Thursday, June 28, 2007

LA Times: who hates the farm bill?

Here's a nice editorial from the LA Times w/ a summary of the various groups that dislilke the farm bill (conservatives, consumers, farmers and anti-pov activists) and why...
Cut farm bill fat
Congress should take advantage of a growing drive to end costly agricultural subsidies.
June 25, 2007

IT'S A GREAT TIME to be a Midwestern farmer, what with rising demand for ethanol causing prices for corn and other key crops to soar. But if you think that has decreased farmers' appetite for the billions of dollars in taxpayer handouts they get every year through the farm bill — this country's most egregious corporate welfare act — think again.

The 2002 farm bill expires in September, and it's up to the House Agriculture Committee to write its replacement. Last week, to the surprise of no one, the 18 members of a subcommittee working on a draft bill voted unanimously to reject all reform efforts, including a modest fix from the Bush administration aimed at making the bill compliant with international trade rules and cutting off government payments to farmers who make more than $200,000 a year. The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, points out that those 18 subcommittee members come from districts that hoovered up a quarter of the $34.8 billion in crop subsidies parceled out from 2003 to 2005.

The committee may be hoping for another five-year pork package, but that could be tougher this time around. An unusual coalition from across the political spectrum has arisen to fight farm subsidies.

Conservatives don't like them because they're a waste of taxpayer money and interfere with free trade. Consumers don't like them because they inflate food prices. Anti-poverty activists don't like them because they encourage American farmers to overproduce certain crops and dump them on the world market, putting farmers in poor countries out of business. Even most U.S. farmers don't like the current system because its benefits are distributed so unevenly: The top 20% of recipients collect 84% of crop payments, and roughly two-thirds of American farmers don't get any subsidies at all.

It's probably too much to expect progress from the House Agriculture Committee. But even if it drafts a status-quo farm bill, the rest of Congress can scrap it. There are strong reform alternatives, particularly the bipartisan "Farm 21" bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and in the House by Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.). It would end trade-distorting crop subsidies and instead put the money in "risk management accounts" — sort of like Individual Retirement Accounts for farmers — and end government payments entirely within seven years.

A small minority of farm states has controlled U.S. agricultural policy for far too long. It's time for the rest of the country to wean agribusiness off the dole.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Good Farm Bill news: Food stamps, Emergency food, Commodity Supplemental Food

Not all the Farm Bill subcommittee news is bad! This is happy news for the hungry in our country. Second Harvest is my source for this info....

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition recently approved the Subcommittee bill that will serve as the Nutrition title vehicle for the full Agriculture Committee consideration of the 2007 farm bill. This bill, as reported to full Committee, includes nutrition program reauthorizations and changes that would increase funding for these programs, if money is found to pay for them.

We are pleased to report that the subcommittee markup vehicle includes more than $5 billion in new spending on federal nutrition programs that, if funded, would strengthen The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the Food Stamp Program.

It is critical as we move into consideration by the full Agriculture Committee that we communicate the importance of including our priorities in the final committee proposal. The full Agriculture Committee “markup” is currently schedule for the week of July 9.

Please contact your Member of the House of Representatives today and urge them to support a strong nutrition title in the Farm Bill Reauthorization as the full House Agriculture Committee considers this important proposal.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Reflections from Zambia

The following is this week's installment of a column written by Lawrence Temfwe, whom I was blessed to meet last month. He is the executive director of the Jubilee Centre ( in Zambia which helps Zambian churches and communities have a voice in the world. Read on for a sample of an African view about Africa...
Tony Blair’s Retirement

Tony Blair is due to leave 10 Downing Street this week with a significant pile of personal debt in excess of $7.2 million (Chicago Tribune 21st June). This is mainly due to his purchase of a house on mortgage. Wait a minute, is this right? A Prime Minister of one the most powerful and richest country in the world who has been in power for 10 years is leaving office with debt. This does not sound right.

In Africa, political leaders come into power with a few millions of wealth in their local currency and leave office as dollar multi-millionaires. They come into office with debt of mortgage on properties they own and leave office with more properties acquired and paid for in full. In some African countries, the governments are also obliged to build their former Presidents similar houses to the government house they occupied when they were in power.

Why are African governments which are so poor in financial resources able to create dollar millionaires from their Presidents while European and North American states that are so wealthy in resources have leaders who leave their powerful office with debt which they incur while in office?

Like former President of USA, Bill Clinton, Blair is expected to make more money than he did as Prime Minister out of his memoirs, fees on lecture circuit, seats on boards or other business opportunities. Blair will use the money earned in this way to pay his debt and most likely even start a foundation that will respond to poverty in Africa or climate change which were on the top of his agenda while he served as Prime Minister. We too have former presidents who are involved in humanitarian work. They must be commended for their work of compassion.

However, if our leaders will want us to buy their memoirs and expect us to pay fees for their lectures they must fully engage us in their governance that we are able to see how their work’s success relate to us. They must especially be transparent about their earnings, so that the acquired wealth at the end of their term will not be the subject of discussion as to whether they were serving their people or their pockets.

For Christian leaders, we have in Jesus a great example of a leader who made sure that His ministry’s success related to the disciples. Jesus fully engaged His disciples in His ministry and was transparent to them in all His actions. Today 2000 years after His death, we still continue to buy His memoirs (the Bible) and do the work He sent us to do. Jesus provided a structure that allows His followers to infuse themselves into His work, so that they can inspire those who will follow them in sacrificial and legendary ways. Christian leaders must lead like Jesus did, hence, encouraging politicians to lead in the same way. African people are tired of leaders who leave office as dollar multi-millionaires not because they worked hard but because they choose to serve their pockets rather than the people who elected them.

Lawrence Temfwe
Executive Director of the Jubilee Centre in Zambia