Day 32: Oligarch farmers, food, and a "failed" state

Welcome to a society ruled by private power and concerned with only one thing: pushing wealth to the very top.

While Rowan and I are hard at work editing our documentary about California’s billionaire farmers, some of these farmers have been in the news. COVID lockdowns have scrambled food demand and worker supply, and they’ve been howling louder than just about anyone about how it’s been impacting their business

First — they’re complaining about a shortage of cheap, exploited farm workers. Second — they’re saying they have to destroy their crops because of lack of demand.

To aid their suffering, Trump’s people have pushed through a multi-billion dollar agribusiness bailout and are planning to it make it easier and cheaper for agribusiness to hire and exploit immigrant labor. In short: they’re handing out Trump Bucks to giant corporations while preying on the most defenseless workers — people who are risking their lives in the fields so we can all eat.

And let me tell you, it’s a deadly job even without the pandemic. Living and working in an environment saturated with pesticides, dust, fecal matter, oil pollution, and all sorts industrial and agricultural chemicals — it’s closer to being a liquidator at Chernobyl than anything else.

Meanwhile, many of these farmers are simply destroying their food and crops — eggs, onions, milk, squash, zucchini, lettuce, beans, cabbage, the list goes on and on. And as they’re grinding this stuff into mulch, they’re inviting journalists to do sob stories about it. Like this guy whose family farms an area just a bit smaller than Manhattan — and whose great-grandpappy invented a streamlined wagon system that allowed his workers to pick lettuce with greater efficiency:

Aside from the obvious propaganda angle of generating public sympathy for wealthy farmers with absolutely no political context, these stories of destroyed food are an example of a failed state in action. Actually — it’s not really a “failure.” This is how it’s supposed to work in society that relies on private power to move capital and resources and run things as it sees fit.

Millions are out of the job. There are lines in food pantries stretching for hours and hours across the country. Poverty and malnutrition — already at scary levels — are only gonna get worse. But corporate farmers are destroying their crops. And why not? It makes more sense for them. Why trouble yourself with harvesting and giving it away? It costs money and brings in no revenue. And who knows maybe they’ll make it up in increased food prices down the line. They probably will, too. We’re just beginning to enter the second month of the pandemic and already food prices are beginning to surge.

Forget the feds and Trump, where are the local governments on this?

Instead of proactively commandeering this food and distributing it to people who need it, our cities and counties and states are standing by and not doing anything at all. They might as well be non-entities. Instead of stepping in and taking care of their people, our local politicians have left it up to private charities and individual corporate farmers to work it out.

But that’s how things work in a society completely ruled by private power and concerned with only one thing: pushing wealth to the very top. Here in Los Angeles, the city didn’t even have the guts to stand up to the real estate lobby and pass a basic eviction moratorium. What else can you say or do?

The sad truth is that even on the most level there is no democracy here — not even the spirit of it remains. I don’t see a big difference between Moscow and Los Angeles these days — both only have democracy as an empty, ritualistic process. No one’s involved in local politics, no one knows who their local reps are, nor do they really care. That’s because no believes that any of it matters. And they’re right to be cynical and suspicious. Power rests in private hands. Whether here in California or Moscow, democratic structures — such as they are — exist for the benefit of that power. That’s just how it is.

Anyway, I hope you’re all well and taking care of your self and the people around you. Our society sure isn’t going to take care of you.

—Yasha Levine


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