Who grows the most Thanksgiving foods these days?

Turkey, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cranberries, apples, potatoes, green beans, and corn: Where did they originate and which countries grow ’em now? Gobble, gobble.

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The United States is the world’s largest producer and exporter of turkey. Turkeys are an indigenous animal to North America (specifically forested regions of Mexico and the United States). These U.S. states are the top five producers within the country today:

  1. Minnesota
  2. North Carolina
  3. Arkansas
  4. Missouri
  5. Virginia

Pumpkins, squash, and gourds are a collective category covering a wide range of cultivated items. Gourds tend to be Old World in origin — even the pre-Columbian American varieties either migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge from Asian origins or floated across the Atlantic from Africa. “Pumpkins” (the British colonial-era name for a bright orange type of squash) and squash in general are all indigenous to North America. Pumpkins have been found in Mexico for millennia. Today, however, most of the world gets their pumpkins, squash, and gourds from major emerging market producers of the Old World. Notably, though, no African country cracks the top 5 list, despite the inclusion of gourds, but gourds are also very common across Asia:

  1. China
  2. India
  3. Russia
  4. Iran
  5. United States

Sweet potatoes (or yams) are sometimes substituted for pumpkin/squash at the Thanksgiving table or are sometimes included alongside them. Like ordinary potatoes, sweet potatoes were domesticated in South America. Remarkably, however, sweet potatoes made the jump to Polynesian islands in the Pacific well before the Western arrival in the New World, indicating strongly that Polynesian explorers landed in pre-Columbian South America and returned home with the crop. This early start in Polynesia helped sweet potato later become a major crop in nearby southeast Asia, including Indonesia. While China again tops the present-day producer list, this category is Africa’s moment to shine, as several African countries have incorporated yams firmly into their cuisine.

  1. China
  2. Tanzania
  3. Nigeria
  4. Uganda
  5. Indonesia

Cranberries remain strongly associated, in terms of production, with their natural homes in the United States and Canada. The early United States saw the conversion of the wild marsh crop (previously gathered by Native Americans and First Nations peoples) into a farmable wetland production, which began exporting cranberries all over the world, where they caught on. The Russian Empire, in particular, tried its own hand at cranberry production and that legacy can still be seen in the runners-up.

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. Belarus
  4. Azerbaijan
  5. Latvia

Apples are one of the few food items commonly associated with modern Thanksgiving that did not originate in the Americas at all, with the exception of crabapples (which are generally not consumed). Wild apples come from Central Asia (including what is now western China) and a wide number of wild species have been domesticated and bred down into various edible selections. China is far and away the largest producer of apples in the world. Distant second-place United States — “as American as apple pie” — has had edible, domesticated apples for less than four hundred years, unlike most of the rest of the modern Thanksgiving selection foods. In fact, apples were not grown in New England until several years after the first Thanksgiving.

  1. China
  2. United States
  3. Turkey
  4. Poland
  5. Italy

Potatoes have become a global staple over the past several hundred years, but they originated in South America. Today, wild species can be found from Chile to the United States, but they all came from a single strain in Peru or Bolivia, which is also where they were domesticated many thousands of years ago.

  1. China
  2. India
  3. Russia
  4. Ukraine
  5. United States

Green beans (known elsewhere as string beans or snap beans) are from Central and South America (domesticated in two separate locations) and were introduced to the rest of the world by Christopher Columbus on his second trip back from the Americas. Today the top producers are:

  1. United States
  2. France
  3. Morocco
  4. Philippines
  5. Mexico

The United States is also, unsurprisingly, the world’s largest producer and exporter of corn (maize), but 97% of U.S. corn production is not for direct human consumption. There are various animal or industrial uses for all that U.S. corn production not going to people. Mexico is a big producer of White Corn, particularly for use in tortillas and other Mexican cuisine. Maize was domesticated over several centuries of careful breeding in Mexico many thousands of years ago, with several varieties from a single strain, and became important to regional trade between indigenous groups. It remains North America’s largest grain crop, and human genetic modification is still a major influence to present day.

Statistical Data Sources: FAOSTAT (2013 top 5 producers data for each crop), AgMRC (Turkey and Corn)

Mexico Elections: The seething chaos below

In January, I published my article “The Questions Posed by the World’s 2015 Elections,” in which I identified the 15 national elections around the world that I thought presented the most intriguing or important questions this year. Chronologically, Mexico’s midterm legislative election held today will come as number five for the year (tied with Turkey, which is holding its parliamentary elections today too).

flag-of-mexico

Here are the questions I identified in January for Mexico’s election today (when voters will fill well over 2,000 national, state, and local offices around the country):

Mexico: Will the insulated Federal District finally be shaken out of its slumber by a growing protest movement and other reactions to the total capture of Mexican state and local government by the cartels? The Congress is up for election, but without a sea change in the foreign-focused Peña Nieto administration, few expect serious policy shifts at home, whatever the outcome of the midterms. Still, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition any more than they expect a spontaneous mass uprising that forces just such a sea change. Could be too early to tell.

 
Here’s an updated state of play as published in teleSUR (the Venezuelan-based pan-Latin American media outlet) and authored by Dan La Botz, the editor of “Mexican Labor News and Analysis” an online publication by United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America and Frente Auténtico del Trabajo of Mexico:

Already at least 20 pre-candidates, candidates, and campaign managers have been killed while there have been dozens of other violent attacks on other candidates, campaign events, and party offices. Drug cartels are believed to be responsible for the murders of candidates who presumably threatened their interests, further fueling uncertainty about what the cartels might do on election day.

However, the larger threat to the Mexican government’s election plans comes from social and political protest movements. Teachers, indigenous groups, peasant communities, and armed “self-defense” organizations in various states say that Mexico’s political system and parties are corrupt and that voters should abstain from participating. Some groups announced plans to disrupt the election altogether.

 
Beyond cartel violence (and the uncontrolled vigilante groups that rose to oppose them), there are “militant teachers” angry over proposed education reforms:

The National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE), a militant caucus within the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE) which has been leading the resistance to the Education Reform Law passed by the Mexican Congress, has not only called for a boycott of the election, but intends to enforce a boycott in some states. In several states—Chiapas, Guerrero, Michoacan, Oaxaca, and Zacatecas—teachers have blocked highways, seized toll booths, taken over the district office of National Electoral Institute (INE), and in some areas seized Mexican Petroleum Company (PEMEX) refineries, leading to some conflicts with the police.

 
And then there are the escalating protests over the national government’s mishandling of the brutal massacre of more than 40 student-teacher activists last year at the hands of a local politician and cartel members. Those protests, seizures of government buildings, and disruption of highways are being orchestrated by other students and the families of the murdered activists. They hope to stop the election from going forward at all in the state where the mass murder occurred.

As the article also explains, between the factions openly trying to prevent the elections from happening (or at least boycotting them, formally or otherwise) and the serious partisan fractures on the left among those still planning to vote, the odds are actually significantly in favor of the conservative Peña Nieto government retaining its majority — and probably even adding to it.

But even as the election is likely to favor President Enrique Peña Nieto in its top-line results, it is also exposing a growing instability below the surface and signals that “the centre cannot hold” for much longer; things will fall apart if the status quo inaction and state failure in the face of underlying pandemonium continues.

In any other country, what is happening in Mexico right now would probably be considered a civil war on par with the past decade’s events in Iraq or Yemen. How soon will the national government (and other countries) wake up to that?

May 20, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 128

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

AFD-logo-470

Big Ideas for Reforming American Governance (and Economics): The Baja wage subsidy experiment, Expanding the House of Representatives. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: May 19th, 2015.

Correction: The number of residents in the UK was significantly misstated during this episode. The correct number is 64.5 million. We apologize for misspeaking.

Discussion Points:

– Should governments subsidize the difference between the minimum wage and a livable wage?
– Should the U.S. House be expanded to make districts smaller? What would happen if the there were 3,000 U.S. Representatives representing 106,000 people each?

Episode 128 (48 min):
AFD 128
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Related Links/Stats

AFD: “Mexican state of Baja California to test government wage support”
Democracy Journal: House of Representatives ratios, 2008
London School of Economics: UK House of Commons ratios, 2011

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Mexican state of Baja Calif. to test government wage support

While far from an ideal solution, Mexico’s federal government is planning to experiment in the state of Baja California with an unprecedented program to subsidize the difference between private wages and livable incomes for some farm workers.

flag-of-mexico

If signed on June 4, this plan negotiated by the state and federal government — in an effort to prevent current labor disputes, strikes, and blockades from boiling over into wider disorder or violence — would be in lieu of setting a much higher minimum wage and attempting to compel the private industry to pay that full amount (probably to keep the companies from just moving the jobs to another state with a lower prevailing wage).

The downside of the plan (I’m guessing) is that it’s likely some companies will try to lower their wages (illegally or otherwise) to pay even less at prevailing effective wage levels, but the government says it will negotiate with the industry to come to some sort of solution so that the existence of subsidies isn’t abused. (They’ll also raise the minimum wage somewhat — just not all the way to the 200 pesos/day target. The remaining difference will then be subsidized.)

Another criticism will likely be that this is essentially a taxpayer-funded gift to the large Mexican agribusiness corporations whose representatives and allies dominate the state’s government. But more on that later.

In general, of course, this new plan is fairly strange to our eyes, because the government here (also) typically doesn’t have a direct role in subsidizing general wages, since paying workers is a role we assign entirely to the actual employers, and the government just sets the legal floor. In theory. As The Atlantic points out, that’s not actually really accurate in practice in the United States; we just obscure it better than doing direct wage subsidies:

Having the government step in to fill the gap between reality’s wages and livable wages might seem foreign to Americans, but the U.S. government in a sense already does this—just less directly. A recent study from UC Berkeley’s Labor Center found that nearly three-quarters of people participating in government programs such as Medicaid and food stamps are in families headed by workers. The authors, calling this a “hidden [cost] of low-wage work in America,” estimated that through these programs, taxpayers provide these families with about $150 billion in public support. Additionally, programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit essentially subsidize the wages of workers whose income is below a certain level.

Shouldn’t companies be making up this difference instead of taxpayers? That’s how some state legislatures feel. Starting next year, California will publicly name any company that has more than 100 employees on Medicaid. And in Connecticut, state legislators are considering a bill that would require large employers to pay a penalty for each worker on their rolls earning less than $15 an hour.

 
And of course those various hidden costs to the government don’t even get into the actual blatant government subsidies in the U.S. for various agricultural production like dairy and corn to maintain certain production and price levels. Or the various massive tax incentives doled out to attract companies to specific states or communities (ideally only if they create a specific number of jobs, which is then essentially a wage support program in disguise).

But the Mexico experiment gets to the bigger questions: Whose job is it to ensure a livable wage in a globalized economy? And how is that goal best achieved, regardless of “moral” responsibility?

We may not instinctively like the idea of the government writing a check to make up the difference when private industry tries to tighten the screws on its workers in a loose labor market that favors employers, but what we like and how to realistically get the necessary goal accomplished may be two increasingly different answers in the 21st century.
Read more

Disgraced Mexico AG, having had “enough,” resigns

Mexico’s Attorney General, Jesús Murillo Karam, has finally resigned from office, nearly four months after he made international headlines by exasperatedly saying “Ya me cansé” (roughly “I’ve had enough” or “I’m tired of this”) to reporters asking him questions during a press conference over the disappearance and suspected brutal murders of 43 students protesting government corruption and cartel violence.

That one boneheaded utterance perfectly crystallized every reason why the people of Mexico had come to be so angry at the current federal government for their inaction on the epidemic violence, corruption, fear, and disappearances. The three words quickly become a protest slogan.

The remark also sharply focused attention on Attorney General Murillo Karam in particular, because it was a mystery as to how he had managed to skate through such a long political career with minimal heat from the cartels and had now risen to the highest crime-fighting office in the land but didn’t seem to be doing much crime-fighting. A lot of people started to wonder if he was secretly cooperating with one of the cartels, just like the local government officials who abducted the student demonstrators and handed them over to the cartels to be killed, burned, and dumped.

It seems unlikely that simply replacing him will make much of a dent in the problem. But it might at least improve the tone of the government’s approach to the violence.

flag-of-mexico

The Questions Posed by the World’s 2015 Elections

15 national elections I’m watching on 2015 and the questions I’m asking about them, organized in chronological order.

voting

Greece: Can modern Greek democracy survive the combined effects of years of extraordinary fiscal mismanagement, a devastating recession, and a sudden day of reckoning (austerity) stage-managed from Berlin? That’s the bigger question the world is asking when Greece heads to the polls this coming weekend, behind narrow questions of what might happen in the next six months. Newcomer “Syriza” – a party with moderate rhetoric, yet still an unknown quantity – has led the polling average since November 2013, more than a year before snap elections were called. Syriza could shake things up — for good or ill — in the country whose ancestors founded much of Western democracy. On the other hand, the ancient Greeks also formalized the concepts of “oligarchy,” “aristocracy,” and “tyranny,” so that’s not a huge comfort. Modern Greek democracy is just 40 years old, and Plato might forecast a turn to a less participatory form of The Kyklos (the cycle of governance between such forms) is about due. The rise of the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” as a potent force in Greek politics offers that grim path.

Nigeria: Should a young democracy re-elect a civilian president from the same party that has won every election since 1998? Should it do so despite his record of extreme incompetence in handling an insurgency that has now seized more territory than ISIS controls in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy? What if the alternative choice is a former military dictator and perennial also-ran? These are the basic questions facing Nigerians in February’s election that will see once-accidental President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party face off against Gen. Muhammadu Buhari at the head of an increasingly powerful opposition coalition and amid plunging oil prices. The legislative chambers are also up for election. Even if Jonathan is re-elected, he may face a hostile majority.

Israel: Can the Israeli left make a serious comeback in the country’s politics after Israel voters increasingly veered to the right and after significant party changes shattered the Labor Party for almost a decade? Would it make any difference to Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the world at large? Would it change the economic fortunes of average Israelis?

United Kingdom: Is the Westminster System — as it has traditionally existed in its tripartite form since the arrival of universal male suffrage — finished in Westminster itself? UKIP, the Scottish National Party, and other parties outside the Big Three make another coalition government of some kind almost a certainty – likely with huge effects for the British populace and their place within the European Union.

Mexico: Will the insulated Federal District finally be shaken out of its slumber by a growing protest movement and other reactions to the total capture of Mexican state and local government by the cartels? The Congress is up for election, but without a sea change in the foreign-focused Peña Nieto administration, few expect serious policy shifts at home, whatever the outcome of the midterms. Still, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition any more than they expect a spontaneous mass uprising that forces just such a sea change. Could be too early to tell.
Read more

Oped | U.S. Double Standards: ISIS and Murders in Mexico

An excerpt from my new op-ed in The Globalist on the US non-response to the Mexican cartels compared with the response to ISIS:

Or is Mexico “one of us” – a fellow North American civilization of suit-wearing businessmen and politicians who are good Christians? Whereas, perhaps ISIS is an “orientalist” archetypal threat led by people who “dress funny” and claim to be Muslims, who were supposed to be the big cultural threat to “the West” before “the West” tore itself apart over Martin Luther’s ideas?

 
Particularly relevant today in light of the President feeling compelled again to speak on an ISIS beheading despite the hundreds of such incidents passing without comment just across our border.