Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The global food crisis requests a new food and agriculture governance model

By Lidija Knuth, Research Fellow for the Kirwan Institute

The global food crisis is also a crisis of food governance. With an estimated increase of 105 million hungry people in 2009, there are now 1.02 billion malnourished people in the world, meaning that almost one sixth of all humanity is suffering from hunger (FAO 2009). But the problem is not that we don't produce enough food. There is enough food for everybody but decades of globalization with respective deregulation, speculation on the commodity markets, climate change and inadequate food and agricultural policies and respective models of production have led to massive problems in producing food in a sustainable way and distributing food fairly.

Most of the food globally is produced by small-scale farmers, women, and farm workers. And yet they are steadily losing access to, and control over food producing resources such as land, water, seeds and livestock breeds. Anticipated profits from the agro-export business and the increase in agro-fuels investment and rising food prices have triggered a strong demand for land and water to expand monocultures and industrial agriculture as well as widespread land grabbing. This development, together with other factors such as armed conflicts, extractive industries, tourism, industrial and infrastructure projects, climate change, and accelerated urbanization have led to more uncertainty of land and property rights of rural communities.

To meet those challenges we need a new governance framework. The current norms and regimes governing food issues need to be altered; it is necessary to reflect on the models of production and management that should be promoted, the problems around access to natural resources and the major actors that will need to be involved. It is necessary to seriously involve several additional actors in the new food and agriculture governance systems. Small-scale farmers should no longer be viewed as a problem, but as central actors in boosting food production and preserving the environment. Their and other marginal voices need to be taken more seriously. They should be viewed as key change agents, while agriculture should be seen as an - and perhaps “the”– engine of growth and poverty reduction.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Social Contact and Interactions

By S. P. Udayakumar, International Research Fellow for the Kirwan Institute

The binary thinking that permeates most of our cultures across the world often results in simplistic two-pronged classifications. ‘Good vs. Evil’ is the most favored storyline in most cultures. ‘Us vs. Them’ is the most fecund identitarian and political scheme. ‘Profit vs. Loss’ in economics, ‘Victor vs. Vanquished’ in military, ‘Holiness vs. Sinfulness’ in religion, and the cultural sphere has many more: strong-weak, tall-short, fat-thin, black-white and so on. The list is endless.

We often think of social contact and interactions also in terms of social exclusion and inclusion. In the typical ‘before-after’ binary thinking, inclusion is the tool of intervention. The ‘pre-inclusion’ state is deemed to be social exclusion. Then inclusion happens and the ‘after-exclusion’ state is understood to be inclusion.

A medical analogy could help us understand this better. Say you have a nose and feel pretty bad about it. You undergo a plastic surgery and get the nose straightened. The doctor shows the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos, you are thrilled about the new nose and live happily ever after. The ‘during’ phase between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ stages is a short and swift surgery.

But is ‘social inclusion’ such a quick and easy move? The ‘during’ part that can be termed as social contact and interaction is long, convoluted, complex, intricate and highly political. Unlike the plastic surgery, a lot happens here. If we locate all that happens here on a continuum, this could range from ignorance and indifference to outright animosity and active confrontation. Between these extreme positions, there are all kinds of inclusionary and exclusionary precepts and practices.

Take, for instance, the inclusion of women in many of our societies. For many men and man-made institutions, inclusion of women is rather a forced or legally mandated effort. We could call it ‘sexclusion’ that means overall exclusion with selective sexual inclusion. Some sections of people in some parts of India abort female fetuses because of their preference for male-children. Girl children are considered to be a liability. But they do need women for their boys to marry. Another example would be the ignominy of untouchability in some parts of India. The members of a ‘lower’ caste are kept away by the ‘upper’ caste groups as untouchables. But the ‘lower’ caste women somehow become touchable when sexploitation is possible. The issue of sexclusion is much broader and more complicated and deserves to be studied separately.

Social exclusion also happens at two levels. Pushing ‘the Other’ away from you is often problematized and is a crime in many of our societies. But there is also an equally effective and treacherous way of exclusion, and that is pulling your(self) away from ‘the Other.’ Examples could be White people in the United States running to the suburbs or the ‘upper’ caste Brahmins in India secluding themselves to maintain their purity and ward off pollution from the Dalits. Thus marginalization is a form of structural violence that keeps sections at the margins as you seclude yourself at the center. Furthermore, it also means your refusal to enter the margins and interact with the marginalized in any meaningful manner. This large grey zone between ‘social exclusion’ and ‘social inclusion’ must be studied more deeply and methodically.

New Populism Not About Race? Think Again

By Stephen Menendian, Senior Legal Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

The headlines are now familiar. Representative Joe Wilson shouted “You Lie!” during President Obama’s Health Care speech to the Congress. In response to Rep. Wilson’s outburst, former President Jimmy Carter said “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American.” This comment launched a media firestorm framed around a simple question: is resistance to Obama’s health care plan, or any of his proposals, rooted in racism?

Maureen Dowd, writing for the New York Times, reminded us of Joe Wilson’s association with the Sons of the Confederacy, including his participation in the campaign to keep the Confederate flag atop the South Carolina capital building. The implication was that Joe Wilson’s outburst was motivated by racial antiapthy, or at least latent racial attitudes. On the other side, David Brooks, disclaiming the ability to “peer… into the souls of Obama’s critics,” opined that “race is largely beside the point.” In his view, the debate was one of big government versus small government, federal interventionism versus limited federal government and states rights, urban versus rural, Hamilton versus Jefferson. Brooks claims that it is this frame which illuminates the debate and the reaction by the right-wing populists to Obama's policies, whether it is Health Care, the Stimulus, and so on.

The next 24 hours of the news cycle was consumed by this question, from Fox News to Larry King. In the middle of it all, the President said that opposition to his policies wasn’t motivated by racism. In an interview, asked about the issue, President Obama said: "Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are. That's not the overriding issue here."

The debate over the issue was disturbingly shallow because it was framed by the wrong question. Either resistance to Obama’s policies are motivated by racism or they aren’t. And if they aren’t, then, as Brooks put it, ‘race is… beside the point.’ But this is a false dichotomy. The frame that David Brooks employs is the perfect counterpoint for why this is so.

On the various issues of federal interventionism (gun control, the federal reserve, etc) and federal programs (health care), limited government and states rights, taxation, immigration and birtherism, urban versus rural, nay, Jackson and Jefferson, race is ‘largely besides the point’? Point by point, issue by issue, these are the tropes of race. These issues may not be motivated by racial animus, but they are most certainly ‘about race.’

Southern opposition to federal intervention and protection of states rights and a limited federal role was always premised on the protection of existing racial arrangements. This was the essence of Jeffersonianism. While he spoke of the ‘ideal of the independent farmer,’ that farmer was, by and large, a slaveholder. The states-rights tradition cannot be understood outside of race. Opposition to taxes is not simply opposition on the philosophical level; it is tied to the issue of “federal programs,” which to many white Southerners meant taxpayer supported programs to benefit Black Americans, whether it was opposition to the Freedman’s Bureau during Reconstruction, the Social Security Act during the New Deal, or the Aid to Families with Dependent Children during the Great Society, which the Gingrich Revolution’s Contract With America brought to an end.
Think this is ancient history?

Rush Limbaugh told his audience to “Think reparations. Think forced reparations here if you want to understand what actually is going on.” A few months later, more directly in connection with the health care debate, Glenn Beck blogged that: “[Obama] attended a Black Liberation Theology church for 20 years. Black Liberation Theology teaches it is the white man that has kept you down. It is the white man that you must take money from, you must take power from to make up for the past.” Against this backdrop, Glenn Beck claims that “Barack Obama is setting up universal healthcare, universal college, green jobs as stealth reparations. That way the victim status is maintained. And he also brings back back‑door reparations.”

Race undergirds messages on taxes, immigration, guns, patriotism, family values, and big government spending, making them attractive, particularly in the South. To say that race is ‘largely besides’ the point is to miss the point, and miss the ways in which these issues are framed in such a way as to foment opposition on the foundation of nearly two hundred years of racialized cultural associations. Opposition to these issues may not be the direct result of racial animus, but these issues cannot be divorced from their racial subtext, and that this subtext plays a critical role in fomenting support or opposition.

Although David Brooks may be right in his anecdotal observation that the ‘white tea party protestors’ are not racial bigots in the mold of George Wallace or even Archie Bunker, he hit the nail on the head when he said that these folks, and the ‘populist news media’ decry Van Jones and Acorn to “prove that elites are decadant and un-American.” Indeed, it wasn’t just that federal intervention meant disrupting racial arrangements or that federal programs signaled reparations, there was moral lining to these complaints about who is worthy and who is not. The immoral, decadent, or lazy African-American is a very old idea. The ‘welfare queen’ has is not even the most recent iteration. Recall the Associated Press captions that described a black Katrina victim as “looting,” and the white victim as “finding” food in the wake of the Hurricane. Today, Acorn, an organization advocating around low-income housing and other social issues in predominantly minority areas, has been the latest target, in an attempt to associate the group with prostitution.

Consciously or not, David Brooks drew out the exact associations both to federalism and to morality that have such a deep racial subtext, and yet he claims are not about race. Naïve? Perhaps . But Brooks is not alone. Even as we talk about race, too often the conversation devolves into the narrow and unproductive question of whether someone is a racist or not. These issues have deep racial connotations that operate even in the absence of overt racism. They are successfully utilized by the right to garner opposition to policies and programs by mapping them to their implicit associations. Maureen Dowd pointed out that “For two centuries, the South has feared a takeover by blacks or the feds. In Obama, they have both. “ Although the John Calhoun and George Wallace are, by and large, long gone, it is a critical error to assume that race is beside the point. And unless we call out these associations, with their myriad racial meanings, they will never be defused and their racial implications will continue to work against us, to our frustration and confusion alike.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Creativity for the Count

By Cheryl Staats, Research Assistant at the Kirwan Institute

As 2009 speeds to a close, the U.S. Census Bureau is gearing up for its constitutionally-mandated decennial count of everyone living in the United States. Although the Census Bureau takes extraordinary care to ensure that all people are counted (even staging dress rehearsals), this remarkably complex task historically results in an undercount of marginalized populations. Contributing to the undercount are undocumented immigrants who often are reticent to participate, erroneously fearing that personal information disclosed on census forms may lead to deportation or other adverse legal ramifications. Awareness of undercounts has often prompted census officials to statistically modify previous counts, thus offering adjusted data.

With Census Bureau Director Robert Groves recently claiming that “there’ll be no adjustment of this census,” the agency’s 2010 outreach includes some novel tactics to raise awareness of the census and allay respondents’ fears. To reach Latinos, the Census Bureau has teamed up with the producers of Más Sabe el Diablo (“The Devil Knows Best”), a telenovela (soap opera) on the Telemundo network, to create a storyline involving a character who applies to work for the U.S. Census Bureau. Factual information meant to the reassure the largely Spanish-speaking audience (such as census information being estrictamente confidencial – “strictly confidential”) is communicated through the character Perla Beltrán, who otherwise is intertwined in the genre’s typical fictional sagas. Aurelio Valcarel, an executive producer at Telemundo, asserted, “we’re trying to fight the fear” by including the census-focused plot.

With census data used to allocate more than $400 billion in federal and state funds each year, to influence what community services are offered, and to apportion congressional seats to states, innovative tactics that educate using creative mediums and make respondents less leery about being counted should be applauded. Ultimately, attaining an accurate count is vital to maintaining equitable congressional representation, a hallmark of our nation’s democracy. In the words of the national campaign: Ya es hora. ¡Hágase Contar! - “It’s Time. Make Yourself Count!”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

By Angela Stanley, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

I’ve recently been thinking about concepts like priorities, standards, representation, and fairness—not in any in-depth kind of way, rather anecdotally and informally. The whole Roman Polanski situation, and all of his supporters, has really left me scratching my head or donning a furrowed brow or whatever the move is that makes you look like you’re deep in thought.

I find it interesting that there seems to be more public outcry and scorn for Michael Vick over animal cruelty and Michael Jackson (RIP) for the acquittal of child molestation charges than for Polanski who admittedly had sex with a minor and R. Kelly who has a documented history of his “relationships” with underage Black girls. (PS: Is anyone really surprised that Woody Allen is on Team Roman Polanski?)

Serena Williams recently got quite upset about a bad call during a tennis match and it was somehow attributed by many to her Black girl Compton upbringing. Meanwhile, John McEnroe was notorious for his routine temper tantrums during tennis matches and rarely had them boiled down to his race, gender, and/or childhood residence.

My oh-so-favorite comedian Chris Rock, all sarcasm intended, can profit comedically at the expense of Black women and making fun of issues that are pretty personal and yet be praised for capitalizing on those very same issues under the guise of wanting his daughter to feel beautiful just as she is through his upcoming documentary Good Hair. From a business standpoint, I suppose playing both ends is the most profitable way to go, but it’s interesting that there have been several documentaries done on this issue, mostly by Black women, yet Chris Rock is the one who gets the credit and attention…and the Oprah couch time.

Tyler Perry who, although successful, has questionable writing and directing skills and regularly portrays Black women in the most stereotypical of ways, has somehow managed to score the rights to Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, and will be bringing it to the big screen in the near future. Really? Tyler Perry is the best person for the job? Really?

Anyway, I’m sure this list could go on and on, but I’ve said all of this to say that there’s something going on with people’s standards, what their priorities are, what they value, and how they are being represented (or misrepresented). Through the murkiness of it all, some people just aren’t emerging with a fair shake and it makes me wonder if I’m the only one who’s seeing it and going “hmmm…”