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March 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.

Trip To Cuba

Mar 20, 2009

I’m reporting to you today by phone – on the way back from Cuba. Our delegation of 12 was mostly farmers – all with a sincere interest in normalizing relations with Cuba.
 
Our timing was good, because, while we were in Cuba, the Congress passed a stimulus bill that includes modest relief in tourism and trade. But we still have a long way to go.
Here are some of my observations from the trip.
 
Cuba has a population of 11 million people. They are warm, friendly, educated, and reasonably well fed – better fed than their skinny dogs and cows. They are importing 80% of their food and 60% of their fuel. They don’t have enough money to buy the fertilizer they need. They need corn and soy to feed their cattle, pigs, and chickens. The cattle didn’t look very good because they were trying to feed them sugar cane – not a good substitute for corn. However, they have been importing some distillers dried grain from the U.S., but not enough. Years ago, they made some money selling sugar. Now, their main sources of income are tobacco, nickel, and tourism.
 
If the U.S. opened the door to tourism and trade, that would be a big boost to their economy. Our farm exports to Cuba would likely jump from 800 million dollars last year to 4 or 5 billion dollars.
 
To really energize their economy, they will need to be willing to open it up and accept the market principles of capitalism, like China has, and Viet Nam. Right now, Cuba’s economy is in a strangle hold of government control.
 
We visited a dairy farm where the father and son milked 25 cows by hand. They couldn’t even afford a milking machine. Most of the Cuban farm land is tilled by oxen – very few tractors. I saw no lawn mowers, almost no cell phones.
 
Fifty years ago, a revolution swept across Cuba and Fidel Castro confiscated everything – farms, homes, businesses, everything in the country. And, to this day with the exception of some small farms and farmer co-ops, the government controls everything.
 
We met with government officials. They desperately want trade and tourism from the U.S.
 
It is embarrassing that we have kept the embargo in place all of these years. It should have been lifted years ago. Certainly, that tiny island country 90 miles from our shore is no threat to us.
 
Until next week, I am John Block back from Cuba.

Listen to the report.

Scary Times

Mar 06, 2009

Most years in the first month, I make predictions for the year ahead. There is so much uncertainty right now, my crystal ball is fogged over. To me, there are a lot of questions about where the Obama Administration and Democratic Congress will take us. Also, we can only guess about where the global economy is headed.
 
I would like to say that I have been encouraged by the early international actions taken by the Obama Team. I thought Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was correct in her conciliatory approach to China. We need China and they need us.
 
We depend on China to keep lending us money. And looking at the Obama budget, we will need a lot of money. I think it is a good idea to work out our differences with Russia as the President has suggested. We don’t need to try to isolate Russia and establish missile sites on their border. Also, President Obama told the Canadians that he didn’t intend to push for a rewrite of NAFTA. That’s good.
 
My biggest worries are with the domestic programs. The President’s budget plan is big and bold and scary.
 
I already said my crystal ball is cloudy. But with the economic meltdown that we are fighting, I find it hard to contemplate a series of huge new programs. Universal health care, massive expansion of education, a cap and trade energy plan which equates to a costly tax increase, more regulation relating to livestock production, and EPA always makes me nervous.
 
My overriding concern is the explosion in spending. The Congressional Budget Office projects a 1.4 trillion dollar deficit this year. And although it declines to about 600 billion dollars by 2012, it rockets back up to 1 trillion dollars by 2018.
 
On the revenue side, I don’t think the tax collector will ever bring in the amount of money the budget plan projects. The rich don’t have that much money, even if the government takes all of it.
 
Hopefully, the Congress will scale back the President’s wish list. We are shoveling money out to anyone and everyone – giving billions and billions to the states, rewarding them for irresponsible spending. California is broke. Whose fault is that? Not mine. Not yours. Why do we have to bail them out?
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.
 

Blame Game

Mar 02, 2009

Last week, I talked about the outrageous lawsuit seeking 32 million dollars from an Arizona rancher who apprehended at gun point 11 illegal immigrants illegally crossing his property sneaking over the border into the United States. The Mexican Legal Defense Fund claimed the rancher had violated their civil rights. I’m delighted that the jury denied the claim for 32 million dollars. However, Mr. Barnett was ordered by the jury to pay $77,000. Did he violate their civil rights? What kind of civil rights do illegals really have? Mr. Barnett will appeal the decision. Stay tuned.
 
Now, the subject I really wanted to talk about has nothing to do with immigration or property rights. I turn on the television and I see some blowhard member of Congress going on and on blaming everyone for our economic problems, and refusing to fairly look at the facts. They drag the bankers before their Committee and berate and humiliate them. Why aren’t you loaning money? The government bails you out and you don’t loan money. The answer to that question is simple –
 
  1. The banks got into this mess by making a lot of bad loans. Do we really want them to make more bad loans?
 
  1. A lot of people who are a good credit risk don’t want to borrow in these uncertain times.
 
Another bone to pick with Congress is this. Stop blaming all of our problems on “greedy” Wall Street and George Bush. Yes – Wall Street made plenty of mistakes, Bush wasn’t perfect. But instead of trying to pass off the blame, government should take a serious honest look at itself. The blame cannot be entirely laid at the feet of weak regulation and a greedy Wall Street.
 
Government asked for this failure (yes, they did). Especially Congress. In 1990, the Department of Housing and Urban Development demanded that banks make more loans to low income individuals. The Department of Justice began bringing lawsuits against banks that did not make loans to minority applicants at the same rate as others. Congress was beating the drums demanding loans to individuals with no down payment and no income verification. Congress!!
 
I am tired of listening to these sanctimonious, dishonest Congressmen refusing to accept their share of the blame. Now, I got it off my chest.
 
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