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October 2009 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block, AgWeb.com

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Energy Independence

Oct 29, 2009

Are we really serious about reducing our reliance on imported energy? Shouldn’t this be a priority for national security reasons, not to mention the jobs we can create and money we can save? We don’t want to be sending billions of dollars to the Middle East or to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
 
Yet it seems that every promising idea must face heavy headwinds. Here is an absolutely ridiculous example. The location is a mountain top in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. A Chicago-based company plans to build 122 windmills to catch those strong mountain breezes and turn that wind into energy for thousands of households.
 
Sounds great, but David Cowen, a bat lover, has filed suit, claiming that the big blades will kill the Indiana bat (bats live in caves). It will kill other bats, too, and birds, but he has filed a lawsuit which hinges on the fact that the Indiana bat is on the Endangered Species list. The case is being tried right now. The legal counsel representing the wind farm had this to say, “A $300 million environmentally friendly, clean, renewable energy project waiting to serve 50 thousand households is in limbo over a rare bat that nobody has ever seen on the project site.”
 
There are always trade-offs. We can’t worry about a few dead birds and bats. This kind of nonsense can drive a sane man batty. EPA estimates there are 457,000 Indiana bats. I think that’s more than enough.
 
We have experienced the same kind of objection to other sources of energy. The greens fight against nuclear. And they don’t want us to drill for our own oil. Many in the environmental crowd won’t support biofuels, even though biofuels are clean and reduce our reliance on imports. Some are against biotech crops. Biotech crops reduce our use of chemicals. That saves energy. Herbicides cut the need for tillage and that saves energy.
 
If America is going to have energy independence, we have to be willing to develop all of our available sources of energy and save where we can.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

World Food Day

Oct 16, 2009

This Friday, October 16 was “World Food Day.” Thirty years ago (1979), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN issued the proclamation to heighten public awareness of the world problem of hunger and malnutrition.
 
The problem is real. One billion people, one in six, in the world today don’t get enough food to be healthy. Each year, 11 million children die before reaching the age of 5. A hungry mind cannot concentrate. Hungry bodies don’t have the energy to work.
 
We all know that you can’t fix a problem unless you know what causes the problem. Natural disasters such as floods, draughts, tsunamis, and wars all contribute to hunger. There is war in the Eastern Congo now with nearly a million killed and 900,000 displaced. The misery in Zimbabwe was forced upon a nation that had been a food exporter until President Mugabe confiscated the farms and gave them to his friends and the landless poor. Not a surprise, they don’t know how to run a farm.
 
We are not going to be able to put an end to natural disasters or even nation conflicts, but there are 2 things we can do.
 
We can deliver food to the needy when disaster strikes. We do that now through the World Food Program. I serve on the Board of the Friends of the World Food Program. The World Food Program does a terrific job.
 
The other thing that must be done or we will never make any progress in combating world hunger is to help the poor backward countries improve their agricultural production.
 
I have been there, in Africa, several times. Their little tiny garden-type farms hardly produce enough to feed the family that tends their crop. One farm in the U.S. produces enough food for 150 people. Their farms desperately need the best science and technology that has made ours great. In most cases, they don’t have hybrid seeds, they don’t use commercial fertilizer. They don’t control weeds and pests with chemicals. They need genetically engineered seeds.
 
Commercial science-based agriculture has been under assault recently by some high-profile elites in the country that pretend to know something. They don’t know anything, and don’t seem to have much compassion for the world’s hungry.
 
World Food Day reminds us that if you “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Afghanistan

Oct 08, 2009

Six months ago, here is what I said in my commentary –
 
“I don’t think sending thousands more U.S. troops into Afghanistan is a good idea. Every country that has ever tried to get control of Afghanistan has come home with their tail between their legs. Examples would be Great Britain and, more recently, the Soviet Union. In relative terms, there is far more value in having an influence in the Middle East (Iraq) where they have oil. What do they have in Afghanistan? Camels and poppy fields.”
 
That is what I thought then and I haven’t changed my mind.
 
The President and the Congress are going to have to decide where we go from here. We just lost 8 soldiers in one day in Afghanistan. Our young men and women are dying in that God-forsaken land of rocks and poverty at a rate twice what it was one year ago. And for what? We have been fighting in that country longer than World War I and World War II combined.
 
Escalating our involvement in Afghanistan will result in many more casualties and billions of dollars spent.
 
Afghanistan is not a real country. It is a bunch of tribes that control different pieces of geography. They don’t want a central government. How many years and how many dollars will it take to remake that country and its people? I remember when George Bush ran for election he said he didn’t support “nation building.” Well, we are nation building in Iraq now. We’ve found how hard and costly that can be. We don’t need another project which would be infinitely more difficult.
 
After 9/11, we attacked Afghanistan, overthrew the Taliban, and have killed or driven most of Al Qaeda out of the country. Let’s declare victory and use more of our resources to help Pakistan root out the terrorists.
 
There are those that say we must send in more troops to keep the Al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a training ground for terrorism. That is possible, but there are many countries where they could train. They could set up bases in Somalia or Yemen or a number of African nations. Are we going to invade all of them and try to rebuild their economies?
 
Support for the war is on the decline in the U.S. and more so in Europe. We’ll see what President Obama decides. I say “bring ’em home.”
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Frustrations

Oct 02, 2009

The Congress can’t seem to get anything done. Health care legislation has sparked a battle royal. I think we will probably get a bill, but we may not like it very much. It is going to be very expensive unless the Congress and President have the courage to just say – No. Don’t hold your breath.
 
Climate change or cap and trade legislation, however you want to call it, appears to be frozen in place. It passed the House and some Members there that voted for it wish they hadn’t. The President promoted the legislation at the meeting of world leaders last week. Do we really think China and India are going to put any kind of meaningful lid on green house gasses? Of course not. So if you end up with the United States trying to fix the world climate, you get nothing done. Even Al Gore’s experts acknowledge that the U.S. alone could only lower the temperature a fraction of one degree.
 
If the U.S. and perhaps Europe both bought into cap and trade, are we so naive to think other countries wouldn’t be quick to take advantage of us. Our companies would just move their factories to some country that is not squeezed by a carbon tax. In closing on this subject, I must say that I believe “global warming, man made climate change” is nonsense.
 
Back to the business of Congress – they don’t even have the appropriation bills passed for the different Departments. Of course, that’s nothing new.
 
President Obama spent all of last weekend on television pitching his policies. Now he’s going to fly to Denmark to promote Chicago for the 2016 Olympics. Maybe I’m missing something but it seems to me if you’re running a company, you need to run it. It is the same thing if you are running a country. Your cheerleading days are over. It’s time to go to work.
 
And finally – what’s with all of these “czars” – climate czar, energy czar, environmental czar, green czar. I’m sure Secretary Vilsack is happy that they don’t have an ag czar. How do you think the Obama Cabinet Members feel to see a czar standing between them and the President. And they thought they were working for the President.
 
So, now you have heard a few of my frustrations. They always say democracy is a messy business, like making sausage.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.
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