Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No, I will NOT calm down. Hunger Action Guide.


One HUNDRED MILLION MORE people are hungry today than only 6 months ago.

I don't think we can truly comprehend that number, but if it doesn't scare the living hell out of you, and make you FURIOUS, I have to doubt your intelligence and humanity.

Read the previous posts here if you're new to this.  Or look here. Our faithful reader "Anonymous" sent this link to an outstanding article, with great detail, in the online English version of Der Spiegel (New York Times if you're German...)

Sharon, bless her, actually thinks we may have something here.   And she's not easy to fool into blind optimism- which you can see with her post today (jeez, Sharon, I think you need to just be a little more serious about life!)    :-)
 
If you're here reading this- we're in the "pitchforks and flaming torches mob" stage of this movement.  Beyond angry.  We're demanding ACTION - RIGHT NOW.

Action, in fact, is POSSIBLE- right now.  We don't even have to move Congress in the US - just this weird little commission.  Five presidential appointees.  Just 5.  They could, theoretically, ban hedge fund and index fund money in the agricultural commodities futures market- oh, this afternoon.  No new money in.  No re-investing money already in.

Actually, this kind of a target should be HIGHLY susceptible to the pitchforks and torches.  Particularly if some of them are being carried by Senators and Representatives.

Here's what, and here's how.

A. We need a bigger mob- we're not big enough yet, even though others are moving too.
B. We need to sustain actions for the long term.
C. We need to have SPECIFIC - and realistic - actions to suggest/demand.

I'm going to give some quick answers to ALL those points right here.  This IS a work in progress, though, and I'm going to be amending/adding to this post many times in the next 2 days; so check back here to see where we wind up.  The first version is going to be sketchy; but it won't be sketchy when we're done.  Your suggestions are wanted to- and I'll incorporate them here; put them in the comments.

A. We Need More People; More Attention; 
More Discussion; More Anger.

1) There are many organizations in the world that deal with hunger- send these posts to them all; with your own comments-

2) re-email your friends; email more friends; let them know you're not quitting

3) email/call the CFTC Commissioners  directly (phone #'s)

4) Call your Senators/representatives AGAIN.  It counts.  US Senate contact,
5) Do you know any journalists, in any of the media?  Call/email- PUSH for coverage

6) Call in to any and all talk radio shows - National Public Radio, for example - and TELL IT.  Tell them about the specifics- (below) - that we're asking for temporary actions- and we want half the profits already stolen to be given back- to the UN food program- now-....

7) Anybody know Larry King?  :-)  Get him to invite George Soros on the show for a discussion of all this... and to ask him- why not just give half back?

8)

B.  Sustaining Action Long Term

This is a big damn iceberg.  It does no good to push just once.  We have to keep pressure on the berg- for a long time.

1) BUDGET a little of YOUR time to work/call/email about banning speculation in food commodities.  How angry are you?  15 minutes a day?  1/2 hour a week?  Both of those can be hugely powerful.  Set aside the time; and make sure it gets done.

2) Do you have friends locally who could be pulled in?  Form a group- that MEETS, physically - once a week- to share and plan.

3) Get your church/synagogue, mosque, knitting club- to form a group

4) Link between groups- ally with other groups also acting-

5) Get the colleges and universities really involved.  Many have "world hunger" groups- talk to them- get them marching- poverty groups, humanitarian groups- it's everyone's problem really, of course.  Know some students?  Professors ?  Get in the doors, get the conversation started.  And the anger.

6) Don't get us tangled up in endless "definitions" discussions.  It's already happened a bit- just remember we're all on the same side here- we want profiteering stopped.

7) Don't let this drive you crazy.  It's an iceberg we're pushing on, and it's not going to feel like much is happening.  Budget your time- and spend time staying sane, too.  I'm not converting this blog to a world hunger blog- in the next few days I'll be posting on something nice, cool, sweet.  Puppies and kitties.  

8)

C.  Specific - Realistic - Actions

1) Get the hungry country governments involved- and speaking up- and ACTING.  How incredibly embarrassing for the USA it will be when Canada, a nation mostly of grown-ups, takes action and bans speculative money in commodities markets NOW.  Or- Sweden.  Or- China.

2)  DEMAND ACTION NOW!!  There is NO excuse for not acting.  The advent of all this speculative money skewing the markets is RECENT.   As an INTERIM; TEMPORARY action- have the markets REVERT to the previous situation - FOR TWO MONTHS, only.  During those two months, we'll have time to think- and WATCH the markets when some of these pressures are removed.

3) FOCUS ON TEMPORARY EMERGENCY ACTION .  The profiteer opponents are already screaming "just let the market work!" - (translation - let us make more money yet, before we change things).  NO.  People ARE DYING - stop it NOW.  Make ANY action taken specifically temporary- and reversible.

4) ADD ENERGY SPECULATION to the demands- it's tied together, as we all know.  Farmers can't afford seed, or fertilizer; food can't be shipped where it's needed.  Hedge funds have been dumping billions into oil futures, too.  Driving the price higher.  It's in the postitive feedback bubble stage now- price goes up?  More billionaires invest- driving it up- etc.  Finally - an article stating that clearly by a US journalist - Energy Bubble - which nonetheless fails add 2 and 2 together.  The price of oil is killing economies.  Airlines have died, recently- and it's tied in like crazy to the cost of food.  It's got to stop.

5) WHAT WE WANT: is NOT the closure of the ag futures markets - but the exclusion of the billions of dollars being pumped in just for profit - and/or for hedging against the falling dollar.  Both are hugely destructive processes- regardless of details.

6) CALL FOR FULL CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS/INVESTIGATIONS NOW; in all Houses; House, Senate, Commons, Lords, Whatever.

7)  DEMAND THE REPAYMENT OF PROFITS already extracted from these markets by outside profiteers.  (no, we probably won't get it; but boy I guarantee they'll pay attention to it when it's put on the list of what happens next!)  Why the hell don't some of those hedge fund managers who took BILLIONS in payment just - GIVE BACK HALF - to the UN food program?? LET'S ASK THEM.

GIVE BACK HALF - TODAY.

Can't wait to hear their answers as to why they just can't.  (sorry, but I NEED all 2 billion, for my kids' college...)

8) Organize, launch some ACTUAL demonstrations- MARCH - down the streets in the financial districts- Signs saying "MURDERERS!!"  and "100 MILLION MORE STARVING!!"  and "NO FUTURE for the World in Futures!!"  and "JUST GIVE HALF BACK- NOW!!"  and name names- "JOHN PAULSON - JUST GIVE HALF BACK!" "JAMES SIMMONS - JUST GIVE HALF BACK!" "GEORGE SOROS - JUST GIVE HALF BACK!!"   Soros actually - might.  Which would set an example for the others they'd be hard pressed to ignore.  Can you say, "huge news"?

9)


Please comment here- suggestions- your actions.  It's HELPING.  I guarantee.

Are YOU, personally, supposed to pick up and do ALL this?  No, really.  Very few of us could.  For those with the passion- please go for it!  But for most of us- it'll be a matter of that 15 minutes- and one or two actions.  But do keep your mind open for opportunities.  And keep your ammunition ready.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Okay. I'm totally with you here, and following, mostly, but I'm wondering if you could explain this in more detail:

"5) WHAT WE WANT: is NOT the closure of the ag futures markets - but the exclusion of the billions of dollars being pumped in just for profit - and/or for hedging against the falling dollar. Both are hugely destructive processes- regardless of details."

I understand the basics of what's going on here, but I guess I don't understand how traditional ag futures markets and hedge futures differ. I'd like to be able to explain this properly to others. Can you give us a crash course (or point us to someplace where we can read more about it), by any chance?

Greenpa said...

Anon- Wikipedia does as well as any, and has an example that helps- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedging

But it's confusing, anyway. PLUS - a "Hedge Fund" - is something else. Basically it's an unregulated bank. I think. Specifically designed outside regular laws- to pump money around, and make big piles of it. So the managers may "earn" $3 BILLION - in PERSONAL payments- in one year. uh, what?

The "Futures Markets" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futures_contract) used to be inhabited only by people who actually DEAL with food- farmers- elevators - shippers- processors. People who actually have 30 tons of rice, or whatever, in their physical possession, and who intend to sell it down the chain in the future.

Recently though, both the food commodities and the ENERGY futures markets have been OPENED to just ANYBODY with the money. So- what they do is take a spare billion bucks- buy up the CONTRACT TO DELIVER a million tons of this, and a million tons of that - on, say July 15 - hold the contract for a few months- and - SELL THE CONTRACT to someone else. They never actually own any wheat or rice. But the whole process, and bidding wars- generate the well known "bubble" mentality "the price is going up!" - so- the price goes up; those who bought a bunch of contracts a while back can sell them for more- and the price of food skyrockets.

That help? They TRY to be confusing, you know.

Greenpa said...

oh, yeah, how does a Hedge Fund get away with being an unregulated bank? Easy - you can only participate in a hedge fund if you're a billionaire- and sign papers acknowledging that this is all risky, and unregulated, and you COULD lose EVERYTHING by participating- which is why they only let the BIG boys play. Or so they say.

Usage Unit said...

For the less than eloquent or grammatical, or the challenged for time, here's my letter as an example. As always, your own words are best however.

Easy delivery: Congress.org. Enter your ZIP code at the left, then click the tiny "Federal" link under "Write Your Elected Officials".

CFTC contact info is here. The Chairman and Commissioners are the most important to contact, as well as the Director of the Division of Market Oversight.

goritsas said...

greenpa,

I’ve got news for you, futures markets have been opened to anyone with money since the beginning of futures markets. Without the money speculators provide, a futures market would simply not exist. Speculators provide the “liquidity” a futures market requires to operate. As you know from my previous ill-tempered ranting, I deplore this entire nonsense. Having said that, without speculators, and remember these people are contributing only money, producers and consumers would be unable to “hedge” either their sales or their purchases, perhaps months or even years into the future. The major error with the entire scenario comes with the use of leverage. The speculators, the ones providing the liquidity that enables the market to function, only have to put up a small amount of the value of a contract to purchase it, the margin. This means, sadly, a Hedge Fund with 50 million USD to “invest” will control assets worth a whole lot more. If the margin required to purchase a contract is 5%, the Hedge Fund looking to put 50 million USD into a futures market will then have control of contracts worth $1 billion USD. This is where the real problem lies, the ability of a big anonymous player to move market prices with a relatively small amount of money. As for the traditional commodities markets, these have always had daily trading limits wherein prices are not allowed to move higher or lower than the preceding day by a specified amount. Recently these limits were changed allowing greater movements in either direction. This means it now takes less time for a big player to move the market in either direction.

The main problem with your demand to remove Hedge Funds from commodities trading is won’t you then have to bar other players? Who gets to trade and who doesn’t? I understand your frustration but I don’t believe such a proposal can work. Limiting participation in the futures markets to only those actually selling or buying will not work either. In that instance the markets will simply be to illiquid to function. If margin requirements are raised many traders will move on to other markets where bigger profits can be made and there goes liquidity too.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say these markets work as intended for their constituencies, traders and, dare I say it, profiteers. I think it’s mythology they exist to help farmers and millers and bakers and so on, but the myth is so convenient and so powerful it will never be overcome. Financial markets exist only to serve financial players.

I agree with brian m. that as long as we’re going to put food under lock and key and make people use money to unlock it, farmers, as well as the rest of us, will need some tool to moderate the impacts of bumper years and years we’d rather forget. Futures markets are not that tool, to put it plainly. No amount of reform will ever alter a futures market created by finance to something that serves the needs of those in the chain from field to plate. During both lean and bumper years.

I personally would like to see the abolition of futures markets in food. By far the most important strategy, at least in my opinion, is for more front and back gardens to be returned to the cultivation of calorie and vegetable crops. From where I find myself sitting now, the greatest act of subversion is growing one’s own food. The more we can bind to those of us so inclined those of us yet to understand the implications of this message, the faster we will topple the Monsanto mentality and perhaps help to if not stave off disaster at least mitigate the outcome to something far more endurable.

Greenpa said...

Goritsas- my understanding is that in energy futures, at least, the ability to buy futures has indeed changed rather recently- by allowing smaller investors to by shares in a larger operation. In any case, the recent changes in the amount of speculative money entering the markets is not in question. Something changed.

Which is why a) I want to push for TEMPORARY change. It should be a little easier to get; it should require less endless debate, it amounts to an experiment to FIND OUT how the market reacts, and - it should be reversible without too much trouble.

The arguments that the speculative investments are necessary for the market to function are not proven; to my mind. Why don't we find out? Bar all non-grain owners from participating for two months.

It couldn't make it worse.

Remember- all the economic theorists- with all their theories and sophisticated models, which they will defend to the death- are actually clueless about how the world works. Otherwise- we'd be living in a solvent, equable world. And we aren't.

Anonymous said...

I found this on another site.

Americans Hoard Food as Industry Seeks Regulations
April 23rd, 2008
Via: Washington Times:

Farmers and food executives appealed fruitlessly to federal officials yesterday for regulatory steps to limit speculative buying that is helping to drive food prices higher. Meanwhile, some Americans are stocking up on staples such as rice, flour and oil in anticipation of high prices and shortages spreading from overseas.

Their pleas did not find a sympathetic audience at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), where regulators said high prices are mostly the result of soaring world demand for grains combined with high fuel prices and drought-induced shortages in many countries.

The regulatory clash came amid evidence that a rash of headlines in recent weeks about food riots around the world has prompted some in the United States to stock up on staples.

Costco and other grocery stores in California reported a run on rice, which has forced them to set limits on how many sacks of rice each customer can buy. Filipinos in Canada are scooping up all the rice they can find and shipping it to relatives in the Philippines, which is suffering a severe shortage that is leaving many people hungry.

While farmers here and abroad generally are benefiting from the high prices, even they have been burned by a tidal wave of investors and speculators pouring into the futures markets for corn, wheat, rice and other commodities and who are driving up prices in a way that makes it difficult for farmers to run their businesses.

“Something is wrong,” said National Farmers Union President Tom Buis, adding that the CFTC’s refusal to rein in speculators will force farmers and consumers to take their case to Congress.

“It may warrant congressional intervention,” he said. “The public is all too aware of the recent credit crisis on Wall Street. We don’t want a lack of oversight and regulation to lead to a similar crisis in rural America.”

Food economists testifying at a daylong hearing of the commission said the doubling of rice and wheat prices in the past year is a result of strong income growth in China, India and other Asian countries, where people entering the middle class are buying more food and eating more meat. Farm animals consume a substantial share of the world’s grain.

Also this:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,549187,00.html

goritsas said...

greenpa,

I’ve got no problem with eliminating futures markets full stop. I my opinion they are contrivances by the financial playaz for the benefit of the financial playaz. There is one issue that still needs to be addressed, at least as it applies to the stuff we eat. Time.

The main thing to remember about the futures markets, at least as they apply to food, is they have the ability to smooth out the mismatch between the frequencies of harvest and the demands of consumption. There are only so many growing days in any given year and crops require so many of these to mature to harvest. So wheat comes in two or three big lumps every year. This is unlike the baker who requires a fairly constant supply of wheat from week to week with little variation in volume. And unlike the miller who can probably store some excess of both during the various periods of receipt of grain and shipment of flour. This frequency mismatch is certainly one thing a futures market can help to address. In the world of food under lock-and-key, money opens doors. So, in that sense the futures markets can play a role in smoothing the rather spiky nature of farmer’s harvests with the rather continuous nature of the baker’s flour requirements.

To my knowledge only food has this constraint. Metals and energy and timber and so on are subject to project development lead times but once a mine is digging or a well is pumping or a plantation is growing there will be little variation (except places like the GOM or Siberia where climatic fluctuations can impose indeterminate constraints). The users of farmer’s efforts have a totally asynchronous relationship to the farmer’s rather lengthy periods between harvests. I cannot foresee any way to alter the function of the futures market of today in a way that will be compatible with both meeting these needs and forgoing the use of the speculators leveraged liquidity. This is one of those go / no-go situations. Either we accept, if not embrace, the futures markets, or we discard them wholesale and implement an entirely new people centred paradigm. And ram all the excess dollar notes right up the bottoms of those hedge fund managers so they can at least keep their shit to themselves.

Greenpa said...

Goritsas- my main point is- we need to try something else- now. What we're doing is a disaster.

If we can get legislators to that point- we can fuss about WHAT then. And I think stating up front- "we're going to do this 2 months at a time" might make it easier get action taken. Every time people set out to make "permanent" rules- you wind up with permanent discussions- and no action. Ok, 3 months. 4. Whatever it takes to get change made.

One of the suggestions back there was that the government should get into the business of "smoothing things out" - by becoming one of many grain dealers- perhaps the largest; but not the only.

I know; getting government to do sensible things is nearly an oxymoron these days- but- it could be done. Just make damn sure the commissioners are NOT presidential appointees. Maybe they should be drafted- don't take anyone who actually wants the job.

You may be right- could be right- let's find out, by CHANGING the current obscenities. And being prepared to change again, soon.

Greenpa said...

Anon- re Washington Post and Spiegel - great stuff! Spiegel has first rate details. I had a little trouble copying the URL; here's a direct link: role of speculation.

Can you send links to our stuff - to those authors ? post on their sites? would be good to get some journalists aware- that plain folks are past talk, are screaming for action-

goritsas said...

greenpa,

Since we’re not talking cross purposes, or past each other, or even trying to tie down the terms of the discussion, since it seems we’re both hacked off and would rather see hungry people fed than parasites get richer, how about we entertain a slightly different approach to the problem?

Let’s actually take the game into where they’ll hurt the most, the wallet. Let’s rally together and for one month withhold every single payment to any creditor. Mortgage, credit card, store card, personal loan, student loan, you name it, let’s all withhold all payments for one month. You see, I think after one month most folk would be comfortable with the idea. Then we’d say since one month was a piece of piss, let’s do it for two months. Hey, we’re now three months into this and the banks and the bailiffs are going to be going batshit crazy. Now, since two months wasn’t all that tough either, let’s suggest we withhold payment for three months. Oh yeah, with the two months suggestion let’s also hint that maybe communities will want to start banding together, just on the off-chance some “enforcement official,” public or private, shows up and wants to discuss the situation with a particular resident of that community. Can you imagine the look on the face of some repo man as he’s staring at 200 angry residents wielding chain saws and nail guns and Lord knows what other weaponry they’ve brought to bear? Imagine 5,000 neighbourhoods across the great country of the U.S. doing exactly the same? Nobody goes hungry because everybody chips in. Nobody goes homeless because everybody stands shoulder to shoulder. Sure, the economy goes into the shitter but the bright and industrious people that make up the largest chunk of those residing in the 48 states will know what to do because they’re simply reclaiming their heritage and will see it through. They know hunger and thirst denied for lack of money is wrong. They know shelter and clothing denied for lack of money is wrong. They know health and education denied for lack of money is wrong. And they know the right to secure their common defence will not be denied regardless of money.

Anyways, it’s just a thought. Let’s chew on the possibilities even if they never come to fruition because it makes a damned good fairy tale antidote for at least some of today’s more poisonous vitriol.

Anonymous said...

Here's that contact information.
Get calling!
http://www.cftc.gov/contactus/index.htm

ysabetwordsmith said...

This is excellent advice.

I have a post on my blog, too, discussing the points of sensible stocking of pantries against emergencies.
http://ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com/175920.html

Anonymous said...

Greenpa, I know this is off topic but since you live in a wooded area, I was hoping you could help. We have a major tick infestation in our yard (which meets a wooded area full of rabbits). Do you have any good, non-toxic to very small children (ages 4 and under) ways to cut the tick population? Almost every day, I'm pulling a tick off a child, parent, or the dog (who is treated with Frontline). Sorry I was not able to find another way to contact you.
--Ave

Green Assassin Brigade said...

if you have a place to keep them and not too close to neighbours, Guinea hens are the worlds best tick control. Tastey too!

Hank Roberts said...

> tick population
I've read about this and tried it: put the safest permethrin-type tick clothing spray you can find (it'll say "not for use on skin" and "spray on clothes and let dry completely before wearing" and "do not reapply before clothing has been washed three times" or something like that, it bonds to the fabric). Spray that instead on scrap paper towels and cloth, let dry, and tuck into toilet paper/paper towel cardboard tubes and put those out in the bushes where field mice can collect the material for bedding. The idea is to intercept the majority of the ticks before they can reproduce.

Greenpa said...

Ave- yup, the world food system collapsing does not, in fact, get the ticks to quit bugging us. We've got an explosion of deer ticks this year; like 400% more than I've ever seen. And as new dog owners, boy are we aware. Both of the solutions above were ones I was going to point out, in fact, but Hank and GAB beat me to it. I've never done either, so the fact that they have, and still recommend it, is a biggie. The only other thing to add- keep your grass short, where you can, and keep your critters out of tall grass- when you can. Just ran into this- how to remove a tick, which I had never heard of- the comments seem enthusiastic.