16 September 2003

belatedly, a very nice essay about the actual, as opposed to rhetorically invented, war on terror, by swat history prof tim burke.

i have disagreed with a few of burke's points in the past (several long-winded comment and counter-comment exchanges about anti-war activism come to mind), and there is something instinctively upsetting about anyone using the phrase 'war on terror' in a non-ironic way, but i'm very impressed with his attempts at even-handedness here. even better are his positive suggestions for actually mitigating terrorist threat -- note especially the ties between neoliberal economic and agricultural policy, world poverty, and terror.

i wasn't sure how to feel, or what to think, when i read that the poorer nations had ditched the cancun talks yesterday, so like any good pseudo-intellectual, after a bit of thinking i came up with an anecdote from my past, namely, the potato and sugar beet farmers in the red river valley. these people are rich, very rich, richer than they need to be, richer than a family farmer in the united states can be and living like absolute gods when compared to those in africa, the caribbean and south america who farm to survive. farm subsidies keep them rich. farm subsidies have kept north dakota reelecting its democratic congressional team long after its spiritual descent into wacky conservatism, and have kept that congressional delegation, along with those from other farm states, advocating subsidies with a zeal born of job-security issues.

it's tough: even though the people with the power in my home state are corporate, they are corporate farmers, easily conflated with, i dunno, almanzo wilder or dorothy's folks from the wizard of oz or my great uncle arnold. all you have to do is say "family farm(ers)" in the midwest (even if they don't exist and aren't the ones being helped anyway) and your tariffs and subsidies are locked away in the highest room of the tallest tower of the political fortress that is populist midwestern pride of place. the folks at american crystal sugar (east grand forks, MN) or ryan potatoes (grand forks, ND) or j.r. simplot (grand forks, ND) are not particularly interested in oxfam or its clientele, and it seems that no one in american politics today is interested in helping them get interested.

so what to do?