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December 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.

A Look Back At 2009

Dec 31, 2009

Just for a moment, let’s look back at 2009. We have to acknowledge that it was a tough year but appears to be getting better. Did the federal government do what needed to be done? History will answer that question, but I think they came up way short.
 
They spent the whole year fighting over healthcare reform and finally passed it through the Senate on Christmas Eve. Now, that bill must be reconciled with the House bill, which is quite different.
 
Also, they devoted considerable time in the House to pass a cap and trade bill which supposedly will reduce our greenhouse gases.
 
Both of these priority pieces of legislation are not law yet, and they are both wildly unpopular with the public. And if they ever become law, they will cost a lot of money.
 
The Congress and President neglected to do anything on the trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. They were successfully negotiated and now sit on the table. All the while, we are sacrificing exports and jobs which we desperately need.
 
The Congress did not fix the estate tax. Now, it expires this year (2010). Then next year (2011), it jumps back up to 55 percent with a million dollar exemption. How can a family plan anything? How irresponsible can our Congress be?
 
The government spending continues to balloon with members of Congress plastering the bills with their own personal earmarks of billions of dollars.
 
EPA wants to regulate greenhouse gases and become the climate change Czar. The Congress wants to give the regulators power to manage our fishing ponds and whether we can drain a wet hole in our corn field. Regulate and tax seems to be their priority.
 
NBC/Wall Street Journal survey asked whether our government should do more to solve our problems or if government is doing too many things better left to business and individuals. The majority said – government is doing too much! Only 18 percent said that they trusted the government.
 
If President Obama and the left-leaning Congress are not blind, they will try to steer the ship of state back to the middle and address the priorities of the people this year.
 
We shall see.
 
Happy New Year! I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Merry Christmas

Dec 21, 2009

This is Christmas – a time to be thankful for our blessings, to celebrate the birth of Christ. With our nation’s economy struggling to recover, families finding it hard to make ends meet, and unemployment in double digits, it is hard to get in the spirit.
 
However, all we have to do is turn on the TV and view the horrendous suffering in other corners of the world and realize that we aren’t so bad off. Let’s reflect for a moment. The main reason we face these hard times is that we went way over the top in spending to live beyond our means. We thought the gravy train would never end.
 
It looks to me like we have learned a lesson. Credit card debt is being paid down. Individual saving is on the rise. Shoppers are looking for bargains instead of just buying to satisfy every whim. Farmers and businessmen are doing the same, shopping for the best seed and fertilizer deals for next year’s crop.
 
We knew we could get by with less. We have too much stuff that we don’t need anyway.
 
Hats off to the new frugal, thrifty individual, but what about our government? Somehow I don’t think the politicians got the word. They are still spending money like there’s no tomorrow. We are programmed to spend a trillion dollars more than we take in each year as far as the eye can see. The 2009 deficit was almost triple what it was in 2008. You would think that our Congress and President would be putting the brakes on, but no. They have their foot on the accelerator.
 
The spending bills being rammed through the Congress are loaded with billions of dollars of pork. They want to spend TARP money to stimulate the economy. They want costly new programs, including healthcare and cap and trade. We are already deep in debt to other countries like China. China is our banker. We better hope China doesn’t decide to foreclose.
 
I think as individuals we are doing just the right thing to recover, but our government is out of control.
 
Merry Christmas – and I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Animal Agriculture

Dec 18, 2009

I don’t even remember a time when the farmers, ranchers, and the broad ag industry were threatened more than we are today.
 
We have a new and energized corps of critics out there that want to tell us how to do our job. The state and federal governments are being pushed to pass laws and regulations to deny us our property rights and ability to compete globally in food production.
 
Today, I want to concentrate on the challenge to animal agriculture.
 
Issue number one – horse slaughter. In the past three years we have stood and watched our market for unwanted horses stolen from us. Horses are personal property. Now we have to ship them to Mexico or Canada to get anything. The shipping cost eats up most of the value. There is a strong demand for horse meat in Europe and Asia but we aren’t allowed to process and ship there. Now we have unwanted horses roaming public land and even on the roads.
 
The Humane Society of the U.S. succeeded in passing Proposition 2 in California which will destroy the California egg industry. They already took gestation crates away from the few Florida pig farmers.
 
With the help of the new generation of people that are far removed from the farm, the animal rights crowd are aiming to not just reform how we care for our animals but to destroy animal agriculture. That is their ultimate goal.
 
The whole ag industry needs to form a united front to challenge our enemies and build support for our cause. We have an impressive case to make. Ag is one of the few industries in the country that every year runs a trade surplus. We deliver to our citizens the most reasonably priced food in the world. Millions of jobs are at stake. We don’t want to raise our pigs and chickens and cattle in some other country.
 
One encouraging development was the passage of a referendum creating a “Livestock Standards Board” in the state of Ohio. The Standards Board can set standards to prevent out-of-state activist groups from dictating how food is produced in Ohio. The Board members will include the State Director of Agriculture, family farmers, veterinarians, a representative from a local humane society, and consumers. We hope this successful effort may serve as a model for other states to follow.
 
Commercial agriculture production is under assault like I have never seen before. We need to come together and protect this great industry.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Inconvenient Truth

Dec 15, 2009

Do we really think that the climatologists, journalists, politicians, and climate groupies that flew off to Copenhagen can save us? Can they stop global warming?
 
They want us to believe that millions will die. Islands will be swamped. New Orleans and coastal cities all over the world will flood. Draught will force global starvation. And it will be our fault. Global warming is manmade.
 
First, it seems that although the earth may have been warming for some time, research suggests that it has stopped and may be cooling now. That’s an inconvenient truth that the advocates don’t want to hear. In fact, the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia (considered to be the lead player in climate research) has been cooking the books to hide the temperature decline. The climate change establishment has systematically discouraged consideration of opposing views. So the planet may not even be warming.
 
The second point is that even if it is, where is the evidence to blame it on human activity? Climate change is not a new phenomenon. We had the Medieval Warm Period (800-1300) and the Little Ice Age (1500-1850). What caused that change? It wasn’t the automobile.
 
The third point is, if just for a minute we assume that our greenhouse gases are causing the climate to warm, what can we do? We must realize the U.S. alone can never make a measurable difference. And, don’t kid yourself, the 70-plus countries in Copenhagen aren’t going to do anything of consequence either. They’re just going to generate a lot of hot air.
 
Maybe it is time to take a new look at this whole question before we spend trillions of dollars trying to fix a problem that may not be a problem and may not be fixable anyway. If global warming is real, perhaps we should make adjustments and live with it. How bad can that be?
 
President Obama is promising to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to the same level as they were in 1910. We had a population of only 92 million people then and not nearly as much economic activity. I would submit that “cap and trade” and all the green technology can never meet the President’s target.
 
There are enough unanswered questions to suggest that manmade global warming may be a farce.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Food For Thought

Dec 04, 2009

The headlines read “Food Stamp Use Soars, and Stigma Fades.” The situation has changed a lot since I was Secretary of Agriculture. We were trying to get control of the growing cost of food stamps. We were beaten up in the press because we classified ketchup as a vegetable. It is a vegetable. It’s a tomato. Anyway, we felt there should be some work requirement to receive food aid.
 
It’s a new day now. The Department of Agriculture’s Food Stamp Program helps feed 1 in 8 Americans and 1 in 4 children – 36 million people. On top of that, USDA estimates that there are 15 to 16 million eligible people that are not getting Food Stamps. We are reaching only about two-thirds of those who qualify.
 
With national unemployment at over 10 percent and another 7 percent more that have given up looking for work, the Program is growing at a record rate.
 
Some regions are in worse shape than others. One-fourth of the population in some counties receive Food Stamps. In 750 counties, one in three blacks are on the Program. In St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans, half the children are on Food Stamps.
 
The severity of the situation cannot be blamed just on the recession. Single mothers often times stay single so they can continue to get Food Stamps and other government assistance. There are some counties and cities where Food Stamps have been a way of life for decades from generation to generation.
 
The Program is well-intended and is a life saver for many, but it is also abused by some.
As a farmer wanting to sell as much food as we can, I like the Program. Also, I sympathize with those in need and, in that regard, I like the Program.
 
But at the same time, I worry about the abuse of the Program and the creation of a whole new entitlement. Do we demand healthcare as an entitlement, food as an entitlement – can housing be far behind?
 
That’s your “food for thought” for this week.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.
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