27 April 2008

A hungry mob is an angry mob

A hungry mob is an angry mob

John Maxwell

Very occasionally I'm asked why, when there is so much to write about in Jamaica that I sometimes write about things outside. My answer is always the same: Jamaica is a part of a larger world and much of what happens here happens because of what happens outside
As I write, for instance, Jamaica is remarkably serene about the rapidly approaching food crisis. The reason is simple. Most of us, including our media, don't expect to be affected by famine and hunger and will, they think, be able to assume their characteristic pose as spectators, unengaged, viewing 'dispassionately' the suffering and privations of others less fortunate.

At the moment we are much more occupied with the question of writing a Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms for Yuppies. Shall we or shall we not change the constitution to enable those with more money than sense to hold dual citizenship and allowing Americans and other foreigners to write laws for Jamaicans as they were able to do when Roger Mais was jailed for speaking his mind 64 years ago.

Meanwhile, in the United States of America, the biggest wholesalers like Costco and Sam's Club have begun to impose limits on the quantities of rice that anyone may buy at any one time. While Sam's Club say they're not yet rationing oil or flour, Costco is. Sam's Club is a subsidiary of Walmart, the world's largest corporation. In Lima, Peru, relief food supplies are delivered to householders by night in order to avoid the threat of hungry mobs capturing the scarce supplies.

Here, we are cool, untroubled by global warming, sea level rise or the threat of famine.
Sea level rise and global warming are both anthropogenic - caused by human activity - and famine has historically been more the result of political decisions than of crop failure. Today, American food producers and traders have besieged the Commodities Futures Trading Commission which regulates US commodity markets. According to capitalist theory, commodity markets and all other free-market institutions are essential components of the equitable management of world trade, balancing supply and demand and performing a function so disinterested that it can almost be considered a public service.

The father of capitalist theory, Adam Smith, thought otherwise. While he extolled the essential fairness of the 'invisible hand' he decried the inherent greed and self-interest to which most businessmen were prone. According to Adam Smith:
"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." (The Wealth of Nations: Vol 1, Book 1, Chap 10).

Of course, if I said that, or if Michael Manley or someone similar had said it, we would immediately be accused of acute Communism and subversion of democracy. In relation to this, it may be interesting to quote something said 43 years ago in a debate at the university between economics lecturer, later Professor R B Davison and myself in June 1965.
According to The Gleaner's report: "The intellectual is not the representative of the people in the House of Representatives; he is the representative of all the people in the West Indian islands, Mr Maxwell said. He would be criminally responsible if he allowed these people to starve when he was paid by them to subvert the structures which kept them enslaved."

Among the structures which keep ordinary people enslaved is the colossus of globalisation. We need to recover our autonomy. The world financial system has pauperised middle- and working-class Americans in the great housing scam, and having created many surplus trillions, is now seeking some other prey to devour.

The food supplies of the world is their new target.
According to the Toronto Globe & Mail Thursday: "Food producers lined up against investment fund managers during an extraordinary meeting in Washington yesterday, saying they are partly to blame for driving up food prices and playing havoc with commodity markets."Sixty per cent of the current [wheat] market is owned by an index fund," said Tom Coyle, of the National Grain and Feed Association. "Clearly that's having an impact on the market."

What is an index fund doing owning 60 per cent of the world's wheat trade? According to Tom Buis, National Farmers Union "...[W]e've got a train wreck coming that's going to be greater than anything we've ever seen in agriculture."

Rice has almost doubled in price in two months, wheat has gone up 120 per cent in a year and both will go higher if speculators play true to form.

In the International Herald Tribune, economist William Pfaff, says "Speculative purchases have no other purpose than to make money for the speculators, who hold their contracts to drive up current prices with the intention. of unloading their holdings onto an artificially inflated market, at the expense of the ultimate consumer. Even the general public can now play the speculative game; most banks offer investment funds specialising in metals, oil and, more recently, food products."

Pfaff - like millions of less well-educated people, cannot understand why this wickedness is allowed to continue - "It is astonishing in the present situation that the international financial institutions and government regulators have done little to control or banish this parasitical and antisocial practice. The myth of the benevolent and ultimately impartial market prevails against all contrary evidence."

Meanwhile, here in Paradise, we will stay cool, as we import new problems with mammoth people-processing factory-hotels fencing us off from our Caribbean Sea, happy to service the unscrupulous and law-defying local subagents of the international casino called globalisation.
And, as we degrade our land for shrimp farms and slave to produce and process pond shrimp, it should give us no end of joy to know that The American Purina Corporation is a huge market for farmed shrimp. They use it for dog food.

Are we having fun yet, Daddy?

An Attractive Nuisance
Personal liability lawyers call unfenced swimming pools and similar child traps 'attractive nuisances' - dangerous enticements to the unwary, unless access is restricted in the public interest.

In the United States, the Democratic party presidential nomination process has been transformed into a kind of political strip poker. A few months ago, Geraldine Ferraro, who was Walter Mondale's running mate in the 1984 presidential election, delivered herself of the profound thought that Barack Obama would not be a candidate for president had he not been black. Had she considered the qualifications of Hillary Clinton one wonders whether she would have said that she wouldn't have been in the race but for the fact that she was the wife of Bill Clinton.

Barack Obama's campaign was premised on a non-racial, non-confrontational approach, he was a candidate to sluice clean the Augean stables of Washington and to unite the people of the United States in their own best interests. Originally there were four other major candidates for the Democratic party nomination but one by one they dropped away, leaving only Clinton and Obama. Clinton had been heavily favoured to walk away with the nomination, and if she expected any real opposition it would not have been from the rookie Senator Obama, but from people like John Edwards, a former senator who was John Kerry's running mate, or Governor Bill Richardson.

All of them were better known and of considerably more experience than Obama. But Obama's ideas suddenly caught fire among Americans of all types, particularly among the young, but also among experienced people like Senator Dodd, Ted Kennedy and Governor Richardson and a wide spectrum of others like Oprah Winfrey, and even the Republican former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Hillary Clinton, for reasons best left unexplored, decided that if Obama was to deny her coronation, he should suffer for it. Her campaign threw the kitchen sink at him, along with the peelings, sending spies to record unguarded quotes which were then scrupulously misrepresented, damning him with guilt by association with Rev Jeremiah Wright and former revolutionary William Ayres. And when Obama appeared disappointed by this farrago of garbage, her response was to suggest he was a wimp, unable to stand the heat of a presidential campaign.

It does not matter to her that it's almost impossible for her to win the nomination, that half the electorate considers her dishonest and that if she were the Democratic party candidate the Republicans would eat her raw in November.

Since even she knows she almost certainly won't be the candidate, she is determined to ensure that Obama can't win in November, converting herself into the only alternative to the Republicans, converting McCain into the alternative to Obama, splitting away white men, older women and Roman Catholics from Obama, smashing the coalition which was building for a Democratic landslide in November. And her position on Michigan and Florida makes it clear she doesn't understand even the concept of fair play.

As Senator Christopher Dodd and others have pointed out, Obama has slightly more political experience than Abraham Lincoln and about the same as John Kennedy, two of the best loved and most important presidents of the United States. Chris Dodd is quite clear about Obama's experience: "Character is more important than experience," he has said. "That's why I'm supporting Barack Obama."

What Clinton really seems to want to say to Obama is "You're no Jack Kennedy" as Lloyd Bentsen famously told Dan Quayle in 1988. One thing is sure: no one will ever confuse Hillary with Eleanor Roosevelt or, for that matter, with Jacqui Kennedy or Bess Truman. As I said some weeks ago, character is the issue.

Copyright©2008 John Maxwell

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