Category Archives: Agriculture

Trump’s targets keep the United States well fed

Continuing with today’s rural theme, from Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service program Dateline via Journeyman pictures comes a documentary focusing on the Mexican farm workers who tend America’s fields — the workers who have been the targets of racist bile from the likes of Donald Trump.

From Journeyman Pictures:

The Mexicans Tackling Trump Over Migrant Rights Row

Program notes:

They’re the farm workers who feed America, but migrant labourers remain underprivileged and exploited. Now, the newest generation of Mexican Americans are fighting back, and Donald Trump is in their sights.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best”, said Donald Trump in a recent speech. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.” But there are over a million migrant workers in the US, many from Mexico, who do the jobs few American’s are willing to do. The Latino population, growing at ten times the rate of the overall US population, are the lifeblood of the country’s $400 billion agricultural industry. For the second and third generation children watching their parents toil, now is the time to fight for proper migrant rights. “It’s such an important job, farm workers literally feed the world”, says Gerardo Silguero, whose father has worked tirelessly for his future. Volunteer led workshops are helping both parents and children understand their rights as migrant citizens. But while their campaign is bearing fruit, they still have to tackle the views of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump and his supporters. They have decades of racist tradition and exploitative migrant working conditions to overturn. They believe a new attitude towards the education of “undocumented” migrant children could usher in the change they demand.

A synopsis of the program plus a full transcript are posted on the SBS website here.

And where do America’s farmworkers ply their trade?

This map from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Rural Assistance Center answers the question in blue and white, with an interactive online version here identifying each of those blue circles:

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The largest circle of all represents Fresno County, California, where 127,608 worked the fields and brought in the harvest in 2012, the latest year for which data are available.

The second largest circle represents the county to the south, Kern County, where 75,571 farmworkers were employed that same year.

Map of the day: Metastatic global GMO growth

From the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, a multinational advocacy group whose sponsors include both Monsanto and the U.S. Department of State:

Slide 1

Climate change good for the far north only

Russia, Canada, Mongolia, Scandanavia, Greenland, and the Baltic would benefit from global warming, while everyone else would be left out in the cold heat.

From Nature, via Stanford University [PDF], and click on the image to enlarge:


More from the UC Berkeley news service:

Unmitigated climate change is likely to reduce the income of an average person on Earth by roughly 23 percent in 2100, according to estimates contained in research published today in the journal Nature that is co-authored by two University of California, Berkeley professors.

The findings indicate climate change will widen global inequality, perhaps dramatically, because warming is good for cold countries, which tend to be richer, and more harmful for hot countries, which tend to be poorer. In the researchers’ benchmark estimate, climate change will reduce average income in the poorest 40 percent of countries by 75 percent in 2100, while the richest 20 percent may experience slight gains.

The Nature paper focuses on effects of climate change via temperature, and does not include impacts via other consequences of climate change such as hurricanes or sea level rise. Detailed results and figures for each country are available for download online.

UC Berkeley’s Solomon Hsiang, Chancellor’s Associate Professor of Public Policy, was a co-leader of the study with Marshall Burke, a 2014 Ph.D. graduate from Berkeley and an assistant professor in earth system science at Stanford University. Berkeley’s Edward Miguel, Oxfam Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, co-authored the results.

Co-author Michael Burke of Stanford explains:

Our paper, published online Oct 21st 2015 in the journal Nature, seeks to answer two main questions:

  1. In recent years, how has economic output around the world been affected by changes in temperature and precipitation?
  2. What do these historical responses imply about the potential future impacts of climate change?

To answer question 1, we analyzed changes in temperature and changes in economic output (as measured by per capita gross domestic product) for 166 countries for the years 1960-2010. To answer question 2, we combined these historical estimates with projections of future climate change from global climate models, and projections of how countries’ economies might develop absent climate change

Our findings demonstrate that changes in temperature have substantially shaped economic growth in both rich and poor countries over the last half century, and that future warming is likely to reduce global economic output, relative to a world without climate change.

Chart of the day: The theology of pesticides

From a new Pew Research center report [PDF] on religion and science:

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Deep capture: A case of corporate body-shaping

Researchers Trenton G. Smith, senior lecturer in the Department of
Economics at New Zealand’s University of Otago and Corvinus University of Budapest professor of mathematics Attila Tasnádi begin their 2014 paper The Economics of Information, Deep Capture, and the Obesity Debate [PDF] with a quote from Edward L. Bernays’ [previously] 1928 book Propaganda:

In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice, if everyone went around pricing, and chemically testing before purchasing, the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are for sale, economic life would become hopelessly jammed. To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought  to  its  attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.

And to capture our minds, the surest route is through capture of the media largely responsible for shaping our choices, a process we’ve seen firsthand in the course of a half-century of journalism.

It is a process of excluding or deriding all options not beneficial to the economic interests of the thought-shaper — a thought-shaper legally bound as a fiduciary to act in the interests of maximizing investor profit.

And if those interest conflict with the best interests of consumers, environmental neighbors, and the health of democratic governance, well, then the hell with them.

The neoliberal nightmare

Let’s begin with the opening paragraphs of seminal book:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

Note those words “smoothly functioning.” And where do you hear those same words so frequently applied? Well, how about when we employ them to discuss machines, those quintessentially precisely built and functioning devices for producing quantifiable outputs from quantifiable inputs.

In such a mechanistic vision of human society, any resistance or friction is to be either engineered out of the machine [tuned] or directly eliminated or replaced.

It is no wonder, then, that a group of Italian Futurists, so enamored of the machine, war and bloodshed were among the earliest followers of fascism.

And since nothing’s more machinelike — regimented — than a regiment, here’s how, once in power, Italy’s fascists greeted Germany’s fascist leader, via British Pathé:

Italians Goosestep For Hitler [1938]

In a fascist society, mind-shaping is overt — as in the case of Hitler’s loyal acolyte Joseph Goebbels, Der Führer’s Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda and relentless — and relentless.

But in 21st Century America, propaganda, which equally relentless, is more subtle.

Consider Bernays again, first a chief state propagandist for Woodrow Wilson in World Wat I, then a public relations [genteel-speak for propagandist] sought out by leading corporations.

Bernays knew well how to get people to kill and injure themselves in the interest of corporate profit. Consider this from the Museum of Public Relations:

George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company and an eccentric businessman, recognized that an important part of his market was not being tapped into. Hill believed that cigarette sales would soar if he could entice more women to smoke in public.

In 1928 Hill hired Bernays to expand the sales of his Lucky Strike cigarettes. Recognizing that women were still riding high on the suffrage movement, Bernays used this as the basis for his new campaign. He consulted Dr. A.A. Brill, a psychoanalyst, to find the psychological basis for womens smoking. Dr. Brill determined that cigarettes which were usually equated with men, represented torches of freedom for women. The event caused a national stir and stories appeared in newspapers throughout the country. Though not doing away with the taboo completely, Bernays’s efforts had a lasting effect on women smoking.

His hook? Cigarettes in his campaign were transformed from smelly, unhealthy fire hazards into “torches of freedom.” As another lung cancer-pusher later advertised, “You’ve come a long way baby.”

While pressure from public health officials, most notably several courageous Surgeons General eventually led to sharp curbs on cigarette advertising, intensified by those infamous kiddie-aimed Joe Camel cartoon ads.

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As a Stanford University web site notes:

From the campaign’s inception, young people were primary targets. The first Joe Camel ad in the United States was released to celebrate Camel’s 75th “birthday” and was based on a French advertisement for Camel filters from 1974. The original French Joe Camel was reported to be a “smash” because “it’s about as young as you can get, and aims right at the young adult smoker Camel needs to attract”. (The term “young adult smoker” is industry jargon for the youngest spectrum of customers legally targeted through cigarette ads.)

Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirmed that Joe Camel is attractive to children. Indeed, a 1991 article published in JAMA reveals that the Old Joe Camel advertisements “are far more successful at marketing Camel cigarettes to children than to adults” based on kids’ ability to recall the character and find him appealing. More shocking still is another JAMA publication from 1991 which revealed that 91.3% of 6-year-old children were able to correctly match Old Joe with a picture of a cigarette, nearly the same number of children as were able to match Mickey Mouse with the Disney Channel logo.

But cigarette packs didn’t start to carry warning labels until Baby Boomers’ parents began to died from lung cancer, emphysema, and a host of other afflictions clearly traceable to tobacco. It took that awareness, coupled with rising anger in the medical community, to overcome the endless flow of dollars into the pockets of politicians and the coffers of advertising agencies.

But another killer, obesity, can also be directly linked to corporate greed, and a relentless campaign by corporations and their investors has stalled or gutted serious efforts to meaningfully inform us about the dangers of what we take into our body, once again through our mouths.

While brings us back to Trenton Smith and his concepts of deep capture.

What follows, via Systemic Justice Videos, is a talk he delivered at Harvard Law School, and its well worth your attention:

Trent Smith on Deep Capture and Obesity

Program notes:

In the fall of 2014, Trent Smith delivered a talk titled “The Economics of Information, Deep Capture, and the Obesity Debate” at Harvard Law School.

Are consumers susceptible to manipulation by large corporations? Or are consumers basically rational, able to decide for themselves what to buy and how to live? This lecture will argue that these seemingly contradictory views of the American consumer are not mutually exclusive, and in fact follow directly from economic models of imperfect information. Examples of U.S. food industry practices, both historical and in the ongoing public debate over the causes of the obesity epidemic, serve to illustrate a broader phenomenon: when large industrial producers take steps to limit the information available to consumers, a market breakdown can occur in which low-quality products dominate the market. As a result, consumer welfare and–in the case of food–public health suffers. This would seem to represent a clear instance of the phenomenon known as “deep capture,” in which powerful commercial interests attempt to influence conventional wisdoms that might affect industry profits.

Map of the day: Pesticide water pollution risk

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From Yale’s environment360, which notes:

Streams across roughly 40 percent of the planet’s land area are at risk of pollution from pesticides, according to an analysis published in the journal Environmental Pollution. Globally, roughly 4 million tons of agricultural pesticides are applied each year, and studies show they are associated with significant declines in freshwater biodiversity, the researchers note. Surface waters in the Mediterranean region, the United States, Central America, and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk, according to the study, which produced the first global map of pesticide pollution risk. Taking into account weather data, terrain, pesticide application rates, and land use patterns, the map shows that the risk of pesticide pollution is relatively low in Canada and northern Europe but increases closer to the Equator. More areas are likely to face high pesticide pollution risk as global population grows and the climate warms, the researchers say, because agricultural activity and crop pests will both intensify, likely requiring even higher rates of pesticide use.

John Oliver takes on North Dakota fracking

Massive leaks of chemicals, worker deaths, corporate shenanigans, and serious regulatory agency failures are among the “benefits” accruing to the people and environment of North Dakota, as John Oliver reports in his latest offering from his HBO show

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Program notes:

North Dakota is known for being polite, but perhaps they’ve been a little too hospitable to oil companies.