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June 06, 2011

Why is the United States subsidizing Brazillian cotton farmers?

The Insane Interest Group Politics That Have America Subsidizing Brazilian Cotton Farmers | ThinkProgress
In order to understand this peculiar political move, one has to look all the way back to 2002, when Brazil filed a case in the WTO challenging U.S. cotton subsidies. In 2004, the Dispute Settlement Body of the WTO found in favor of Brazil, ruling that government subsidies afforded U.S. cotton producers an unfair advantage and suppressed the world market price, which damaged Brazil’s interests. After multiple appeals the WTO upheld the original ruling, and by 2009 the U.S. still had not reformed its cotton programs. Brazil then asked the WTO for permission to retaliate against the U.S. by imposing trade sanctions. The WTO decided that Brazil was entitled to impose 100-percent tariffs on over 100 different goods of U.S. origin. Even more importantly, however, Brazil was entitled to suspend intellectual property rights for U.S. companies, including patent protections on genetically engineered seeds. In WTO language, Brazil was allowed to suspend its obligations to U.S. companies under the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. This constituted a major threat to the profits of U.S. agribusiness giants Monsanto and Pioneer, since Brazil is the second largest grower of biotech crops in the world. Fifty percent of Brazil’s corn harvest is engineered to produce the pesticide Bt, and Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Pro is a popular product among Brazilian corn farmers. By targeting the profits of major U.S. corporations, the Brazilian government put the U.S. in a tough spot: either let the subsidies stand and allow Brazilian farmers to plant Monsanto and Pioneer seeds without paying royalties, or substantially reform the cotton program. In essence, Brazil was pitting the interests of Big Agribusiness against those of Big Cotton, and the U.S. government was caught in the middle. The solution? Start giving Brazilian cotton farmers $147 million a year in subsidies to allow us to continue subsidizing US cotton farmers without imperiling the interests of US biotech firms.

June 05, 2011

Homeowners Foreclose on Bank

Homeowners Foreclose on Bank - Lowering the Bar
It's sad, even if sometimes necessary, when the sheriff's deputy and moving trucks show up to seize assets because of an unpaid debt. Actually, though, I guess it's not that sad when it's the bank that's getting foreclosed on. According to this report from Collier County, Florida, Bank of America brought proceedings against Warren and Maureen Nyerges, seeking to foreclose on their home for failing to pay the mortgage. This was a shocking development for the homeowners, especially since they had paid cash for the house and never had a mortgage at all. Apparently unable to convice the bank that it had made a mistake, the homeowners had to endure a year and a half of legal proceedings in order to get the matter resolved. A judge ruled that the bank had to pay the couple's legal fees, but five months later the bank still hadn't paid. Then the trucks showed up at the local Bank of America branch. "I instructed the deputy to go in and take desks, computers, copiers, filing cabinets [and] cash in the drawers," said the homeowner's attorney, Todd Allen, who is shown in the video clip smirking like he's probably never smirked before, and for good reason. Allen said he had seen too many cases where banks had been careless. So "[a]s a foreclosure defense attorney," he said, "this is sweet justice." One can feel at least mildly sorry for the branch manager on duty, who was probably not personally responsible for the mistake but who was confronted with sheriff's deputies saying they were there to take his stuff. "He was visibly shaken," said Allen, who was visibly happy. "Having two sheriff's deputies sitting across your desk, and a lawyer standing behind them, demanding whatever assets are in the bank, can be intimidating. But so is having your home foreclosed on when it wasn't right."