Tag Archives: Los Angeles Times

20 Million People in the World are Dying Unnecessarily

Above: South Sudanese refugee stands with her child in Pagarinya 2 refugee camp in the Adjumani district in northern Uganda.

Special Report: 20 Million People in the World Are Dying of Starvation Unnecessarily

How can we feed them? How can we help them feed themselves?

The origin of this posting is Thanksgiving Day 1960 when I was 13 years old. Following Thanksgiving dinner with my family in Borough Park Brooklyn, my grandmother cleared away dinner, folded up the gate-legged  wooden table, and opened the maple wood doors at the cabinet where she hid the television set. She’s turned on the set and we watched Edward R, Murrow’s Harvest of Shame.

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"This is CBS Reports Harvest of Shame," announced Edward R. Murrow. "It has to do with the men, women, and children who harvest the crops in this country of ours, the best-fed nation on earth.
Norman Rockwell family Thanksgiving
"These are the forgotten people, the under-protected, the under-educated, the under-clothed, the under-fed. We present this report on Thanksgiving because were it not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with  the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials. We should like you to meet some of your fellow citizens who harvest the food for the best-fed nation on earth."
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 ++++ Edward R. Murrow based his broadcast from Belle Glade, Florida which in 1960 was a home to a domestic migrant stream. By 1974, that stream was drying up--replaced in large part by the globalization of agricultural workers willing to do work U.S. citizens regarded as beneath our dignity.
For me, Belle Glade, Florida remains an actual and metaphorical location where my understanding of how to feed the starving people of the world began.
The rich swampland of Belle Glade is the equivalent of agricultural gold. Anything planted in its rich soil will grow. By the 1970s, the soil was treated with astonishing disrespect. U.S. Sugar and other growers produced sugar cane there--a crop that has no rational economic reason for being grown in the United States. 

The economist David Ricardo (1772-1823), hero of mine, pointed to the irrationality of growing sugar in Florida when it is far less expensive to import it from countries in Central and South America, in Africa and elsewhere where foolish U.S. food policy imposes tariffs which keep in business U.S. sugar cane and beet producers who are less efficient and would be better off producing instead a valuable commodity on our precious soil.
Portrait of David Ricardo by Thomas Phillips
“In an economic model, agents have a comparative advantage over others in producing a particular good if they can produce that good at a lower relative opportunity cost or autarky price, i.e. at a lower relative marginal cost prior to trade.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_advantage
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Ricardo wrote: Ricardo’s example reads, “To produce the wine in Portugal, might require only the labour of 80 men for one year, and to produce the cloth in the same country, might require the labour of 90 men for the same time. It would therefore be advantageous for her to export wine in exchange for cloth. This exchange might even take place, notwithstanding that the commodity imported by Portugal could be produced there with less labour than in England. Though she could make the cloth with the labour of 90 men, she would import it from a country where it required the labour of 100 men to produce it, because it would be advantageous to her rather to employ her capital in the production of wine, for which she would obtain more cloth from England, than she could produce by diverting a portion of her capital from the cultivation of vines to the manufacture of cloth.”
It is not often I agree with the American Enterprise Institute, but when it comes to sugar (an obsession of mine) the current protectionist policies of the U.S. government—enshrined in the 2018 farm biill—wastes at considerable cost to the US treasury 900,000 acres of land which would nest be used for other purple.

Consequently, sugar protectionism threatens our producers of rice, wheat, corn, and soybeans whose ability to pay their children's college tuition is dependent upon exports. 

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The coup putting 93 year-old Robert Mugabe under house arrest [1] is one of three major international stories to break this week. For 37 years Zimbabwe’s corrupt regime has turned the “breadbasket” of southern Africa [2]into a net importer of food. 
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See this exciting report from South Africa television: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sW-xXZqrGKc
BBC: "Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has resigned, parliament speaker Jacob Mudenda has said. A letter from Mr Mugabe said that the decision was voluntary and that he had made it to allow a smooth transfer of power, the Reuters news agency reports. The surprise announcement halted an impeachment hearing that had begun against him. Lawmakers roared in jubilation and people have begun celebrating in the streets. Mr Mugabe had previously refused to resign despite last week's military takeover and days of protests. He has been in power since independence in 1980."
 BBC News: Published on Nov 21, 2017.
 

Editorial note: In Zimbabwe, a country with a literacy rate of over 80 percent, will the dictator’s fall mean that one of the richest countries in Africa will be able to feed southern Africa again?

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Currently, a child starves to death every 10 minutes in Yemen.

Earlier this week the UN Security Council heard legitimate concern that in the wake of a Saudi Arabia boycott of critical humanitarian supplies, Yemen is at risk of becoming the most severe crisis in a world filled with severe crises. Yemen’s shortage of food is putting 17.8 million people at risk of dying from starvation. Currently, a child starves to death every 10 minutes in Yemen. Meanwhile, our too little too late Secretary of State is in Myanmar where a minority Moslem population is at risk of genocide from the country’s majority Buddhist population.

Refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh are filled to overflowing as the county’s leadership puts fleeing refugees back into leaking boats to return to the danger they fled. As millions of people are dying in the world, the Los Angeles Times in one of the few news outlets in the US to provide coverage. Almost certainly, Meet the Press and the other Sunday network news programs will ignore death and suffering on a massive scale.

Over 200 Children Killed in Yemen in 2017
http://alwaght.com/en/News/106175/Over-200-Children-Killed-in-Yemen-in-2017-amid-Saudi-Bombardments-UN

Instead, the vast majority of US  reporters focus to the exclusion of everything else on Jeff Sessions testimony before a House of Representatives oversight committee. Can not reporters provide at least 10 percent of their efforts [tithe] on life and death issues instead of concentrating  in exhaustive detail the tawdry sexual behavior of the Republican nominee running in the Senate Alabama race?  Why cannot we be spared repetition until we all can memorize each of the  President’s irrational tweets?

Wordsworth wrote”the world is too much with us.” Not in the isolationist United States where our role as an example of world leadership—painfully acquired during World War II—diminishes daily..

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Zimbabwe was once the “breadbasket” of Southern Africa

Los Angeles Times correspondent Robyn Dixon reported from Harare, Zimbabwe on November `5, 2017:

“As the country descended into economic ruin, Mugabe became an international outcast for his misrule. He blamed the problems on whites and political enemies.

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“In the early 2000s, Mugabe sanctioned the invasion of hundreds of white-owned farms by black veterans of the liberation war and other government supporters, a land grab that resulted in the deaths of farmers and political opponents. Supporters praised him for standing up for the black majority against Western imperialists.

“But in recent years, Mugabe has been abandoned by even some of his most ardent supporters, including South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters party, which wants South Africa to confiscate land from whites.

“’The EFF appreciates that some of the pain caused in Zimbabwe was due to imperialist actions, but a significant component of this was self-inflicted,” it tweeted Wednesday as it called on Zuma to offer Mugabe political asylum. ‘ President Mugabe cannot insist on remaining in power even when he is physically incapable of doing so.’”

http://www.latimes.com/world/africa/la-fg-zimbabwe-military-takeover-20171115-story.html

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Yemen: “It will be the largest famine the world has seen in many decades with millions of victims.”

From the about section of this EuroNews You Tube video:

Yemen is facing a devastating famine unless the current air, sea and land blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition is lifted. “It will be the largest famine the world hasn’t seen for many decades, with millions of victims,” *UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock* told reporters. He had briefed the UN Security Council on the humanitarian situation in the country. He had been asked to brief the UNSC which held a closed-door meeting … See : http://www.euronews.com/2017/11/09/mi…

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Genocide in Myanmar

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Meanwhile, a sharply divided Congress fiddles while the world burns

Confirmation hearings of Attorney General Jeff Sessions whose “contribution” to the death taking place globally is to secure the borders and round up illegal aliens.

Attorney General Sessions Testimony at Oversight HearingAttorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Justice Department oversight issues and Russia’s role in the 2016 election. Attorney General Sessions told the committee he stands by his previous testimony that he never lied about his contacts with Russia. He added that he had no recollection of a campaign meeting with George Papadopoulos and Carter Page involving Russia until he saw news reports. In addition, Attorney General Sessions said he has “no reason to doubt the young women” who have accused Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct.

Also, the attorney general discussed whether a special counsel is needed to investigate the Clinton Foundation. He said he has no prejudgments and would not take any sides but a decision by the Justice Department would be based on a detailed factual evaluation.

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Meanwhile, back in the real world: Who is feeding the millions who are starving?

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, is a United Nations programme mandated to protect and support refugees at the request of a government or the UN itself and assists in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country. Its headquarters are in GenevaSwitzerland, and it is a member of the United Nations Development Group.[1]The UNHCR has won two Nobel Peace Prizes, once in 1954 and again in 1981.

Wikipedia, of course

Myanmar/Bangladesh

The Philippines voted on November 18, 2017 PH votes against U.N. draft resolution on Rohingya in Myanmar
http://news.abs-cbn.com/focus/11/18/17/ph-votes-against-un-draft-resolution-on-rohingya-in-myanmar
From the field: Emergency Response Coordinator in Bangladesh

I’ve met so many brave Rohingya families who have little more than the clothes on their back and the weight of their trauma and loss. And the painful memories of the violence that forced them to flee their homes.

https://www.unrefugees.org/news/from-the-field-emergency-response-coordinator-in-bangladesh/

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Yemen

UNHCR’s country representative, Ayman Gharaibeh, warns war is tearing the fabric of Yemen apart and creating a humanitarian catastrophe.

AMMAN, Jordan – Since war broke out in Yemen in March 2015, the fabric of the country has been disintegrating and the population of 27.4 million suffering untold hardship and misery. The situation there has been described as a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ and without help many more people, especially children, will die from violence, lack of food and water, illness or disease.

Yemen is on the brink of a horrible famine. Here’s how things got so bad.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/19/yemen-is-on-the-brink-of-a-horrible-famine-heres-how-things-got-so-bad/?utm_term=.b8437d127095

AymanGharaibeh, UNHCR’s Representative to Yemen, is leading the UN Refugee Agency’s humanitarian operations and response across the country. The experienced humanitarian aid worker previously served in Yemen with UNHCR from 1992 to 1994. Gharaibeh spoke to Public Information Officer ShabiaMantoo about the desperate situation there.

https://www.unrefugees.org/news/what-is-happening-in-yemen-update-from-unhcr-representative/

United Nations High Commission for Refugees:

“Yemen is in the grips of one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world — two million have been forced to flee their homes because of increased violence in the country – more than 18 million innocent Yemenis are in immediate need of humanitarian assistance, many risk starvation.”

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Sudan

Amid increasing violence and deteriorating conditions, the situation in South Sudan has escalated into a full-blown humanitarian emergency.

Sudan, once the largest and one of the most geographically diverse states in Africa, split into two countries in July 2011 after the people of the south voted for independence.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14094995

“The total number of South Sudanese refugees has now passed two million, it is the largest refugee crisis in Africa, and the third largest in the world, after Syria and Afghanistan. Sadly, 63 percent of South Sudanese refugees are under the age of 18.” –UNHCR

Above: South Sudanese refugee stands with her child in Pagarinya 2 refugee camp in the Adjumani district in northern Uganda.

“The vast majority of South Sudanese refugees are finding refuge in neighboring Uganda. Currently, Uganda is hosting more than one million refugees – 82 percent are women and children.”

“The majority of those fleeing South Sudan are women and children. They are survivors of violent attacks, sexual assault and in many cases, children are traveling alone.

“Often, they arrive weak and malnourished. When the rainy season comes, their needs are compounded by flooding, food shortages and disease.”

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Constitutional removal of President Trump is imperative if the U.S. is to regain its position following World War II as global leader responding in a timely manner to catastrophes to prevent even more widespread suffering and economic destruction

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Budget would restructure a diminished commitment to international food aid

WASHINGTON — President Donald J. Trump’s budget proposal sharply reduces the U.S. commitment to international food assistance. The United States provides most emergency and developmental food assistance under P.L. 480 Title II, also known as Food for Peace. This initiative was launched in 1954 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower when he signed into law what became known as the Food for Peace Act. The purpose was two-fold: to answer the urgent humanitarian call to feed the world’s hungry, which was deemed to be in accord with national security interests, while providing an outlet for the incredible bounty of U.S. agriculture.  

Congress appropriates funding each year to P.L. 480 Title II as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture budget. The program itself is administered by the Office of Food for Peace in the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

President Trump’s budget would eliminate all U.S.D.A. funding for P.L. 480 Title II. Instead, funding for fiscal year (F.Y.) 2018 emergency international food assistance, a proposed $1.1 billion, would be funneled through the International Disaster Account at USAID.  This compared with P.L. 480 Title II funding for F.Y. 2017 at an estimated $1,713 million and actual spending in F.Y. 2016 at $1,716 million. This would translate to a cut of more than $600 million in international food assistance from the estimate for the current year.

At the same time, the administration proposed to lower funding for the I.D.A. account itself in F.Y. 2018 by $900 million from F.Y. 2017, to $2.5 billion.

“The U.S. government will urge other donors, including non-traditional donors, to increase funding for humanitarian assistance and lessen the burden on the United States to respond,” the State Department’s budget request stated.

--http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/news_home/Business_News/2017/05/Budget_would_restructure_a_dim.aspx?ID=%7B41C936C5-1425-4AA7-A8A3-F381CA27B64B%7D&cck=1

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Required is for the U.S. to regain its position in the world as a champion of humanitarian assistance to the poorest of the poor who are dying.  Currently, President Trump aids the Saudis by providing military equipment and logistical support in killing children, women, and men in Yemen. It is imperative to remove the President from office non-violently and constitutionally.

Three resources are available. 1. Impeachment. 2. Removal under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment. 3. Persuading President Trump to resign from office.

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There was bad news for the United Nations last week, as President Donald Trump announced he is seeking a 28 percent budget cut for diplomacy and foreign aid, which includes an unspecified reduction in funding to the United Nations and its agencies. VOA's U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer reports that the potential cuts come as the U.N. is struggling to cope with an unprecedented number of conflicts, approaching famines and the effects of climate change. Originally published at - http://www.voanews.com/a/united-natio...

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Much nonsense has been emitted about the failure of the Democratic Party to have responsible leaders in this time of crisis. Senator Camilla Harris of California is currently my favorite to secure in the Democratic nomination in 2020. However, a number of Senate and House Democrats as well as state and local officials point to our party’s bench strength. A list is available upon request.

Not acceptable is Senator Diane Feinstein whose inability to see facts when presented before her of Trump’s illegal behavior including but not limited to obstruction of justice, makes her my candidate to defeat in the California primary next year. I am hopeful that Tom Steyer, whom I commend for this impeach President Trump commercial, decides to run against Senator Feinstein next year.

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Footnotes

  1. South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC) News is an excellent source of the latest news on the transition from Mugabe’s 37 years controlling power in Zimbabwe. http://www.sabcnews.com/newspage/
  2. “Because of its highly productive land and vast agricultural
    potentialities, Zimbabwe used to be not only selfsufficient
    but also produce surplus crops for exports.
    However, the situation has changed in the recent years to
    the extent that the country can no longer feed itself and
    has to depend on foreign aids. This problem is to a great
    extent caused by the so-called Structural Adjustment
    Program promoted by the World Bank; and partly by the
    political turmoil which resulted in the imposition of
    different types of sanctions on the country. Consequently,
    the Zimbabwean agricultural system becomes weak and
    weaker. It is however, expected that these negative
    phenomena could be successfully turnaround and
    changed for the better. But without selfless and focus
    leadership, this change will be mere a mirage.” —Zimbabwe’s agricultural industry by Ahmed Audu Maiyaki

 

References

Maiyaki, Ahmed Audu. Zimbabwe’s agricultural industry. African Journal of Business Management.Vol. 4(19), pp. 4159-4166, December Special Review, 2010

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This posting copyright © 2017 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

 

Who Will Be Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture? Who cares?

It is 4:50 in the morning. At least twice a day now for weeks I have been checking the web to see whom President-elect Trump will choose to be the least important member of the Cabinet. Yesterday, I had an argument with the opinion editor of a major international newspaper. He said, "Wait, Joel, before writing until we know who will be chosen.'

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Senator Heidi Heitkamp's Facebook photograph. If I were a betting man, I would bet that Donald J. Trump will pick Senator Heitkamp for a cabinet position. Doing so would fulfill the transition team's desire to select a Democrat for the Trump cabinet. Since she is from North Dakota, Heitkamp's nomination would result in a vacancy. Probably, she would be replaced by a Republican--increasing a Republican majority in the Senate. Will it be Agriculture or Energy? I would not bet on either as a certainty.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s Facebook photograph. If I were a betting man, I would bet that Donald J. Trump will pick Senator Heitkamp for a cabinet position. Doing so would fulfill the transition team’s desire to select a Democrat for the Trump cabinet. Since she is from North Dakota, Heitkamp’s nomination would result in a vacancy. Probably, she would be replaced by a Republican–increasing a Republican majority in the Senate. Will it be Agriculture or Energy? I would not bet on either as a certainty.

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I do not want to wait. Daily the list of likely individuals to USDA keep expanding. Seemingly from nowhere (although as it turns out from North Dakota) a new name has appeared: Democratic U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Politico has done the best job of reporting on the cabinet selection process. Yesterday, Politico reported that Senator Heitkamp spent over an hour at Trump Tower talking to the President-elect about one of two cabinet positions–Agriculture and Energy.

Fortunately, the transition team led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence has not made an announcement at least until a civilized hour (say 10 AM) today.  Perhaps the selection will not take place until next week.

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Note:

I will be blogging all weekend. Yes, I have other chores–taking a shower, cleaning my oven, writing on disability issues. However, this cabinet selection and its consequences appears as an obsession I am unwilling to check.

When I return I will:

  • Surprise you by revealing issues of substance on global and domestic food policy related to the selection of an agriculture secretary.
  • Discuss the unexpected shake up in the Trump agriculture transition team.
  • Include in the list of likely and unlikely USDA candidates, an obscene comment by one who earns for this posting a not fit for minors rating.
  • An offbeat superstition that writing about agriculture policy will keep me alive and well.

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Variation of “What’s My Line”

You know he is Secretary of Agriculture. What is his name? He has been Secretary of Agriculture for eight years longer than any member of President Obama's cabinet.
You know he is Secretary of Agriculture. What is his name? He has been Secretary of Agriculture for eight years longer than any member of President Obama’s cabinet.

 

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Aaron Sorkin’s “West Wing ” Demonstrates the Secretary of Agriculture is the Least Important Member of the Cabinet

Let me set the scene.

Aaron Sorkin’s fictional President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet is about to deliver the State of the Union Address. For any of you baseball fans, the State of the Union Address is my moral equivalent of the seventh game of the World Series. My fascination here with the selection process during a Presidential transition stems from the experience my friend Walter Shapiro (currently completing coverage of his tenth Presidential campaign for Roll Call) afforded me.

I had been sidelined from working for Jimmy Carter’s 1976 Presidential campaign because at 28 I was diagnosed with a cancer of the lymphatic system called Hodgkin’s disease. The relationship between my first bout with cancer and U.S. agriculture policy is forthcoming. The focus here (remember?) is on the insignificance of the Secretary of Agriculture demonstrated in a brilliantly written fictional television series. (Still with me?)

The West Wing episode is on the State of the Union address, as I said a World Series event for speechwriters such as myself. At the State of the Union address the President of the United States addresses a joint session of Congress. All 535 members of Congress are there. Behind the President (visible on camera) are the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, and the President Pro Temp of the Senate.

Before the President enters the chamber (more or less as royalty)  the Cabinet walks down the aisle with great fanfare. The Secretary of State. The Secretary of Treasury and so on in order of the line of succession. Yet, there always is concern that a hydrogen bomb might drop on the Capitol of the United States. Who will run the country then?

Left behind in the Oval Office is Bartlet’s Secretary of Agriculture.Sorkin’s fictional president is at times a pompous windbag showing off his knowledge of Latin. The Secretary of Agriculture knows that. The scene begins with the head of USDA handing Bartlet a copy of the Constitution in Latin.

The relevance of the scene then follows. The President gives advice to the Secretary of Agriculture on how to run the country in the event of a nuclear holocaust.

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Sampling The New York Times Short List

This is the list.

The New York Times short list to be President-elect Trump's Secretary of Agriculture
The New York Times short list to be President-elect Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture

 

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Let us start with Kansas Governor Sam Brownback before discussing serious agriculture policy issues

Published on May 4, 2015

Thom Hartmann shares a story about a Kansas waitress who told Governor Sam Brownback to “tip the schools” instead of her.

If you liked this clip of The Thom Hartmann Program, please do us a big favor and share it with your friends… and hit that “like” button!

http://www.thomhartmann.com

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Wikipedia

Samuel DaleSamBrownback (born September 12, 1956) is an American politician currently serving as Governor of Kansas. A member of the Republican Party, Brownback was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives during the Republican Revolution of 1994, representing Kansas’s 2nd congressional district for a single term, before running in a 1996 special election for the Senate seat previously held by Bob Dole. He won that election, and two regular elections following, serving until 2011. He ran for president in 2008, but withdrew before the primaries began and endorsed eventual Republican nominee John McCain.[1][2][3] He was elected Governor of Kansas in 2010 and took office in January 2011.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback

Brownback supported the 2007 Iraq War troop surge and has also voiced his support for Israel.[4] He opposes same-sex marriage and has described himself as pro-life.[5] As Governor, Brownback signed into law one of the largest income tax cuts in Kansas’ history.[6] Brownback turned down a $31.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to set up an insurance exchange as part of the federal health care reform law,[7] signed a bill that blocked tax breaks for abortion providers, banned sex-selection abortions, and declared that life begins at fertilization.[8] The income tax cut generated a substantial budget deficit and led some former and current Republican officials to criticize his leadership in the run-up to the 2014 gubernatorial election by endorsing his opponent, Paul Davis.[9] Brownback was reelected in a close race with Davis.

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The above interview ends with Governor Brownback responding to a study that found him to be the most unpopular governor in the United States.

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Interlude

 

 

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Now for something completely different: SUBSTANCE

The big story–bizarrely–is the impact the selection of Secretary of Agriculture will have on the deplorable infant mortality rate in the U.S. The head of USDA (for reasons I can explain) has more funding to reduce infant mortality than any other government department including HHS.

The Secretary of Agriculture is not qualified to reduce informant mortality. The Surgeon General is qualified. Moving the Women Infants and Children program to HHS would have two beneficial effects.

1. Pregnant women with anemia would be treated with medication rather than Total or other iron-fortified cereal.

2. The head of USDA would be free to focus on farming. Currently two-thirds of the USDA budget is spent on food stamps and other income support programs.

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Interlude

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Clearly, the most qualified person to be Secretary of Agriculture is Chuck Conner Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives based in Indiana

Briefly, Conner served as Secretary of Agriculture in the Administration of George W. Bush. Conner is second on The New York Times short list. The fact that he is from Indiana is a great help. Vice President-Elect Pence, who runs the Transition Team,  has been successful in securing the Medicare position for a friend from Indiana. Several prosperous Indiana farmers appear on the longer lists compiled from the agriculture press.

In 2005, Connor appeared before the Senate Agriculture Committee in nomination hearings for his position as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. This is the statement of the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

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STATEMENT OF HON. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, A U.S. SENATOR FROM GEORGIA, CHAIRMAN, COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE, NUTRITION, AND FORESTRY The CHAIRMAN.

Good morning. We are here today regarding the nomination of Chuck Conner to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Mr. Conner is no stranger to this committee. From 1980 to 1985, he served as Senator Lugar’s agricultural aide. From 1985 to 1987, he was a professional staff member with the Senate Agriculture Committee.

From 1987 to 1997, he served first as Minority Staff Director, then as Majority Staff Director of this committee. I will have to say, just from a personal perspective, having served in Congress for 10 years, I have known Chuck for basically all of those 10 years, and Senator Lugar, you made an excellent choice when you chose Chuck Conner to join your staff.

He is certainly someone who has extensive knowledge of agriculture and of our programs and has been a very good person to work with over the years. Mr. Conner was President of the Corn Refiners Association from 1997 to 2001. Since 2001, he has been the Special Assistant to the President for Agricultural Trade and Food Assistance. Mr. Conner is accompanied today by his wife, Dru, and their four children, Katie, Ben, Andrew, and Emily. We are pleased to have all of you with us.

Also in attendance today are Chuck’s brother, Mike Conner, and his sister-in-law, Sally Lindsey. Welcome to each of you. Senator Harkin is not here yet, but we will give him an opportunity to make any comment he wishes to when he comes in. I want to let you all know what we are going to do this morning. Because of the Joint Session later this morning, I will ask my colleagues either to submit their opening statements for the record or present them during the first round of questioning.

We have the session at—I believe we need to be on the floor at 10:30, so we are going to try to move this along, and that is our reason for bumping up the time-table. With that, I would like to turn to Senator Lugar for an introduction of Mr. Conner. Senator Lugar.”

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Of two of the remaining front runners on The Times’ four man list, Governor Brownback has the disadvantage of being regarded as the worst governor in the United States. Texas Agriculture Secretary Sid Miller who retweeted a tweet using an obscene word to describe Hillary Clinton. Sid Miller is up next on my batting order.

Chuck Conner is Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC).  “The majority of America’s 2 million farmers and ranchers belong to one or more farmer cooperatives. NCFC members also include 22 state and regional councils of cooperatives.

“Farmer cooperatives handle, process and market almost every type of agricultural commodity; furnish farm supplies; and provide credit and related financial services, including export financing. Earnings from these activities are returned to their farmer members on a patronage basis, helping improve their income from the marketplace.”

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Interlude.

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Sonny Perdue first came to my consciousness when the press reported he wore a tie with tractors on it when President-Elect Trump interviewed him at Trump Tower

As with another former governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue has a silly first name and an odd way of dealing with it. Born in 1946 son of a farmer, Sonny’s parents named him George Ervin Perdue III. When he became governor he formally changed the name with which he signed documents to his childhood nickname.

There is some special quality former governors of Georgia have that border on the spiritual. Either they are condemned to a lifetime of obscurity or they become President. Take Jimmy Carter, for example who changed his first name formally so he could sign Presidential Proclamations using his nickname. What did he do as Governor of Georgia that suited him for the Oval Office. Yes, he unveiled a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a sign that Georgia recognized its greatest Twentieth Century leader. What else did he do?

My mother explained it. “People tell me he is worth watching.” Similarly (although there is no chance of Sonny becoming President), he has a watchable quality. Currently, Perdue is watchable.

In 2008 The New York Times regarded Perdue as sufficiently watchable to include him on a list for potential running mates for Vice President. How does one get to become a member of the cabinet? It helps to be a name on the right list.

This is how the Times eased Perdue into a slow rise from obscurity. “Republican governors said that Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Sanford were in the top-tier of potential running mates, but that Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida and Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia were also contenders.” Note: the online version of the Times hotlink Purdue’s name and gave him the opportunity for a quote.

“Mr. Perdue said he had not asked anyone to include his name on a list of potential running mates. But he said, ‘People include my name because we’re the capital of the South, a fast-growing region, and we’ve had wonderful success with a conservative fiscal policy.’”

The paragraph above indicates that when the spotlight was upon him (albeit briefly), he performed well. How well did he perform as Georgia. He was elected with two campaign pledges 1. Administer the state more efficiently. 2. Improve education; specifically raise SAT scores.

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See Wikipedia:

“Two primary objectives in Perdue’s administration was on reforming state government and on improving education. Perdue advocated reforms designed to cut waste in government, most notably the sale of surplus vehicles and real estate. Prior to Perdue’s becoming governor, no state agency had even compiled an inventory of what assets the state-owned, much less managed them.

“In education, Perdue promoted the return of most decision-making to the local level. After Perdue took office, Georgia moved out of last place in SAT scores in 2003 and 2004. Although it returned to last place in 2005, Georgia rose to 49th place in 2006 in the combined math and reading mean score, including the writing portion (new that year).[8] The high school class of 2006 recorded the sharpest drop in SAT scores in 31 years.[“

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Perdue’s Helpful Family Tie

Last night (December 4), breathless, my Ear on the Ground in Georgia (EOGG) left a voice message at 9. “You know, Perdue’s cousin sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee.”

Perdue’s cousin is Senator David Perdue Republican of Georgia. On Friday, Senator David Perdue (a staunch Trump supporter) met with the President-elect at Trump Tower. They discussed farm legislation. The current farm bill expires in two years. The Administration will have a difficult time renewing the legislation. What is most significant about farm legislation these days is that it is not  significant. Until the 1970s, farm legislation determined how much a farmer could or could not plant. No more.

Current legislation deals with technical issues of little concern to consumers. The Farm Bureau and other farm groups are working overtime to prepare because (to repeat) it might not pass. Job One for Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture is to make sure it passes.

No other cabinet agency has the intimate relationship required  between the Senate and indeed House Agriculture Committees in whose hearing rooms I have spent ten years of my life. In these Committee rooms it is helpful to have cousins (kissing and otherwise) who are members of the Committee. Sonny Perdue’s selection could very well be determined by blood as well as qualification.

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Interlude.

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Copyright © 2016 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.