Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lastest Farm Bill iteration offers small concessions..mighty small

It looks as though this is going to have to go to a full fledged fight involving all the House to get real change through. This is from today's Washington Post.
Farm Bill Leaves Some Subsidies
Proposal Includes New Grants for Fruit and Vegetable Industry
By Dan Morgan

Farm bloc lawmakers yesterday offered the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry $1.8 billion in new federal grants over the next five years as part of a farm bill that would leave in place far larger subsidies for grain, cotton and dairy producers.

The concessions were part of a balancing act by House Democrats to craft a bill that will satisfy politically powerful farm interests while also bearing a Democratic imprint of reform. The House Agriculture Committee was set to vote on the legislation late last night or today.

The package, unveiled yesterday by Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.), also increases funding for land conservation, wetlands protection and nutrition programs -- popular with environmental groups and urban lawmakers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the package "a good first step toward needed reform."

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Charles F. Conner said it "moved in the right direction but still has some ways to go." He noted that the Democratic proposal increases price guarantees and supports for some crops such as wheat and soybeans at a time when U.S. trading partners are demanding that those crops be sharply reduced to create a level playing field for farmers worldwide.

The proposal, presented at a committee meeting attended by throngs of farm group lobbyists, received a mixed reaction from some House members and outside critics of the farm program.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who is leading an effort to phase out traditional farm programs and channel more money to conservation and nutrition programs, said the proposal gave "crumbs and pennies" to states such as California and Florida.

The bulk of farm program funds, he said, would still go "to 20 congressional districts" in the South and Midwest that benefit from traditional price guarantees and income support programs even though farm incomes are at record levels.

Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of the anti-poverty group Oxfam America, singled out for criticism a measure outlined by Peterson. It would lower the ceiling for individuals receiving farm subsidies from $2.5 million to $1 million in adjusted gross income. The Bush administration has proposed a deeper cut to $200,000.

"It's a sad day when the Democratically led Agriculture Committee is a better friend to wealthy special interests than the Bush administration," Offenheiser said.

Some farm-state lawmakers are opposed to any adjustments in the payment limits, but Peterson said publicly that without some gesture toward reform the entire farm bill could face a major fight on the House floor.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), who has spearheaded the lobbying for fruit and vegetable interests, praised Pelosi for "direct involvement" in pushing for substantial grants for that sector for the first time. "She made clear we had to have serious and significant reforms but maintain a safety net for those areas of the country that were already covered," he said.

The proposal would also expand acreage in a grasslands reserve and provide help for farmers required to meet federal air-quality standards.

Federal payments to private crop insurers would be reduced by about $1 billion over 10 years to free funds for other priorities.

An earlier subcommittee draft of the farm bill would have merely extended the current farm subsidy programs. The proposed new version would do away with some price guarantees and allow farmers to opt for an income guarantee instead.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Backlash against ONE campaign

I've seen 2 articles in major newspapers taking a position against how ONE portrays a dark hole of disease and death. The claim is made that western celebrities hype the disaster to further their own careers and minimize the work of Africans. To offer another perspective, here's a message about Africa from an African. My colleague, Lawrence Temwfe, urges Christians to be make their voices heard in their democracy. In his piece to fellow Zambians, he cites the problems they face in terms not unlike what I have heard from the ONE campaign. Their problems are real whether told by Mr. Temfwe, Tony Blair or Bono. We should listen to their appeals for help and act!
The Constitution Making Process

The church has, for some time now, been reacting to the Constitution-making process debate rather than leading the course to work and make sacrifices toward a good and just nation. As we read of the new developments in our papers and watch the discussions on our screens we are confused, alarmed and worried. As church we ought to be concerned for issues of justice and mercy which may lead to economic security, health care and educational opportunity. As most of the churches in Zambia are doing ministry among people living on $1 per day, we find ourselves in the midst of death and orphans and vulnerable children, of increasing violence against women, drug abuse, prostitution, and rising hopelessness among our youths in our communities. We are faced with these issues of injustice and oppression as we preach the gospel in our communities.

Through out the history of this nation, the church has been doing something to alleviate the sufferings of our people and has contributed to the quest for social justice. We have assisted victims of calamities in our country in relief and development. We are caring for orphans and vulnerable children and their families, preparing them for responsible and productive citizenship. In development programs, the church is laying down the foundation for a effective long-term involvement by integrating courses and workshops in community development for its members. We are doing something. We are establishing the groundwork for the future.

We should consider doing much more than the present scope of our developmental ministries. We believe that Christian involvement in the Constitution making process is not only a missiological option. It is not just a citizen duty but a theological responsibility that can help determine the destiny of our nation. In the coming crucial months in our political life, we need to face the unavoidable reality that we are both Zambian Christians and citizens.

These times call us to reflection and action. As we do, let us remember that the church is called to meet people’s needs through loving them in the way that God loves them. Charles Colson in his book Kingdom in Conflict states that ‘a patriot sees the flaws of his country acknowledges them, weeps for them, but remains faithful in love.’ Let us also remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Whom you would want to change, you must first love” (1987:247). Such an insight brings profound understanding to our minds through the challenge of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave us his only son.” And Jesus’ statement that, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

As we advocate for a just and good Constitution, we must submit voluntarily and peacefully to the process and penalty of law. Our response must be done in love, in order, and without violence.

Lawrence Temfwe