The Bread Revolution

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By Rowan Wolf – Editor in Chief

There are many lenses with which to look at what seems to be a surge of revolts of the people to break the iron chains of the regimes of their nations. The current corporate media lens creates the image of a wildfire of revolution that started in Tunisia, then Egypt. Now in Yemen, Bahrain. In fact, in most reports Tunisia has disappeared from the tale. Instead, it is the change in Egypt which is now the marker of revolt – perhaps because it is the largest client state (in US “aid” aside from Israel).Through a different lens, one could say that we are watching the unraveling of decades of the maintenance and support of the US client states. Interestingly, we hear this while it is not explored too deeply. Egypt is the classic type of client state. The US supported Mubarak and gave billions in aid every year. Much of that aid (as is typical) went right back unto the coffers of the U.S. Military-industrial complex. In return, Mubarak did a number of jobs for the U.S. – recognizing Israel, serving as  torture central, and keeping a lid on its population

However, there is another lens, and that is the growing levels of inequality across the world thanks to monopolistic capitalism and the coming fruition of the global corporate state. However, it is not just inequality. At the root is something so simple as the grocery bill.

Global manipulations of markets, corporatization of the world’s food supply, utilizing food as biofuel, and climatic changes have converged to drive up the cost of food across the planet. There is no place where this has not happened, though the immediate effects of that cost are different across the world. The increasing cost of food has moved it essentially out of range of almost a billion people. Televised media – where people now turn to find out about the world – mentions briefly if at all.

However, a newly released report by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) shows a damning tale, and it is clear what they think is driving the growing conflict – the dramatic increase in food prices. The chart and table below speak volumes. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization FAO Food Price Index report is to be released 3/02/2011. Both the real and the nominal index are at their highest recorded point.



In Marketplace (2/18/2011) “High food prices cause concern in Middle East:”

“Rising food costs hurt poor and middle class people in the Middle East. Prices have fueled protests everywhere from Jordan to Yemen and Egypt. “

The Center for American Progress in “Making Egypt More Food Secure” (Caldwell, 2/18/2011) notes:

“Egyptians buy government-subsidized bread from a bakery in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt has spent $4 billion a year, or 1.8 percent of GDP, on its bread subsidization program in an attempt to insulate the 40 percent of Egyptians living on less than $2 a day from inflation. But prices continue to rise.”

And those prices continue to rise with a 47% increase in the cost of wheat – a staple in Egypt and many other places (Afghanistan and Pakistan come immediately to mind).

There is definitely something going on but is it what pundits, and the media lens, depict it as being? Somehow I think not. This is not the first time that the peoples of the Middle East have risen in numbers.

Are we watching the domino collapse of the U.S. Policy of client states? Are people now thinking that it is time to change the regimes under which they live? Is it truly a push for democracy?

I think there are certain constants that are broadly shared. One has been the reign of dictators or royalty, backed by the United States. The other is a larger issue that is engulfing the world – growing inequality.

At the root of the most recent Egyptian revolt is food, and lack of opportunity in the face of an elite pulling away from the population (sound familiar?). All of these forces have  driven the cost of eating beyond the range of almost a billion people. Many more beyond these are struggling just to make enough to eat.

So we are pointed in all kinds of directions that largely distract from the ones that would be most helpful – stabilizing or decreasing the price of food, and providing living wage jobs. Instead we hear the hypotheses of the births of democracy. And perhaps this will be true – over time. People want a change of leadership, and perhaps government, for a lot of reasons. However, it is likely that those reasons bear some similarity to the reasons why there are protests in the so-called “democracies” such as the U.S, France, and Britain. In Britain, France, and New Zealand, we have massive protests and political unrest over the “austerity” programs.

Here in the US, there were protests as well, but the only ones that got hype (and therefore a belief in their legitimacy) were “Tea Party” protests underwritten by the Koch brothers. Yes, the Koch brothers the “Billionaire Oilmen Behind the ‘Grassroots’ Tea Party Movement.” Just to show you that whole money may not buy you love, it can buy you a social movement and … maybe … the government. The same Koch Brothers who are calling out their minions to try and shout down the citizens fighting to keep the right to collective bargain in the state of Wisconsin. Where, according to the plan of the new conservative governor – Scott Walker, walked in with a surplus, gave out big bucks to special interests, cut taxes, and then decided to balance his spree on the back of the State’s Unions (Huffington Post, 2/17/11). Oh sorry – only those unions who didn’t support him. And here too, food and fuel prices are expected to rise by double digits.

While this is a different story than the events in the Middle East and Northern Africa, it has the brass bottom similarities of economic pressure and scared people who feel their lives and livelihoods slipping through their hands. So they call for change – almost any change – on the hopes that things will improve. So that they can feed their families again.

One huge difference between the dissent and growing uprising in the U.S. and those in the Middle East and Northern Africa, is that there  are U.S. “interests” there. Those interests revolve around oil and maintaining control of whatever governments arise to replace the ones that might fall. On the one hand, the U.S. cannot be seen to be on the side of brutal dictators ( now that it is common knowledge that has been the U.S. policy in the region). On the other hand, there is too much at stake to leave it to the whim of the people. So, as with Afghanistan the U.S. finds “friendly” (meaning to the U.S.) Taliban to hedge their double-down on Karzai.

Yes there is a revolution, perhaps a global revolution, in the air. It is not the same everywhere, though this is a moment of many awarenesses to nurture. The awful truths become increasingly difficult to hide behind fancy rhetoric and empty promises. There are those places where circumstances conspire to favor the people – as in France and the Egyptian Army siding with the people. And there are those places where the full force of (U.S. made)  arms will be fatally aimed at the people – as in Bahrain.

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