Against the Grain: Food Shortages in the U.S.?

It’s amazing how a crisis in one commodity market can so significantly affect another commodity market. Take the burgeoning shortages of grains: corn, rice and wheat. Much of the problem can be traced back to skyrocketing oil prices. Call it the “chaos theory” of energy…if a butterfly flaps its wings in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, it impacts corn production in the U.S. heartland…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

From the “law of unintended consequences” file…

There’s a perfect storm brewing in the food supply chain, and it centers on grain products. A portion of the issue (skyrocketing corn prices and lack of availability) is being blamed on 1) corn being diverted into the more lucrative ethanol production market rather than into the food consumption chain, and 2)

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Richard Blair |

Food Stamps for US, Let World Eat Cake

With the world economic downturn upon us, hunger is speading like a plague, to El Paso, to San Diego, to our entire nation. Indeed, to the world, and the Bush Administration voted against a UN resolution supporting food as a basic human right. They deny responsibility for the economic mess, and then tell the world to go eat cake.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

With the economy worsening, it appears the number of Americans qualifying for and taking advantage of the WIC (food stamp) program is increasing. Yes, more and more people in the United States are at the risk of going hungry, and it’s on Bush’s watch (no matter how he protests, Bush must take SOME responsibility for the economic collapse). In San Diego, a city proud of its record of having a relatively small number of citizens taking advantage of WIC, the applications for the program are skyrocketing. Same in El Paso and across the country the applications for the WIC program are skyrocketing. The Nation’s food banks are recording record numbers of people lining up for assistance in getting the basics to sustain life, food. The Bush response?

Well, the first Bush response is to attack anyone who tries to lay the blame for the economic downturn on them. Let’s all remember that Republicans don’t take responsibility for any of their errors. Yesterday the Bushies slammed the New York Times for an article linking their policies to the downturn in the mortgage markets. The scoop from Rawstory:

Citing his declaration earlier this year that America was merely suffering from a “rough patch” and his complete avoidance of the word “recession” until earlier this month, the article said such “dismissive” policies are directly linked to the downward spiral of the economy.

“When the economy deteriorated, Mr. Bush and his team misdiagnosed the reasons and scope of the downturn … The result was a series of piecemeal policy prescriptions that lagged behind the escalating crisis.”

If that doesn’t sound like an example of fiddling while Rome burns I don’t know what does. It is an example of more than Bush Administration incompetence, though. But is it merely an example of a callous attitude towards the American citizens hard hit by the Bush economic crisis? Terrence Heath at Billerico, at least, argues that the goal of the Republicans is to drive down the asperations of the middle class. I’m not inclined to protest too much, especially when we note the UN resolution concerning the right to food by the citizens of the world. It was overwhelmingly passed, with just four dissenting votes, from the Bush Administration, and three of its sure votes, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Ukraine.

Ugly. The Bush Administration can’t take responsibility for engineering an economic crisis that has plunged millions across the world into poverty and hunger, and it even comes out against a philosophical statement in the United Nations to declare that food is a basic right of people. In the waning days of this most incompetent of administrations, they are showing venality of an order we have rarely seen in history.

There is hope, I suppose. The Obama Administration has announced that Joe Biden will be using his clout to focus on the plight of the working stiffs in the middle class. I’m not so optimistic that such a project will pay benefits in the near future, but this sure is action that wouldn’t even show up on the bush Administration radar, so you’ve got to give Obama credit for that.

Hey, there’s a lot of work to do for Obama to counteract the appallingly immoral and incompetent policies of the Bush Administration. The problem of hunger is just one of the areas that needs to be addressed. Here I sit this morning, privileged as can be. I returned yesterday from a cruise in the Caribbean. The poverty of such islands as Dominica and Grenada took my breath away, but at least those people have fertile soil with which to support themselves. Sure, I saw three legged dogs and children begging, but observation told me they had food, if not a nintendo. The world is different. The entire world depends on the economic structure of our society to acquire food. And the Bush Administration told the entire world to go eat cake.

It is hard to figure how Republicans can overcome such callous disregard for others and still claim their mantle of the Christian party. Are evangelical Christians so stupid?

Monday, December 22nd, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Jumping: Oil Prices and Unemployment

I’m just an ordinary guy, not an economist or banker or commodities trader or insulated political political pundit. But I can read, and two stories today seem to be a harbinger of bad things to come. The GOP pyramid scheme of the last 8 years is about to collapse, it’s not going to be pretty, and I’m getting scared. Not merely concerned. Jumping-out-of-my-Fruit-of-the-Looms scared.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

A couple of OMG stories from this morning almost take my breath away, and indicate just how bad the economy is tanking, despite a market run up in the past couple of weeks. And baby, it’s not going to get any better anytime soon. It’s getting scary.

First up: the unemployment rate jumped to 5.5% in May. Earlier this morning, when I was listening to the news, economists were expecting the number to come in at 5.1% (still a rise over April). A half percent in one month. That’s nearly unprecedented, and gives us an idea of just how deeply the current economic situation is impacting companies. No doubt that oil / gas prices have a great deal to do with this extreme jump in people looking for work. Which leads us to…

Next up: after price drops due to significantly decreased demand and rising inventories, oil prices have rebounded dramatically in the past couple of days. I previously opined that there’s an “oil bubble” in the works, and when it crashes, it’s going to crash hard. But not yet. There are predictions that oil will be at around $150 / barrel by 7/4/08.

Let’s just take one slice of the economy. High oil prices are invoking a major crisis in the airline industry, and honestly, just about any industry that relies on tourism or transportation is going to be suffering dramatically in the coming months. By fall, the U.S. airline industry could literally be shut down to most all travel except business. Flying on an airplane, or getting anywhere distant by any means of transportation is going to become a luxury for the well-heeled, or reserved for absolutely necessary business travel or immediate family emergencies.

Listen, I’m just an ordinary guy, not an economist or commodities trader. And without much exaggeration, I can honestly say that I’m scared to death. I can’t help but feel that there’s a terribly hard crash coming. The GOP pyramid scheme of the last 8 years is about to collapse, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Update: The stock market is responding by going into pure panic mode this afternoon. I’m not sure what took so long for the pain to take hold inside of the hermetically sealed economic bubble that seems to insulate those who make their fortunes on Wall Street. Many of us regular folk have been feeling the pain for a long time. Did someone on the Street just figure out that stratospherically expensive oil might not be a good thing in the long run for their own deep pockets, and they might be personally affected sooner than later? The sad thing is, we’re not yet anywhere close to the bottom of the economic cycle.

Friday, June 6th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Bad Day To Be A Climate Change Denying Christian Creationist?

Two new findings will make it more difficult to reject the theory of evolution and dismiss man-made climate change. For those who are adept at discerning their denials from the Bible, the Rapture is apt to be their last rationale for discarding science.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Try as they might to undermine science, those who reject evolution and downplay the impact of man-made climate change will have to work overtime to deny newly revealed evidence of both.

Time and again, creationist’s contend that the fossil record lacks the transitional forms of life to support the theory of evolution. Unfortunately, time isn’t on their side since each passing day seems to reveal another piece of the evolutionary puzzle. With the discovery of a creature that seems to be a combination of a frog and a salamander (frogmander), creationists will have another formidable hurdle to overcome.

From Yahoo News:

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The discovery of a “frogamander,” a 290 million-year-old fossil that links modern frogs and salamanders, may resolve a longstanding debate about amphibian ancestry, Canadian scientists said on Wednesday.

Modern amphibians – frogs, salamanders and earthworm-like caecilians – have been a bit slippery about divulging their evolutionary ancestry. Gaps in the fossil record showing the transformation of one form into another have led to a lot of scientific debate.

The fossil Gerobatrachus hottoni or elderly frog, described in the journal Nature, may help set the record straight.

“It’s a missing link that falls right between where the fossil record of the extinct form and the fossil record for the modern form begins,” said Jason Anderson of the University of Calgary, who led the study.

The fossil suggests that modern amphibians may have come from two groups, with frogs and salamanders related to an ancient amphibian known as a temnospondyl, and worm-like caecilians more closely related to the lepospondyls, another group of ancient amphibians.

Many of these same individuals have also taken to denying the existence of man-made climate change…arguing that God is in charge and has a plan for his creation and that means we needn’t spend time and money fretting about carbon emissions or minor shifts in temperature that scientists consider significant. With the finding that western oceans have a rapidly expanding acidity as a result of greenhouse gas pollution, these deniers may want to consider the possibility that God, in granting us free will, expects us to use our brains to preserve the planet on which we live.

From Wired:

Greenhouse gas pollution has acidified the coastal waters of western North America more rapidly than scientists expected, says a study published today in Science.

In a survey of waters stretching from central Canada to northern Mexico, researchers led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Richard Feely found cold, unexpectedly low-pH water “upwelling onto large portions of the continental shelf.” In some locations, the degree of acidification observed had not been expected to occur until 2050.

Ocean acidification is a side effect of excessive atmospheric carbon dioxide, lesser-known but no less troubling than climate change.

In September of 2005, Feely was among the authors of a Nature article predicting that acidication would claim Antarctic Ocean waters by 2050, spreading into the subarctic Pacific by 2100. “Our findings indicate that conditions detrimental to high-latitude ecosystems could develop within decades, not centuries as suggested previously,” they wrote.

“Water already in transit to upwelling centers is carrying increasing anthropogenic CO2 and more corrosive conditions to the coastal oceans of the future,” write the authors. Ocean acidification “could affect some of the most fundamental biological and geochemical processes of the sea in the coming decades.” If anything, the clinical language of science only makes their words more disturbing.

No doubt these two findings are part and parcel of the march towards science fully eclipsing the validity of Bible based beliefs that often form the basis of religious doctrine. Regardless, each discovery appears to generate a new rationalization intended to preserve the literal interpretations that have proven so effective in granting and maintaining the authority of religious leaders and the institutions they promote.

I suspect these two items will simply give fuel to those religious leaders who suggest that we are entering the period that will culminate in the Rapture…the final piece of an end of days prophecy that is also derived from the Bible. Nothing like bending each and every fact to fit a faith based fallacy.

Unfortunately, I’m not yet convinced that the manipulated masses will be willing to follow these zealots into their vision of the fatalistic abyss…even if they promise to deliver the lot of them into the perpetual happiness they guarantee is just beyond the horizon. In the end, I expect most mortals will choose the surety of science over the abstract assertion of an after life.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 |

Annual NALC Food Drive – 5/10/08

Donations to food banks and pantries are way down at a time when demand for services is skyrocketing. On Saturday, May 10th, the National Association of Letter Carriers is conducting their 16th annual food drive. Please mark the date on your calendar – because every can of non-perishable food helps, and you never know when you might need the good karma for yourself…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Have you ever gone to bed hungry at night (other than by choice during your latest bikini / speedo season diet)? Or been in a position where you didn’t know how you were going to put the next meal on the table for your family? It sucks the very life force right out of a person, when every waking hour is reduced to “hunting and gathering”.

I managed the logistics at a large inner city food bank for a couple of years, so I saw the true human impact etched in the faces of the clients every single day. There are many of us who are one missed paycheck or an unexpected illness away from needing assistance.

One thing I can tell you from experience, it doesn’t matter what socioeconomic space you occupy – I can almost assure you that you know someone who is using (or has used) a food bank or food pantry to make ends meet. It’s just one of those things that most people don’t run and tell mom, dad, or the friends about.

2008 has brought a myriad of challenges to charitable organizations that distribute food. At a time when the national economy is tanking, donations are way down and demand for the services of food banks and pantries are way up. A recent article in the Charleston (SC) Courier – Post describes what is by no means a unique situation:

East Cooper Community Outreach, which operates a food pantry, reports dramatic increases in people coming in for help – 73 percent – during the first three months of 2008, compared with the same period last year…

In January, rice cost the Food Bank 23 cents a pound. Three months later, the price was 40 cents a pound, a 74 percent increase. Now the food bank is seeking cheaper alternatives, such as potatoes, she says.

The Food Bank serves 154,000 people in 10 coastal counties in South Carolina. In 2007 it distributed 9.3 million pounds of food. The organization estimates another 100,000 people need but don’t use its services. About 40 percent of Food Bank clients have at least one working adult in their household, Kosar says.

And now middle-class families are part of the mix, she says. Forced to choose between necessities such as medicine, food, gas and childcare, they are increasing the demand for free or subsidized food.

“It’s tragic, it really is,” Kosar says. “That’s not a decision that we should have to make.” …

It is indeed tragic.

On Saturday, May 10th, you can help. You don’t even have to leave your house, sign an online petition, call your Senator, write a check, or any of the other actions that we at ASZ normally ask of our readers.

Just put a few cans of food by your mailbox.

The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) is sponsoring their 16th annual nationwide food drive. You put the food out, your postal carrier will take it away, and it ends up – most importantly – back in your own community at a local foodbank, pantry, or shelter. Want to save the mailman’s back? Take a sack of food down to your local post office.

You’ll help fill someone’s belly, and maybe even feed your own soul a little bit.

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Tony Perkins Links Global Warming, Abortion, & Gay Marriage

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council wants to enlightens us on climate change. Little did we know that those who seek to address global warming are secretly promoting abortions and same-sex marriage. There is good news. Perkins believes ignoring global warming will hasten our chances to meet our maker.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

I’ve long believed that religious fanatics have the willingness and the capacity to justify any behavior or action they feel will further their agenda and solidify their authority over their minions. The evidence supporting my belief just grew exponentially.

In the following video, ABC News explores how global warming is viewed by a number of religious leaders and their denominations. The report stems from the declaration signed by current and former leaders of the Southern Baptist Church in which they assert that they have been too timid on addressing global warming. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council disagrees with this position. Instead, Perkins argues that those who favor a reduction in global warming are actually seeking to promote abortion and same-sex marriage. Perkins contends that limiting population is an element of climate control and is therefore contrary to the promotion of life and procreation. Rather than focus on Perkins’ absurd conflation, I think it makes more sense to explore the motivations that in all likelihood underly it.

After assailing abortion and the gays, Perkins pivots to make the argument that people would be better served to put their energy into preparing themselves spiritually for the end of the world (the rapture or the end of days) instead of championing climate control. I guess Perkins sees humanity like an ant colony in a jar – if our willful actions lead us to outgrow and destroy our planet, the masses should simply soldier on like tireless worker ants.

I find his logic problematic (OK, what logic?) because it suggests that God gave us a brain and the ability to build all that exists in this world…but not the good sense to be prudent stewards in order to preserve and protect it. So I’m left to wonder how we’re supposed to know when it’s time to stop using our brains and drive the humanity bus willy-nilly off the cliff?

However, if God decides when to end the world, why would we suddenly determine that we knew it was coming and therefore elect to throw caution to the wind? Isn’t that rather presumptive and arrogant on our part? What if we’re wrong? Isn’t it possible that God would see our carelessness as a sin? Further, what right do we have to destroy his creation…on our own timeline?

People like Perkins like to hear themselves pontificate but they rarely take the time to think through the significance of their proclamations. Is God going to reward those leaders and industries that ignored global warming in the pursuit of profit since their efforts will have helped facilitate the end of days? Will Al Gore and those who sought to save the planet be banished to hell because they opposed unbridled profits at the expense of extinguishing the planet?

If so, wouldn’t that mean that those who chose to give, like the woman in the parable of the widow’s mite, were being punished…while those who chose to take, like the tax collectors seeking to amass more wealth, were being rewarded? How could that be God’s plan?

The answer may be found in what has come to be known as the prosperity doctrine, prosperity theology or the prosperity gospel. Essentially, those who promote this version of faith (and there are many well known ministers) argue that God wants his believers to be successful in all they do…including the accumulation of wealth.

I don’t know if Tony Perkins is a disciple of this thinking or not; but the contradictions found in his position on global warming better align him with prosperity theology than with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Taking it a step further, I doubt Perkins plans to suffer in the days that precede the end of the world; otherwise he would have already diminished his focus on the material world in order to allow time to prepare his own soul for the impending rapture.

You see, I contend that men like Perkins have no intention of suffering…though they make their living asking others to do just that…especially if it means pledging to donate a greater share of their income. Men like Perkins worship money and the spoils of capitalism above all else. They view climate control as an impediment to the pursuit of wealth…though they couch their opposition to it as the promotion of life.

Yes, all too often, the lives of Perkins and his ilk are steeped with worldly treasures. My cynicism tells me they are the equivalent of modern day snake oil salesmen. They travel from this conference to that speaking engagement…preaching their version of values…while separating as much coin from the congregation as is humanly possible.

I question the sincerity of leaders who lecture their flocks ad nauseam on the importance of sacrificing for the afterlife in order to receive its many rewards…particularly when they insist upon rewarding themselves handsomely in the here and now…as if there were no tomorrow.

Perhaps I just don’t know my commandments…especially the one that states – Thou shalt use the name of the Lord thy God when one taketh without guilt.

The following video clip includes the original ABC report along with several insertions of commentary in the form of text added by the individual that uploaded it to YouTube. It is somewhat distracting but it doesn’t prevent the viewer from following the original ABC News report. Perhaps as payment for enduring the editorializing, they include a snippet from the TV show Family Guy at the end of the clip. I thought it was funny so hopefully it will make you chuckle.

ABC News Video – Global Warming & Evangelicals

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Friday, March 21st, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |