“Mandarin is by far the largest of the seven or ten Chinese dialect groups, spoken by 70 percent of all Chinese speakers over a large geographical area, stretching from Yunnan in the southwest to Xinjiang in the northwest and Heilongjiang in the northeast. This is generally attributed to the greater ease of travel and communication.
2020 Update: Attention, please, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger.
President Bollinger has the power to instantly award a Pulitzer Prize to Arwa Damon.
Now, when the Covid-19 plague is upon us and the well-fed, expensively clad, overly prized White House Press Corps is sitting a safe socialdistance away from each other, it is time to recognize heroic Reporters Without Borders who are risking their lives daily to bring us news from a world far more dangerous than ours.
Wikipedia: Arwa Damon
Arwa Damon (born September 19, 1977) is an Arab-American journalist who is a senior international correspondent for CNN, based in Istanbul. From 2003, she covered the Middle East as a freelance journalist, before joining CNN in 2006.
Ms. Damon is also President and Founder of INARA, a humanitarian organization that provides medical treatment to refugee children from Syria. Born to an American father and Syrian mother, she is the granddaughter of Muhsin al-Barazi, prime minister of Syria in 1949.
Several months after I attended an office Christmas party at the home of Rep. John Jenrette (R-South Carolina) and Rita, Rita found $7,000 in cash in her husband’s custom-made shoe. Upon closer examination the closet contained $25,000 in hundred dollars bills.
When Rita found the money, she reported it to the police thus beginning media accounts of the Abscam scandal.In the wake of Watergate, Abscam was one of those scandals–like Koreagate— that failed to interest the public. A group of FBI agents, posing as Arab businessmen, had bribed several members of Congress and one senator. The bribed public servants were convicted. No one outside the Beltway cared. Following is Wikipedia’s account of how Rita’s husband reacted when offered a bribe.
“John Jenrette was one of the few who resigned before they were expelled from the House. During the operation, Jenrette was asked by an undercover FBI agent if he would take the bribe from the Sheikh. He replied, ‘I’ve got larceny in my blood. I’d take it in a goddamn minute.'”
Wikipedia on Rita Jenrette, whom I knew by her maiden name when we worked together at the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) chaired by Senators Hubert Humphrey and Ted Kennedy:
“Rita Jenrette, born Rita Carpenter, November 25, 1949 in San Antonio, Texas is an American celebrity, actor, television journalist, and real estate executive. She is most famous for the interview she gave about her marriage to U.S. RepresentativeJohn Jenrette following his conviction in the Abscam scandal and her accompanying semi-nude pictorial in Playboy magazine.
“In 1977, Jenrette worked as a research associate at the Office of Technology Assessment under the co-chairmanship of SenatorsHubert H. Humphrey and Edward M. Kennedy. She co-authored a report, with Ray Hoehle, on the Food for Peace program, which was presented to the Presidential Commission on World Food Hunger….On September 10, 1976, she married freshman Democratic whip John Jenrette of South Carolina, 18 months after meeting him on Capitol Hill. She was also a Clairol model.
“Her husband, John, was convicted for taking a bribe during the Abscam investigation in October 1980. She appeared on the Phil Donahue Show and he called in live to join the conversation. At his trial she testified in her husband’s defense….She gave an interview to Playboy that appeared in the April 1981 issue, accompanied by a nude pictorial. The article’s revelation that she and her husband had sex on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during a break in an all-night House session caused a hoopla. She claimed that the couple were still “happily married” at the time the Playboy pictorial was photographed,although they had separated by the time it was published. The comedy group “Capitol Steps” takes its name from this escapade. Jenrette again appeared in Playboy in the May 1984 issue on the cover and in a pictorial.“
Abscam—sometimes written ABSCAM—was a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sting operationthat took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s that led to the convictions of seven members of the United States Congress, among others. The two-year investigation was directed from the FBI’s office in Hauppauge, New York, and was under the supervision of Assistant Director Neil J. Welch, who headed the bureau’s New York division, and Thomas P. Puccio, head of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force for the Eastern District of New York. The operation initially targeted trafficking in stolen property and corruption of prestigious businessmen, but was later converted to a public corruption investigation. The FBI, aided by the Justice Department and a convicted con-man, videotaped politicians accepting bribes from a fraudulent Arabian company in return for various political favors.
I first met Rita in 1976 shortly after I had completed my second round of radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. I was anything but well, but did not realize I was unfit for the “real world” even though I was obliged to make a living.
The article convinced a friend who worked for OTA to hire me as a consultant writing a report on the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Upon being hired, I met Rita who struck me as being first extremely vulnerable and second very beautiful. She was working on the Food for Peace Program for which I envied her. My envy was reduced considerably by the fact that she was so pleasant and friendly. At the time I was blissfully monogamous with a beautiful woman. I recognized there were other women in the world, but surprisingly, I did not care.
Except for the Christmas party at Rita’s house, which was a lot of fun, my only real encounter with her concerned eye surgery. She had cut her eye on a contact lens and several of us in the office were sympathetic. The last I heard of her (until deciding to write this post) was an article in the late lamented Washington Star discussing how she had found Jesus.
I could tell you about Rita’s husband John Jenrette, whose membership on the Oilseeds and Rice Subcommittee of the House, but there is not much to say. I spent weeks covering the hearings on the rice bill watching John pretending to work. Before John Jenrette, I had not realized that a member of Congress could be that devoid of talent and intelligence.
Note: Just to give you a taste for the Abscam scandal, I am publishing this video. Rep. Jenrette is somewhere in the complete tapes. If you care, see You Tube. Meanwhile, here is some slime.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Or go directly to You Tube:
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.
NoChoiceButtoSell the RussiansGrain 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.
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.
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 , 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. Secretary of Agriculture Butz told me he accepted the job on the condition the Department not be abolished.
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.
Longshoreman at the Port of Houston
After skiing, President Ford answers questions from reporters. Photo courtesy Colorado Ski and Snowboarding Hall of Fame
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.
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.
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 .
Grain storage bin
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  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.
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.
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
Originally published in the New Republic after the Labor Day weekend, 1975.
The magazine provided the following biographical information: “JoelSolkoffis a Washington writer specializing in Agriculture.”
Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.