Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Farm Bill Update

The Farm Bill passed yesterday, 79-14. This is disappointing, but unsurprising. The margin in the Senate shows that the threatened Bush veto would be fruitless, as there are easily enough votes to override there. The president, on the other hand, continues to display his newfound sense of fiscal responsibility in opposition to the Farm Bill. No word on whether Vice President Cheney, as a member of neither the executive nor the legislative branch, will be able to pull anything out of his sleeve.

The FRESH Act was rejected on the 12th, 37-58.

I'm trying to find the names of the senators who opposed the Farm Bill and supported the FRESH Act, but so far all I have is an email from Senator Boxer in response to my email to her. We'll see what happens when my research skills return from wherever they're hiding.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I realize this isn't an argument, or even a valid point of comparison between the two politicians. They just seem strikingly similar to me in so many ways, and the Romney picture this morning kind of jumped out at me. Funny, huh?

In other news, Oprah is now going to campaign for Barack Obama. Um? This is a recommendation?

And no, I'm not awake enough to post anything substantive at this point in the morning.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Farm Bill Update

The Farm Bill is currently in the Senate, stalled by bickering over whose pork gets attached where. The FRESH Act is (unsurprisingly) being fought by wheat farmers, but apparently it's at least a fight. This means that there's more of an opportunity to continue supporting it.

Also, as of three days ago, McCain is now co-sponsoring the FRESH Act. Good news.

And yeah, happy thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Current Legislation: 2007 Farm Bill

The Farm Bill.

As happens every five years, the Farm Bill--the legislation appropriating funds for agricultural subsidies--is up for renewal. The Farm Bill is one of those somewhat-controversial bills that always gets passed; political costs of opposing farm subsidies are high for members of Congress from agricultural states, and so renewal has been quite consistent. President Bush campaigned in the 2000 election on promises to reform the subsidy system; eventually, political pressure proved too high and he actually reversed progress made in the '97 "Freedom to Farm" legislation. Now, of course, the President is threatening to veto the new Farm Bill, claiming issues of fiscal irresponsibility and potential repercussions in international trade. The kicker: Bush's proposed version of the Farm Bill actually costs more. So much for fiscal responsibility (although really, almost all Washington politicians sound a little hollow when they gab about fiscal responsibility these days, and with Iraq and Afghanistan...).

This time, there's an alternative. A new bipartisan reform bill would "trim direct payments to farms and corporations and replace them with revenue-based insurance programs for nearly all farmers and ranchers. At a time of historic national debt, it would decrease the federal deficit by at least $3 billion." There are a couple reasons why this is a Very Good Thing.

The Dead Zone.

No, it's not a bad movie (although a TV show apparently shared the title). It's actually the result of overdone industrial/corporate farming, bloated even more by misallocated federal subsidies. Which sounds like a bad Hollywood script, but still. The short version goes something like this:

"The greatest pollution threat to coastal marine life today is the runoff of excess nitrogen from fertilized farm fields, animal feedlots, and urban areas. Airborne nitrogen—from industrial smokestacks, automobile exhaust pipes, and ammonia rising from huge manure lagoons—is also deposited in the ocean. Just as they fertilize the land, nutrients fertilize coastal waters, and excess amounts can cause massive blooms of algae. These blooms can trigger a chain of events that deplete the ocean waters of oxygen, turning vast areas into hypoxic areas, also known as dead zones. Some of these algal blooms produce toxins that can be fatal to fish, marine mammals and occasionally people." (Pew Oceans Commission, 2003)

And what's the worst offender? At the moment, the most well-known dead zone is the one the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico, where US agricultural fertilizer is deposited after running off into the Mississippi River. Now, this dead zone, and the others off the US coast, probably aren't going to destroy the world all by themselves; there's a lot more ocean than hundreds of square miles off the shores of the United States. Still, there is a severe economic impact on the US fishing industry (see the last link, from Bloomberg), and subsidizing one US industry to overproduce at the vast expense of another seems somewhat unwise, at the very least. Additionally, considering what the chemicals in question do to the ocean, do you really want your tax dollars going to corporations that put that stuff on your food? Finally, if you've ever seen a pond (or an outdoor hot tub or swimming pool) build up massive algae deposits (green slime), imagine doing that to hundreds of square miles of ocean. Sickened by the mental image? Okay, great, let's move on.


US cash-crop subsidies provide incentives for domestic industries to massively overproduce. This massive increase in supply, coupled with a fairly static domestic demand, means that US industries turn around and dump the surplus on countries in the global South. This means that the farmers there are run out of the market and end up receiving foreign assistance (largely from the US). African cotton farmers are among the hardest hit; also taking a blow are Mexican corn farmers, who were largely wiped out financially by the last round of federal corn subsidies.

Some readers might object at this point, suggesting that this is capitalism acting, and the less efficient farmers are going out of business. But it's not capitalism; it's economic warfare in violation of standing WTO rules against market-distorting subsidies. And even if the current U.S. subsidies were, by some stretch, "capitalism," the injustice of a policy that gives a small group of people more income and destroys the livelihoods (and sometimes lives) of a very large group of people seems obvious.

At the end of the day, there is really no reason to subsidize massive agricultural corporations to produce far more than the market demands. The FRESH Act provides insurance to create a genuine safety net for American farmers without encouraging them to do bad things, like dumping nasty chemicals on your food and destroying families abroad. In fact, you might even have fewer nasty chemicals to worry about anyway, given the support for organics in the FRESH Act. It's clearly the better alternative, all things considered.

What You Can Do.

Currently, the legislation is all in the Senate. The directory for the 110th United States Senate is here. If you don't know the names of your senators, you can search by state in that directory and they will come up, with their contact information. You can then take that information and use it to contact them, suggesting that they support the FRESH Act (the Lautenberg-Lugar legislation) instead of the 2007 Farm Bill as it currently stands. For my friends from California, Senators Feinstein and Boxer still (as of last word) have not taken positions on the Farm Bill. This means that you, in particular, should contact them, regardless of whether you think they deserve their jobs. There will be time to deal with that in the 2010 and 2012 Senate elections.

Those of you who have huge numbers of friends on Facebook (or, perhaps, in real life) should let them know, preferably soon. It doesn't take long to send an email, and you don't even have to worry about time zones. So let your senators know, and hopefully one of the worse pieces of federal legislation this year can be replaced with something better.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Birds of a feather

So Pat Robertson, bloody hands, false prophecies, and all, has come out in support of Giuliani. That's good to see. Mr. 9/11 is quite possibly my least favorite politician in this election, tied with his equally slimy cohort from New York. It's good to see my least favorite pseudo-Christian charlatan in bed with him.

On the flip side, from the same article, Sam Brownback is endorsing McCain. This makes a lot of sense. Both individuals have made a great deal of effort to ethically engage oppressed individuals around the world, particularly in places like Darfur. Brownback has also been one of the strongest pro-life advocates in the US Senate for some time now. Hopefully, this will give McCain a boost with social conservatives.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Note on Language

In my last post, you may have noticed an alternate spelling of the word "human." This spelling ("humyn") was intentional, and will persist throughout my writings here. I believe that language matters greatly; the words we use both expose our perspectives and thought patterns and also do a great deal to shape those perspectives and thought patterns. Because I believe that equitable representation of all groups in society is an important goal, I try to frame my language inclusively. Thus, I avoid using generic masculine words. Additionally, I avoid the spelling "human," since it again seems to imply a totalizing masculinity over all of humynity. The exception is when I am quoting someone else, in which case I quote them as accurately as possible so that one can observe the thought processes behind their discourse without my own intervention. If you want to learn more about gender-neutral language, a good start, as always, is the Wikipedia article (you can use the links they provide for a great deal of additional research).


Hey, I’m Chris. I’m an international relations student at the University of Alabama in my junior year. I compete on the UA debate team and spend much of my out-of-class time researching and preparing for the next debate tournament. Over the next few days, I will be reading Heidegger, Foucault, and Said and finishing up preparation for a debate tournament in Topeka, Kansas. Academics aside, I participate (when in town and not sick) in a local Christian church and seek to serve my fellow humyn beings as I have opportunity. I come from California, where I find the political climate, cultural setting, and weather much more pleasant than those in Alabama. When hanging out with friends, I often enjoy random theoretical, philosophical, and theological dialogue and science fiction/fantasy literature, film, and games.

Since you’re presumably not reading this site for personal ads (and most likely already know me), you might wonder why I typed the above paragraphs. The answer is “perspective.” Much thought in today’s society occurs within a framework of perceived objectivity; the news networks claim to be objective (or, in some cases, “fair and balanced”—a very different thing, as these terms don’t even claim to address reality) and our teachers, coworkers, and friends often claim to deliver “the truth” or “the facts.” But really, we (I speak for the humyns reading this site) are finite beings, are we not? Understanding that we are limited by our own perspective is critical to understanding that which we perceive. One of the most useful lessons I’ve learned in school is that all writing and speaking is ultimately self-referential—one writes and speaks of one’s own perspective and experience, applied to a Subject of some sort. I’m trying to make my perspective and bias as transparent as possible, so that we can move past the question of my agenda and move toward a dialogue of ideas.

So, then, who are you?