Politics Blogs - Blog Top Sites Blog Flux Directory Green Assassin Brigade: April 2008

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hoarding, starvation and disincentive to farm

Over that last few weeks the reality of a world food shortage has hit the main stream media as stories show that Wal-Mart’s club store Sam’s and competitor Costco both limiting the sale of rice. There were also articles about price increases in the our part of the world as well as stories about real hunger and desperation as prices and hoarding put basic staples out of reach for millions. The hundreds of millions of people who make less than $2 a day have gone from subsistence to starving in less than a year as prices on many staples such as rice, wheat, cooking oil have risen steadily.

The knee jerk reaction of many exporting countries has been to limit or tax exports in order to keep domestic supplies high and prices low. These measures have been enacted to curb unrest as regimes fear that poverty and riots have the potential to topple their governments. While these moves may curb domestic problems for the time being, in the end they will only make the world wide problem that much worse by further lowering world grain supplies.

Year 1

Country A has a grain surplus but since external demand is driving up domestic prices government A bans exports and creates an artificial glut at home which lowers prices this growing season, Yeah!!! there is rejoicing in the streets of country A.
There are currently at least 40 nations that can be called country A

Country B which was reliant on imports for a significant portion of its food is now cut off, and even if they can afford the new inflated prices they cannot find enough grain on the global market and end up suffering growing rates of malnutrition and a slow die off of population.
I don’t even know how many country B s there are in the world but certainly as many as there are country A

Year 2

Country A’s farmers are kind of pissed off. Last year despite a bull market in grains they were restricted from exporting their surplus and making a good profit. The resulting domestic glut allowed prices to drop while the inputs of farming, seed, fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides have all increased in price, lowering agricultural margins and even creating loses for some farmers. Seeing he cannot survive low prices and high inputs farmer A must change his business model to stay in business; so what can he do?

Change crops to something not banned in export (probably a non grain crop)?

Maybe for some farmers but few can make the leap, Specialized knowledge, expensive specialized equipment and a lack of capital makes any major change in crop unlikely. Grains are relatively cheap and calorie rich food stuffs that store and travel well, replacement crops would not have these advantages and would not be in the price range of starving populations. If these new crops are grown they will be high priced luxury goods for us Western lard asses, the poor will still starve and country A will still lower domestic grain production.

Make something value added with his crop to increase profits and get past the export ban?
Probably not, Once again capital issues, missing skills and difficulty of exporting a higher priced product to the world’s poor limits this to just a portion of the farmer A’s. Farmer A will still not be terribly profitable and this move will not solve Country B’s problem.

Divert more grain to meat production?
Possible, by weight it takes 7x as much grain is to produce meat, while there may be a market for more meat locally or for export, in the end a switch to meat means only 1/7th as many people can be fed, this may be a boon for decadent western carnivores but will not help the worlds poor.

Grow less or go out of business allowing the domestic market to stabilize at a profitable supply/demand ratio?
This is the most likely scenario as it costs the farmer no capital to grow less and as local surpluses decrease he makes more per acre. This more likely plan will decrease world food supply even further and put Country A one drought, flood or blight closer to joining the B countries.

Country B has long since lost its farming base because of globalization, WTO rules against protectionism, cheap subsidized grains from low cost industrialized farming nations, reliance on expensive foreign seeds because domestic seed companies have been driven out of business by Monsanto and other seed giants, seed saving is made illegal due to patents and farmers can’t afford new seed every year. Many country Bs no longer have enough arable land, skilled farmers, time or capital to quickly boost farming capacity to meet this sudden demand. Global warming will increase the need for irrigation but the infrastructure is not in place, also fuel and fertilizers may put expansion or production improvements well out of their means.

Malnutrition and starvation will spread as desperate people sell their means to feed themselves in the future (tools, land, and livestock) in order to feed themselves today. Civil unrest, fallen governments, and victimization of the vulnerable will spread the pain far past simple hunger. Mass migrations and death marches occur as people cross borders looking for safety only to find armed guards, paramilitaries and under funded disease ridden charity camps. Hungry Countries with a powerful military may turn on neighbours in wars for food and water, or simple extermination.

Food rich countries like the U.S could well use food as a foreign policy tool or weapon to get political or resource concessions from hungry nations.

Year 3,4,5……

The Cycle continues until food aid saves country B or a massive die off brings populations and food supply back into sync, in may areas the locust like behaviour of staving people will destroy grasslands, trees, and wildlife seriously lowering the earths carrying capacity.


While real shortages are probably inevitable in the long term, the rise of national hoarding which is contrary to Globalization ensures they happen this year and will make the crisis that much more deadly.

40 countries now tax or ban grain exports representing a great deal food and many millions of lives. It is quite likely more countries will join this trend as external demand further fans food inflation at home.

Any policies that are a disincentive to grow food are inexcusable and these export bans and taxes certainly qualify. Without an open world market the incentive for the world to increase food production to meet demand is thwarted and prices will not fall.

Any policy that continues to encourage or subsidize the conversion of food to fuel should be considered a crime against humanity.Recommend this Post

Friday, April 25, 2008

Speculators vs the Starving

While checking a suggested site by a commenter, (yes, I had one) I went to Little Blog in the Big Woods, by Greenpa who is about ready to get mobs, torches and pitchforks ready for a revolt over the issue of speculation in food, the resulting prices increases that are starving the worlds poor and promoting national hoarding.

While Greenpa's Grass roots protest is aimed at convincing the U.S. congress to ban speculation on food, I thought it would be of interest to us as well.

An interesting piece of background is this Spiegel article on The Role of Speculators in the Global Food Crisis.

Important issues are at stake,

Should profiteering be allowed to starve millions?

Is the current futures markets where people trade in paper representing more resources than exist manipulative or broken?

Should people who have no expectation of taking delivery of a commodity be bidding on it?

Now I understand these markets to a point and do believe in fair free market behaviour but I do find it hard to stomach the speculation on food while millions suffer.

I also wonder if the U.S. through it's financial lap dogs who are reliant of the largess of the Federal reserve these days to stay alive, are not purposely using food as a weapon. After all the U.S. is a net grain exporter who can for political or resource "considerations" make sure compliant countries get fed.

But then again I'm just cynical.Recommend this Post

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Even the rich can Starve

We often make the assumption that being a wealthy country allows us to consume as we wish but as this this article in The Age shows us you can't consume that which is not brought to market, as Japan is finding out with both a butter shortage and cash shortfalls for wheat imports.

Japan's acute butter shortage, which has confounded bakeries, restaurants and now families across the country, is the latest unforeseen result of the global agricultural commodities crisis.

A sharp increase in the cost of imported cattle feed and a decline in milk imports, both of which are typically provided in large part by Australia, have prevented dairy farmers from keeping pace with demand.

Last week, as the prices of wheat and barley continued their relentless climb, the Japanese Government discovered it had exhausted its ¥230 billion ($A2.37 billion) budget for the grains with two months remaining. It was forced to call on an emergency ¥55 billion reserve to ensure it could continue feeding the nation.

"This was the first time the Government has had to take such drastic action since the war," said Akio Shibata, an expert on food imports, who warned the Agriculture Ministry two years ago that Japan would have to cut back drastically on its sophisticated diet if it did not become more self-sufficient.

80% of Japanese polled fear for their food supply which considering they only rate a 39% for self sufficiency, it's a understandable fear.

While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the third world, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term — perhaps permanent — reduction in the quality and quantity of its food.

For the last couple of weeks the story was all about how curbs on rice exports that would hurt poor dependant countries but now with Russia, Ukraine, Argentina and Kazakhstan reducing wheat exports even a rich economic powerhouse like Japan need fear for it's food future.

You have to wonder how long it will take the U.S. government to realize food is a weapon? "Gee, it sure would be a shame if we sold this wheat to some country that was supporting the dollar, propping up our banks, or taking part in the war on terror. "Recommend this Post

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

RCMP RAID Tory Headquarters, yippee!

I bet this news (and here too) has Dion wishing he'd shown some balls recently and brought the Government down.

"RCMP are conducting a raid on Conservative party headquarters in Ottawa on Tuesday in connection with an investigation into spending on election advertising.

The Mounties, who have a search warrant, say they are assisting Elections Canada.

Conservative party spokesman Ryan Sparrow had no comment as he entered headquarters.

The issue involves party spending during the campaign for the 2006 parliamentary election.

The party gave $1.2 million to local candidates who hadn't reached their spending limits. That money was then returned to the party, which spent it on regional television and radio ads.

Elections Canada alleges that money drove the party over the $18.3-million spending limit for federal elections."

It's amazing how up to speed the Conservatives got in such a short period of time, it took the liberals a decade to become this overtly corrupt. The Conservative's on the other hand had both the Cadman affair and the In and Out scandal pre election win, Bloody overachievers!!!

Just imagine all the things they've done we don't know about yet? Shudder!!

You know I don't usually bother but I think I might just head over and gloat at some Conservative blogs on this one occassion:)Recommend this Post

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Survivalist Sundays: Bread blogging

All this talk about peak oil, peak food, articles like the one in the New Scientist this month talking about the fragility of modern civilization, the impact Kunstler's Long Emergency had on me, has had me looking to lean some new/old skills that are often lost on us modern people.

In the last few years I've been toyed with homemade candles but unless you have a apiary on your land or a field of bayberry what are you going use for wax, paraffin will be impossible to get, pricey and honestly not that good for you to be breathing anyway. I guess I can melt down tallow if I can find it.

I've been learning about and practicing high density gardening for years, and I've bought a 5lb tub of freezable open pollinated seeds giving me enough seeds to plant 2/3 of an acre if somehow I can access 2/3 of an acre. The seed bucket has around 28 different varieties of seeds chosen for our climate and can be frozen for storage and still remain viable for 7+ years. I think this the best under $100 insurance policy available. If you garden anyway you can store it for 5 years, start using it and replace it with another insurance policy.

Most recently I've taken to spending my Saturdays or more often Sundays in the kitchen making bread and so far I've made a few dozen loafs alternately trying successful recipes I've used before or trying something entirely new as I did today with a batch of whole wheat sour dough.

Now what good this skill we do for me when flour is scarce is certainly in question but I am on the hunt to find a source of wholesale hard wheat flour or even better actually buying a couple hundred pounds of hard wheat which if stored dry and unground has quite a long shelf life. Of course this means I've been scouring ebay and farm auctions etc looking for a deal on a grain mill but so far no luck. New mills can cost $200-$500 and of course you need to find one with a crank because you may not be able to rely on having power, but enough of that

here are a few web cam shots of today's bounty.

Sour dough sponge after sitting 12 hours, lots of froth and volume shows my sour dough starter is still healthy

Mixed/kneaded and resting, plays hell with my carpal tunnel but I will not resort to a mixer

Slightly misshapen loafs placed in pans for raising, I really like the single raising breads, the ones that take 3 raisings can eat up an entire day

Fully risen after two hours in a prewarmed oven, I turned the oven off but left the light on to keep it warmer than room temp

The better looking of the two finished loafs. Nice hard crust, sounds good and hollow when thumped.

Will this make a difference to our survivability in a crisis? I don't know, At the very least we end up with a variety of good non factory bread each week that I know has no preservatives, no unneeded sugars and no molasses to camouflage white flour hidden in "brown bread".
It does take some effort but the kids love the fresh bread, it seems to be cheaper than buying artisan bread from a bakery and paranoia aside it's an enjoyable activity. Should I get through this year without going on strike I'll be buying this little baby to make my bread making energy free.

Other recent projects

Recommend this Post

Friday, April 11, 2008

Jim Flaherty : economic fluffer

Ok, considering the litigious nature of today's Internet I had to let the pre pizza Black Russia wear off before I posted this, the original text was much more colourful!

On to business, this conservative denial thing is getting a little tired,

"We don't know about any torture"

Global warming is "a great socialist plot."

"Cadman, who's Cadman?"

"Bribe, what bribe?"

But today's article in the Star is a real winner, the same day the IMF states the U.S. must act or the recession will go world wide, Flaherty says when questioned on a Global recession,

"I haven't heard anyone suggest that,"

Was he even listening?

I can't believe that the finance ministers of all the major economies could get together today in an era with massive bank losses, bank failures, hedge fund bankruptcies all over the world, as well as housing bubbles popping in the U.S., Britain, and Spain and no one suggested a world wide recession. Are they all as incompetent as he appears to be or is he simply Fluffing the economy in a futile attempt to KEEP IT UP!

Oh yeah, I forgot all the fat ass finance minsters were probably sitting around laughing about how the U.S. government is in full bail mode for the rich investment bankers while the Joe six pack losses his house or maybe he was too busy watching Augusta on his lap top, I don't know. What I do know is that with today's economic mess for there to be a meeting of world finance ministers and NOT discuss the chance of world recession is so highly improbable to make today's claim a farce at best and at worse outright deception.

From his past Ontario deficits, his lies on income trusts, his recent attacks on his home province and his apparent inability to grasp the significant world economic problems that he promises won't cause a Canadian fiscal shortfall Jim Flaherty has clearly proven himself incapable of balancing a Scout troops books let alone a nation, oh but then as a conservative he does not want to manage a nation, rather a U.S. state.Recommend this Post

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hyperinflation made easy

ARggggg, I hate when I post to the wrong blog, oh well it took me a day to notice I'll leave it up

The Federal Reserve, having used up most of it's own reserves comprised of Treasuries in making recent loans to the banking industry is looking for new creative ways of loaning or injecting more money than it has, as explained in this Wall street Journal article

As the articles explains the FED could just create money but since that would drive down short term interest rates to the mat, something they are not quite desperate enough yet to try.

The other options include having the treasury create excess treasuries and depositing them at the fed creating extra reserves they can use to plug the dikes, changing laws to encourage larger deposits to the Fed by banks, allowing the FED to directly hold Mortgage Backed Securities, or letting the FED directly issue it's own debt.

Should the Fed ever get the power to create it's own debt without the assistance of the Treasury the U.S. government will for all intensive purposes be neutered and powerless to control their own destiny. Control of the currency is the ultimate power and obligation of any state, but the U.S. Gov through the creation of the FED, recent calls for more FED powers and possibility that they will soon be able to create their own debt are working towards the total corproatization the Nation and a loss of sovereignty to a consortium of bankers.

Each one of these options is variation of the "Print ourselves out of trouble" model which will further fan inflation. If you are having second thoughts about metal investing this alone should show you the desperate state the U.S. economy and the dollar find itself.
With M3 already in the mid teens we should be looking 25% by election time if the FED gets it way. So what is the established number for hyperinflation I've seen a couple of definitions?Recommend this Post

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Peak oil , war and chaos, what's our plan?

I've been following the work of Matt Simmons for a couple of years as one of the most realistic and data supported Peak Oil prophets I've read, it's good to see him getting his message out into the mainstream press as he does today in the G&M

Today's message while vintage Simmons is a little more blunt than what usually works through to the MSM.

Oil shortages "could lead to social chaos and war," he warned. "The issue is the most serious risk to sustaining the 21st century. Peak oil is real, and we have to take it seriously." He argued that production of conventional crude peaked in May, 2005, at 74 million barrels a day.

Since then, the world has met rising consumption - now at about 88-million barrels a day - by cutting inventories, tapping natural gas liquids that typically are included in crude production figures and using better refinery efficiencies.

When the media occasionally flirts with Peak oil they always talk about high prices and grumpy consumers but rarely broach the topic of the real long term shortages and how to deal with them.

When these shortages come, is the government prepared with rationing plans or the means to make sure that fuel is prioritized to basic services?

So what will be the short term response when those first temporary shortages don't go away?

Ration cards allotting so many gallons per weak?
Banning massive displacement vehicles?
Let price dictate who gets fuel?
Banning anything drive through?
Industrial holidays?
Running our dead through a Thermal Depolymerization plants
"Sunoco Green, is People!!!!!!)
Will our concerns be a moot point as the U.S. 7Th Calvary simply seizes Alberta?

If Government will not force a reduction in our oil dependence now they should at least be planning how we will deal with the chaos shortages cause. Is any of this why we've agreed to let Canadian and U.S. troops be deployed on the wrong sides of the border?

I would recommend that anyone interested in Peak Oil should have a look at some of Matt Simmons presentationsRecommend this Post

Thursday, April 3, 2008

First British Human-animal hybrid created.

As reported this week the British are announced the creation of their first hybrid embryos for medical testing and stem cell creation which seems to be raising some concern from religious leaders in Britain. In this process cow eggs are fertilized using DNA from THE skin cells of humans and then harvested for stem cells after 6 days.

Medical officials claim there would be no attempts to implant the fertilized eggs which Cardinal Keith O'Brien called experiments of "Frankenstein proportion"

Personally I don't believe their claims that no attempts to implant hybrid embryos will take place considering the number of Human-animal hybrids already shambling around today.(which of course were made the old fashion way;)

Camilla in the UK

ManBearPig in the U.S.

And his Canadian cousin

Be fearful they walk among us!Recommend this Post

Climate change sceptics slapped down in new study

British scientist have completed a new study in an attempt to validate or refute claims the suns natural cycle is causing global warming not mankind's carbon releases, which was the major claim in the documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle.

The Results

Over the course of one of the Sun's natural 11-year cycles, there was a weak correlation between cosmic ray intensity and cloud cover - but cosmic ray variability could at the very most explain only a quarter of the changes in cloudiness.

And for the following cycle, no correlation was found.

The study also gives scientist an upper limit of how much the solar cycle is effecting climate change which should improve overall climate modeling. Furthermore, debunking one of the main claims of climate change sceptics supports our need to continue efforts to reduce carbon emmisions

Of course this study will be denounced as flawed by those who refuse to accept mans responsibility in global warming, it will also probably spawn new conspiracies and brand new theories why all the evil "Greenies" are wrong.

Maybe I could convince them to blame it on cats, Rap music, show tunes and brussel sprouts, all things I could live without.Recommend this Post