by The Other Katherine Harris
April 29, 2008
The most mercantile “Earth Day” yet – one that stretched into an “Earth Week” of consumerist hype – left a foul taste in my mouth this year, amid all the news of famine. However rightfully we fret about polar bears, plastic bags and the Amazon, the real urgency is feeding hungry people.
In true “Shock Doctrine” style, some have taken this crisis as their cue to make matters worse: Robert Zoellick, for one. An original “vulcan” responsible for the Iraq debacle, as well as a former U.S. Trade Representative, Deputy Secretary of State and Goldman Sachs executive, he’s the neocon now running the World Bank. While hustling governments to make up a $500 million shortfall in the UN’s food aid program, caused by suddenly rocketing prices, he’s been screaming, “The solution is to break the Doha Development Agenda impasse,” claiming, “It’s now or never,” inveighing against export controls and declaring himself willing to help Africa by doubling its debt for agricultural spending – with, of course, “increased private-sector initiatives.” And why wouldn’t he be willing? His economy-destroying, resource-grabbing bank and its ally in crime, the International Monetary Fund, have almost no customers left, now that South America wised up. These days, they get to prey only on the poorest of the poor, apart from Turkey.
His is a pitch as brazen as Treasury Secretary, IMF Governor and ex-Goldman CEO Henry Paulson’s proposal to give total control of financial markets to the Federal Reserve – after the Fed let them run mad for years, collecting huge fees and bonuses for wrecking the housing and credit markets, plus bailouts at taxpayer risk – but Zoellick has a subtle side, too. This heartbreaking story about conditions in Mauritania, for instance, is salted with sneaky “free trade” talking points and deceptions. But the people aren’t starving because well-intentioned trade policies failed; they’re starving precisely because they got suckered into a scheme designed strictly to benefit transnational corporations – like the European companies that send fishing fleets to deplete Mauritanian waters.
We need to start reading every famine piece closely and critically, with an eye for such ruses. Few articles will tell us outright that there’s only one reason why Mauritania can’t send the pirates packing — namely, World Bank/IMF debt – or that the desperate Haitians are eating dirt because their government is paying $1 million a week in debt service to these creeps.
Finally, Zoellick and his fellow-plunderers at the highest diplomatic level were subject to some strenuous pushback this week. When the heads of 27 development agencies gathered at European UN headquarters in Bern for emergency talks, their meetings were off-limits to media, but we can feel confident they got an earful from Jean Ziegler (Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) and Achim Steiner (UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of the Environment Program). Both want the world to know they’ve had it with agricultural policies that favor large-scale monoculture farming for export, and with the commodities speculators who’re profiting from misery, too – so they’ve been giving interviews and Ziegler even threw a press conference.
“We have enough food on the planet today to feed everyone,” Steiner emphasized, but access to it is being distorted. “Real people and real lives are being affected by a dimension that is essentially speculative,” he said, calling also for a return to sustainable agriculture in order to feed a growing population, while conserving soil fertility and water supplies and compensating for climate change.
Ziegler, a distinguished Swiss author writing on topics of economics and ethics (including the shameful conduct of Swiss banks), has been outspoken since he assumed the post of Special Rapporteur on its creation in 2000. Lately, however, he’s begun exceeding himself. He spoke of a “daily massacre of hunger” and said “a murder is behind every victim.” Blaming globalization for “monopolizing the riches of the earth,” he added, “We have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror. We have to put a stop to this.” Ziegler seeks a five-year moratorium on biofuels, plus regulations prohibiting investment in raw materials by hedge funds and other players with no direct connection to agriculture.
Reinforcing the Ziegler/Steiner view is a recently completed three-year study, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which involved nearly 400 scientists. They concluded, “Business as usual is no longer an option,” and recommended “greater emphasis on safeguarding natural resources and on ‘agro-ecological’ practices, including the use of natural fertilizers, traditional seeds and intensified natural practices, and reducing the distance between production and the consumer.” These findings were introduced this month by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at a conference in South Africa — unattended by representatives of the biotech industry, who walked away from the project last year in a huff. Steiner was on hand, though, his Environmental Program being one of its sponsors, and in an related interview on April 9 he made the crucial point that “agriculture has been the domain of professional agriculturalists with a narrow focus on increasing productivity. IAASTD has brought in many other voices to create a broad vision that includes production, social and environmental dimensions.”
A parallel rift is shaping up within the European Union, where a few have dared to balk the uber-globalists who want all subsidies out of their way. Although a conservative (center-right) politician, French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier not only favors ongoing EU subsidies and “the new policy of European preference” to ensure food security and quality, but also thinks it would be smart for other regions to form self-sufficient blocs. “We have to protect ourselves. It’s not protectionism. Food is not televisions or cars,” Barnier has said – and, in a highly dismissive Forbes article that cites an equally dismissive one in The Financial Times – he’s quoted, saying, “What we are witnessing in the world is the consequence of too much free-market liberalism. We can’t leave feeding people to the mercy of the market.”
Given that they represent the unmerciful market from which the rest of us need protection, the ultra-capitalist press is in full cry against Ziegler, Steiner and Barnier, who pointed out that the extreme ideology he questions “is even contested in Washington, as you can see during the presidential campaign.”
Thus the forces are arrayed and the battle is joined. Some powerful people are plainly speaking the truth at last, with a global disaster as object lesson. Horrifying as the times are, they present our best shot at scraping these parasites off us. Our job, as I see it, is to spread the word and make sure the oligarchs can no longer deceive anybody we know.