Saturday, July 14, 2007

Farm Bill and Douglas Adams

I just submitted this as an NPR commentary. Since I fully expect it to be kindly rejected, I thought I'd post it here since it's kind of silly and that's what blogs are for, right? Publishing stuff that possibly only you think is amusing?
Let’s say there was a piece of legislation that would benefit a small group of people while hurting virtually everyone else on the planet, some so severely that they and their children would go hungry. Let’s also say Congress would review it every five years. How would it be possible to sneak it by the nation in plain sight?

Douglas Adams, author of “Life, the Universe and Everything,” had his characters encounter a science-fiction cloaking device called the SEP field. SEP was an acronym for “Somebody Else’s Problem.” It would trick an observer into believing what they were seeing was Somebody Else’s Problem, not worth acting upon, and effectively invisible. This would allow a something like a dinosaur to walk into Times Square without so much as a raised eyebrow.

Something similar is going on with the U.S. Farm Bill. The political equivalent of a fat brontosaurus has been parked on Capitol Hill for years and the average person has no idea it’s there or assumes it is “Somebody Else’s Problem.”

This one piece of legislation touches an amazingly diverse set of interest groups. A partial list includes small-scale farmers, rural communities, urban poor, farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, environmental stewards and the biggest interest group of all: people who eat. It affects school lunch menus, food prices for consumers and nutrition safety nets for those at risk for hunger.

The Farm Bill does some good things- providing for food stamps and soup kitchens, for example. Yet it also causes great distress, most notably with the system of subsidy payments for commodity crops. So much so that it’s drawn international attention by the World Trade Organization for creating unfair pricing structures. The money in the subsidy program largely goes to big business farmers instead of under-funded conservation programs, anti-hunger initiatives, and small farmers that need it most.

So, if it affects everyone, then why isn’t everyone talking about it? What caused this real life SEP field? What makes us believe it’s Somebody Else’s Problem? Is it the name, “The Farm Bill,” which insinuates that only farmers should care? Is it because it’s so easy to make peoples’ eyes glaze over by describing an imbalanced system of commodity subsidy payments given to those who farm corn, soy beans, cotton and … just that short statement may have lost listeners right at “soy beans.” Or is it because a small bloc of legislators whose districts collect a fourth of all subsidy money are historically determined to make the issue disappear as quickly as it comes up?

The good news is that, just like Adams’ fictional SEP field, the political cloaking device can be overcome using no special equipment. It only takes an ordinary person looking specifically for the hidden object. In other words, the Farm Bill is there to be found every five years. You just have to be looking for it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A letter from Barak (to Bread for the World)

This isn't breaking news, but I just stumbled across this on the Bread for the World web site. I didn't get a personal letter from Barak, but this dude did!
June 25, 2007

Since this beginning of this year, Bread members have written over a thousand letters to IL Senator Barack Obama. On June 5, the Congressman replied to Bread member Robert Reardon. Here is what he said:

Dear Robert:

Thank you for sending me the letters that your students hand wrote outlining their support for Farm Bill reform. Please tell your students that I read every one of their letters. It is very meaningful to me that each of your students took the time to write down and send me their opinion.

I understand that your students have studied information provided by Bread for the World. I have great respect for Bread for the World and am working with their representatives on the Farm Bill and other hunger-related initiatives.

Bread for the World advocates that the Farm Bill be used as a vehicle to reduce hunger and poverty in the United States and around the World. It has also called for adjustments in the commodity payment programs that would provide more support for farm and rural families of modest means and also help to reduce hunger in our country and internationally. I support both of these goals.

Your students might also be interested to know that, at the suggestion of Bread for the World, I was proud to join as an original cosponsor of The Hunger Free Communities Act, which sets aggressive targets for reducing hunger in America. The bill also provides grants to emergency feeding centers and other food pantries and nonprofits, and requires a new USDA research initiative focused on tracking American hunger and developing approaches to eliminate it.

Again, please convey my appreciation to your student for writing me. You may assure them that I will do all that I can to ensure that the Farm Bill helps family farmers, strengthens rural communities and reduces hunger in America and abroad.


Barack Obama

United States Senator

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Farm bill news: Good Nutrition Title moves forward

From America's Second Harvest. Operations and Oversight have approved a good nutrition title (food stamp and food pantry friendly) for the Farm Bill...
What’s Happening in Washington
The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry 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 scheduled for the week of July 16.

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.

Be sure to spread the word with colleagues, co-workers, friends, family and others. You can forward this email to other people, or you can visit the “tell a friend” page on the Hunger Action Center.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Greater Chicago Food Depository letter to Chicago Trib

This is a letter to the editor in the Chicago Trib today from Kate Maehr and H Dennis Smith of the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Northern Illinois Food Bank Association, respectively.
Fighting hunger

Hunger is one of the most pressing-and solvable-problems facing Illinois and our nation.

One in 10 Americans is hungry or at risk of hunger, and more than 1 million people in Illinois are hungry. The Illinois Food Bank Association, a coalition of eight America's Second Harvest food banks covering every part of our state, is working every day to provide food for hungry people. Each year, the members of the association provide approximately 80 million pounds of food to those in need. We feed nearly 1 million people each year and many are surprised to learn that nearly 40 percent of the families we serve are working households.

Yet more help is still needed and combating hunger effectively is a mission that needs involvement and commitment from all of us. In addition to the many individual donors, foundations and corporations that support food assistance efforts, the federal government also has an important role to play in ending hunger.

Legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), the Feeding America's Families Act, is an important step forward. This bill would provide a much needed boost for federal nutrition programs over the next five years.

The nutrition title of the 2007 Farm Bill recently passed out of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition with many of the important improvements outlined in the act. We applaud this first step toward a stronger response to hunger.

We encourage everyone to think about what he or she can do to end hunger. Individuals can hold a food drive, donate or volunteer. Together we can end hunger in our community.

Katherine R. Maehr

Executive director

Greater Chicago Food Depository


Illinois Food Bank Association

H. Dennis Smith

Executive director

Northern Illinois Food Bank


Illinois Food Bank Association