January 2019 Update
When it comes to US food policy, there is a new sheriff in town. His name is Colin Peterson of Minnesota. Peterson is the new Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee now that the Blue Wave has swept into power in the US House of Representatives Democrats lots of Democrats Democrats as far as the eye can see.
Welcome to the Inaugural Edition of POLITICS & PRETENSE, JOEL’S FOOD REPORT
I am not objective. I had been objectively reporting on U.S. food policy since 1975 when publishing for The New Republic  on the relationship of reality to food policy. No more. Children are dying as I write this. They are dying in Venezuela, in Yemen, in South Sudan, in Bangladesh and the Rohingya Region of Myanmar.
Up to twenty million people are dying of starvation right now in the world Yet US and other farmers in developed countries are dumping food to raise prices. It sickens me that after all the brouhaha, the 2018 farm bill will have no impact on how our farmers feed the world. NONE.
Published on Jun 18, 2018: China Is Targeting ‘President Donald Trump-Country’ With Latest Tariffs | Velshi & Ruhle | MSNBC with John Hareood commentary
China’s latest round of tariffs now include hundreds of products. The hardest hit states are actually ‘Trump-country.’ Stephanie Ruhle breaks down which states could lose the most in this looming trade war.
Our farmers feed the world
Our farmers feed the world better than anyone. They produce a better product than anyone. Unfortunately, President Trump is working overtime to hurt the livelihood of soybean and grain farmers. Case in point, this Fathers Day  report from London:
The most contemptible player among the House Agriculture Committee’s Trump fanatics
The most contemptible player among the House Agriculture Committee’s Trump fanatics (who live in an alternate universe) is Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee is Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas.
Fresh off of his most recent delusion–chairing the House Intelligence Committee–. Rep. Conaway concluded the Trump campaign did not collude with the Russians promptly ending the Intelligence Committee’s investigation. Crossing from one delusion to the next, Chairman Conaway then utilized his insensitivity on real farmers in the real world.
What follows is Rep. Schiff reporting on Chairman Conaway’s failure to work with him.
The manure this video spreads its malodor from The Republican House Agriculture Committee: “Representatives from across the nation highlight the many reasons America needs a farm bill. From farm policy to strong nutrition programs to research and development, the farm bill has a massive impact on producers and consumers alike.”
The Republican controlled House Agriculture Committee published this manure on May 11, 2018. The odor continues to prove shameful to the Republican members of the Committee who appear here pretending to befriend farmers. These same members continue to support President Trump despite the fact that his trade war is a knife in the back to soybean and grain farmers. The backbone of the farm economy is dependent upon feeding the world. Clearly, the Republican House Agriculture Committee members are planning to lie to their constituent farmers before November's election.
Not that Democrats on the Agriculture Committee (or serving on other committees that have more control of the daily lives of farmers than the farm bill has) are NOT without blame. As a nation, we screw our farmers on a bipartisan basis.
Exposed the Big Lie Broadcast by the Republican majority House Agriculture Committee
Sharp declines in agricultural supplies worldwide in the 1970s result in increased profits for producers, higher land values and low interest rates, all of which set the stage for the farm crisis of the 1980s. http://iptv.org/iowastories/ The Farm Crisis is a 90-minute film produced by Iowa Public Television that examines the economic and personal disasters that afflicted the agriculture sector in the 1980s.
The fresh reports from the House Agriculture Committee ( where I have spent a lot of time over the years), are factually correct. Unfortunately, factually correct is not good enough given that political chicanery is the order of the day. Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas must know (assuming he knows anything at all) the difference between his pretense and real world. In the real world of Congress, no farm bill will become law between now and the election. No farm bill will become law this year. There is no imperative new farm legislation be passed at all.
The House Republicans on the Agriculture Committee are posturing before the election–pretending they are doing something for farmers while supporting (in much the same way as an abused spouse might return to the home knowing the next act of violence is as predictable as tomorrow’s sunrise) a President whose active trade war is endangering the future of the farm economy.
Rep. Conaway: We're Trying To Stay Away From The Mueller Probe (Full) | Meet The Press | NBC News. Published on Mar 18, 2018. In an exclusive interview with Meet the Press, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) tells Chuck Todd that the House Intelligence Committee found no evidence of collusion.
For too long, farmers have had to suffer from Presidents who used politics to restrict the free flow of food in the world.
The expression, “We sit on the shoulder of giants”  refers negatively to our post World War II past where using food as a weapon in world trade become such a political tool that Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Carter deserve a moral reprimand. Consider embargoes of grains and oilseeds to Cuba, Japan, and Afghanistan.
O tempore. O mores. 25,000 Indian farmers protest. March 2018
Food should never be used as a weapon any more than humanitarian medical supplies should be.
President Trump’s support for the Saudis in Yemen has resulted in a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. According to the United Nations, a child dies of starvation every 10 minutes in Yemen. Current UN Security Council efforts to end the Saudi imposed (de facto US supported) embargo of Aden and other Yemeni ports points to the most extreme part of the problem.
For US soybean and grain farmers who produce for the international market
For US soybean and grain farmers who produce for the international market, the current efforts of President Trump and his Congressional surrogates to use food exports as a political tool against China, Canada, and the European Union pose a significant danger to our agricultural economy. Surprisingly, the danger is not clearly visible at the House Agriculture Committee where Chairman Conaway’s bill is an example of political expediency. His efforts are, in effect, demagoguery. An attempt to obtain votes from the farm community by pretending something is being done other than wasting everyone’s time.
The big lie of the Conaway bill is it will help farmers. The bill will not appreciatively help grain and soybean farmers who form the backbone of US agriculture because of their skill at producing valuable products in the global economy. For these farmers critical to our food supply and that of the world, the key to productivity is for the US government to stop using agricultural products to shape international policy.
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018. H.R. 2 is not a work product that I’m proud of because it’s not one I or my Democratic colleagues had a proper role in producing. More than that though, I’m opposed to H.R. 2 today because it’s simply not good enough for American farmers, consumers or rural advocates.“
“H.R. 2 fails our farmers. The bill does not improve the farm safety net programs farmers need to manage a troubled farm economy. It fails to make needed increases to reference prices under the PLC program to address the 52 percent drop in national farm income. It neglects repeated requests to increase funding for trade promotion to help strengthen overseas markets in response to the Administration’s actions on trade and renewable fuels.
“H.R. 2 fails our nation’s hungry. While I agree that there are changes that need to be made to the SNAP program, this is so clearly not the way to do it. The bill cuts more than $23 billion in SNAP benefits and will result in an estimated 2 million Americans unable to get the help they need. Within the nutrition title, the bill turns around and wastes billions the Majority cut from SNAP benefits to create a massive, untested workforce training bureaucracy.
“H.R. 2 fails our conservation goals, reducing the federal funding for our voluntary conservation programs by almost $800 million dollars.
“H.R. 2 fails our next generation. It lacks mandatory funding for scholarships at 1890 land grants. It under funds our programs for beginning farmers and outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
–Agriculture Committee Ranking Member (i.e. Democrat) Collin C. Peterson from Minnesota, May 16, 2018
When I began covering USDA in the 1970s
When I began covering USDA in the 1970s for the New Republic, the New York Times, and Newsday, palpable damage to our export markets resulted from Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz’s 1973 embargo of soybeans to Japan. When I was in Japan in 1984, the women and men on the street with whom I spoke still remembered with distaste Butz’s actions eleven years previous.
Decades of embargoes later, Brazil and Argentina now dominate the soybean export market which once was ours. President Trump’s exit from the Trans Pacific Partnership, his attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement, and on Canada, the EU, and South Korea represent a danger to the current and future income of grain and soybean farmers.
Kenny Chesney – She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy
Consider rice farmers in Arkansas
Consider rice farmers in Arkansas. Arkansas produces more rice than any other state. With few exceptions, most of Arkansas’s rice is exported. In Stuttgart, Arkansas (“rice and duck calling capital of the world”), Riceland Foods serves as a savvy grain trading and marketing company. Its employees spend a small fortune of tapes teaching Mandarin, Arabic, etc. If I were advising Riceland, I would suggest removing the Made in USA labels and replace with Made in Arkansas.
Yet the farmers in Eastern Arkansas are unaware of the political reality that makes it possible to pass a farm bill. By comparison to the House farm bill, the Senate version—co-authored by Republican Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democratic Minority Leader Debbie Stabenow of Michigan—reflects an acceptance of that reality. Because there are so few farmers in the U.S—about three percent of the population—to pass agricultural legislation, it is necessary to obtain the support of members of Congress from suburban and urban districts.
Currently, two-thirds of the budget of the Department of Agriculture is spent on social programs such as: preventing infant and maternal mortality and providing school lunches, food stamps, and commodity distribution to Indian tribes. These programs do not belong in USDA. The infant mortality rate in the US is twice that of Spain or any other country in the developed world. Now, because of cutbacks on health care for the poor, women are dying unnecessarily in Texas (well-documented) and elsewhere (not as well documented as I would like).
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, one of the few adults in the Trump Administration, is a veterinarian. Capable as he is when it comes to agriculture policy, Sec. Perdue should not be in charge of a critical life-or-death program that requires (in conjunction with nutrition) physicians and medical personnel and medication. The program belongs in the Department of Health and Human Services. So, do the other income support programs that disguise themselves as agriculture programs, viz.: food stamps and school breakfast and lunch programs.
Inside Yemen's civil war where 8 million people are on the brink of starvation. Published by ABC on Mar 28, 2018. "Nightline" gets an exclusive ground report from war-torn Yemen, which has left nearly three million homeless and 22 million in need of humanitarian aid.
The absence of focus on farmers
As an agriculture reporter, I am concerned at the absence of focus on farmers. The few programs in the current farm bill–which will continue to fund USDA on a continuing resolution–represent an ineffective slapdash approach to the very real problems of farmers. Dangerous as it may be during the Trump era to reform a long-standing legislative tradition, it is time to take agriculture (as agriculture) seriously. Ordinarily, a White House Conference on the subject would be recommended. However, Donald Trump is President. Instead, I would suggest an empire builder in the Ford Foundation (where I worked in the 80s) fund the equivalent. Consider: In the developed world surplus food is the problem. In the developing world, as many as 20 million people may be dying of starvation.
Meanwhile, a continuing resolution will fund the farm bill expiring in September indefinitely while Republican leaders have been wasting scarce time on the floor of the House and Senate pretending to farmers. No farm bill can become law before the November elections.
Joel Solkoff is the author of The Politics of Food. http://articles.latimes.com/1986-01-26/books/bk-0_1_farm-bill
No Choice But to Sell the Russians Grain by Joel SolkoffThe New Republic, September 6, 1975 ETC. http://www.unz.com/print/NewRepublic-1975sep06-00016/
- On Father’s Day my sister Sarah took me out for lunch in Bellefonte. We ate at Tallyrand Tavern. Afterwards, Mark too a photo of Sarah and me in front of the restored 1916 Cadillac Showroom.
- The best-known use of the phrase “Standing on the shoulders of giants” was by Isaac Newton in a letter to his rival Robert Hooke, in 1676:
“What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in taking the colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
Copyright © 2018 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.