Category Archives: Food

Where your food comes from now and in the future

Up to their Knees in Cranberries: A critical moment in my career

The date of this cranberry career-enhancing newsletter is 1974, but it might be yesterday and tomorrow.

In October 1973, I returned East from San Francisco before there was a Silicon Valley.

Cranberries

In San Francisco:

  • I wrote television reviews for the Village Voice.
  • I covered the World Series of rodeo for the Saturday Review.
  • Before San Jose became capital of the Silicon Valley, I wrote an article describing my riding horses at an equestrian school and horse farm that extended for acres.

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Years and years later--viz. 1995--  Cisco Systems' construction all over San Jose replaced farmland and horse trails. Then, shortly after I lost the ability to walk,  KLA (later to become KLA-Tancor) hired me to write a manual on the company's system for manufacturing computer chips.
The system  analyzed wafers and killed the ones that would become faulty chips early in the process before they would be sent out to ruin your computer or mine. The words "kill ratio" appeared frequently in my document.View Post
That was much later.

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After interviewing Timothy Leary

In 1973, I decided to come East because I had interviewed Timothy Leary at Folsom Prison. The interview, for a magazine finally that paid good money, convinced me I was wasting my time with yesterday’s news.

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When I saw John Dean’s testimony in San Francisco before the Watergate Committee, I decided to move to Washington, D.C Go directly to You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cVdsMJ-nEg or see below.

The big news was coming out of Washington, D.C. The slow process leading to President Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings and eventual resignation was beginning. I wanted to be in on the action. My friend Lee, whom I met in first grade on the playground of the Hebrew Academy of Miami Beach, had just rented a two bedroom apartment next to the Iwo Jima monument across the Potomac River from D.C. He invited me to be his roommate and I jumped at the chance.

iwajima

After driving cross-country in my 1956 Morris Oxford, I arrived in time for the Saturday night massacre. By the end of the year, I responded to an advertisement in The Washington Post. I was hired to run a newsletter on the problems of migrant workers and farm workers. Over the course of the year, I flew to central Florida and watched as workers brought in from Jamaica cut sugar cane by hand. My final issue, produced below, appeared in time for Thanksgiving. The words of the Edward R. Murrow broadcast into my grandmother’s Brooklyn living room, Thanksgiving Day, 1960 were ringing in my ears as I planned my 1974 issue.

Desperate phone calls to Massachusetts finally resulted in the phone ringing. An employee of a Boston poverty program who spoke Spanish agreed to meet me at Logan Airport. We speeded to Cape Cod where hidden close to what had been President Kennedy’s compound were cranberry bogs.

Surrounded by bleak cabins, workers from Puerto Rico had been flown in to wade into the water-filled bogs pushing cranberries with poles toward a machine that scooped them up. With the help of my translating colleague, I had the workers tell me their story. Then I went to the Ocean Spray factory and watched as cranberry sauce was manufactured, bottled, and shipped to stores to celebrate the holiday.

This issue became critical to my career as a professional journalist. Shortly after this newsletter appeared, I signed a contract for a book published as The Politics of Food. Within months after signing, The New Republic began publishing my articles on agriculture policy. There I was in the briefing room at the White House asking rude questions of the Secretary of Agriculture, a controversial figure who succeeded, as no Secretary of Agriculture since, to make the front pages of every major newspaper in the country.

Or go directly to You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Azxkm-3g1D4

Since the 1960 Edward R. Murrow broadcast, our country’s farms became factories that went on for thousands of acres. The workers were replaced by mechanization, insecticides, and genetically manipulated food. Tomatoes, for example, were designed to be picked by machines. Their skins were so tough that it was easier to dent a car bumper made in Detroit than to dent a tomato.

As machines replaced farm workers, they migrated by the thousands, especially to Detroit where there were good paying jobs on assembly lines. The jobs required no education or special training just the ability hour after hour to perform the same routine task. The prosperity of Detroit’s African-American community led by the late 1950s and early 1960s of the joyful Motown sound. The Supremes served as the most famous example of many groups on the Motown label that transformed Rock & Roll such as the one below:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuCBXTfoVq8[/youtube]

Or go directly to You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuCBXTfoVq8

By 2013, the automobile industry that dominated the world was no longer centered in Detroit. When I was born, Detroit was the fourth largest U.S. city. Today it is the 18th. With $11.7 billion dollars in debt, Detroit became the largest city to become bankrupt. Predictions, such as mine last year, that Detroit might die led me to hours of research, analysis, and feverish writing.

Last week, my editors Isabelle Lomholt and Adrian Welch at U.K.-based e-architect published my second column on Detroit. This column predicts an optimistic view of Detroit’s future http://www.e-architect.co.uk/columns/belt-and-suspenders-routine

I write:

” I am seriously considering moving to Detroit. It would be easy to persuade me.” Perhaps, at 67 I have arrived at another turning point in my career.

Detroit_Metropolitan_Wayne_County_Airport

 

 

Backround: Why the 2014 farm bill makes poor food and social policy: really bad policy

  HaiphonghaStream of consciousness:
No Choice But to Sell the Russians Grain at the same time as we were mining the Harbor at Haiphong. The war ended in 1976. I heard the news while I was reporting on a hearing  before House subcommittee on Oil Seeds and Rice.  It came as especially bad news to rice growers. 

2014 Food policy update:

Going on the valid assumption that what is past is prologue, I present to you background for understanding the disaster President Obama’s decision to sign the farm bill represents. obamasignsfarm

February, 2014 with the Secretary of Agriculture and key Democratic players in Congress (Republicans boycotted the ceremony), President Obama signs into law the 2014 five-year farm bill.

USA Today notes: “The five-year bill — approved by Congress this week after years of fierce debate — expands federal crop insurance. It also changes the food stamp program, cutting it by $800 million per year — about 1% — and raising the automatic eligibility requirement.”

Translation, the new farm bill is meaningless when it comes to making food policy. Farmers no longer pay attention to what the Secretary of Agriculture tells them. Fat cats, most significant producers of SUGAR, are getting handouts they do not deserve and in the process defy our plans for International trade agreements.

Sadly, unnecessary handouts are traditional. They do not affect food policy; they just cost the government too much.

As for social policy, which perversely is really what the Department of Agriculture’s budget is really about, the poor are being hurt by cuts in food stamps and low-income pregnant women continue to be at high risk for infant mortality.

The fact that the Secretary of Agriculture is the official in the federal government with the highest budget targeted to reduce infant mortality is alarming. The high infant mortality rate is indicative of the Secretary of Agriculture’s failure in this regard. The fact that the Secretary of Agriculture should have any role at all in the campaign to reduce infant mortality is indicative of the bizarre nature of farm bills such as Obama just signed.

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In 1975, I was writing a book for Marty Peretz. Martz Peretz was in the process of creating an important journalistic empire at The New Republic.  Never cautious about anything, Marty was forced into a legal contract where caution was presumably and certainly legally required.

To understand the situation, it is required to have an understanding of The New Republic's role in the 20th Century as the jewel of American journalism. If you are not familiar with Walter Lippman, more New Republic praise is required. 

 

Once Is Not Enough

by Joel Solkoff

While Americans  mined the entrance to Haiphong harbor and bombed railroad lines  to  prevent Soviet goods from entering North Vietnam, the Soviet Union reacted by secretly negotiating the sale of 19 million metric tons of American grain. Later that year [1972], when the deal had become public and was already being called, “The Great Grain Robbery.”

John Rarick, then a member of Congress, said to Earl Butz, who is still the Secretary of Agriculture,

As a farm boy, I  can remember my dear old Hoosier grandmother telling me to watch out for some American businessmen, they will trade with the Devil if they can make a profit.”

Secretary Butz quipped, “If he has dollars.”

Early in his Administration, Richard Nixon had proposed abolishing the Department of Agriculture. Sectary of Agriculture Butz told me he accepted the job on the condition the Department not be abolished. Early in his Administration, Richard Nixon had proposed abolishing the Department of Agriculture. Secretary of Agriculture Butz told me he accepted the job on the condition the Department not be abolished.

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Last month, memories of 1972 returned as the headlines reported he controversy surrounding the Soviet Union’s mammoth new purchases of American grain. Longshoremen in Houston refused to load the wheat until a federal judge ordered them back to work.

longshore

Longshoreman at the Port of Houston

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After skiing, President Ford answers questions from reporters. Photo courtesy Colorado Ski and Snowboarding Hall of Fame

After skiing, President Ford answers questions from reporters. Photo courtesy Colorado Ski and Snowboarding Hall of Fame

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September 6, 1975 Irate wheat farmers met with President Ford, inter­rupting his golfing vacation in Vail, to tell him that they depend upon exports for survival.

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AFL-CIO Meeting in Washington
President Jimmy Carter addressing the AFL-CIO run by George Meany shown with iconic cigar. Without Meany’s support, Carter would never have been elected President.
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The price of food in July rose at an annual rate of 22.4 percent for the second month in a row. AFL-CIO President George Meany blamed the 10.3 million metric tons of Soviet grain purchases for rising food costs, warning con­sumers of “more bad news.”
In July a bag of groceries that last year cost a resident of Washington, DC $10, cost $13.90.
Secretary Butz blamed the featherbedding practices of union-working middlemen for much of the rise, but admitted Soviet grain sales would cost Americans 1.5 percent in additional food costs.
When it is all over, the Russian wheat deal of 1975, in which more corn has been sold than wheat, may be considerably larger than 1972. The principal difference is in 1972 the United States did not have to sell grain to Russia; in 1975 we do.
The wheat deal of ’72 changed American agriculture dramatically and probably irreversibly. In one quick and unexpected move, surplus became scarcity .
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Grain storage bin

Grain storage bin
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No  longer was the government paying high storage costs, at one point ran to more than a million dollars a day. Instead the government sold all the wheat and corn it had in storage and then it sold all the storage bins.
No longer are farmers paid not to grow . By 1973 President Nixon had signed a  new agricultural act passed by a Democratic Congress that was unaware  of its implications and because of the Secretary of Agriculture’s enthusiasm for exports. Butz boasted 50 million acres that had been lying fallow were put into production.
Today [1975] we have a  policy insiders in the department call “wall to wall farming.” This  year’s  wheat crop  is the largest in American history, and the corn crop may set a record  too.
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAKrIdSPkHI
This video provides an overview of Wallace, who after ruling USDA, served as Vice President to Franklin Roosevelt for Roosevelt’s second and third term. In 1948, Wallace ran as an Independent candidate for President.
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 On August 20, Butz, the most powerful Secretary of Agriculture since Henry A . Wallace, gave a speech in which he explained America’s new farm policy is designed to meet the food needs of the world ‘s exploding population.
“By the year 2000, if we continue to multiply at present rates, there will be between 6.5 to seven billion people living on earth. This means in the next two-and-a-half decades we must learn how to feed as many people as we have learned  to feed since the dawn of history. Even now, we aren’t feeding the 3.9 billion nearly as well as we should.”
In 1933, Henry Wallace changed American agriculture by implementing the farm programs the Great Depression had made necessary. Earl Butz has been changing American agriculture by destroying the programs Wallace had implemented.
Butz’s predecessor, Nixon-appointee Clifford Hardin, took over Butz’s seat on  the Ralston Purina Board.
Butz is an extremely clever Secretary who has not always bothered about legal niceties . He talks about feeding the hungry while his policies make it even more difficult to do so.
While the participants may be talking about bread, they are thinking about meat.   the Russians had a choice. Their political leaders could renege on their promise to increase the protein content of the Soviet diet and slaughter the stock of their developing livestock industry.
Or they could feed their livestock American corn and soybeans and Soviet wheat, using superior American wheat for making bread. The political leaders were reluctant to tell their people they must be content to continue eating grain, potatoes and beets. In order to increase their meat supply, they were required to do something their agriculture was unable to do–produce bumper crops year in and year out to feed the livestock.
That is why, three years later the Russians are back on the world grain market with even larger needs, causing prices to skyrocket by the sudden and unexpected manner in which they make their purchases.
In 1972, when weather interfered with their plans, the Russians were able  to take advantage of political circumstances in the United States and buy a quarter of our wheat crop and much of our corn and soybeans.
Richard Nixon needed détente.
His foreign policy required while fighting a war in Indochina aimed at preventing the spread of Soviet influence, he convince the American public that he was simultaneously easing Cold War tensions. He had to give the Russians something to make it worth their while to ignore such provocations as the mining of Haiphong harbor. At the same time, domestically, his Secretary of Agriculture was eager to pursue Butz’s policy of “getting the government out of agriculture.”
Perhaps there was some hope that farmers would not realize what they had lost at least until after the election and would vote for an administration that had raised farm prices.
The Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) loaned the Russians the money under extremely favorable credit arrangements. The Russians used the money to make secret transactions with private grain trading firms.
The US government does not have the legal authority to export commodities. That can only be done by private  companies.
America ‘s grain trade is dominated by six multinational corporations with monopolistic power similar to the Canadian Wheat Board and the Soviet Union’s ministry of agriculture. The power of the big six is greater and they operate for private rather than public interest.
The companies sold the Soviet Union grain they had purchased from USDA’s CCC storage bins and from American farmers. This grain was sold to the Russians at prices significantly lower than the domestic price and the companies were paid the difference by the US government–$160 million in subsidies. Meanwhile the grain companies-operated on tips provided rom USDA by USDA officials who later came to work for the grain companies
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Originally published in the New Republic after the Labor Day weekend, 1975.
The magazine provided the following biographical information: “Joel Solkoff is a Washington writer specializing in Agriculture.”
Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.
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What follows is President Obama’s lengthy explanation in which he eventually explains why he signed the farm bill. Stay tuned for why doing so was a bipartisan mistake.

Cornering the wheat market in fiction and reality

Reconsideration: 

The Pit by Frank Norris

“Norris, who easily grasped the drama of the sales on the floor of the pit, . , .had difficulty comprehending how a man could sell a thousand bushels of wheat when he did not own them,” Franklin Walker writes in the only full-length biography of Frank Norris.

The reason Norris worked so hard—he said it was the most difficult task he had ever performed—to understand commodity futures trading was because he was writing a novel about a man who succeeds in cornering the wheat market.

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The problem Norris had in understanding how a man can sell wheat he does not own is the problem most people have when they attempt to understand commodity future trading. What takes place on future exchanges such as the Chicago Board of Trade is not that people buy and sell wheat and other commodities. Rather they buy and sell the future delivery of commodities.

When Norris’s hero realized he could corner the wheat market, it was April. The wheat he was buying in the octagonal pit of the Chicago Board of Trade was wheat to be delivered to Chicago in May.

For about 99 percent of the sales taking place today on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, wheat “buyers” do not want it delivered to them; wheat sellers have no actual wheat to sell.

Rather, buyers and sellers are hoping to make money on price fluctuations from the time the May wheat contract is first traded until the month of May. In May, when it comes time for delivery, traders who have bought wheat frantically “sell” it; those who have “sold” wheat frantically buy. By the deadline for delivery of May wheat, buyers and sellers resolve their contracts. As a consequence virtually all buyers and sellers have offset their positions; nobody has to deliver any wheat to anybody.

“It’s a case of gamble, but it’s legal and faro isn’t,” one trader told the Chicago Tribune in 1892.

“The late 1900s were filled with incidents of public outrage against alleged speculative abuses in commodities . . . markets,” a publication of the Chicago Board of Trade says. “The self-regulatory efforts of the exchanges went far to correct the problems.” Today futures trading is a form of insurance.

When the market is not being manipulated—an occurrence that takes place more frequently than generally known—the farmer has the opportunity to make a decent living by selling his wheat at a reasonable price; the miller has the opportunity to make a decent living by paying a reasonable price; the speculator assumes the risk the price will change considerably after the farmer has sold it and before the miller receives it. The speculator has the opportunity to profit from his risk.

The farmer’s risk is if he waits to sell his wheat until the miller actually needs it, there may, for example, be good weather resulting in an unexpectedly large crop and in disastrously low prices.

The risk to the miller is if he waits to buy wheat until he actually requires it, there may, for example, be a drought wiping out half the wheat crop resulting in disastrously high prices. So, the speculator in wheat futures protects the farmer against low prices, the miller against high prices, and the consumer against paying too much for a loaf of bread.

The speculator’s function is socially desirable only if he is taking risks with natural market forces. If he attempts to act not as an insurance man but as a manipulator of the market, he becomes a menace to society.

In The Pit, Frank Norris took an example out of history and described dramatically and with remarkably up-to-date accuracy the manipulation of commodity futures markets:

“Why, look here,” he cried. “Don’t you see? Don’t you see . . . “

“See what?” demanded the broker, puzzled by the other’s vehemence. . . . “

” Great Scott! I’ll choke in a minute. 

“See what? Why, I own ten million bushels bushels of wheat already, and Europe will take eighty million out of the country. Why, there ain’t going to be any wheat left in Chicago by May!

“If I get in now and buy a long line of cash wheat, where are all these fellows who’ve sold short going to get it to deliver to me? Say, here how are they going to get it? Come on now, tell me, where are they going to get it?” 

Let me explain.

A man who sells May wheat—wheat he does not own—is required to deliver it to the buyer when the month of May rolls around.

The requirement that the commodity be delivered—”It keeps the contract honest” one broker told me—is a contractual.

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, courts overturned laws in Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas, and other states where irate agrarian interests had succeeded in outlawing future contracts by redefining them as a form of gambling. Courts ruled they were not wagering contracts because a person who buys a wheat future can demand delivery on the due date.

Suppose a man holding a significant number of contracts promising delivery of May wheat to him were to tell each of the traders he is not interested in having them settle their obligation with money—as takes place with about 99 percent of the contracts—but with wheat.

Suppose, at the same time the May contract comes due, the man demanding delivery of wheat also happens to own all the wheat there is. Then, those people who have legally obligated themselves to sell him wheat (“these fellows who’ve sold short”) can only buy from one source.

From him.

They have to buy the wheat from him at whatever price he demands because they have a contractual obligation to sell it to him. He has them in a corner.

That is what the hero of Frank Norris’s novel does. Actually, Curtis Jadwin does not need to own all the wheat in the world to corner the market. He simply has to own all the deliverable supply,” i.e. all the wheat that can conceivably be shipped to Chicago in time for the contract to come due.

The real character on whose life Curtis Jadwin was based was loseph Leiter. In 1897, Leiter bought up all the nation’s known supply of wheat.

By doing so, he raised the price so high the Russians ate rye and shipped their wheat to Chicago. Throughout the United States and the world, wheat not thought to exist appeared suddenly as if by magic.

Using tugs with steel prows, Armour plowed up the ice in the Great Lakes and moved six million bushels of wheat into Chicago in the middle of winter. Though Leiter finally owned 50 million bushels of wheat, he did not have “absolute control of the deliverable supply.” When Leiter could no longer afford to buy any more, the wheat flooding Chicago lowered the price; his corner was destroyed.  He was ruined financially

Even though Leiter failed to corner the wheat market, he succeeded in “squeezing ” it, a term used to describe what is today an illegal manipulation of the market for the purpose of artificially raising the price. The hero of The Pit succeeded in his attempt to corner the market the following year only to discover the manipulation of price had so stimulated production there was too much wheat:

“The Wheat had broken from his control. For months, he had, by the might of his single arm, held it back; but now it rose like the upbuilding of a colossal billow.”

Critics of The Pit have uniformly failed to deal with the book as a fictional but true to life account of how the price of the wheat is determined. The Pit is the second novel in The Epic of the Wheat.

The third and final book in the trilogy Norris had decided to call The Wolf. The Wolf, left uncompleted by Norris’ sudden death would have described how the wheat produced in California and created in Chicago is used for, in Norris’s words, “relieving of a famine in an Old World community,”

What Norris could have done with grain companies such as Cargill, Continental, and Cook in their shipments of grain to Russia or towns like those in Bangladesh make us mourn the loss of this final book in the trilogy.

Realistic novels are supposed to provide us with a version of truth which we cannot get from works of nonfiction. The PIT is, Norris’s best novel. Wheat—capitalized and made the central character of the book—controls the action.

In The Epit of thf Wheat, Norris tries to show how the most elemental of powers—food—affects those who come into contact with it.

In Volume I, The Octopus. there are too many characters and digressions. The author cannot resist the temptation to take sides. The Pit succeeds as The Octopus doesn’t because Norris has more clearly defined what he is trying to do.

The mystical question, asked in The Octopus—When does wheat become Wheat?—is answered in The Pit. When the price is high enough.

A successful speculator is one in touch with the forces of nature who can anticipate how much the world will need. (Aren’t laws of supply and demand natural forces?)

Curtis Jadwin’s rivals, the Bears, had been  artificially manipulating the price so it would go down, so farmers would go out of business, so wheat would not be planted, and so the hungry would not have food to eat.

Jadwin becomes a hero because —unlike the corrupt speculators around him — he believed that people required wheat and he was successful in predicting when they required it. Jadwin believed the price should go up. He believed more wheat had to be planted and more people needed for food. He was correct.

Jadwin was at one with the conditions of the time, fighting against the manipulators and for the Wheat.

Power was on his side but the power possessed him. It nearly destroyed his marriage. Fortunately for the marriage, his wife Laura could never quite find it in herself to love Jadwin’s artist-rival Sheldon Corthell.

Corthell was a dilettante—dabbling at creating stained glass windows —while Jadwin worked in the real world of power. Yes, Laura is tempted to commit adultery with the available dilettante. Norris makes clear, tempted though she might be, Laura’s only real choice was to be faithful to her husband–a real man in a real world.

Still, Jadwin became so obsessed by power he attempted to corner the market a second time. This time he was fighting against nature.

His friend and broker says, “I see that the farmers all over the country are planting wheat as they’ve never planted it before. Great Scott, J., you’re fighting against the earth itself.”

It is a fight comprehensible to those who understand the love for power. It is a fight which an obsessed man cannot help but make and which he is bound to lose. This is what makes The Pit a great novel.

Post Script. One reason for the failure of  the critics to approach Norris’s work as an accurate picture of the forces that come into play when the government does not regulate agriculture is from 1933 to 1972 the government DID regulate agriculture and the role of the futures market  was limited when it came to determining the livelihood of farmers and their productivity.

During that period, the commodity ticker in the farmer’s office did not determine what he planted. Recently, however, when the Secretary of Agriculture was asked by the House Agriculture Committee how farmers decided how much to plant, he opened up The Wall Street journal and read off the previous day’s future prices for wheat, corn, and soybeans at the Chicago Board of Trade.

William T, Bagley, Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, created by Congress as a consequence of the future-market scandals following the 1972 Russian wheat deal, told me his agency is too busy getting organized to effectively regulate the $598 billion a year commodity industry.

In May 1976 the impossible happened in the potato futures at the New York Mercantile Exchange. There were more contracts than there were Maine potatoes. The market went crazy as owners of potato futures insisted on delivery of potatoes they presumably owned but did not exist.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) had to close down the exchange temporarily and try to sort out the mess. In April 1977, the CFTC filed suit in federal court against members off the Hunt family of Dallas and “a company controlled by one of them for holding soybean futures” on the Chicago Board of Trade representing about a third of the country’s crop. (Soybeans are a primary ingredient in the production of meat, poultry, and milk.)

“Maybe I ought to read the book, “Bagley said when I told him about The Pit. He said he had never heard of Frank Norris.

Joel Solkoff

loel Solkoff was a Washington writer specializing in agriculture when this article was first published.

Published on November 19, 1977 by The New Republic.

Copyright 2014 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

Relevance to February 2014. This month President Obama signed into law a farm bill. For years the House and Senate had different versions of farm bills each of which was a waste of taxpayer dollars and a sham at pretending USDA would have, as a consequence any significant role in determining our country’s food supply.

About two thirds of USDA’s budget goes for food stamps and nutritional feeding programs. Most USDA employees work for the forest service conserving trees. The press to fund food stamps is what finally caused Congress to come to agreement. Under the law signed in February, the livelihood of our country’s wheat farmers is dependent, as described above, on the price of wheat at the future pit (now replaced by computer screens) at the Chicago Board of Trade.

Truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sadly, the bill Obama signed into law provide subsidies to sugar farmers who do not require subsidies. The subsidies artificially manipulate the future market in sugar and are being objected to strenuously by indignant European countries furious the U.S. does not abide by the free trade principles we espouse.

Meanwhile, during the period from 1977 to 2014, there has been an explosion of epic proportions of the use of future contracts. Future contracts have been extended to the equity market. Now you can get speculate on whether the price of a share of IBM will go up or down.

Hedge funds make it possible to speculate not only on the price of a share of stock, but on the option to buy or sell a share an option new future markets make possible. Using powerful computers, it is now possible to win or lose fortunes on minute price fluctuations between actual stock prices and future prices.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has been made impotent in its ability to regulate by the sheer volume of futures markets. My prediction is if you set out to corner the wheat market and have the money and skill to do so, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission would never catch you.

North Carolina’s regressive sales tax on house trailers. Take that, poor people!

State could help wealthy more 

It’s not enough that our state government has cut income taxes on job producers, and eliminated the inheritance tax that for too long burdened the successful, and shifted more of the tax burden onto the moocher class.

I admit, the state’s attack on the “less fortunate” seems thorough. (They even hiked the sales tax on house trailers! Take that, poor people!)

Yet, more could easily be done. Income over $500,000 per year could be made tax-free — a wholesome incentive to work harder that might inspire us all. Income above $1 million per year could be, not taxed, but matched by direct payments from treasury to earner. Why not?

Readers can decide for themselves whether I am being serious. No doubt some will think these are good ideas, including people without any means ever to benefit. Such are the times. Such is this electorate.

— CLIFF NELSON

Fountain, North Carolina

Copyright ©2013 by Cliff Nelson. All rights reserved.

Cliff Nelson provides the academic community with an editorial service. See Cliff Edits.

 

Teaching pregnant women not to share food with their families: New Republic critique of the WIC program 1977

Teaching pregnant women not to share food with their families.

Strictly From Hunger

This is the story of an obscure $250 million a year program run by the Department of Agriculture which attempts, among other things, to cure both obesity and underweight in  pregnant women by providing the same amounts of food, including commercial junk cereals that are mostly sugar. The Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (called WIC) is in addition to food stamps and all other social welfare programs.

WIC was created by Hubert Humphrey on the floor of the Senate in 1972.  It was intended as a two-year experiment. There were no legislative hearings, and the House never even considered the proposal, which at that time weighed in at a mere $20 million per year.

Humphrey carried on to the floor of the Senate “before” and “after” photographs of an infant  from Memphis who had starved nearly to death and who had probably suffered  brain damage as a  result. Humphrey  introduced an amendment to the school lunch bill which created a pilot program in the Department of Agriculture (for some reason) to see whether it would be a good idea to provide nutritious food to pregnant and lactating women and children up to four years of  age. The amendment passed overwhelmingly despite Agricul­ture Department opposition based on the apparent failure of a similar previous effort. The proposal was agreed to in conference without consideration by the House. President Nixon had no choice in an election year but to sign the school lunch bill, and so WIC became law.

The program was created, its sponsors will tell you, at the recommendation of th e 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health. Actually, the Conference recommended against programs, like WIC, aimed at special vulnerable groups like infants and pregnant women.

The Conference report said, quite logically, “Programs that assume that some family members can eat less well than others while all are seated together at the family table are unrealistic.”

The WIC program requires in regulations published this February that, “All foods obtained under the Program are to be used exclusively by the recipient, and not shared with other members of  the family .”

In the first year after passage the Agriculture Department, which opposed the program, did nothing to set it up. The department argued  that it knew nothing about maternal and child health care and that the program really belonged in HEW. After a year the administration announced its intention to save the taxpayers $34 million by spending six million dollars on a study instead of $40 million over two years. This produced a law suit by a public interest group called the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) .

Judge Oliver Gasch of the US District Court for the District of Columbia found that Congress had not intended to find out whether feeding people was a good idea. Congress had intended to spend the money feeding as many people as possible. Agriculture officials frantically ran around the country, in the words of one observer, “handing out dollars.”  Just as Judge Gasch was about to declare the department in contempt of court, USDA announced that 143 clinics were to be funded. In January 1974, the first recipients received WIC food.

To be eligible for WIC food, a physician or “health professional” must certify that you are “a nutritional risk.” The law lists certain medical conditions: obesity, underweight, stunting, anemia which the free food is in tended to help . But it also allows “low-income” to be used as a determination of  “nutritional risk.”  The idea, a sensible one, is that if you are pregnant  or an infant and you can ‘t afford to eat properly, then you are at risk of being in bad health.

Despite stringent federal regulations about who qualifies for food, practices vary widely among  the local health clinics. In some everyone who walks in the door, regardless of income or medical condition receives the food. In others a  poor person must prove she or he has a qualifying medical condition in order to obtain a “package containing infant formula, orange juice,  Kaboom cereal, etc.

By October 1975  the Democratic Congress­ overriding President Ford ‘s veto increased  the WIC funding to $250 million per year. It was no longer a temporary program. A subsequent lawsuit over delays and failure to appropriate funds resulted in an order by Judge Gasch that in effect  forces the Agriculture Department to share administration of the program with the federal courts. Four times a  year until September 30, 1978  (when the current funding expires), Agriculture officials must report to Judge Gasch about what they’ve been doing and how much money they have been spending.

Attempts to evaluate the program or even to define its purpose are hopelessly difficult. The Agriculture Department does not even have a  list of the local programs it funds or how many people receive benefits. Since qualifying for the program requires a health examination, many who live in areas of high poverty and  high infant and maternal mortality rates are ineligible for benefits because of the absence of medical care.

WIC pays for food, the administrative cost of distributing the food and nutritional education to teach recipients how to use i t. There i s a pretense that the amount of food provided is tailored to the nutritional requirements of the individual, but in  practice most clinics, for administrative reasons,  provide the maximum quantity permitted .

There is no rationale for the size of the food package. An obese child of four receives the sa me quantity of food as a underweight pregnant girl of 14. Infants under six months of age, for example, receive infant formula , juice and cereal far in excess of their recommended daily requirements.

Local administrators oppose any reduction in the size of the package on the grounds that families share what is provided. A stud y by the Urban Institute found that even though it is prohibited, 81 percent of recipients admitted that they share the food with their families.  To  make sharing  easier, nutritionists  provide recipes using infant formula to make fudge and chicken broth. The quality of nutritional education is often poor.  It frequently consists of exhortations to a pregnant woman not  to share her omelet with her family .

Probably the saddest thing about this program is that it serves a real need. Many who would not otherwise receive prenatal examinations or inoculations for disease are lured into health clinics by the desire for free food.

For many of the program’s 785,000 participants, the $22 worth of food a month represents a badly needed income supplement. Against the will of its creators and national administrators, the WIC program has  become another  general welfare program for feeding the hungry, and we still don ‘t know how many of our citizens are hungry .

Joel Solkoff

Joel Solkoff is a Washington writer specializing in food issues.

Published by The New Republic June 11, 1977.

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Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

Note 1:  “Many countries, including the United States, Sweden and Germany, count an infant exhibiting any sign of life as alive, no matter the month of gestation or the size, but according to United States some other countries differ in these practices. All of the countries named adopted the WHO definitions in the late 1980s or early 1990s,[ which are used throughout the European Union. However, in 2009, the US CDC issued a report that stated that the American rates of infant mortality were affected by the United States’ high rates of premature babies compared to European countries.”– Wikipedia 2013

Note 2: The WIC program costs $7 billion a year. The Conference Committee ironing out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill has agreed to a compromise which will leave the WIC program essentially in tact. How much in tact remains to be seen, but I am reliably informed that WIC will continue to be with us.

Note: 3:  “WIC. The WIC Program helps improve the health and nutritional intake of low-income pregnant, breast-feeding and postpartum women, infants and children up to their fifth birthday. WIC serves over half of all babies in the United States. WIC works by providing participants with vouchers redeemable at retail grocery stores for foods dense in nutrients known to be lacking in the diets of eligible groups and by providing nutrition education, breastfeeding counseling and referrals to other important health and social services.

“The Budget proposes $7.1 billion for the WIC Program, continuing the Administration’s commitment to serve all eligible individuals seeking WIC benefits. In 2014, 8.9 million low-income women, infants and children are expected to participate in the program. The request includes $60 million for breastfeeding peer counseling, one of the program’s objectives, and $30 million to help States improve their management information systems and work toward implementation of Electronic Benefits Transfer, which is mandated nationwide by 2020. The Budget also proposes an increase of $1 million to support program integrity efforts.” —  From President Obama’s USDA FY 2014 BUDGET SUMMARY AND ANNUAL PERFORMANCE PLAN

 

How rice is planted in the United States

Consider…the technology involved in planting rice in southwest Louisiana. It was morning at the Jennings Municipal Airport in Jefferson Davis Parish, which is part of the seventh congressional district, the largest rice-producing district in the country.

A group of men talked about the previous night’s tornadoes and hauled hundred-pound sacks of seed rice from the rear of a flatbed truck, slit the sacks, and dumped the rice into a large hopper.

The loader truck lifted the hopper, with its 2000 pounds of rice, and in less than 10 minutes the seeds were inside the tank of a single-seat Grumman-American AG-Cat airplane, and the plane was aloft.

The seeds were kernels of rice left to soak overnight in a nearby canal. Already little shoots had sprouted from each kernel.

Two days before, the rice could have been hulled, milled, and sold for premium prices. It was the best of the previous year’s crop, carefully selected; if all went well, a high percentage of the new crop would be long, narrow kernels, white and unbroken when the husks were removed and the bran milled off. Milling tends to break inferior grades’ kernels, which stick together and appear mushy.

Mushy rice is not where the money is.

The farmers here said they were producing rice for the “American housewife,” verbal shorthand for consumers who buy the white rice that lacks most of the minerals, protein, and niacin for which rice is famous and who insist on each cooked kernel being separate and visually attractive. To meet specifications for millable rice, research services of federal and state agriculture departments have developed special varieties, which are also adapted to the climate, soil, and pest conditions of the region.

The seed rice in the tank of the Grumman airplane was the product of this research.

It was May Day, and more than 90 percent of the crop had already been planted. The airplane, owned by farmer Ed Krielow, flew low over fields already green and high from an early March planting. The rush was on to get the final seed in the ground.

The pilot swooped low over a rectangle flooded with water, a rice paddy or “field” with tractor-made levees poking up from the water’s surface. Two men stood on opposite sides of the field holding white flags in their hands to tell the pilot where to plant the seeds.

The plane flew so close to the water that there were only inches to spare. Little ripples appeared. “Do you see the seeds?” Ed Krielow asked, but in the excitement the observer didn’t know what to look at.

There were ripples, but the plane looked as if it was about to crash into the telephone poles and electric wires as it turned around and went back into the rice field.

Ed Krielow said, dismissing the danger, “You should see that boy flying when we spray Stam [weed killer]. His wheels graze right on the levees.”

This was not especially reassuring, but this time the observer knew where to look.

Plane.

A white shower of seeds.

Ripples.

“See?” he said. “That was the seed we saw loaded a little while ago.”

That was how it was possible to plant rice with only three people— a pilot and two fellows holding white flags.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright ©by Joel Solkoff, 2013. All rights reserved.

The Politics of Food is available at: http://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/books/the-politics-of-food/

Exclusive: Former USDA Secretary explains why he said there was not enough food to feed the American people

This 1986 unedited interview with Earl Butz [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Butz] took place nearly 10 years after he resigned in disgrace as Secretary of Agriculture for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. It also took place after Butz, as a private citizen, had served a brief term in federal prison for income tax evasion.

The interview contains Butz’s description of his relationship with Presidents Ford and Nixon and with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose inept meddling in agriculture policy was the subject of media coverage about the political infighting between the two cabinet secreatries.

The most significant part of the interview concerned an embargo Butz imposed in 1973 against soybean shipments to Japan. At the time, he explained that the embargo was necessary to protect the American people against running out of food.

In the interview, Butz described his decision as “a big mistake” and explains why he imposed it. The interview begins with the sound of the digital dial tones as I called Butz from the second story of my house on Capitol Hill where I lived with my wife and my two year old daughter Joanna. The call went to Butz’s brother’s house; his brother answered the telephone and then connected me to the former Secretary of Agriculture.

The conversation begins with a discussion of President Ronald Reagan’s appointment of Richard Lyng [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Lyng], previously President of the American Meat Institute, to be his second Secretary of Agricultre, after Reagan’s first Secretary proved inept at the job. Butz calls him “naive” in the interview.

My pretext for the call was an article I was writing and later published in Newsday profiling Reagan’s then new Secretary Lyng, an article that was shamelessly flattering. The interview begins by a description of Lyng’s credentials for the job and confirmation hearing., The interview also includes Butz’s appraisal of the agriculture policies of Presidents Carter and Reagan.

Hear it now: http://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/audio/interview-with-earl-butz/

The Politics of Food the book; its stories and the future

Not boring, as it should be, this site contains the entire book which took me 10 years to write.

The book received good reviews. Also, you can listenn to an exclusive revealing interview never before made public with Earl Butz, the greatest Secretary of Agriculture since Henry Wallace.

(Wallace served two terms as FDR’s vice president and my mother voted for him when he ran a quixotic left wing campaign for President in 1948).

Butz, until Henry Kissinger became Secreatry of State, was the only Phd in Nixon’s cabinet. Dr. Butz, a brilliant obscene and racist character, was jailed for income tax evasion.

This site contains photos of the goddess Ceres (who controls the production of grain) see also photos of people, crops, and livestock working to fill your bellies.

Read jeremiads on the price of milk and other food issues.

Contemplate the future where the government really and truly gets out of the agriculture business–a future where:

  • food tastes good
  • the environment is treated lovingly
  • health costs decline
  • people live longer and more productive lives
  • a future that will make the word revolution real
  • where not-so-retiring Baby Boomers with money in their pockets, arthritis in their bones, and votes and political influence seeping its way into Washington, state capitals, and local ordinances.