Saturday, April 28, 2012

Food Politics

Sean Hannity went on a compassionate conservative tear recently.      On April 23 he maintained

I never went to bed hungry in my life.... Most Americans haven't ... I have friends of mine that eat rice and beans all the time.   Beans-protein-rice.   Inexpensive.  You can make a big pot of this for a week for relatively negligible amounts of money for your whole family and feed your family.

Look, you should have vegetables and fruit in there as well but, you know, if you need to survive, you can survive off it.   It's not ideal- you know,you can get some cheap meat and throw inthere as well for protein.   There are ways to live really, really cheaply.

On April 25, Hannity urged poor people to "quit drinking soda and drink water" and reportedly suggested they eat eggs.

Good advice, actually, for most people- not only the indigent- to opt for water and eggs rather than soda.   Patronizing for a guy making $10 million a year, and quite simplistic, but sound.

Perhaps this Sean Hannity, fan of fresh vegetables and fruit, can stage a debate with the other Sean Hannity.    A year and a half ago, Hannity joined other right-wing talk show hosts in condemning First Lady Michelle Obama's emphasis on eating fresh, locally, and raw.        According to Media Matters, he had claimed "that Michelle Obama was 'taking the nanny state to a new level' by 'tell[ing] us what to eat' and claimed that we will soon have the government 'fining us if we use salt.'"

But it's not only Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, John Stossel, Fox News, and self-described "Ameica's Anchorman," Rush Limbaugh.    In July, 2011 a Heritage Foundation report included  

The actual living conditions of America’s poor are far different from these images. In 2005, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning.

David Atkins called out the conservative think tank for targeting Americans they portray as

spoiled whiners because they can afford a microwave, three square meals a day and a used car while the poor in Brazil have none of those, is a particularly insidious and revolting bit of sophistry.

There are three key reasons that the lack of significant increase in middle-class wages vis-a-vis productivity and inflation since the 1970s has not led to the sort of riots and revolution we are seeing in the Middle East. The first is massive subsidies of agribusiness and processed foods in the U.S., which keep prices for unhealthy foods low, leading to America's poor rarely experiencing starvation, but often experiencing massive diet-related health problems. The second is cheap prices due to globalization and lack of tariffs: even as jobs manufacturing microwave ovens in America have disappeared, leading to lower wages and higher unemployment, the price of a Chinese-manufactured microwave oven has become more affordable. Wage deflation due to labor arbitrage has also led to price deflation--particularly in the prices of the sorts of electronic goods like refrigerators and video game consoles on which the Heritage Foundation places such a keen focus. The third reason is the widespread availability of credit, which has served to mask the inability of middle-class and poorer American households to balance incomes and expenses. Shred the credit cards of every single American, and you would have riots the very next day. And in fact, that very explosion of credit in the United States that both keeps the pitchforks away from investment bankers' mansions in the Hamptons and makes those mansions possible, is part of what has driven the world economy into recession. 

It's a nifty trick Heritage has pulled: promote agribusiness subsidy, free trade and credit expansion policies that kill domestic jobs while putting households in debt, but make DVD players and cheeseburgers cheap to obtain. Then criticize America's poor for being overweight, in debt, and owning a DVD player, in order to con the beleaguered American middle class into cutting taxes on billionaires.

Though Atkins' worthy target is the Heritage Foundation, his criticism applies, to a varying degree, to most of the right-wing talkies and intelligentsia.      And if any Democratic politician- or spouse of same- dares even to imply criticism of agribusiness, the corporate shills in the Republican punditocracy will have none of it.

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