Fukushima nuclear disaster , effects of radiation and maps of radiation readings

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This chart provides an excellent explanation of the dangers of radiation exposure. There are also several links to radiation level maps in Japan and related videos.

Radiation Effects Fukushima Japan

Radiations Monographie Effets sante valeurs millisieverts mSv Japon

The Wall Street Journal was providing an excellent interactive map of radiation levels in Japan up until April 2011 and then stopped reporting further details. Wonder why?

A map of citizen measured radiation levels shows radioactivity is distributed in a complex pattern reflecting the mountainous terrain and the shifting winds across a broad area of Japan north of Tokyo which is in the center of the of bottom of the map. Radiation limits begin to be exceeded at just above 0.1 microsieverts/ hour blue. Red is about fifty times the civilian radiation limit at 5.0 microsieverts/hour. Because children are much more sensitive than adults, these results are a great concern for parents of young children in potentially affected areas.

Radiation readings in Japan Map

Radiation readings in Japan Map

Radiation Level Map of North America

Radiation Map of North America

Real time World Map of Jet Stream

Jet Stream Map

List of Radiation And Jet Stream Forecast Monitoring Sites around the World courtesy of Rense.com

Fukushima radiation nuclear fallout map

Fukushima Japan radiation testing

The United States of Usury and the Takedown of the World Financial System – Oops!

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The United States of Usury and the Takedown of the World Financial System. Reminds a line from the Britney Spears song – Oops I did it again!

How many more insults will the world serfs take? The United States of Usury is being used and manipulated to bring down the entire world financial system. You have to wonder if Bernake and Obama are actually trying to “fix” things or if they are actually there to put the “fix in”. These agents of destruction need to be recognized and outed for what they really are. The United States of Usury is a fake economy, built on a fiat currency, run on the a financial model called fraud by the Federal Reserve. God help us all for the coming storm and serfdom…

Protect yourself – buy physical gold and silver, pray, eat healthy foods, exercise, read, become self-sufficient, stop buying garbage at the malls, and prepare.

  • More lucid commentary by Max Kesier
  • Max Keiser on Alex Jones
  • John Perkins and the Confessions of an Economic Hitman
  • Aquaponics
  • Window Farms

Death from Epidemics – Islamic view

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The Prophet (sallalahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) declared, as only a true Prophet (sallalahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) could declare, that “death from epidemic is martyrdom for every Muslim” (Sahīh Bukhāri). A Muslim is here defined as anyone who has declared belief in the One God, i.e., the God of our father Abraham (‘alaihi al-Salām). That One God created both the male and the female, but is neither male nor female. Anyone who worships a man (or woman) or a God who appeared as a man (or woman), would be guilty of blasphemy and, unless he or she now repents, would pay a terrible price on Judgment Day for such blasphemy.

It was in consequence of that assurance of martyrdom for those who have faith in Allah Most High, that the Prophet (sallalahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) could give an order that would today evoke the envy of governments: “If you hear of an epidemic outbreak in a land, do not enter it; but if it breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place”(Sahīh Bukhāri). It should be clear that obedience of the Prophet’s (sallalahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) command would effectively quarantine the epidemic and eventually contain it and prevent its spread to other places.

Read the entire article by Imran Hosein

The $475,000 dog house

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The $475,000 dog house is but one sign of what went wrong with our own late, great Guilded Age of architecture

The recent era of egregious consumer and corporate excess, now crashing down around our ears, is leaving behind many architectural reminders of itself. But for sheer egregiousness, few will ever beat a new residence being built near the English town of Cirencester.

It’s a $475,000 dog house.

Designed by British architect Andy Ramos, this residence will shelter a pair of Great Danes belonging to a surgeon, whose own luxurious house is to be constructed nearby.

The kennel details, as reported by the London-based Mail on Sunday newspaper, are fascinating.

The three-room dog house (two bedrooms and a lounge) will be outfitted with temperature-controlled sheepskin beds, a spa, an expensive hi-fi system, and a 52-inch plasma television set.

A retina scan at the entrance will enable the owner to keep out dogs who might try to pay unauthorized visits to the Great Danes. Closed-circuit TV cameras will provide the owner with round-the-clock surveillance of the dogs’ comings and goings between their house and their adventure playground.

A spokesman for the exclusive real estate development where the dog house will stand told The Mail: “People can design their own homes and this is a bit eccentric but it’s really nice that someone appreciates their pets as much as this lady does. She’s designed their quarters with all their needs at the fore.”

It would be easy, of course, to laugh off Mr. Ramos’s dog house as another folly of the extravagant age we live (or lived) in, then forget about the matter. If, that is, the pooch palace were merely an isolated architectural instance of some rich person’s silliness. It’s not.

Since the outset of the financial boom late in the last century, the landscapes of city and country (and the pages of the architecture magazines) have been littered with over-the-top residential extravaganzas that, despite their usually huge, overscaled size, are very often puny in artistic inspiration and ambition. The dog house is one example. There are many others.

But look-at-me, ostentatious bloat is only one part of the problem. There’s the issue of our period style, which has largely been a kind of imitative bombast.

Instead of encouraging innovative solutions to the old problem of housing, nouveau-riche clients in Britain and North America put architects to work designing lifeless, inflated pastiches of country homes in Georgian, French provincial or some other supposedly “aristocratic” manner. Everything got recycled into the new rural products — ponderous columns, architraves and pediments and entablature and the other bric-a-brac of classicism — but the results rarely sang with the elegance and flair of the originals.

Hitting the cities, the impact of this parody of ye-olde styles has been especially unfortunate. Take a drive through Toronto’s Forest Hill or York Mills or any other well-off neighbourhood in the city to see what I’m talking about. Hulking monster homes mar the streetscapes of modest Edwardian buildings (in Forest Hill) or spacious, mid-20th-century bungalows (in York Mills).

Massive, pretentious facades cobbled from remnants in the Tudor or Elizabethan or Georgian scrapyard glower out at pleasant streets that ask to be lined (and were, at least until the monster houses began to intrude) by far more retiring residences.

But if the latter-day crop of millionaires and billionaires have turned out to be aficionados of the overblown, it’s not possible to draw a necessary connection between wealth and bad taste.

The grandees of the old Georgian period (roughly 1714-1830, during the reigns of the British Georges I-IV) patronized the most advanced and intelligent architects of the day, who provided them with magnificent country seats and city mansions.

Frank Lloyd Wright was wildly successful among rich American businessmen, and even the radical Le Corbusier, a few decades later in Europe, found numerous rich private clients for his splendid experiments in residential architecture.

So what went wrong in the Gilded Age of our own century? I think it was a fateful convergence of the enormous growth of personal wealth, a widespread lack of constraint — the same failure of personal discipline and acceptance of limits that has fuelled the current economic crisis — and contempt for the human scale and visual fabric of the city, especially its streetscapes and the rhythms of its ordinary built forms.

This summing-up of the situation is, I know, a minority position, and many will disagree with it. If you think there is nothing wrong with constructing a dog house for half a million dollars, or dropping an ugly Tudor castle-gate on one of Toronto’s quiet Edwardian streets, I certainly could never convince you otherwise. But it may well be that the years of building such things are now over, and I, for one, am not sorry to see them go.

by JOHN BENTLEY MAYS
From Friday’s Globe and Mail
E-mail
December 5, 2008

How Farm Subsidies Harm Taxpayers, Consumers, and Farmers, Too

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by Brian M. Riedl

Click here for a chart showing Top 10 Urban ‘Farmers’

This year’s expiration of federal agriculture policies gives Congress an important opportunity to take a fresh look at the $25 billion spent annually on farm subsidies. Current farm policies are so poorly designed that they actually worsen the conditions they claim to solve. For example:

  • Farm subsidies are intended to alleviate farmer poverty, but the majority of subsidies go to com­mercial farms with average incomes of $200,000 and net worths of nearly $2 million.
  • Farm subsidies are intended to raise farmer incomes by remedying low crop prices. Instead, they promote overproduction and therefore lower prices further.
  • Farm subsidies are intended to help struggling family farmers. Instead, they harm them by exclud­ing them from most subsidies, financing the con­solidation of family farms, and raising land values to levels that prevent young people from entering farming.
  • Farm subsidies are intended to be consumer-friendly and taxpayer-friendly. Instead, they cost Americans billions each year in higher taxes and higher food costs.

Lawmakers would be hard-pressed to enact a set of policies that are more destructive to farmers, taxpay­ers, and consumers than the current farm policies. For these and other reasons, organizations represent­ing taxpayers, consumers, environmentalists, inter­national trade, Third World countries, and even farmers themselves have united around the shared conclusion that the current farm subsidy system is failing and in dire need of reform during this year’s reauthorization.

A Solution Seeking a Problem

Before delving into the minutiae of farm policy, lawmakers should first determine what subsidies are intended to accomplish. When President Frank­lin D. Roosevelt introduced farm subsidies in the 1930s, Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace called them “a temporary solution to deal with an emergency.”[1] That emergency was the collapsing farm incomes that afflicted the 25 percent of the population living on farms.

Today, farmers account for just 1 percent of the population, and farm household incomes are well above the national average, making the orig­inal justification irrelevant. What modern market failure or social problem is solved by farm pro­grams today? Subsidy advocates offer five flawed justifications.

Myth #1: Farmer poverty.

This is the most common-and provably incor­rect-justification. The average farm household earns $81,420 annually (29 percent above the national average); has a net worth of $838,875 (more than eight times the national average); and is located in a rural area with a low cost of living.[2] The farm industry’s current 11.4 percent debt-to-asset ratio is the lowest ever measured and helps to explain why farms fail at only one-sixth the rate of non-farm businesses.[3]

Overall, net farm income totaled $279 billion between 2003 and 2006-the highest four-year total ever.[4] The farm economy is thriving, and farmer incomes are soaring.


Furthermore, farm subsidy formulas are designed to benefit large agribusinesses rather than family farmers. Most farm subsidies are distributed to commercial farmers, who have an average income of $199,975 and an average net worth of just under $2 million.[5] If farm subsidies were really about alleviating farmer poverty, lawmakers could guarantee every full-time farmer an income of 185 percent of the federal level ($38,203 for a family of four) for just over $4 billion annually-one-sixth of the current cost of farm subsidies.[6]

Myth #2: Crop disaster compensation.

While farming can be very profitable, farmers are always one weather disaster away from losing their crops, but this risk can be handled with basic crop insurance rather than with expensive annual gov­ernment subsidies. Washington does not address homeowners’ risks by writing each family an annual check regardless of whether or not their homes have been damaged.

Giving farmers $25 billion in annual subsidies regardless of whether or not their crops have been damaged is no more logical. Crop insurance mar­kets, as well as futures and options markets, can bal­ance good and bad years in a way that is cost-neutral over the long run.

Myth #3: Maintaining a cheap and stable food supply.

Some contend that food markets would fluctu­ate wildly without farm subsidies. In reality, food prices of both subsidized and unsubsidized crops are relatively stable. Given that the percentage of family budgets spent on food has dropped from 25 percent to 10 percent since 1933, any potential price instability would have an increasingly small impact on family budgets.[7] Even if price stabiliza­tion was necessary, price support programs have largely been replaced by commodity subsidies that stimulate overproduction rather than stabi­lize prices.

Nor do farm subsidies contribute to lower food costs. Two-thirds of food production is unsubsi­dized and thus relatively unaffected by subsidies. Of the remaining one-third, price reductions caused by crop subsidies are balanced by conservation pro­grams that raise prices. Furthermore, food prices are based not only on crop prices, but also on food processing, transportation, and marketing costs. Bruce Babcock, professor of economics at Iowa State University, has calculated that eliminating farm subsidies would have virtually no effect on food prices.[8]

Myth #4: National security.

Proponents contend that without subsidies, American farm products would be replaced by imports, leaving the United States dangerously dependent on foreigners for food. However, the United States currently grows more food than it needs to feed itself and exports a quarter of its pro­duction.[9] The lack of subsidies has not driven all beef, poultry, pork, fruit, and vegetable production out of America, nor would it drive away production of currently subsidized crops.

Myth #5: Other countries’ agricultural policies.

Europe and Japan’s farm subsidies bring Ameri­can consumers food at below-market prices. Rather than enact trade barriers to prevent this, Americans should welcome the cheap imports and allow farm­ers to focus on producing the crops in which the United States has a comparative advantage. Responding with U.S. subsidies and trade barriers has the net effect of raising prices for American con­sumers and thereby limiting any progress in free-trade negotiations. Australia largely eliminated its farm subsidies in the 1970s, and after a brief adjust­ment, its farm economy flourished. New Zealand implemented a similar policy in the 1980s with the same result.[10]

Two-thirds of all farm production-including fruit, vegetables, beef, and poultry-thrives despite being ineligible for farm subsidies.[11] If any of the five justifications were valid, these farmers would be impoverished, near bankruptcy, or replaced by imports, and both the supplies and prices of fruit, vegetables, beef, and poultry would fluctuate wildly. Clearly, this has not happened. In this controlled experiment comparing subsidized and unsubsi­dized crops, the doomsday scenarios described above have not occurred for unsubsidized crops.

The most logical explanation for the persistence of farm subsidies is simple politics. Eliminating a government program is nearly impossible because recipients form interest groups that relentlessly defend their handouts. The public paying the costs is too busy going about their lives to challenge each wasteful program. Furthermore, supporters of farm subsidies often repeat the five justifications, espe­cially the myth that these policies aid struggling family farmers. The difference between perception and reality in farm policy is large.

How Farm Subsidies Lack Economic Sense

Farm subsidies serve no legitimate public pur­pose. Worse, they harm the farm economy. This section explains both how farm subsidies work and the economic incoherence embedded in U.S. farm policy. (See also the accompanying text box, “How Farm Subsidies Are Calculated.”)

The Main Commodity Programs. Farm policy is extraordinarily complex. This complexity conve­niently insulates the farm policymaking process within a small group of lawmakers and interest groups who specialize in the details.

Subsidy eligibility is based on the crop. More than 90 percent of all subsidies go to just five crops-wheat, cotton, corn, soybeans, and rice- while the vast majority of crops are ineligible for subsidies. Once eligibility is established, subsidies are paid per amount of the crop produced, so the largest farms automatically receive the largest checks.

Subsidies are also quite duplicative. The names of the three different commodity subsidies do not adequately describe their purposes:

  • Marketing loan program. Despite being called a “loan,” this program has the net effect of reim­bursing farmers for the difference between a crop’s market price and the minimum level that Congress sets every five to six years.[12]
  • Fixed payments. Fixed payments are given to farmers based on their farms’ historical produc­tion and are unrelated to actual production.
  • Countercyclical payments. This program func­tions somewhat similarly to the marketing loan program by subsidizing farmers up to a govern­ment-set target price. This rate is higher than the marketing loan rate and therefore represents an additional subsidy.

For farmers who grow the subsidized crop, these policies have the net effect of subsidizing them up from their crop’s market price to its countercyclical price rate, or even higher when the market price is above the countercyclical rate and they receive fixed payments.

Remedying Low Prices with Lower Prices. Farm policy is supposed to help farmers recover income lost because of low crop prices. However, farmers can increase their subsidies by planting additional acres, which increases production and drives prices down further, thereby spurring demands for even greater subsidies. In other words, subsidies merely lower prices. This is the policy equivalent of trying to use gasoline to extin­guish a fire.

When the 1996 farm bill increased the market­ing loan rate of soybeans from $4.92 to $5.26 per bushel (which meant larger subsidies), farmers responded by planting an additional 8 million acres of soybeans, which contributed to the 33 percent decline in soybean prices over the next two years.[13] Instead of alleviating low soybean prices, the new subsidies accelerated their fall at considerable tax­payer expense. Even the U.S. Department of Agri­culture (USDA) admits that subsidy increases have induced farmers to plant millions of new acres of wheat, soybeans, cotton, and corn.[14]

In a free market, low prices serve as an important signal that supply has exceeded consumer demand and that production should shift accordingly. By shielding farmers from low market prices, farm sub­sidies induce farmers to grow whatever government will subsidize, not what consumers really want. Stephen Houston Jr., a Georgia cotton farmer, recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “We’re just playing a game. [Market] prices don’t have anything to do with what we’re doing. We’re just looking at the government payments.”[15]

Contradictory Policies. After handing out com­modity subsidies that pay farmers to plant more crops, Washington then turns around and pays other farmers not to farm 40 million acres of crop­land each year-the equivalent of idling every farm in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. The Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to sign 10-year contracts pledging not to farm their land, is often promoted as supporting environmen­tal stewardship. In reality, removing farmland to raise crop prices has been the program’s central long-term justification. Paying some farmers to plant more crops and others to plant fewer crops simply makes no sense.

Ignoring Yields. The illogic does not end there. Businesses calculate their revenues by multiplying the product’s price by the quantity sold. Similarly, farmers calculate per-acre revenues by multiplying the crop price by the yield (crop volume per acre). However, farm subsidy formulas focus only on crop prices and simply plug in a historical yield measure for the quantity.

This makes little sense. Revenues depend as much on the quantity sold as on the price, and these two variables often move in opposite direc­tions. In agriculture, this leads to one of two com­mon scenarios:

  • Surging yields flood the market with crops and cause prices to drop. Total revenues may increase, yet farmers still receive large subsidies simply because the price fell.
  • Falling yields lead to crop shortages, pushing up prices. Total revenues may decline sharply, but farmers do not receive subsidies because Wash­ington focuses only on the price increase and assumes that farmers are thriving.

These scenarios are not merely theoretical. The American Farmland Trust has observed that a large drought in 2002 cut many Midwest corn farmers’ yields in half, but many farmers did not receive sub­sidies because prices did not fall. The opposite situ­ation occurred in 2005 when very large corn yields flooded the market, driving down corn prices and inducing large corn subsidies despite healthy farm revenues.[16] Consequently, Washington often wastes taxpayer dollars by subsidizing farmers when they need it the least.

Subsidizing Both Crop Insurance and Disaster Aid. In 2000, Washington tripled crop insurance subsidies in an effort to eliminate the need for farm disaster payments. The budget-busting 2002 farm bill was also promoted as being large enough to reduce the need for disaster payments.

Yet even with generous farm programs and sub­sidized crop insurance, Congress has passed a disas­ter aid bill every year since 2000 at a total cost of $40 billion.[17] Congress has even drafted legislation offering disaster aid to farmers who refuse to pur­chase crop insurance at taxpayer-financed dis­counts. With Congress continuing to pass large disaster aid packages, what crop insurance subsi­dies are really funding is unclear.

The federal crop insurance program currently subsidizes 60 percent of all premiums for the 242 million acres that farmers have enrolled in the pro­gram. It is run by 16 private firms that accept fed­eral subsidies but must charge the prices set by Washington. Recently, an insurer that dared to offer farmers a discount was upbraided at a congressional hearing, and Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) successfully authored legislation to prohibit federal subsidies for that plan.[18]

The program seems to have been designed to aid insurance companies and harm taxpayers. Insurers are allowed to pass high-risk policies on to the gov­ernment while keeping for themselves the low-risk policies that are likely to be profitable. Conse­quently, since 1998, the participating companies have earned $3.1 billion in profits, while Washing­ton has lost $1.5 billion. Additionally, since 1998, Washington has paid nearly $20 billion in premium subsidies and more than $6 billion to cover the insurance companies’ administrative costs.

All in all, the crop insurance program spends $3.34 for every $1 in paid claims-and it still has not prevented $40 billion in disaster aid.[19]

Driving Small Farmers out of Business. Farm subsidies are promoted as assistance to family farm­ers. In reality, they finance the demise of family farms and prevent young people from entering farming. Economists estimate that subsidies inflate the value of farmland by 30 percent. High farmland prices make starting a farm prohibitively expensive for younger people, who would also have other expenses, including buying expensive equipment, seeds, and pesticides. With young farmers unable to enter the industry, the average age of farmers has increased to 55.[20]

Because agribusinesses are already the most profitable, they often use their enormous farm sub­sidies to buy out smaller family farms. In what has been called the “plantation effect,” family farms with less than 100 acres are being bought out by larger agribusinesses, which then convert them into tenant farms. Three-quarters of rice farms have already become tenant farms, and other types of farms are trending in that same direction.[21] Since 1945, the number of farms has dropped by two-thirds, and the average farm size has more than doubled to 441 acres.[22]

This consolidation is not necessarily harmful and may improve efficiency. Large agribusinesses are not villainous. They often succeed because they can produce large quantities of food at low prices. Fur­thermore, the blame for the tilted distribution of farm subsidies lies with Congress, which writes the laws, rather than with the agribusinesses that cash the checks that they receive because of those laws.

Nevertheless, taxpayers should not be required to finance this consolidation through farm subsi­dies. By raising land values and financing consolida­tion, farm subsidies drive out existing small farmers and prevent new farmers from entering the industry.

The Scandalous Distribution of Farm Subsidies

One can imagine the result if Washington tried to solve poverty by creating a welfare program that applied only to workers in the fast food, cleaning, and retail industries. Everyone in those occupations would receive a government check, with the richest executives receiving the largest checks and the poorest workers receiving the smallest. Workers in other industries would receive nothing, no matter how poor they were.

Obviously, such a policy would be nonsense, yet this exemplifies how farm subsidies are distributed. The government’s solution to alleged farmer poverty is to subsidize growers of wheat, cotton, corn, soy­beans, and rice while giving no subsidies to produc­ers of fruit, vegetables, beef, poultry, and livestock. Because subsidies are paid per acre, the largest and most profitable farms receive the largest subsidies, while family farms receive next to nothing.

Thus, a large, profitable rice corporation can receive millions while a family vegetable farmer receives nothing. Overall, farm subsidies are distrib­uted with little regard to merit or need.

Corporate Welfare. Farm subsidies are pro­moted as helping struggling farmers, but Washing­ton could guarantee every full-time farmer an income of nearly $40,000 for just $4 billion annu­ally. Instead, farm policy is designed to aid corpo­rate agribusinesses. Among farmers eligible for subsidies, just 10 percent of recipients collect 73 percent of the subsidies-an average of $91,000 per farm. (See Chart 3.) By contrast, the average subsidy granted to the bottom 80 percent of recipients is less than $3,000 annually.[23]

According to the USDA, the majority of farm subsidies are distributed to commercial farms, which have an average household income of $199,975 and a net worth of just under $2 mil­lion.[24] Commercial farms are also among those that need subsidies the least because they are the most efficient. Former U.S. Farm Bureau President Dean Kleckner writes that the top quarter of corn farmers (usually agribusinesses with economies of scale) can produce a bushel of corn 68 percent cheaper than the bottom quarter of farms can.[25]

Multiplying this larger profit margin by their substantially larger production volume shows how large agribusinesses can be enormously profitable. Yet these agribusinesses, not small family farms, receive most of the subsidies, making farm subsi­dies America’s largest corporate welfare program. (See Table 1.)

That is not all. Farm subsidies over the past decade have also been distributed to:

  • Fortune 500 companies, such as John Hancock Life Insurance ($2,849,799); International Paper ($1,183,893); Westvaco ($534,210); and ChevronTexaco ($446,914).
  • Celebrity “hobby farmers” such as David Rock­efeller ($553,782); Ted Turner ($206,948); and Scottie Pippen ($210,520).
  • Members of Congress, who vote on farm subsidies, such as Senator Charles Grassley (R- IA, $225,041); Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR, $45,400, plus a 25 percent ownership in three firms that received $2,114,622); and Represen­tative John Salazar (D-CO, $161,084).[26]


Payment limits do exist on paper. Subsidies are restricted to farmers with incomes below $2.5 mil­lion, and an individual’s subsidy may not exceed $180,000 per farm or $360,000 for up to three farms. However, an entire industry of lawyers exploits loop­holes, rendering these limits meaningless.

Farmers can simply divide their farms into numerous separate entities and then collect subsi­dies for each farm. For example, Tyler Farms in Arkansas has collected $37 million in farm subsi­dies since 1996 by dividing itself into 66 legally separate corporations to maximize its farm subsidies.[27] Other farmers evade payment limits by sign­ing up family members, such as the Georgia farmer who reportedly col­lected thousands in additional subsi­dies by signing up his two-year-old daughter as an additional farmer, making her eligible for up to $180,000. As Chuck Hassebrook of the Center for Rural Affairs has con­cluded, “We have no [payment] limits today.”[28]

Eligibility Restricted to a Few Crops. Only one-third of the $240 billion in annual farm production is eligible for farm subsidies. Five crops-wheat, cotton, corn, soy­beans, and rice-receive more than 90 percent of all farm subsidies. Fruits, vegetables, livestock, and poultry, which comprise two-thirds of all farm pro­duction, are generally not subsidized at all.[29] This is important for two reasons.

First, those who assert that the absence of farm subsidies would cause massive poverty, rapid price fluctuations, and the eventual demise of the agricul­tural industry have not persuasively explained why the two-thirds of the industry that operates without subsidies has experienced none of these problems.

Second, those who assert that farm subsidies are necessary to alleviate farmer poverty have not explained why Washington should favor one crop over another.

Farm Subsidies for Suburban Backyards. In 1996, lawmakers noticed that farm subsidies were only encouraging more planting and thereby fur­ther lowering prices, so they created a fixed pay­ments subsidy that would pay farmers based on what had been grown on the land historically with­out obligating them to continue planting that crop. While designed with positive intentions to reduce market distortions, these fixed payments have ended up subsidizing land that is no longer used for farming. In fact, some homeowners are now collect­ing subsidies for the grass in their backyards.

A recent Washington Post investigation discovered 75 acres of Texas farmland that had been converted into a housing development. Today, the homeown­ers on these properties (which are worth well over $300,000 each) are eligible for fixed payments for the lawn in their backyards because of its “historical rice production.” Residents never asked for these subsidies and have even stated that as non-farmers they do not want the government mailing them checks.[30] Over the past 25 years, rice plantings in Texas have plummeted from 600,000 acres to 200,000, in part because people can now collect generous rice subsidies without planting rice. If Washington insists on subsidizing farming, subsi­dizing actual farmland rather than residential neigh­borhoods that were once farmland would make more sense.

Compensation Not Based on Actual Sale Prices. As explained in the text box, the marketing loan program (despite the “loan” misnomer) effec­tively pays farmers whenever crop prices fall below a government-set minimum. Amazingly, farmers are not compensated for the actual price at which they sell their crops. Instead, they can pick the market price on any day of the year and, even if they do not sell their crops at that market price, receive a sub­sidy based on it.

For example, in 2005, the marketing loan rate for corn in DeKalb County, Illinois, was $1.98 per bushel. In September, the market price fell to $1.52 per bushel, and local farmers walked into the local USDA field office and received a payment of $0.46 per bushel. The following January, when they finally sold their corn, the price had risen to $2.60 per bushel, well above the government-set minimum. The federal policy allowed farmers to keep the sub­sidies as compensation for a low market price at which they never actually sold their crops. The amounts can be substantial: DeKalb County farmer Roger Richardson received an extra $75,000 sub­sidy for crops that grossed $500,000.[31]

These are not isolated incidents. In 2006, national corn prices were only $0.05 below the $1.95 marketing loan rate. Nonetheless, corn farm­ers received an average marketing loan subsidy of $0.44 per bushel.[32] President Bush has proposed addressing this loophole by requiring that monthly average crop prices-rather than daily prices- become the basis for determining marketing loan subsidies. This would prevent a one-day drop in crop prices from causing a year-long surge in farm subsidies. Unless Congress acts, farmers will con­tinue to be compensated for low prices that never affect them.

Aid for Questionable Disasters. Lawmakers often supplement generous farm subsidies and sub­sidized crop insurance with annual disaster assis­tance packages. The Washington Post discovered that the USDA encourages disaster declarations for coun­ties without disasters and distributes disaster aid to farmers without requiring proof of any disaster.

Specifically, when the Livestock Compensation Program operated in 2002 and 2003 to compensate farmers for a drought, the majority of payments went to farmers in areas with either moderate drought or none at all. The USDA reportedly urged state and county officials to find anything that could be interpreted as a disaster and use it to qualify the county’s farmers for disaster aid. Consequently, more than 2,000 of the nation’s 3,141 counties were declared agriculture “disasters,” including:

  • Whatcom County, Washington, for a distant earthquake that registered only 3 on the local Richter scale and caused no reported damage.
  • All 254 counties in Texas for “farm disasters,” such as a storm two years earlier and the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion. This prompted a local farmer to tell reporters, “the livestock pro­gram is a joke, we had no losses, I don’t know what Congress is thinking sometimes.”
  • Fifty-three of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, many for a small storm that occurred two years earlier. This prompted local farmers to call the disaster aid an unjustified “waste of money.”

Nor were the individual farmers required to prove any losses. Washington simply sent them disaster assistance checks based on the number of livestock that they owned. In other words, disaster aid was almost completely disconnected from actual disasters.[33]

Livestock disaster assistance is not the only example of misdirected disaster aid. When sweet potatoes became eligible for crop insurance, plant­ing quadrupled, but crop failures surged. Farmers were purposely growing sweet potato crops on unsuited land and skimping on all production costs simply to collect generous crop insurance and disas­ter aid-a practice known as “farming your insur­ance.” Accordingly, the sweet potato insurance program was paying out $16 in insurance claims for every $1 paid in premiums before Congress fixed it in 2005.[34] It is reasonable to assume that this prac­tice continues to some degree in other crops.

The Overall Impact of Farm Policy

Although farm policies serve no legitimate pur­pose, they have profoundly negative effects on tax­payers, consumers, and small farmers, including:

  • Higher prices. James Bovard once wrote, “For almost every farm program, there is another equal but opposite farm program or provi­sion.”[35] Commodity subsidies encourage over­production and therefore lower prices. The Conservation Reserve Program encourages underproduction and thereby raises prices. Tar­iffs raise import prices. Export subsidies lower export prices. Price supports triple the price of sugar and raise the price of milk. Calculating the net effect of these contradictory programs, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that U.S. farm policy raises food prices enough to cost consumers an extra $12 billion annually-in effect, an average annual food tax of $104 per household.[36]
  • High taxes. As the farm economy booms, Con­gress is expanding farm subsidies. After averag­ing less than $14 billion per year during the 1990s, annual farm subsidies have topped $25 billion in the current decade since passage of the 2002 farm bill, the most expensive farm bill in American history. All federal spending must eventually be funded by taxes. Thus, these sub­sidies cost the average household $216 in annual taxes in addition to $104 in higher food prices.
  • No added rural economic growth. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City con­cluded that farm subsidies do not promote rural economic growth. Between 1992 and 2002, the vast majority of the 783 “farm dependent” coun­ties experienced job growth below the national average. In fact, more of these counties suffered outright job losses than experienced job growth exceeding the national average.[37] While critics can argue that growth would have been worse without subsidies, these policies are clearly not creating new growth centers. Farm subsidies are likely funding farm consolidations, which in turn are reducing employment on farms and in related industries.
  • Small farmers driven out of business. Small family farmers are generally not eligible for sig­nificant levels of farm subsidies. Furthermore, subsidies to large commercial farms harm small farmers by (1) reducing crop prices[38] and, there­fore, farmer incomes; (2) raising the prices of farmland, thereby preventing family farmers from expanding; and (3) subsidizing agribusi­ness buyouts of family farms. Small farmers receive virtually none of the subsidies, but they must endure the market distortions and financial pain caused by these policies.
  • Less trade. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Ber­nanke has stated that “the increase in trade since World War II has boosted U.S. annual incomes on the order of $10,000 per household” and that “removing all remaining barriers to trade would raise U.S. incomes anywhere from $4,000 to $12,000 per household.” Yet massive tariffs and import restrictions raise food prices and make the American economy less productive. Bring­ing free trade to agriculture would also make free-trade agreements in other industries much more likely.[39]


Conclusion

If Congress takes the path of least resistance and extends current farm policies for another five years, it will have surrendered an enormous opportunity for reform. Most debates over federal programs force lawmakers to balance a program’s social bene­fits with the costs of financing it, but current U.S. farm policies serve no legitimate purpose. They bur­den American families with higher taxes and higher food prices. They harm small farmers by excluding them from subsidies, raising land prices, and financing farm consolidation. They increase trade barriers that reduce incomes in America and in lesser-developed countries. They are falsely pro­moted as saving the family farm and protecting the food supply. In reality, they are America’s largest cor­porate welfare program.

This year’s farm bill debate will test whether Congress is serious about reform or will continue business as usual by pandering to special-interest groups that are working to protect their federal lar­gesse. Congress and President Bush should take a more sensible approach to farm policy this year. Instead of rubberstamping the status quo, they should return to the market-based approach embodied in the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act.

Click here for other charts (Powerpoint)

Brian M. Riedl is Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Ian Hinsdale, a former Heritage Foundation intern, contributed to this paper.


[1] Henry Wallace, cited in Oxfam America, “A Vision for the 2007 Farm Bill,” 2007, at www.oxfamamerica.org/resources/files/OA-Fairness_in_the_Fields.pdf (June 4, 2007).

[2 ]Ted Covey et al., “Agriculture Income and Finance Outlook,” AIS-84, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, November 2006, pp. 40 and 48, at http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/current/AIS/
AIS-11-30-2006.pdf
(June 4, 2007).

[3] Jerome M. Stam, Daniel L. Milkove, and George B. Wallace, “Indicators of Financial Stress in Agriculture Reported by Agri­cultural Banks, 1982-99,” AIS-74, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February 2000, p. 48, and Covey et al., “Agriculture Income and Finance Outlook,” p. 38.

[4] Council of Economic Advisers, Economic Report of the President (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2007), p. 342, Table B-97, at www.gpoaccess.gov/eop/2007/2007_erp.pdf (June 4, 2007).

[5] Covey et al., “Agriculture Income and Finance Outlook,” pp. 40, 48, and 63. Net worth data consist of weighted averages of large and very large farms’ net worths.

[6] U.S. Department of Agriculture, “A Safety Net for Farm Households,” Agriculture Outlook, January-February 2000, pp. 19-24. The authors estimated a cost of $7.8 billion when including everyone who reports any farm income, including “hobby farmers” who have other full-time jobs. Restricting their data to full-time farmers, defined as those working on lower-sales, higher-sales, and large family farms and the fraction of limited-resource farms that are also full-time, the total cost adds up to approximately $4 billion. The eligibility threshold for several federal income-assistance programs, such as the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, is 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

[7] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, “Food Expenditures by Families and Individuals as a Share of Disposable Personal Income data,” Table 7, at www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/CPIFoodAndExpenditures/Data/table7.htm (June 4, 2007).

[8] Bruce Babcock, “Money for Nothing: Acreage and Price Impacts of U.S. Commodity Policy for Corn, Soybeans, Wheat, Cotton, and Rice,” in American Enterprise Institute, The 2007 Farm Bill and Beyond (Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2007), pp. 41-45, at www.aei.org/docLib/20070516_Summary.pdf (June 4, 2007).

[9] The U.S. runs a trade surplus in agriculture. See Economic Research Service, “Value of U.S. Trade-Agricultural, Nonagricultural, and Total-and Trade Balance, by Fiscal Year,” May 2007, at www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FATUS/DATA/fynonag.xls (June 4, 2007).

[10] Julian Alston, “Lessons from Agricultural Policy Reform in Other Countries,” in American Enterprise Institute, The 2007 Farm Bill and Beyond, pp. 83-86.

[11] Economic Research Service, “Farm Income and Costs: Farm Sector Income Forecast,” February 14, 2007, at www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/farmincome/data/cr_t3.htm (June 4, 2007).

[12] The marketing loan program can operate in different ways. It can be a loan that must be partially repaid later in the year (called a marketing loan gain), or the benefit can be paid in a lump sum as a subsidy (called a loan deficiency payment). Despite these distinctions, the net effect is to subsidize farmers up to the marketing loan rate level.

[13] University of Tennessee, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, “An Analytical Database of U.S. Agriculture, 1950-1999,” 2001, Tables 7.1a and 7.2a.

[14] Paul C. Westcott and C. Edwin Young, “U.S. Farm Program Benefits: Links to Planting Decisions and Agricultural Markets,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Outlook, October 2000, pp. 12-13.

[15] Dan Chapman, Ken Foskett, and Megan Clarke, “How Your Tax Dollars Prop Up Big Growers and Squeeze the Little Guy,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 1, 2006.

[16] American Farmland Trust, “Farm and Food Policy for All-Farmers, Citizens and Communities,” 2007.

[17] Ralph Chite, “Emergency Funding for Agriculture: A Brief History of Supplemental Appropriations, FY 1989-FY 2006,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, updated July 3, 2006. Chite mentions a total of $36.5 billion, and approximately $3.5 billion was added in 2007.

[18] Gilbert Gaul, Dan Morgan, and Sarah Cohen, “Crop Insurers Pile Up Record Profits,” The Washington Post, October 16, 2006.

[19] Ibid. The article includes a graphic showing gains and losses since 1998. The cost of premium subsidies and administrative costs since 1998 were calculated using the 1998-2005 totals listed in the article and then projecting forward for the 2006 and 2007 totals.

[20] John Frydenlund, “Farm Subsidies: Myth and Reality,” Citizens Against Government Waste Issue Brief No. 1, April 3, 2007, at www.cagw.org/site/DocServer/2007_Farm_Bill-_
Issue_Brief_1.pdf?docID=2121
(June 4, 2007).

[21] Elizabeth Becker, “Land Rich in Subsidies, and Poor in Much Else,” The New York Times, January 22, 2002, p. A14.

[22] Council of Economic Advisers, Economic Report of the President, p. 175.

[23] See Environmental Working Group, Farm Subsidy Database, at http://www.ewg.org/farm (June 4, 2007).

[24] Covey et al., “Agriculture Income and Finance Outlook,” pp. 40, 48, and 63.

[25] Dean Kleckner, “Farm Subsidies Are Not Saving the Family Farm,” updated manuscript. Copy available upon request.

[26] For a list of subsidy totals, see Environmental Working Group, Farm Subsidy Database. Corporate totals include subsidiaries. Subsidies for lawmakers are described in detail in Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D., “How to Discourage Conflicts of Interest in the Federal Agriculture Subsidy Programs,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, forthcoming.

[27] John Lancaster, “More Subsidy Money Going to Fewer Farms,” The Washington Post, January 24, 2002, and Environmental Working Group, Farm Subsidy Database.

[28] Dan Chapman, Ken Foskett, and Megan Clarke, “How Savvy Growers Can Double, or Triple, Subsidy Dollars,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 2, 2006.

[29] Economic Research Service, “Farm Income and Costs.”

[30] Dan Morgan, Gilbert Gaul, and Sarah Cohen, “Farm Program Pays $1.3 Billion to People Who Don’t Farm,” The Washington Post, July 2, 2006.

[31] Dan Morgan, Sarah Cohen, and Gilbert Gaul, “Growers Reap Benefits Even in Good Years,” The Washington Post, July 3, 2006.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Gilbert Gaul, Dan Morgan, and Sarah Cohen, “No Drought Required for Federal Drought Aid,” The Washington Post, July 18, 2006.

[34] Gilbert Gaul, “Farming Your Insurance,” The Washington Post, October 15, 2006.

[35] James Bovard, “Farm Bill Follies of 1990,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 135, July 12, 1990, at www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa135.html (June 8, 2007).

[36] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Agricultural Policies in OECD Countries: At a Glance (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2006), p. 69, Table 2.12. The 2003-2005 average annual transfer from consumers was $12.285 billion.

[37] Mark Drabenstott, “Do Farm Payments Promote Rural Economic Growth?” Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Center for the Study of Rural America, The Main Street Economist, March 2005, at www.kc.frb.org/RegionalAffairs/mainstreet/MSE_0305.pdf (June 4, 2007).

[38] Although conservation programs raise prices, it is still clear that commodity subsidies reduce prices relative to what they would be with only conservation programs.

[39] Ben S. Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman, “Embracing the Challenge of Free Trade: Competing and Prospering in a Global Economy,” remarks at the Montana Economic Development Summit 2007, Butte, Montana, May 1, 2007, at www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/Speeches/2007/
20070501/default.htm
(June 4, 2007).

Cheatsheet: Phthalates or Plasticizers

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Cheatsheet: Phthalates

Everything you need to know about phthalates

What is it?

Phthalates are a common industrial chemical used in PVC plastics, solvents, and synthetic fragrances. They’ve been around since the 1930′s, and now they’re pretty ubiquitous; when they tested 289 people in 2000, the CDC found phthalates in all of the subjects’ blood at surprisingly high levels. They’re often referred to as a plasticizer, which we think sounds rather like a kind of exercise to be done on the living-room floor in front of videos hosted by Jane Fonda. But we digress.

What are the possible health effects?

Phthalates are endocrine disruptors linked to problems of the reproductive system, including decreased sperm motility and concentration in men and genital abnormalities in baby boys. (Oh, and did you know that average sperm counts have decreased significantly since the 1940′s?) More recently they’ve also been linked to asthma and allergies.

How can I minimize my exposure?

Avoid these, and you’ll also be avoiding phthalates:

  1. Nail polish: Dibutyl phthalate is often used to make nail polish chip-resistant. Look for it on the ingredients list, where it may be shortened to DBP.
  2. Plastics in the kitchen: Take a critical eye to your cupboards. Phthalates may be more likely to leach out of plastic when it’s heated, so avoid cooking or microwaving in plastic.
  3. Vinyl toys: Phthalates are what make vinyl (PVC) toys soft, so don’t give them to children. Opt instead for wooden and other phthalate-free toys, especially during that age when they put everything in their mouths!
  4. Paint: Paints and other hobby products may contain phthalates as solvents, so be sure to use them in a well-ventilated space.
  5. Fragrance: Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is often used as part of the “fragrance” in some products. Since DEP won’t be listed separately, you’re better off choosing personal care products, detergents, and cleansers that don’t have the word “fragrance” on the ingredients list.
  6. Vinyl: Vinyl shows up in a lot of different products; lawn furniture, garden hoses, building materials, and items of clothing (like some raincoats) are often sources. Aside from carefully choosing materials when you’re making purchases, there is one easy change you can make: switch to a non-vinyl shower curtain. That “new shower curtain” smell (you know the one) is a result of chemical off-gassing, and it means your shower curtain is a source of phthalates in your home.
  7. Air Fresheners: Just like fragrances in personal care products, most air fresheners contain phthalates.

Where can I learn more?

  1. Here’s a link to Phthalates in the Chemical Index.
  2. Phthalates were just one of the hormone-disrupting chemicals we found contaminating the San Francisco Bay.
  3. NRDC has the low-down on phthalates in air fresheners.
  4. EWG’s Jane Houlihan discusses phthalates in children’s personal care products.
  5. Olga explains a recent study linking phthalates to asthma and allergies.

Orginal photo by Felix63

Spain’s drought a glimpse of our future?

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The Independent (London), May 24, 2008 Saturday

Barcelona is a dry city. It is dry in a way that two days of showers can do nothing to alleviate. The Catalan capital’s weather can change from one day to the next, but its climate, like that of the whole Mediterranean region, is inexorably warming up and drying out. And in the process this most modern of cities is living through a crisis that offers a disturbing glimpse of metropolitan futures everywhere.

Its fountains and beach showers are dry, its ornamental lakes and private swimming pools drained and hosepipes banned. Children are now being taught how to save water as part of their school day. This iconic, avant-garde city is in the grip of the worst drought since records began and is bringing the climate crisis that has blighted cities in Australia and throughout the Third World to Europe. A resource that most Europeans have grown up taking for granted now dominates conversation. Nearly half of Catalans say water is the region’s main problem, more worrying than terrorism, economic slowdown or even the populists’ favourite – immigration.

The political battles now breaking out here could be a foretaste of the water wars that scientists and policymakers have warned us will be commonplace in the coming decades. The emergency water-saving measures Barcelona adopted after winter rains failed for a second year running have not been enough. The city has had to set up a “water bridge” and is shipping in water for the first time in the history of this great maritime city.

A tanker from Marseilles with 36 million litres of drinking water unloaded its first cargo this week, one of a mini-fleet contracted to bring water from the Rhone every few days for at least the next three months. So humbled was Barcelona when prolonged drought forced it to ship in domestic water from Tarragona, 50 miles south along the Catalan coast, 12 days ago, that city hall almost delayed shipment and considered an upbeat publicity campaign to lift morale and international prestige.

The whole country is suffering from its worst drought in 40 years and the shipments from Tarragona prompted an outcry from regions who insist they need it more. For now the clashes are being soothed by intervention from Madrid, and plans to ship water from desalination plants in parched Almeria in Andalusia are shelved until October. But there is little indication of a strategy to deal not just with an immediate emergency but an ongoing crisis. Buying water on an epic scale from France has given the controversy an international aspect as French environmentalists question whether such a scarce natural resource should be sold as a commodity to another country.

“It would be a mistake to consider this water bridge between Marseilles and Catalonia as simply an operation of solidarity,” said a group of ecologists calling themselves Robin des Bois (Robin Hood). They said the commercial deal struck between private contractors failed to consider the environmental impact on France. The organisation blamed Barcelona’s water shortage on “wasted resources and … lack of foresight by Catalan and Spanish authorities”.

What Barcelona authorities are fast discovering is that chronic water shortages are not a problem that money alone can solve.

Its 5.5 million inhabitants need a lot of the stuff: the 20 million litres/20,000 tonnes/five million gallons of water brought from Tarragona on 13 May were enough for barely 180,000 people and were consumed within minutes of being channelled through the city’s taps. Wednesday’s shipment from Marseilles was bigger, 36 million litres, but similarly short lived.

Barcelona has churned up a whirlpool of controversy over its handling of the water crisis, causing just the spray of negative publicity it hoped to avoid.

Even the arrival of rain has only made things worse. Catalonia’s regional environment minister, Francesc Baltasar, rushed to announce last week that the hosepipe ban and swimming pool restrictions imposed in February would be lifted. Tarragona – whose wells supply shipped-in water – protested furiously. “Barcelona fills its swimming pools with water from Tarragona,” local headlines screamed, and the water authority demanded a halt to pumping Tarragona’s water for the Catalan capital.

Jose Montilla, Catalonia’s regional prime minister, countermanded Mr Baltasar and insisted water-saving measures remain. “Obviously it makes little sense to lift certain measures when, if it stops raining, we’ll have to re-impose them in three weeks’ time,” he said. But Tarragona re-opened the tap only after Mr Montilla visited, and insisted that “this effort of solidarity will supply only our basic needs”.

Barcelona’s daily El Periodico called Mr Baltasar’s proposal to end unpopular water-saving measures “irresponsible and demagogic”, increasing resentments in regions supplying water to Barcelona. The shipments themselves came under fire. Importing water gives the city a “lamentable, depressing image” and spreads “alarmism”, Miguel Angel Fraile, secretary of the Catalan Trade Confederation, said.

With reservoirs now filled to 30 per cent, authorities should scrap the plan and ship in water only as a last resort, he said. But reservoirs remain two-thirds empty, half the national average and far lower than usual for May. These are dangerously low in anticipation of another dry summer, raising the ghastly prospect of water rationing – painful for residents and offputting for summer visitors.

Extreme short-term measures might have been averted had Barcelona mended leaky old pipes and filtered polluted aquifers, critics grumble. But Barcelona is among Europe’s most careful water users, better than Madrid, Milan or Paris, La Vanguardia newspaper argues. Residents adapt their loos to flush less, shower rather than bath and brush their teeth without the tap running, but such individual measures are swamped by industrial usage, and waste in the infrastructure. La Vanguardia urges an immediate public works programme to improve the creaking system.

“People are much more aware of the need to save water,” says Bridget King, a South African who settled in Barcelona 20 years ago to teach English. “We put a bucket under the shower to catch water before it heats up, and have stopped buying petunias that need a lot of watering. It’s a constant topic of conversation and we worry it’s a long-term thing. But as a South African I’m appalled to see people wash dishes under the running tap. I was brought up to be very careful with water. And although we feel relieved it’s started raining, everyone knows it’s only short term and probably not enough.”

Recent rains have sharpened conflicts, offering a foretaste of water wars to come. Aragon straddles the mighty Ebro river but is a parched desert, cultivable only by sophisticated irrigation systems managed by an Association of Irrigators. This ancient brotherhood agreed to sell the surplus from its irrigation quota, which usually flows back into the Ebro, to Barcelona as a short-term emergency measure. If rains lift reservoirs from their emergency levels, Aragon warns it will halt supplies. But Mr Montilla tweaked Catalona’s definition of “emergency” so it didn’t rely solely on reservoir levels. Then Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, ordered Aragon to keep the water flowing “because conditions aren’t sufficient to guarantee Barcelona’s water supplies”.

Water is now Catalans’ principle worry: 43 per cent considered shortage the country’s main problem. Authorities promise the crisis will ease when a huge desalination plant comes on stream next year. But they say little about how to tackle the long-term problem of water shortage afflicting the whole Mediterranean region. Catalan winemakers recognise that the change is permanent; some are planting new vineyards further north as traditional terrain becomes hotter and dryer.

Other entrepreneurs, including swimming pool manufacturers, have less room for manoeuvre. “The authorities are criminalising us,” complained Josep Sadurni, of Catalonia’s association of swimming pool manufacturers, which predicts losses of up to Euro 200m (£160m) this year. “Who’ll buy a pool if they can’t fill it?” Mr Sadurni asked.

A striking image of the seriousness of the drought is provided by the emergence of a church from the waters of a drying reservoir. For 40 years, all you could see of the drowned village of Sant Roma was the belltower of its stone church, which peeped from time to time above the surface of the artificial lake in a valley flooded in the 1960s to supply Catalonia with water. This year falling water levels have revealed the 11th-century church in its entirety for the first time, attracting curious onlookers who walk round it on the reservoir’s dusty bed. Spain’s Socialist government recognises that climate change will intensify water shortages, and favours desalination plants. One such plant, among the biggest in Europe – and 75 per cent EU funded – is being built on the outskirts of Barcelona and will supply 20 per cent of the city’s water. But it will not be ready until next year.

“It was already very important when it was planned, but now with the urgent drought, it has become indispensable,” said Tomas Azurra, the chief engineer at the plant.

Ecologists warn that desalination plants are costly in energy use, and damage the environment with high CO2 emissions. But developed European regions can afford them, and they’re preferable to diverting water from rivers, which critics say is even more damaging.

More than 70 per cent of Spain’s water goes on agriculture, much of it wasted on antiquated irrigation systems and the cultivation of thirsty crops unsuitable for arid lands. But few politicians seek confrontation with farmers already struggling to scratch a living.

High-density tourist resorts sprinkled with swimming pools, patio showers and golf courses along Spain’s desertified southern coast, especially in Murcia where it rarely rains, are also unsustainable, ecologists say.

Spain needs to capture more rainwater, says Stephanie Blencker of the Stockholm International Water Institute, as climate change will produce alternating extremes of drought and heavy rain. “Rain is the biggest resource we have, and we can make it available all year round if we have sensible storage opportunities,” she said.

Since the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona has enjoyed the reputation of being both cutting edge and user friendly. But now, as climate change overwhelms a crumbling infrastructure, proud, autonomous Catalonia has to seek help from outside.

Poor Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt Mud Cakes

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Rising Food Costs Force Haiti’s Poor to Resort to Eating Dirt

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

It was lunchtime in one of Haiti’s worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti’s poorest can’t afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau.

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

Yolen Jeunky arranges dried mud cookies for sale in a bucket in Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Nov. 29, 2007. (Ariana Cubillos/ AP Photo)

“When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day,” Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.

Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. “When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too,” she said.

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.

A woman dries mud cookies in the sun on the the roof of Fort Dimanche, once a prison, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Nov. 29, 2007. Rising prices and food shortages are threatening Haiti’s fragile stability, and the mud cookies, made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening, are one of very few options the poorest people have to stave off hunger. (Ariana Cubillos/ AP Photo)

The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.

The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries. Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.

At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.

The hand of a woman is covered in mud as she makes mud cookies on the roof of Fort Dimanche, Nov. 30, 2007. (Ariana Cubillos/ AP Photo)

Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.

Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.

The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.

A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.

Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.

Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition.

Yolen Jeunky prepares cookies made of dirt, water, salt and butter on the the roof of Fort Dimanche. (Ariana Cubillos/ AP Photo)

“Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it,” said Dr. Gabriel Thimothee, executive director of Haiti’s health ministry.

Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.

“I’m hoping one day I’ll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these,” she said. “I know it’s not good for me.”

By JONATHAN M. KATZ Associated Press Writer
Jan 29, 2008
The Associated Press

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Iran, China and Russia vs. America, Israel – Who will Win?

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A Three Step Plan to Usher in the Amero

1. Create a Financial Problemsub-prime mortgage fiasco, housing market collapse, recession, trillions of dollars in debt, uncontrolled military spending, federal reserve private banking monopoly engineered economics, Iran and Russia to form an OPEC like cartel to sell gas to China and India with trading done and prices pegged to the Russian Ruble, Neo-Cons boosting of impending financial crisis, keep dumping Chinese made goods in the usa and further erode the manufacturing base

2. Predictable Reactionpeople go nuts, economy tanks, stock markets lose confidence, everyone starts to dump the dollar, governments intervene to prevent the run on the dollar and the banks, china iran and russia come out stronger and portrayed as the cause of the problem and the enemy

3. Offer the Solution - American government offers the solution to solve the problem, The North American Union is formally introduced to the half asleep Americans, Amero replaces the dollar as the single north American wide currency, American economy now to fully exploit the cheap Mexican labor plus the cheap Canadian natural resources this solution offered as the perfect new troika, everything going according to plan, neo-cons further their agenda to eventually replace the Amero with the cashless micro-chip based society where rights and freedoms are things of the past

It’s the classic Problem, Reaction, Solution – the Hegelian model for a new world order and new one world government run out of Jerusalem.

    Reusable plastic bottles leach BPA at room temperature

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    Reusable plastic bottles leach BPA at room temperature

    February 15, 2008, EWG

    This may be worse than we thought

    A lot of people have those reusable polycarbonate water bottles; you can’t go to a college campus these days without seeing students carrying these multi-hued bottles around as they make their way through classes.

    polycarb_bottle.jpg

    Well, a couple weeks back researchers at the University of Cincinnati released a startling new study showing that many of these bottles leach bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor, into water that is being stored within the container.

    These researchers found that these plastic bottles leach BPA into room-temperature water. That’s bad enough, but if boiling water is put into these bottles, the rate of BPA leaching goes up by quite a bit.

    All the evidence out there tells us that this stuff is not good for you; EWG tested canned foods recently, which are lined with the same BPA plastic as these water bottles are made from. As it turns out, foods from metal cans contain significantly more of the chemical than water from bottles.

    We applaud the use of reusable water bottles to cut down on the environmental impact of bottled water, but with this new research, metal water bottles are looking better and better. Some have a plastic lining, but Klean Kanteen makes metal water bottles that are BPA free.

    Parents who are concerned about baby’s plastic bottles should know that although this study didn’t look at baby bottles, it studied the same type of plastic. At this point, there’s enough research out there to justify the added expense of buying BPA-free or glass bottles. But an even more critical step would be to substitute powdered formula for liquid formula if your baby isn’t drinking breast milk. Babies don’t need to be getting extra endocrine disruptors in any form.

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