Diversified cultivation of wild varieties has always been more productive for local and regional populations. It was only corporate globalism which wanted and needed to build the Tower of Babel of monoculture, fossil-fuel fertilizer and pesticides, and growing global distribution, these three always circulating in an ever-intensifying loop.
 
So that’s part of what I’d do if I had the federal power at my disposal. Of course the idea of using the central power structure to decentralize agriculture would be ironic, and is in fact impossible. As we know, the kleptocracy cannot be reformed. But as an exercise in civics, we can still find occasion to cite the theoretical principle (sometimes even realized in practice, in other times and places) that the system must be accountable to the people.
 
Energy descent is imminent, and it would have been better if we could have found the wisdom and will to effect an organized energy transformation, within the context of a general program which sought everywhere to rehabilitate our adversarial relationship with nature, lead us beyond and above fossil fuels, and ameliorate if not end social exploitation, domination, and cruelty. All this could be done through the disempowerment of large structures and the empowerment of smaller forms.
 
Nature is going to force us to do so anyway, so it would be better if we did it according to a plan, instead of heedlessly partying our way right off a cliff. 

November 4, 2009

Anti-Competition Judo

Recently in the news:
 

For 35 years, William John Woods has made wooden toys for children. Each one of the 2,000 or so he makes each year passes through his hands at his shop in Ogunquit, Maine, and no child, he said, has ever been hurt by one of his small boats, cars, helicopters or rattles.

But now he and others like him — makers of small toys and owners of toy resale shops and boutique stores — say their livelihood is being threatened by federal legislation enacted in the last year to protect children from toxic toys through more extensive testing. Big toymakers, including those whose tainted imports from China led to the recall of 45 million toys and spurred Congress to take action, have more resources and are able to comply with the new law’s requirements.

 
One of the results of America’s consumer debt binge was a massive market in cheap, shoddy toys mass-produced by big corporations. Each year $22 billion worth are imported from overseas. As always with globalization, they are manufactured under unregulated conditions by near-slave labor. It’s a feature, not a bug, of globalism that there are few or no environmental or safety standards for these products.
 
So inevitably there was a toy safety crisis involving lead-painted Chinese imports. And in the typical American way, solving the real structural problem (big globalized producers with zero responsibilities and complete incentives to externalize all costs) was off the table.
 
Instead they groped for an ad hoc kludge “regulation”, and the result was 2008’s Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. While it’s too early to tell if the thing will work the way system activists hope intended for it to work, we can already see its real function from the point of view of those who crafted it.
 

The law, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, was overwhelmingly passed by Congress in August 2008. For the first time, it set out mandatory safety standards for products used by children under the age of 12 and required toy manufacturers to test their products to prove that they were safe.

New regulations will not go into effect until February, but many of the big toy companies are not waiting — they are already testing toys in their labs, which have been certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or through third parties….

Small toymakers and sellers are particularly irked by the fact that the new law allows large toy manufacturers, like Mattel, to conduct their product safety tests in their own labs, which must be certified by the federal government, while handicrafters would have to use third-party labs.

“They’re the ones who got us into this mess, and they can do their testing on their own,” said Jill Chuckas, secretary of the Handmade Toy Alliance and owner of Crafty Baby in Stamford, Conn….

“This is absurd,” said Mr. Woods, whose toys are made of maple, walnut and cherry and finished with walnut oil and beeswax from a local apiary. He estimates it would cost him $30,000 — a figure he calculated from having to pay $400 in required tests for each of the 80 or so different items he produces — to show that they are not toxic.

“I use beeswax,” Mr. Woods said. “The law was targeted at large toymakers using lead. There was no exclusion for benign products.”

 
Since we currently live in a feudal, not a capitalist, system, we can be sure that every regulation will seek to enhance the power of big producers toward monopoly, and to preserve and intensify existing monopolies.
 
Since this is also the age of permanent man-made disaster, and since every disaster (like the Chinese leaded toys) will conjure its call for a “new law”, it follows that every piece of disaster legislation will be subject to disaster capitalist lobbying judo.
 
The goal in every case is to set the new regulations and compliance fees/taxes in such a way that they’re a major, perhaps insurmountable, barrier for small market players and would-be small entrants, while being at worst a minor nuisance to the entrenched big outfits.
 
Another recent system disaster was salmonella in peanut butter. This and other food-borne illnesses brought on a gaggle of proposed new laws, which ended up epitomized in HR2749, which passed the House last summer and whose Senate version is pending.
 
Here too the disaster is caused by industrial production, and real reform would break up the ag rackets and decentralize the food production and distribution system. (Not to mention how coming energy transformations will require us to decentralize and defossilize the agricultural system whether we want to or not.)
 
So what was on the mind of this bill’s crafters?
 

The bill imposes burdensome requirements while not specifically targeting the industrial food system and food imports, where the real food safety problems lie. Small farms and local food processors are part of the solution to food safety, yet HR 2749 takes a one-size-fits-all approach subjecting local producers to the same regulations as industrial firms. The bill gives FDA much more power than it has had in the past while making the agency less accountable for its actions.

The bill would impose annual registration fees of $500 on all facilities holding, processing, or manufacturing food and require that such facilities also engaged in the transport or packing of food maintain pedigrees of the origin and previous distribution history of the food…..

The bill was amended shortly before it was voted on to exempt on-farm processors who sell more than half of their product by value directly to consumers or who process grain for sale to other farms. A small family farm could lose their exempt status if they for example make jams or syrup to sell and do not produce all of the ingredients themselves. They would then be required to register annually and be subject to random, unannounced inspections where they would be required to produce detailed records of their business…

Even facilities that only engage in intrastate commerce would be regulated under this bill(infringing on state sovereignty). Current law only allows federal inspection of factories, warehouses, or establishments of firms that engage in interstate commerce.

Under this bill individuals that fail to register a facility, misbrand a product, and are not conducting a hazard analysis or filling out required paper work can face up to 10 years in prison and $100,000 in fines, this could include the family farm that was not aware they fell under the these regulations. Also each day during which a violation continues shall be considered a separate offense.

By imposing the same standards, fees, and penalties on small producers, that historically are not the sources of food borne illness, as large multinational corporations puts the small producer at a disadvantage.

There are no provision in the bill to protect farmers if the FDA makes a mistake and destroys a crop that turns out to not be the source of a problem.

 
There’s strong evidence that the swine fu arose at a Smithfield facility in Mexico. This was only a prelude. Factory farms are veritable bioweapons factories, and inevitably they’ll serve as vector for a superbug that will kill millions. It’s just a matter of time. These lawmakers, corporate execs, shareholders, and lobbyists will become mass murderers when that pandemic arises.
 

Many of the problems with food borne illness could be solved simply by good enforcement of the regulations we already have and educating individuals on proper handling of raw foods and cooking techniques. H.R.2749 would be harmful to America’s small agri-businesses and have little benefit to food safety.

 
Anyone who really cares about disease arising from our food system would regard it as critical that we break up the CAFOs immediately. That this bill not only does not do that, but helps further entrench them while assaulting small producers, clearly displays the unserious, corrupt, and treasonous nature of our existing legislative cadre (and the naivete of many activists).
(Also puts the “war on terror”, and the alleged need to relinquish all our liberties for a cheap, fraudulent sense of “security” into perspective, doesn’t it?)
 
So this what we must consider when we ponder proposed bank regulations like the resolution authority scheme. The very notion that in a crash there would ever be the political will to tax anybody to bail out a stricken bank is absurd on its face. We know today’s politics don’t work that way.
 
But in addition to that we must be suspicious of the anti-competitive tendency of every piece of legislation today. Too Big To Fail has already generated tremendous disaster monopoly opportunities for the TBTFs.
 
Now this thing proposes to tax every entity with $10 billion in assets to bail out insolvent structures with hundreds of billions. Granted, $10 billion is a lot of money in absolute terms, but relative to the system it’s not all that much. (When CIT, with $80 billion in assets, was not bailed out, many theorized that that number may be under the TBTF floor.) It’s in the bag that if a measly $11 billion bank was going under, nobody would bail it out. Yet under this proposal it would be taxed to prop up the likes of Citi.
 
This is perhaps part of the reason the small banks have exhibited such lethargy in the face of the bailout and all calls for reform. They may have a fatalistic damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t attitude regarding how any regulation is likely to redound to the rackets’ benefit and their detriment. (Baseline Scenario did several posts analyzing this possibility, including a discussion of the contribution of a particularly perceptive commenter. 🙂 )
 

These homegrown toymakers are banding together to portray themselves as victims of bureaucrats and consumer advocates, and have started letter-writing campaigns to Congress.

The Handmade Toy Alliance, which has a section of its Web site titled “Countdown to Extinction,” sponsored a march on Washington last April and continues to buttonhole members of Congress. Still others have hired the Washington lobbying firm of Rudy Giuliani.

 
For now it looks like all people can do. Of course under these conditions all the self-portrayal and letter-writing in the world can do nothing by itself. But when you hire Giuliani’s firm, that’s your bona fides that you played the real game and paid your protection money. It’s not enough to get you what you want, but it can at least get you into the room where you can then crawl and beg.
 
It’s not good having to live in the real world these days…
 

Thrift shops and used-toy stores have also joined the fight. Thrift stores say they have had to clear their stores of old toys and children’s clothes out of concern that some items might not be safe. Children’s books made before 1985, for example, contain lead in their ink.

“It’s been devastating for us,” said Kitty Boyce, owner of the Kid’s Closet in Rochester, Ill., who has emptied her shop of much of her children’s merchandise and is selling adult items instead. “For us, there will be no bottom line this year.”

Adele R. Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, based in St. Clair Shores, Mich., said much of the new law made little sense. “People are taking away all items for children 12 and under,’ she said.

“But how many 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds are going to be eating books?”

July 8, 2009

Globalism to Relocalism

I want to offer a few thoughts on globalization, and why opposition to it is linked to relocalization.
 
The European Union has just decided to impose a tariff for the next five years on American biodiesel imports. This is in retaliation for massive American subsidies to this pseudo-industry, which in turn enable biodiesel exporters to dump their product in Europe below cost, hammering European producers. The targeted companies include Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. The usual suspects.
 
This is of course a mere squabble among gangsters. The Europeans are just as guilty of dumping in Africa and elsewhere (where local economies are unable to defend themselves against this aggression). We’ll no doubt hear the usual jeremiads against “protectionism”, although this is no such thing.
 
Leaving European hypocrisy aside, this is not flat earth protectionism but self-defense against what a good globalist should call an abuse of the system. (It’s not really an abuse, as I’ll explain below.)
 
(As for the omnipresent cry that protectionism will hinder the Great Recovery, we should know that this is a crock. There can be no “recovery” in their sense. Consumers are at the end of their debt rope and must either let go or be hanged. We are not going to see a restoration of the consumer orgy. We’ve seen Peak Consumerism, and we can happily bury it.
 
The banks know this, which is why they will not lend, why they only sit on the bailout money. They know, far from a consumer phoenix being ready to rise from the flames, there’s instead a lot more burndown to go: the credit card debt crash has barely begun.
 
While oil prices temporarily plummetted, they have risen again. From here they’ll likely continue to fibrillate wildly for the next several years until the true Peak Oil effect sets in, and oil becomes permanently expensive. So while shippers have had a temporary respite (if they had anything to ship) on energy prices, they know they can’t rely upon anything but price volatility.
 
Globalization’s great wave has broken and now ebbs. Anyone who is counting on that wave to roll in again to refresh the parched global economy is going to go thirsty.
 
So no one has to worry about protectionism hindering recovery. Protections will simply be a logical part of decoupling from the already-doomed globalization model.
 
We who are glad to see the end of an unsustainable civilizational model can applaud protectionism as an example of Dmitri Orlov’s doctrine of boondoggles to the rescue.)
 
Getting back to biofuels and Big Ag, the way this racket works is clear. They are the recipients of massive federal subsidies, which enable them to export and dump their product, destroying local economies and pocketing all profits.
 
If you know the movie Goodfellas you’re familiar with the part where the mob becomes a partner in a restaurant. They immediately start buying huge amounts of consumer goods like TVs on the restaurant’s credit, take delivery there, and literally bring the stuff in through the front door and out the back into the back alley, where they sell it for cash at a big discount. The place is stuck with the bill. “Nobody’s going to pay for it anyway. It’s all profit!”
 
That’s exactly the way corporatist rackets like agrofuels and industrial agriculture work under globalization. The taxpayers subsidize production, the corporations take the goods overseas and dump them. “It’s all profit”, while the taxpayers are stuck with the bill, and overseas economies are assaulted.
 
The EU’s complaint against America is 100% correct. But they are just as guilty, and often collaborate with the Americans in these crimes. Look at the example of Smithfield. The American multinational had a golden road paved for it into Eastern Europe. It promptly CAFOized the pork economies of Romania and Poland, ravaging those farm economies (and strewing various environmental and public health disasters along the way). It received huge state and EU subsidies for this, and then received further payments for exporting pork scraps to Africa, where it dumped them, largely eradicating local hog farmers there as well. European producers are guilty of the same crimes.
 
(This also illustrates how EU expansion to Eastern Europe was conceived as a colonial endeavor in the same way that Western Europe always looked at the global South.)
 
It’s clear that predatory pricing is not an abuse of globalization, but a feature. It is completely within the mainstream of its logic. Globalism’s ideologues always talked about “comparative advantage”, but what Western countries and corporations have always sought in practice is absolute advantage. The only thing the third world was ever comparatively best at was gutting all environmental and labor regulation, driving wages down to starvation levels, and deploying any level of violence necessary to keep the slaves in line.
 
As Larry Summers said, the best use for the third world is as a toxic waste dump. That’s the inherent logic of globalization.
 
Who invented and imposed globalism? Not the global South. It was the West and its self-constructed, therefore self-serving international trade structure (the World Bank, IMF, WTO – a veritable Economic One World Government). So we can assume that the standard predatory practice of America and the EU is the intended practice of globalization itself. This means subsidy, protections, dumping for its own industry, while ferociously opposing all protections, and any regulation in general, in the “toxic waste dump”.
 
Why should a Peak Oiler care very much about this if it’s true that globalization is being rolled back?
 
First, it’s a moral and philosophical imperative. Fighting back against organized crime, even where it’s in the fifth act, is worth doing for its own sake. 
 
Second, we’re not likely to have a fast crash, if that means the end of industrial civilization in a year or two. These corrections of history are going to take time to work themselves out, and in the meantime marauders are still going to do a lot of damage.
 
Third, anti-globalization is a relocalization initiative. To oppose Big Ag’s third world dumping is to help weaken its domestic stranglehold, which in turn helps domestic small farmers, which is the core priority for anyone concerned with energy descent, since America will need millions of small farmers.
 
So Europe’s biodiesel tariff, however hypocritical, is helpful. And of course, any blow to the agrofuel racket and all its wickedness is a good thing.
 
This is just one piece of the puzzle, one loose thread in the unravelling of industrialism. As more and more threads come loose, the thinner and weaker the garment. Perhaps at some point there will even be ways for the people to pull on those threads.