Thursday, February 25, 2010

Notes to Sarah Palin's ghost writer

I wrote a couple of posts replying to Sarah Palin's new Facebook note,
More of the Same, Only More Expensive:

In ten years, "Allowing people to buy insurance across state lines" will effectively mean, "Everybody buys insurance from South Dakota, because they have the weakest regulations on health insurers. It's exactly what happened to the credit card industry, so anyone who thinks this "free market solution" will do anything but make our health care system worse is simply not paying attention.


You link to a poll showing the current Democratic proposals to be unpopular. But you miss three crucial facts:

1) Many individual elements of the health care bill (employer mandates, ban on pre-existing conditions, the insurance exchange) poll *extremely* well. The public option also polls very well.

2) Polling has also shown that, if you give people straightforward, unbiased information (read: NOT Democratic talking points, just a non-partisan description of what the bill does) then the poll numbers improve dramatically.

3) Much of the opposition to the current bill comes *from the left.* Like me, they want to kick insurers to the curb by either giving America a strong public option or (even better) moving to a pure single-payer system.

Update: Apparently, this is the sort of hate speech that gets you a comment ban from Sarah Palin's people. My comments seem to have been deleted, and I'm no longer able to add comments.

Oh well, more time to practice my dolphin calls.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A short thingy on the merits of cap and trade (repost)

Catnlion said:
Climate change, don't you like how they don't call it global warming anymore, people want to use this to put in Cap and Trade, aka Cap and Tax. On the face C&T makes no sense. The point is to lower CO2. So what are we going to do, say you have to quit producing CO2, unless you pay us? Since taxes are a business expense that are passed along to the final customer the polluter is just going to pay the tax, pass the cost along, and keep putting out CO2. How does this cut the amount of CO2?


You seem to be missing some essential features of cap and trade, so I'll try to explain it as well as I can. To illustrate, we'll go with a simplified form of cap and trade. The United States emits a total of 5.7 gigatons of emissions annually. To begin reducing emissions, say we implement a cap at 5.5 gigatons. Then, the government sells 5.5 billion permits, each one granting the holder the right to emit a ton of CO2. If a coal plant can't buy a permit, then it can't emit any CO2.

Within this system, individual actors can continue doing exactly what they've been doing, so long as they buy a permit from somebody, either the government or some private entity that has already purchased one.

But because there are only a limited number of permits, somebody has to reduce their emissions and sell their permits to those who wish to continue emitting. To reiterate: you have to have a permit to emit a ton of CO2, and not enough permits are available to emit as much as we did the prior year.

The companies which choose to sell permits are the ones who can most cost-effectively reduce their emissions, while those which choose to buy the permits are the ones which would find it very expensive to reduce their emissions.

Cap and trade makes great sense, because it doesn't matter at all which molecule of carbon was emitted where or to what end. All that matters is the aggregate amount. If we have to choose between two plans for stopping a gigaton of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, one which costs a trillion dollars, and one which costs six billion dollars, all else being equal we should go with the latter. Cap and trade sets a goal, and lets the market figure out the most cost-effective approaches to meeting the target.

Now, the cap and trade bill before the Senate is more complex, because it also includes unrelated research funding, but more because it has to deal with real-world issues like verifying emission levels and all the other things needed to keep people from gaming the system. But the overall effect is the same: give the market the ability to internalize the costs of greenhouse emissions.

[Originally from the comments section of David Brin's blog at Salon]

Part 3: Drowning the Government in the Bathtub

The last few days -- because I'm bored -- I've been going over UT-3's (a.k.a. Jason "Hundreds of Billions for Defense, But Not One Penny for Pensioners" Chaffetz) "Contract for the American Dream.

Part 1: Pointed out that, back when the "American Dream" of shared economic prosperity was strongest, the government played a strong role in America.

Part 2: Took issue with both the sincerity of the "debt crisis"-mongers and the slash-and-burn approach they want to take to solving it.

Part 3 (current): Continuing onward, starting with the section entitled "Limited Government":

Further, it is not the government that will create jobs, wealth, or propel the United States of America to reach its fullest potential. It is the American people who will drive America forward.

I don't know which irks me more, the profound disrespect shown to the many positive roles government plays in our civic life, the implication that government employees are separate and distinct from "the American people", or the Trebuchet MS font-face it's written in. I mean, why not just mark it up in Comic Sans and be done with it?

Individuals should have the freedom to succeed or fail in this country. It is not the government's role to stand in the way of either outcome or to choose winners and losers.

Had he written that "corporations should have the freedom to succeed or fail," I might be inclined to agree. But that's not what he writes. He's saying government shouldn't help individuals who find themselves on the losing end of life. To describe government as "standing in the way" of a losing outcome is to imply that the outcome is earned, and that there is something morally suspect about preventing the suffering that accompanies losing. He's preaching Social Darwinism, the message that perpetrates so much of the misery and suffering that happens around our country: there is no such thing as systemic injustice, the world is fair, and anyone who is having a rough time of things has -- one way or another -- brought the misery upon him or herself.

Fortunately, not all Americans are as indifferent to suffering as Rep. Chaffetz. We decided, as a nation, to tackle the enormous problem of elderly poverty, by starting a program called Social Security to deliver the same. It has some kinks to work out, and yes, it's expensive. But you can't expect to lift millions of elderly Americans out of poverty on the cheap. The same goes for Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, welfare payments, and a whole host of other problems. As a tax-paying citizen, I'm glad that these programs are there to help people who need it. I want them to be run as efficiently as possible, and I'm eager to see any clever proposals for making them better.

The Contract says that it is in our nature as Americans not to sit around and wait for government to solve our problems. There is some truth to that. But neither is it in our nature to turn a blind eye to the needy and the suffering. I don't believe these two instincts need to be at war, but clearly Mr. Chaffetz wants us all to think that they are.

Jason, if you believe that Americans are a hard-working, ingenious people, ready to tackle challenges, then you should have faith that they can apply that problem-solving ingenuity in the realm of improving government. Instead, you propose that we throw in the towel; declare defeat, pare the entire thing down to the bone, sell big chunks of it off to private enterprises that literally cannot represent the best interests of the American people, and hope that somehow, somewhere, prosperity emerges.

More specifics!

  • Repeal TARP and commit to no more "stimulus" bills that are merely a ruse to grow government.

TARP was mismanaged from the get-go, like pretty much everything else Bush did. Obama at least came in and made it more transparent and increased oversight. Now the money is mostly being repaid, Obama is proposing a tax on the biggest banks to make sure we get the rest of it, and the Democrats are hard at work trying to craft regulations to make sure the financial industry can't wreck the country quite so badly next time. Not surprisingly, Republicans are stonewalling the effort, because despite Alan Greenspan's mea culpa, they can't imagine that the free market was capable of footbulleting itself the way it did.

In the mind of the free marketeers, the economic collapse was caused by the Feds forcing banks to give homes to black people. Or something.

The stimulus was separate legislation, though Republicans benefit greatly from public confusion between the stimulus bill (ARRA) and the bank bailout (TARP). My main complaint about the bill was that it was too small, and focused too heavily on tax cuts.

Now that we're through the worst of it, and we're pretty sure the economy is no longer going to tip over if someone exhales, the Republicans can yammer about how the money spent fixing Bush's mess was ill-spent. I'm glad things are going well enough that they have that luxury.

Meanwhile, they're in lockstep opposition to a jobs bill to help put Americans back to work. It was your own fault for losing your jobs, stupid unemployed people.

  • Appoint a bi-partisan "Sunset Commission" to identify at least 100 federal departments or programs recommended for elimination by December 31, 2011.
I'm all in favor of getting rid of programs that are ineffective or harmful. But when you throw out an arbitrary number to be decommissioned by an arbitrary date, you're just grandstanding.

My alternative would be, every three years each program and each department would create a report that basically justified their existence, and outlined any roadblocks they faced in fulfilling their purpose. The reports wouldn't give us all the answers, but it would give everyone in the federal government a chance to hash out which expenditures were important and why.
  • Reduce the corporate income tax to a flat 10%. This will eliminate the wide array of corporate loopholes, incentivize business in the U.S.A., and simplify the tax code.
Fewer taxes for megacorps, less spending on the education, health, and welfare of Americans. I'm starting to sense a theme. At least

  • Reject the "Cap & Trade" scheme and repeal all EPA funding related to carbon policy.

If you read this blog -- and I know both of you do -- then you know that this proposal should generate three or four blog posts in its own right. I'll just start it off by asking, does Mr. Chaffetz propose this because he doesn't believe CO2 emissions are a problem, or because he believes that free markets have the problem well in hand?

I'm guessing the former. Global warming is a textbook case of a serious problem that cannot be addressed by purely free market mechanisms. No wonder the drown government in a bathtub crowd has to keep telling itself that it's a giant hoax; if it's real, it's like the whole planet is telling them that their ideology is crap.

  • Sell back to private ownership the three million acres of federal land identified under the Clinton Administration as having no federal purpose.

I'd need more detail on this one. Just for reference, three million acres is about four times the size of Rhode Island. I would be surprised if Chaffetz were interested in getting maximum value from the sale, even though it would go a long way in getting us out of this manufactured "debt crisis."

I know that I've come across as a staunch defender of all things governmenty these last few posts. I'm really not. I was all over government's case back when Bush was in office, pointing out the litany of bad things government causes. I'm a huge fan of Glenn Greenwald, who is no friend to the Washington establishment.

I'd like to put my government boosterism into context. I think of government and the corporate world as two separate spheres of power with competing goals. Government at its best can act as a check on corporate power and temper capitalism with the bit of humanity it needs to avoid a violent revolution of the proletariat. But in order to do so, it has to be allied with the interests of the people, not the corporations, and it has to have the size and scope to make an actual difference. You lose the first principle, you get fascism. You lose the second, you get Somalia.

I'm on the pro-government bandwagon right now, because the current flare-up of anti-government rhetoric is so blindly, willfully stupid. Just one example: the health care bill represents a grand compromise, bringing insurance to millions of Americans while intruding minimally into our unique employer-based system, and putting us on equal footing with every other industrialized nation (who somehow manage to provide universal coverage at relatively low cost). But if you listened to the tea partiers, they sound like Obama called for the immediate government takeover of the health care industry, then started rounding people up and forcing them through medical school at gunpoint.

Government needs serious reform, but the Tea Party -- and the politicians who court them -- are indiscriminate in their outrage. In their narrow, unthinking view, all government programs are useless (except defense, which we should continue to fund at rates comparable to the spending of the whole rest of the world), all recipients of government aid are unworthy, and all the government ever does is keep free enterprise from solving our problems. That breeds cynicism of the worst sort, which discourages bright and talented people from joining public service, which eventually gives us the crappy, ineffectual government Republicans -- and their corporate masters -- want us to have.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Contract for the American Dream, part 2: The Nightmare Begins

In part 1, I argued that during the period most closely linked with "The American Dream," (the 1950s), government action was key to the broad-based prosperity of that era. This was in response to Jason Chaffetz' statement called The Contract for the American Dream, which calls for taking the wrecking ball to vast swaths of government.

In part 2, I'd like to take a closer look at some of the problems he lays out in his contract, and the -- and here I really, really have to use quotation marks -- "solutions" he proposes for them.

The American dream wasn't built on higher taxes, Czars, "Cash for Clunkers," or corporate bailouts. And it wasn’t built on a limitless government credit card.

Wow, there is a lot to unpack in that bizarre statement. As I mentioned in part 1, our current taxes are actually fairly low by historical standards, especially for the wealthiest Americans. I can't find a coherent explanation of why I should be outraged over "czars", much less why I should be outraged over Obama's czars and not the dozens that Bush had. Cash for Clunkers was actually a pretty reasonable program.

But the last point, about the limitless government credit card, makes no sense from a historical standard. Let me just quickly point out that, in the aforelinked chart, Republican presidents have overseen the vast majority of the increase in debt to GDP. But the more important point is, looking at it from a historical context, we've been far worse off. America has always had an unlimited credit card. We charged World War II to it, so it's not exactly easy to max it out.

I'll agree that the national debt is a very real problem, and we have to have a long term strategy for getting it down to zero. But most Republicans didn't utter a peep back when they were the ones holding the credit card, then started screaming their fool heads off when they had to turn it over to The Kenyan Crusader. And even with the existential debt crisis, Chaffetz still believes that it is in America's most vital national interest to continue spending nearly as much as the entire rest of the world on national defense. So it's hard to believe that he's serious about tackling the debt problem, rather than using it as an excuse to jettison the chunks of the government that don't fit his ideological whims.

Rather, the best hope for the United States of America is to return to the core principles of fiscal discipline, limited government, accountability, and a strong national defense.

Adherence to these core principles will result in more jobs, more opportunity, more freedom, and consequently a better quality of life now and for future generations.

Since limiting the size and scope of government is supposed to create all these bounties for a country's citizens, I have a challenge for the good representative. Imagine that you have to leave the Socialist United States for parts unknown, and you cannot take any significant wealth with you. That is, you have to live in some other country, as one of the lower or middle class.

Now, make a list of the ten countries you could see yourself spending the rest of your life in. Now cross-reference that list with this one, showing government expenditures as a percentage of GDP. With the possible exceptions of Hong Kong and Singapore, every country you would think of as "industrialized" or as "having a health care system I would willingly subject my dog to" spends a higher fraction of their national wealth on government services. Brazil might be fun to live in for a few years, but not for reasons that have anything to do with "jobs, opportunities, and freedom."

Of course, plenty of hellholes on the list also have high shares of government spending. But consider this: France and Moldova[1] have about the same share of government spending, and France is clearly the better place to live. The Republican assumption that government spending has a powerful negative effect on the quality of life of its country is really hard to justify.

We pay approximately $600 million per day in interest payments.

That does sound like a really big number. Probably because it is. But a bit of perspective is called for. The national GDP is about $13 trillion dollars. $600M a day comes out to about $200 billion dollars, or about 1.5% of the national budget. We have a debt problem, not a debt crisis. The Republicans want it to be a crisis so that they can unravel the social safety net, as Chaffetz' statement of principles makes abundantly clear.

Imagine a federal government that treats the national treasure with respect and responsibility by living within its means-where every American pays a fair share.

Yeah, that does sound good. Unfortunately, as we delve into the specifics of his proposals, we find that "every American pays a fair share" means "tax cuts for the rich," while "living within its means" translates to "tax cuts for the rich, then balance the budget on the backs of the poor."

The specifics begin.... NOW!

  • Reduce total federal payroll and workforce by 10%, except for military. This action will force all federal departments to identify and eliminate waste.

That's your plan for getting the economy back on track and getting people back to work? Throw 400,000 workers out of their jobs, and jack up unemployment another half percent? It has a certain audacity to it, I'll grant you that.

He's half right. If everyone loses 10% of their workforce, federal programs will have to eliminate something. But that's the problem with the whole notion of equating "small government" to "good government." If the government is so inherently corrupt that cutting its budget can only be a good thing, then the processes by which the government decides to cut back its services in response to that pressure is going to be corrupt as well.

I'm saying that the two premises are contradictory. "Cutting their budgets will make them more efficient" assumes that the government bodies in question are able to see where their money is being wasted and that they are motivated to deliver the best services they can. "Cutting their budgets has to be a good thing" assumes that the same bodies are hopelessly incompetent and corrupt, with no interest in delivering those same services.

Of course, the whole idea that a smaller budget and staff leads to a more efficient workplace is a crock. Let me offer an anecdote from my workplace. When I first got hired on, my goal was to set up an online order system. It should have taken a few months. If I'd been able to spend all my time on it, it probably would have. But most of my time was actually spent doing the day-to-day business of the organization, because the place was hectic, because we didn't have online ordering, so it actually took well over a year.

Had there been more "waste" in the budget, in the form of people to handle a larger share of the office work, I would have been able to "waste" more of my time doing something that would only pay off in the long run. This isn't to knock my employer, but to illustrate that not every organization can be made more efficient by giving it a 10% haircut.[2] Some government programs need to be cut, sure. But others are already dangerously underfunded.

By proposing a 10% across the board cut, Chaffetz is feeding the overarching Republican narrative: the government serves no important purpose, so decimating[3] its workforce without regard for the work they do couldn't cause any damage, right?

If you are one of the millions of people who keep our borders secure, our food supply and workplaces safe, our laws enforced, our skies Osama-free, our radio transmissions clear, and our youth productively engaged, you should be deeply offended by this proposal. Because you choose to put your time and talents to use in the service of your country, you are a leech in the eyes of the Republican party.

  • Support a balanced budget amendment.

  • Require 2/3 majority vote for any tax increase.

Yeah, because it worked so well for California.

  • Cut non-defense discretionary spending by inflation minus 3% across the board.

Another brilliant across-the-board cut. I don't want to fall into the nasty habit of comparing the government budget to a household budget, but in this case, I'll make an exception. If a family were sitting down to their bills and seeing a 3% shortfall, they would not respond by spending 3% less on food, 3% less on clothing, 3% less on swimming lessons, 3% less on cable, 3% less on their mortgage, etc. They would cut from their budget in proportion to the value the spending was bringing to them. One family might cut the entire cable bill. Another might stop spending money on clothes, but plan to increase their vacation budget.

Across-the-board cuts make about as much sense as having a CEO fire twenty people at random, and nobody who seriously proposes such a course of action can claim to have any respect for the work the employees are doing.

  • Impose a moratorium on all appropriations earmarks until the process is reformed legislatively. Work to maximize openness and transparency with filters, to ensure only expenditures with a federal nexus, and prohibit allocations to for-profit companies.

I've never understood Chaffetz' obsession with earmarks. They come out to something like 2% of the federal budget, so even banning them outright isn't going to get our financial house in order. They do seem to make people cynical about government[4], so I agree that they should be reformed. But anyone who says earmark reform is a key issue is grandstanding.

  • Reduce the capital gains rate to 10%. This will lead to increased receipts to the federal treasury and will also increase investment in the USA.

This is nothing but a tax cut for the rich. Fewer than one in seven taxpayers pay any capital gains at all, and the wealthiest 3% of the population (minimum income: $200,000/year) paid 83% of all capital gains [source]. It is already the case that money earned by sitting on your ass and watching other people turn your money into more money is taxed at a far lower rate than money earned by busting your ass to turn other peoples money into more money.

Now the Republican signatories to this travesty want to make it even more lucrative to play the sort of financial roulette that busted our economy in the first place. Remember this when you vote in November.

Oh, and one last thing: Tax. Cuts. Don't. Increase. Revenues.

  • Engage in entitlement reform.

If this were being said by a Democrat, it would have very different implications. It would mean ferreting out actual waste, fraud, and abuse. It would mean cutting costs, including making the sort of long-term investments that would lead to cost savings down the road. It would mean slowing the growth of Medicare by emphasizing preventative care and building programs that would find out which treatments were most cost-effective. It would mean, well, doing the sort of things that are in the health care reform bill.

From the mouth of Jason Chaffetz, it means pay for the aforementioned tax cuts for the wealthy by cutting off assistance to the poor.

Remember, the Republicans have no serious plans for containing the cost of health care. Their plan boils down to, "Keep the government out of it, and let the free market do its magic." Which is what we've been doing lo these last hundred years, and to ill effect.

Wow. All that, and I'm still only through the first set of bullet points. I suppose a part 3 will have to be written. Representative Chaffetz, if you could refrain from saying stupid things, it would save me a lot of time, and drastically improve my quality of life.


[1] Moldova has been cited in happiness-related studies as the single most depressing place on Earth.

[2] Except the military. We must always except the military.

[3] Literally.

[4] Which if anything is good for Republicans.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Contract for the American Dream: A nightmarish proposal

Once again my favorite congressional whipping boy, Jason Chaffetz, has released -- to great fanfare -- something really icky. He calls it the Contract for the American Dream, and I guess it is dreamy, if you're rich, a defense contractor, a climate contrarian, a union buster, or someone who, after careful, measured consideration, has decided he's paying too much in taxes..

Mister Chaffetz, let me tell you about the American Dream. Arguably, the American Dream was at its healthiest back in the 1950s. There's a lot of bad things to be said about the Fifties, but I'm going to talk about the bright spots. As I do so, think about how Republicans today might feel about this America.

In the 1950s, a single man with nothing more than a high school education had a good shot at a union job that paid enough to support a family in a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle. About one in three jobs was a union job.

Between 1950 and 1970, the minimum wage rose from $7/hour (where we are today) to peak at $10/hr. Figures are, of course, adjusted for inflation.

The top marginal tax rate was 91%, and the average CEO earned 30 times the average worker's salary, not 300 times.

Millions of young Americans were going to college on the government's dime. Thanks to the GI Bill -- a government program -- education had never been more accessible. Well, if you were white.

People back then held deep, probably excessive respect for the institutions of government. I mean, they were loath to show the president's face in movies. I still think that's weird, especially given that the government had hijacked the whole economy plus most of the menfolk just a decade before.

Sure, the government was smaller back then, with government spending representing 25% of the economy rather than 40%. But it's hard to argue that 15% is the difference between liberation and servitude. More to the point, the government was doing all the things it's doing now, providing for the health, welfare, defense, education, and comfortable retirement of its citizenry, just on a slightly smaller scale.

The American Dream was never a dream of an America without government, without a social safety net, without worker protections. Jason Chaffetz clearly does not see that, and it shows in his proud, willful lack of decent ideas. Really, Jason and his Republican clones only have one idea: government bad. Everything will get better if we just cut taxes, cut spending, jettison every regulation or government department we can, and... make sure we cut absolutely nothing from our bloated, wasteful, $700B annual Pentagon budget? Republicans want to go line-by-line over your grandma's medical bills, looking for "waste, fraud, and abuse," but god forbid the people building the F-22 get the same scrutiny.

That, in a nutshell, is the Republican American Dream. More on the specific proposals later.*

* If I'm bored.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Does organic farming mean mass starvation?

I hate arguing politics when I'm not jacked into the Internet. Without the Internet, you can say pretty much whatever you want, and nobody can prove you wrong. I got into an Internet-disabled political discussion last night, wherein the claim was made that organic farming techniques (if universally adopted) would lead to the starvation of one third of the world's population.

Now my first inclination was to think that there are other ways we could respond under the "universal organic" constraint. We could put more land under agricultural production. We could feed more of our grain harvest directly to people, rather than feeding it to animals at 10-20% calorie conversion efficiency. We could give everyone composting toilets, or find other new sources of organic fertilizer. We could slow the growth rate of the population, so that we don't have to feed ten or twelve billion people down the line. We could stop harvesting low- and zero-calorie foods like celery and iceberg lettuce, and eliminate the production of indigestible calorie substitutes, like Olean and Splenda. We could throw away less of the food that we produce.

Now, I can see people having various problems with any of these suggestions, but any and all are more humane and less disruptive than the mass starvation of two or three billion people.

But none of these suggestions -- desirable as I might find them -- should be necessary, because I don't believe that the premise is accurate. According to one study called "Organic agriculture and the global food supply", found here or here (PDF):

The principal objections to the proposition that organic agriculture can contribute significantly to the global food supply are low yields and insufficient quantities of organically acceptable fertilizers. We evaluated the universality of both claims.

For the first claim, we compared yields of organic versus conventional or low-intensive food production for a global dataset of 293 examples and estimated the average yield ratio (organic : non-organic) of different food categories for the developed and the developing world. For most food categories, the average yield ratio was slightly <1.0 for studies in the developed world and >1.0 for studies in the developing world. With the average yield ratios, we modeled the global food supply that could be grown organically on the current agricultural land base. Model estimates indicate that organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.

We also evaluated the amount of nitrogen potentially available from fixation by leguminous cover crops used as fertilizer. Data from temperate and tropical agroecosystems suggest that leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use. These results indicate that organic agriculture has the potential to contribute quite substantially to the global food supply, while reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional agriculture.

Right now, most of the land under cultivation isn't being farmed using the high-yield, high-input farming methods that organic's critics claim are necessary to feed our growing population. Most farmland is in the developing world, and cultivated using subsistence farming techniques. The study looked at yield comparison studies from the developting world, and found that yields generally increased when farmers incorporated organic techniques. This is wonderful news, because organic techniques are cheap as hell when compared to having impoverished farmers buy tons of synthetic fertilizer and genetically modified seeds from ConAgra.

To me, the whole "organic farming == starvation" meme seems like something designed by some nefarious right wing think tank, then bounced around their echo chamber until it got traction in the mainstream media, where basically reasonable people started getting the message. It has all the crucial elements. It paints liberals as elitists who would protect the environment even at the cost of vast human suffering. It turns the multinationals who churn out synthetic fertilizers and GMO seeds into the heroes of the starving masses. It tries to create a rift between competing progressive values (as so many bullshit right-wing memes do; they know the value of tricking the opposition into fighting amongst themselves).