January 8, 2003, Issue #214
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
From a Public Interest Perspective

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GREENPEACE: In a stunning example of corporate insensibility, Dow Chemical, the worlds largest chemical company, and new owners of Union Carbide is to sue survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. While the site of the disaster lies covered in toxic waste and survivors struggle with continuing ill health and deadly pollution from the site, Dow has decided to add to their woes with an Indian lawsuit.

Yes that's right --- the very people Dow should be helping are now facing a lawsuit from one of the world most powerful corporations. Why are they acting in such an amazingly perverse manner? On December 2nd a peaceful march of 200 women survivors from Bhopal delivered toxic waste from the abandoned Carbide factory back to Dow's Indian headquarters in Bombay with the demand that Dow take responsibility for the disaster and clean up the site. Dow obviously has other ideas because they are suing survivors for about US$10,000 for "loss of work". That's US$10,000 compensation demanded for a two hour peaceful protest where only one Dow employee briefly ventured out of the Mumbai corporate business park to meet the women protestors.

Satyu, a Bhopal activist and one of the protestors charged by Dow highlighted how ridiculous this "loss of work" claim is: "Thousands of us lost their lives, many more have not been able to do our jobs] for the last 18 years and 150,000 people in Bhopal are still suffering ill health because of the Union Carbide gas tragedy in 1984. Even today people die and children are born with gas related diseases. It is outrageous that Dow is charging us US$10,000 and tries to shut us down from seeking justice from them".

The damages demanded by Dow will amount to about 10 years income for the survivors charged but is less than one days sales revenue for Dow. Also Dow is seeking to silence protest by demanding that survivors be banned from holding protests within 100m of Dow offices in India.

Dow has just appointed a new CEO, William Stravopoulos, who engineered the Dow merger with Union Carbide in 2001. If this lawsuit is how he intends to deal with the ongoing Bhopal disaster then it will be a huge public relations own goal. Dow proudly proclaims it slogan as "living improved daily". How does that fit with the suing of poor protestors who have a real grievance with the company?


DOW JONES NEWS WIRES: Chiquita Brands International Inc. will cease subsidizing the operations of its Panamanian unit January 1 because it can't sustain continuing losses at the division.

In a press release December 31, the produce distributor said the Puerto Armuelles Fruit Co. unit, or PAFCO, has lost about $90 million over the past six years.  In fiscal 2001, Chiquita lost $57 million, or 94 cents a share, excluding items, on sales of $2.24 billion. Actual net loss was $118.8 million, or $1.78 a share.

Per-share results for 2001 are based on 73.3 million shares then outstanding. Those shares were canceled when the company emerged from Chapter 11 proceedings on March 19, when the company issued 40 million new common shares. Chiquita earlier said it would stop funding the PAFCO division if a solution to its uncompetitive cost position was not reached by year end.

The company said  . . . that PAFCO can continue to operate for a brief period without financial subsidy. But if an agreement is not reached soon, the operations will shut down for lack of funds.

Earlier this month, Sindicato Industrial de Trabajadores de la Chiriqui Land Company y Empresas Afines union rejected Chiquita's proposal to sell the PAFCO farms to a worker-owned cooperative. Employee union leader Edward William said there's no guarantee Chiquita would agree to buy bananas produced on the plantations once the company no longer owns them.

Chiquita said it is urging the union to reconsider its offer, which includes "competitive long-term contracts" to continue purchasing fruit from PAFCO. In 2001, the division exported about 6.5 million 40-pound boxes of bananas for the international market, or about six percent of Chiquita's Latin American supply.

Chiquita said the Panamanian trade minister confirmed the Panamanian government's support for the proposal in a December 30th letter to the company. Chiquita said it is still hopeful that the Panamanian government will "identify appropriate mechanisms to resolve the current crisis in the best interests of all the stakeholders."

Chiquita, operating out of plantations at PAFCO and in the Bocas de Toro province, represents about 89% of Panama's total banana exports.


PESTICIDE ACTION NETWORK UPDATES SERVICE: On December 18, 2002 Monsanto announced the resignation of its president and chief executive Hendrik Verfaillie, ending a 26 year career with the company. In a press release the company stated that the resignation was a mutual decision. Both Verfaillie and the board of directors agreed "that the company's performance during the past two years has been disappointing." However, according to the St. Louis Dispatch, "industry analysts and those who have closely worked with Verfaillie over the years said they believe the board called for his resignation." Monsanto stocks fell almost six percent at the news; Monsanto's stock has fallen nearly 50% since January.

Monsanto's sales in the third quarter of 2002 dropped over 27%, while sales for the first nine months of the year were down by almost 19%, to US$3.45 billion from US$4.25 billion in 2001. Monsanto attributes the drops to unusually dry conditions in the U.S. throughout the summer and early autumn, plus a sharp decline in maize seed sales in Brazil and Argentina. Sales of Monsanto's herbicides, including its flagship herbicide Roundup (glyphosate), were down almost 43% in the third quarter. There was a 26% decline in herbicide sales (to US$1.5billion) in the first nine months.

According to Monsanto, U.S. sales of Roundup will total 37-39 million gallons in 2002, approximately 76-80% of the total U.S. market for glyphosate of 49 million gallons. The company's share of the U.S. market is projected to fall to about 60% by 2005. Globally, Monsanto expects to sell 57 million gallons of Roundup in 2002, or about 38% of total world glyphosate sales.

In April 2002, Monsanto announced 700 job cuts primarily in SoutheastAsia, New Zealand, Australia and North America. (Monsanto has nearly 14,600 workers worldwide.)

Monsanto also announced that global plantings of the company's genetically engineered crops have increased this year by 10.5% to 136.2 million acres (55.1 million hectares). In the U.S., Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans (soybeans engineered to be resistant to glyphosate), are the most widely planted genetically engineered crop; plantings increased 9.9% to 60.2 million acres in 2002. Plantings of Monsanto's Bt cotton (cotton engineered to produce an insecticide), however, declined in the U.S. (from 0.5 million acres to 0.4 million) and China (from 2.2 million acres to 1.9 million).

Another problem facing Monsanto is the growing number of cases ofglyphosate-resistant weeds. For years, Monsanto maintained that resistance was not a problem. In the past few years, however, cases of resistance have been documented around the world. In 1996, resistant Rigid Ryegrass was found in one part of Australia; then in1997, it was discovered in New South Wales. Cases of resistant Rigid Ryegrass have also been documented in California (two to five sites) in 1998, and in South Africa (11-50 sites) in 2001.

In 1997, Goose grass resistant to glyphosate was found in multiple orchards in Malaysia. Glyphosate-resistant Italian Ryegrass was discovered in orchards in Chile in 2001.Weed scientists there estimate that up to 500 acres may be infested.

In 2000, cases of resistant Horseweed (also known as Marestail) began appearing in soybean fields in the United States. Resistance has been documented in Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and Tennessee. In Tennessee, resistant Horseweed was also found in cotton. Scientists estimate that from 100,000 to one million acres are infested with resistant Horseweed, primarily in Tennessee and Delaware.

Syngenta, one of Monsanto's top competitors, recently released a white paper examining the impact of glyphosate-resistant weeds on land value. The paper concludes that specific weed resistance can reduce a farm's rentable value by 17%, and that the greatest weed-resistance concern is glyphosate tolerance in Roundup Ready crops.


CHICAGO TRIBUNE: General Mills Inc., the nation's second-largest cereal maker, behind Kellogg Co., said second-quarter net income rose 111% to $276 million, or 73 cents a share, from $131 million, or 41 cents a share, a year ago. Excluding unusual items, the Minneapolis-based company said earnings were 77 cents a share, beating analysts' forecasts by three cents a share, according to Thomson Financial/First Call. Sales rose 60%, to $2.95 billion, largely reflecting the acquisition of Pillsbury in October 2001. Had the company owned the business the year before, sales would have been up five percent, with shipments up three percent, General Mills said. Shares of General Mills gained $1.09, to $45.98.


SCOTT BAUER, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  Nebraska may be best known for its beef, but the state has something else that sets it apart: the nation's only constitutional ban on  corporate farming.  In the 20 years since a citizen's initiative led to the ban, it has withstood court challenges and, supporters say, helped protect Nebraska farmers.

"It's helped keep grain and livestock production in the hands of family farmers and independent producers in our state," said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. "We're a more diverse and economically beneficial state because of it."

Nebraska has avoided becoming the home to large agribusiness operations, mega-hog farms and livestock feeding lots, in large part thanks to the ban, known as Initiative 300, Hansen said.

Lobbyist Walt Radcliffe opposed the initiative on behalf of Prudential Insurance Co., which invested heavily in Nebraska agricultural land in 1982. Radcliffe argued then -- and continues to argue -- that it unfairly restricts the marketplace. "We have driven away any large out-of-state dollars," he said. "We have restricted buyers, we have kept profits down and furthermore, we have kept capital out of the state of Nebraska."

In the mid-1970s, many Midwestern states moved to restrict corporate farming. Eight states --- Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin --- passed laws.

But none of those states has a ban in their constitution or laws as restrictive as the Nebraska ban, according to a study last year by researchers at Clarkson University and Cornell University.

South Dakota voters approved a ban in 1998, but it was struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional. Appeals are pending.

The failure of other states to follow Nebraska's lead may have resulted from difficulty in amending state constitutions, satisfaction with existing laws and the lack of groups advocating for the change, said Jon Bailey, director of the rural policy program for the Center for Rural Affairs in Walthill, Nebraska.

Getting Nebraska's ban passed wasn't easy. After more than a decade of lobbying the Legislature for an anti-corporate farming law, supporters led a petition drive to get the ban on the state's ballot.

In some ways, the unwillingness of lawmakers to act helped the cause because the constitutional amendment approved by voters was much stronger than any compromise that would have made it through the Legislature, said Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Walthill center and one of those who helped write Initiative 300.

Initiative 300 generally prohibits corporations and certain other business entities from owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity, although there are exceptions. The exceptions include farms that are family-owned and operated, nonprofit corporations, American Indian tribal corporations, land used for seed or nursery purposes, and land used for research or experimental purposes.

Hundreds of non-family corporate farm operations were grandfathered in when the amendment took effect in 1982. The farms were not permitted to get any larger, and only about half of them still exist, Hansen said.

Advocates for small farms say that even with the ban, the number of family farms in Nebraska continues to decline. The number of such farms in the state has dropped from 65,000 in 1980 to 54,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census. The farms are largely being bought up by neighbors and urban dwellers seeking land to live on, Hansen said.

"They're not being bought by non-family-farm corporations," he said. "That's the big difference between Nebraska and other states."


ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, NEW YORK TIMES: The corporate chess game of mergers and acquisitions, an indicator of confidence in boardrooms and the stock market, may offer some intriguing matches this year.

The days of industries' being reshaped and transformed by megamergers are clearly over, but dozens of Kasparov-like moves are now being mapped out for 2003 that could make rivals rethink their strategies. Big-name companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, the H. J. Heinz Company, AT&T Wireless Services and the Bank One Corporation of Chicago, among others, are expected to end up in headlines this year. Of course, scores of asset sales\ by companies that need to raise cash and those in bankruptcy proceedings are also predicted.

"Based on the level of dialogue that is taking place between companies, I'm cautiously optimistic," said Steven Baronoff, who runs the mergers and acquisitions practice at Merrill Lynch. "There are a lot of deals that got close to the goal line last year, but never made it. I think a number of those deals come back and C.E.O.'s pull the trigger this year."

Nevertheless, few expect an onslaught of activity like that of a few years ago. "The abject failure of the technology, media and telecom acquisitions of the 1990's and the collapse of serial acquirers like WorldCom and Tyco have thrown acquisitions into disrepute," Martin Lipton, a founding partner of the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, wrote in a note to clients this week about the dire state of the merger business.

Merger activity in the United States last year fell to $458 billion, from $771 billion in 2001, according to Thomson Financial, its lowest level since 1994. Still, dozens of interviews with corporate executives, directors, bankers, consultants and analysts have produced a compelling catalog of deals that could and should happen in 2003.

Here is a list of their best guesses for selected industries.


Last year was supposed to be the year of consolidation among the big wireless telephone companies. A plethora of competitors and the resulting profit-sapping price war were expected, among other outcomes, to prompt Deutsche Telekom to sell its American unit, VoiceStream (now called T-Mobile), and set off a chain reaction of wireless mergers.

Deutsche Telekom did hold some not-so-secret talks to sell VoiceStream to Cingular Wireless, the joint venture between SBC Communications and Bell South. Deutsche Telekom also had discussions about merging its mobile business with AT&T Wireless. But the potential partners showed little interest, and the talks went nowhere especially after Deutsche Telekom] got some breathing room from its lenders and a new management team that is less interested in mergers.

This year, if there is a prime mover for consolidation among the wireless players, it could be the Vodafone Group of Britain. The company, despite being the world's largest wireless operator, has no significant presence in the United States beyond a minority interest in Verizon Wireless.

This coming summer, though, Vodafone contractually has the opportunity to sell its stake back to Verizon Communications. And many experts expect Vodafone to end its relationship with Verizon so it can buy a real presence in the United States. Assuming Cingular is not a seller and so far it has indicated it is only an acquirer --- that may put T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless back into play. Vodafone is said to be interested in buying only a rival that uses the same network technology, a stipulation that would make Verizon and Sprint PCS less desirable acquisition targets because they use a different standard. Depending on whether Vodafone goes after T-Mobile or AT&T Wireless, the other could be a likely takeover candidate for Cingular.


Every year experts predict a rash of consolidation in the fragmented pharmaceutical industry. After all, Pfizer, which bought Pharmacia last year and is the biggest drug maker in the world, still controls only about 11% of the global market. And with the patents for blockbuster drugs constantly expiring, pressure to rebuild drug pipelines quickly is intense.

But drug makers have been slow to merge, in part because recent deals have proved to be only short-term fixes for longer-term predicaments and because the market valuations are so high and the takeover premiums even higher.

Still, a couple of big drug makers may be forced to hang up "for sale" signs in 2003. Schering-Plough is a favorite of the handicappers. Its stock fell 38% last year, and as of April its executive suite will be missing a critical element: a chief executive. For Schering-Plough's board, a quick sale --- to a rival like Merck --- may be the best solution.

The trouble-plagued Bristol-Myers Squibb may also be a ripe takeover candidate --- if anyone is willing to approach it. GlaxoSmithKline, desperate to match Pfizer's size, and the Swiss drug maker Novartis are considered potential acquirers. A dark horse in the acquisition race is Johnson & Johnson, which has usually been content with smaller deals but could be compelled to think big if it can make a move at the right price.

Consumer Goods

With the likes of Procter & Gamble and Unilever virtually ruling the supermarket shelf, space for independents, which are few, is becoming scarce. Big-brand companies like Heinz, Kellogg, Campbell Soup and the Clorox Company have avoided the clutches of the goliaths so far, but this year they may be forced to merge with one another or be swallowed up.

With Heinz and Campbell at closely aligned market valuations --- Heinz is worth about $11.5 billion and Campbell's about $9.5 billion, they could strike a face-saving so-called merger of equals. Or at those valuations, they could easily be bought by a bigger rival. There is also an outsidechance that PepsiCo could decide to sell some Quaker Oats food brands that it acquired when it bought Gatorade in 2001. In August, a two-year moratorium on PepsiCo divestitures will expire.

Financial Services

The much-maligned merger of J. P. Morgan and Chase in 2000 has helped quell megabanking mergers since. But with the stock prices of investment banks so depressed, a big commercial bank could feel compelled to move in. Bank One is the perennial favorite to make a Wall Street play. And if the fortunes of J. P. Morgan Chase, hurt by its work for Enron, do not turn, the company could look to sell for a decent premium. Morgan Stanley, which is having its own problems, is a not-so-obvious potential partner.

Consolidation among regional banks is the surest bet for 2003. J. P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual are expected to continue to bulk up commercial banking operations, making companies likethe Bank of New York targets.

And what happens to all these deals if the uncertainty in Middle East erupts into war? "All bets are off," said Donald Meltzer, global co-head of mergers and acquisitions at Credit Suisse First Boston.


DARYLL E. RAY, AGRICULTURAL POLICY ANALYSIS CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE: Farmers tend to respond similarly, the world around

Why is it that we, as farmers, think that other farmers will be willing to do things that we won't do? In developing agricultural policy we often base our decisions on the premise that we can force farmers somewhere else in the world to make decisions that we would not be willing to make. This fact struck me at a personal level the other day when a student from Argentina was vigorously complaining about the level of U.S. subsidies. He said that prices would not get better until something was done about U.S. subsidies.

I asked him what he would do if prices dropped by X percent. How would he change his behavior? He said he would still put a crop in.  I then asked what he would do if he could not afford to put the crop in. He said he would lease the land to another farmer who would produce on it. Suddenly the light went on. Farmers in the U.S. are no more willing to change their behavior in response to low prices or reduced subsidies than farmers anywhere else in the world. But then again, we are still learning this lesson.

In the 1985 Farm Bill, Congress deliberately reduced the loan rate under the assumption that higher rates supported world price levels and encouraged wheat production in the E.U. The reasoning was that if the loan rate were reduced the European CAP export subsidies would become so expensive that they would have to be reduced.  This, in turn, would force European farmers to reduce their wheat production, leaving more of the world export market available to American farmers.

Guess what? European politicians may be even less willing than their U.S. counterparts to reduce farm support because they remember what it is like to be hungry  (remember WWI and WWII).  Even after the policy depressed prices of the 1985 and 1990 Farm Bills and payments of billions of dollars, we are now told that the E.U.  Will soon be able to export wheat without export subsidies. So essentially the reduced prices and billions of dollars in deficiency payments bought us nothing for crop farmers.

Again with the 1996 and 2002 Farm Bills we have eliminated any mechanism that would put a floor under crop prices while supporting U.S. farm income with Loan Deficiency payments  (LDPs) and Counter-Cyclical Payments  (CCPs) and a healthy dose of fixed decoupled payments. The hope is that farmers in nations that compete with us for exports will reduce their production or at least slow down the rate of growth in their production.

The results of this pressure tactic have been spectacularly unsuccessful. It is hard to find any evidence that would suggest that our competitors have reduced their production in response to lower prices. One thing it has done is further impoverish farmers in less developed countries as well as farmers in general.

The drumbeat is becoming ever louder that the major problem in world markets is the level of U.S. subsidies. The reasoning goes like this. If U.S. farmers are deprived of their subsidies they will reduce production. In turn producers in other parts of the world, especially small farmers in less developed countries, will receive higher prices and be able to afford to expand their production.

But U.S.  farmers think the same way that farmers all over the world think. Few U.S. farmers are willing to give up farming unless the banker makes it impossible. And, even then, the land is simply turned over to another and remains in production.

When policies are based on the premise that "farmers somewhere else are willing to make decisions that we are unwilling to make," we will get nowhere and farmers everywhere, in the absence of a weather event somewhere, will be plagued with low prices.

Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the Director of the UT's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center.


SONNI EFRON, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Which hungry baby is more deserving of food: a North Korean or an African?

Humanitarians reject the premise of that question. But U.S. and international aid officials and private relief workers say the wrenching truth about the global politics of food aid is this: If the North Korean government renounces its nuclear program, aid will pour in to feed its babies. If it doesn't, most of the world's food donations will go to the starving children of Africa.

Because of problems monitoring aid distribution in North Korea, the United States --- the largest donor in 2002 --- has not said when, or even whether, it will provide more aid. And that might leave the newly elected president of South Korea nearly alone in offering food, fuel and fertilizer to his needy neighbor.

It is never easy to decide which poor countries should receive food aid or how much. But because the developed nations do not give enough food or money to feed all the hungry, choices must be made. This unpalatable process is about to get uglier, with needy nations essentially forced to compete for a shrinking supply of food and the Bush administration under fire for allegedly politicizing the aid process.

World production of the cereals that are the chief form of food aid has dropped each year for the past five years, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Consumption has increased just as steadily. Food stockpiles are shrinking. The predictable result --- soaring prices --- is good news for grain farmers but a disaster for the hungry.

"As commodity prices go up, it causes a tremendous strain for the World Food Program because donors give us money in U.S. dollars, and the dollars don't go as far," said Charles Vincent, a WFP official in New York. The price of a ton of wheat, for example, soared to $195 in October from $130 in January, Vincent said, adding: "Humanitarian budgets are being super-stressed this year because of huge crises, and the well is going dry."

The mismatch between supply and demand, caused mainly by unusual simultaneous bad harvests in the United States, Canada and Australia, is particularly ill-timed.

Aid organizations are warning of hunger crises in the Horn of Africa and in southern Africa, and they're projecting that 24 million to 28 million people will need food donations in the coming months. In Africa, 38 million people are facing starvation, according to the World Food Program.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan is still a problem, Vincent said, and hundreds of thousands of Central American coffee growers don't have money for food because of a collapse in prices of their commodity.

Enter North Korea. How dire its food needs are a matter of dispute, though conditions are much improved since a long famine that peaked in 1996-97 killed an estimated two million people. The change is due partly to better weather, but also to an aggressive program of international aid, which is now drying up.

In a radical effort at economic reform last summer, North Korea vastly increased both salaries and official prices for food. Prices had been set absurdly low but were meaningless, since the only edibles for sale were black-market items at black-market prices, often sold in dollars. The North's economy is so distorted that it's difficult to judge how well the lurch toward a freer-market system is working, but early reports are positive.

New farmers' markets, however, could be victimized by runaway inflation, according to the World Food Program. The agency estimates that although last year's cereal crop in North Korea is up about five percent over 2001, the nation will need 564,000 tons of food aid this year.

One of the last shipments of American grain is now being unloaded, and food will start running out next month, said Rick Corsino, director of the World Food Program's operation in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Then the agency will have to stop feeding nearly three million of the 4.5 million "most vulnerable" aid recipients it feeds.

"We won't be feeding around 760,000 kids in nurseries, from six months to four years" old, Corsino said in a satellite-phone interview. "Then the kindergarten kids --- that's 385,000 we won't be reaching. Primary-school kids, 830,000. Pregnant and nursing women, 130,000. Elderly, around 550,000. Finally 225,000 of what we call caregivers, mainly women who work in children's institutions and hospitals."

Although the plight of Africa's hungry is generally well-documented, the North Korean government has long made it difficult to even figure out where best to send aid. Donors, particularly the Bush administration, have lost patience.

For reasons that it will not specify, Pyongyang will not permit foreign visitors or World Food Program monitors into remote areas where about 13% of the nation's population lives --- and where food conditions are rumored to be worst.

The agency's ability to monitor the food distribution is also restricted in ways that wouldn't be tolerated in any other country, said a senior U.S. aid official. For example, the agency has not been permitted to bring in its own translators and must interview food recipients with the help of government minders, the official said. "You can't go to a kindergarten that's supposed to be distributing food without six days' notice," he added.

There are also persistent, though unverified, reports from North Korean refugees that the military takes food once it is distributed. Humanitarian-aid workers insist that powerless and suffering North Koreans must not be punished for the sins of their government.

"Are we going to sacrifice children and the elderly in order to achieve 100% perfection in monitoring?" asked Karin Lee of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbying group.

"The lack of transparency creates a horrible choice," said a well-informed North Korea-watcher in Washington. "Do you believe the refugee reports that say the aid is being diverted wholesale, and cut it off? Or do you send it anyway, hoping that some of it gets through?"

Last year, the United States gave North Korea 170,000 tons of food, more than any other country provided the regime through the WFP. But in June --- several months before Pyongyang acknowledged its secret program to enrich uranium --- the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that it would give no more food aid to the country until U.N. officials could properly monitor where it goes.

In August, the White House sent a delegation to brief the North Korean ambassador to the U.N.

According to the senior U.S. aid official, the Americans handed the envoy a newspaper article on the bad harvests and told him, "We have increased demand, reduced supply, and we can't argue on your behalf because we can't find out what your real needs are. People are saying we're using (food) as a weapon, but we're saying, 'If we give it to you, we have to be able to monitor where it goes.' " North Korea has not responded.


It is difficult to be a humorist when thoughts turn to war and the body bags that will be delivering many of our loved ones home.  What is funny about death?  In my own memorial service, humor will be a part of it --- because I want the memories to be about the wonderful experiences and happy days that were an essential part of the life I have lived.
In the humor field, there is a genre of humor about death, pain and human misery called black humor.  For the academic scholar, there is a legitimate place for it, but it's not my style.  When I was the special guest of the director of the atomic reactor at Chernobyl near Kiev (the reactor that was next to the one which exploded with immense and tragic results), I asked him if there was any black humor being done about that event of the past year.

He quickly related the story of a woman in Kiev who was selling apples --- two baskets --- one with beautiful Crimean apples at a modest price and the other with more expensive, large, knobby, ugly apples from Chernobyl.  When asked who would pay more money for the ugly, mishapen apples, the lady answered, "Oh, many men buy these for their mothers-in-law or their bosses."

That is a kinder type of black humor that may bring a smile to some people as they realize that Russians and Americans have certain common threads in their humor.   But that is not about the heavy misery and pain of war and body bags.

Could I write a satirical piece about body bags as an investment possibility to help "grow the economy." Could I tell you that you can buy a sample body bag on the internet for $15.00 --- or $8.00 in quantity orders?  Could I play around with the idea that you could buy your own personal body bag as a gift for your loved one about to go to war?  And perhaps decorate it with the family crest or your favorite biblical quotations?  I enjoy writing humor when I can put my heart and value system into it. With war and its body bags, I just can't do it.

With 200,000 American service men and women deployed to the Persian Gulf as of today ---with the 1000-bed hospital ship, the Comfort, that sailed this morning, January 6, as I sit writing this piece, --- with a probable $200 billion price tag for the war taking away from the needs education, Medicare, prescription-medicine costs, health, and unemployment benefits for people who want a job but cannot find one, how can I write something funny about this war?

Instead, I am saddened and frightened by what I see as a great nation moving away from the values that made it great. Is it unpatriotic to be critical of this national drift?  Is it unpatriotic to oppose an idiotic war?  I submit that one can support our service men and women best by keeping them out of a needless war. It is a war that is being born of the arrogance and greed of the corporate pirates who will reap the profits of oil and power while waving the flag and destroying the values for which that flag has represented in our greatest years as a nation.  We use the code word of Saddam to focus our hatred and tremendous military power at a single man.

Where are the leadership qualities of a Thomas Jefferson, a Franklin Roosevelt, or a Harry Truman?  Are they to be found in the convicted felons, John Poindexter and Elliott Abrams, who are key policy makers in the White House?

Where is the humor to be found in lost values and in the body bags that soon will overwhelm us?  I often offer my advisory: "You don't have to be solemn to be serious," but body bags are too solemn a subject to engender humor in this old combat veteran.

                                        EDITOR'S NOTE

Preparing to post this year-end 214th edition of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER it is
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