News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Friday, February 7, 2014

The key to poltical power for the GOP is to starve out the poor children to enhance the lives of the one percent

Many years ago, I was a newspaper farm editor. The matter of farm subsidies was a perennial problem that dominated the news coverage.  During World War II,  United States farmers were encouraged to ramp up production as their contribution to the war effort.  They did so.  The U.S. produced enough food to keep our troops well fed and to help our alliesWhen the war ended, farmers were still producing but the market for what they produced had shrunk as allies became more self-sufficient in producing food for their people.  The crop surpluses piling up in America revived depression-era fears that farmers once again would plow their production under and leave the farms looking for other work.  

The stability of an economy returning to peace-time production and the security of the nation quickly sliding into a cold war required that the farm economy be kept efficient and stable.  So, the government began programs of price supports and farm subsidies through which it bought agricultural surpluses.  Then the problem for the government was what to do with the growing surpluses it held in storage.    A partial answer was to distribute the surpluses to the poor, the hungry, the needy.  Semi-trailer loads of the surpluses,  initially consisting of flour, corn meal, butter, cheese, dried beans, and dry milk, would be hauled to distribution points where people who qualified could come and pick it up.  As farm editor, I was provided notice of such distributions so that the newspaper could publish the times and places well in advance.  And the government agents liked coverage of these events to convince the taxpayers that the products the government was buying with their money were being put to good use to keep the farm economy humming and nutrition flowing to those who needed it.

Who qualified for the commodity programs was largely a matter of self-selection.  Anybody who showed up and said they could use the help qualified.  Of course, there were those few who obtained commodities who were not in need, but that wasn't a big concern, because the people in charge of the distribution often had rather immense quantities of left-overs.  One of the workers talked me into loading up the back of my station wagon with leftovers to be distributed by my church.  That led to a program in our community through which a number of denominational social service agencies cooperated in a distribution.  Many people in need were too shamed and embarrassed to come to the distribution points and beg for handouts, but the social workers knew who was in need and where the food would provide much-needed nutrition.  There was paper work to be done to attest to auditors that the surplus was being appropriately distributed.  The main objective, however, was to give farmers a guaranteed income through price supports, soil banks, and conservation programs that attempted to balance production and demand. 

Over the years, the surplus food distribution program evolved into food stamps which made it possible for clients of the program to have more variety and nutritional balance in what they obtained.   Two things have led to a curtailment of the food stamp program.  One is ethanol.  With more cropland being diverted to the production of corn for ethanol from the growing of food for human consumption,  the problem of what to do with commodity surpluses is not much of a consideration.  The rise in food prices is evidence of that.  The second factor is the declaration of war on the poor.  The conservatives in America have adopted an attitude that militates against anyone who is having trouble with meeting basic expenses.  They ignore the working poor, which is a growing segment of the American population. They do this by fabricating falsehods and practicing systematic defamation of those who are in dire financial straits.  In their own frenzy of greed and hatred, they are incapable of understanding the impossible circumstances in which many must try to live.  And they refuse to acknowledge the fact that huge corporations with an insatiable lust for money and power are the biggest factor in pushing Americans into poverty,

Recently, the right wing has rediscovered the account of Plymouth Colony by its governor, William Bradford, in 1623 when the colonists had experienced short rations and needed to increase food production.   All agricultural production was put into common storage and distributed by the leaders to members of the colony.  The young and able-bodied resented that they were toiling hard while some people could not make an equal contribution to the labor and  that the benefits of their labor did not accrue to them.  Bradford writes:

For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. 

The officers of the colony solved the problem and increased food production by allotting each family a parcel of land for which it was responsible and could receive the benefits.  The incentive  increased production.  Conservatives cite this when they want to decry any government intervention into their lives, which they label as communism or socialism, and use it as a justification for their defamation of the poor and any programs designed to help them.  They conveniently ignore Bradford's concern that the assertion of self-interest conflicted with the religious principles with which the colony was ruled:  "...if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them."  

Conservatives also ignore the fact that a significant portion of American agriculture is run on a communal principle.  The Amish, the Mennonites, and the Hutterites employ an economic system in which their members work for the benefit of all and, thus, maintain the values and theology of their churches as the most vital factor in their lives.   Putting the welfare of all their members ahead of individual gain has made it possible for them to preserve those "mutual respects" which are essential to lives devoted to the practice of Christian principles.

The farm bill that will be signed into law today is an expression of  the abandonment of those mutual respects specified in the nation's founding documents to the neo-feudal establishment of a class and discrimination system.  The new bill eliminates direct payments to farmers but increases the crop insurance subsidies, which insures that farmers will have, on paper at least, some commodities to sell.  Ethanol and the conversion of immense amounts of farmland to corn for its manufacture put the prices of crops at levels that do not, for the time, need bolstering.  Something about which there has been little discussion surrounding the farm bill is what happens if the trend toward mono-cropping corn and soybeans creates shortages of other food products, and what happens if and when wind and solar power reduces the need for other renewable fuels and farmers find themselves once again with surpluses of crops for which there is no market?  The new farm bill benefits corporate and corporate-allied producers, but pays little attention to human food as a reliable and affordable commodity.

The most defining aspect of the farm bill is the reduction in food stamps.  While the surpluses are not a consideration in the bill, neither is the fact that a growing number of Americans cannot find jobs and the jobs they do find do not provide incomes sufficient to  cover the costs of food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and healthcare.  The GOP obsession with cutting food stamps shows the regressive movement back to a society with masters, in this case corporations, and serfs.  And the welfare of the serfs is of no concern.  They can be dismissed by defaming them as indolent and self-indulgent--despite the factual evidence that the charge is seldom true.  

The GOP embraces a society run as corporation, which requires that labor be cheap and submissive to any fate that corporations choose for it.  And the reduction of food stamps is indicative of the contempt and disregard the GOP has for working people, and especially their children.  When anyone goes hungry and ill-fed, it is a signal that there is no mutual respect and that the GOP has, as Bradford said, "cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men."

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