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January 2012 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block,

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

The Case for Obama

Jan 26, 2012


Jack Block is on holiday this week. This is Rick Frank sitting in. Remember, I’m Jack’s moderate Democrat colleague. We support the same priorities – a healthy and prosperous agricultural sector.
With the Presidential election beginning to heat up, I thought I would lay out the case for why President Barack Obama should be reelected. Here’s my take – both the reasons to vote for President Obama and the reasons for concern.
First and foremost, the farm economy is booming. Farm exports are at an all-time high and the agricultural food and energy sectors are finally starting to coexist. Nearly 1 in 12 jobs in America is food- or ag-related. President Obama deserves some credit for these positive developments if for no other reason than he and Secretary Vilsack have kept out of the way and allowed markets to operate freely. The Administration also supported new free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama and has been a champion of technological innovation including biotech crops.
In his first year in office, President Obama made a series of promises. He promised to get out of Iraq and we have. He announced a surge of troops in Afghanistan, along with a timetable for getting out. We are proceeding steadfastly in that direction. He promised greater cooperation with our allies so that the U.S. is no longer the go-it-alone superpower. That strategy, best illustrated through our approach to the Middle East – Libya, Iran, and Syria – is working and spreading the burden of blood and treasure to others.
With regard to the economy, no one disputes that President Obama inherited a disaster. While many did not like the 800 billion dollar stimulus plan, it did stabilize the economy and, ultimately, employment. Unemployment is now down to 8.5%, still too high, and inflation remains at one of the lowest levels ever.
President Obama will get my vote, but not without some reservations. Our 15 trillion dollar debt is unacceptable and the President needs to show more leadership in addressing that problem. He should have endorsed the Simpson-Bowles debt reduction plan which called for shared sacrifice – 2/3 in budget cuts and 1/3 in tax hikes. Mr. President – submit that plan to Congress and force a vote.
One scary thought…if reelected, President Obama will likely move further to the left and pursue the liberal, class warfare, agenda that has been held in check by the Republican House. His rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline already signals such a move. His reelection likely means more regulation, particularly out of the EPA.
All in all, things seem to be getting better, both in foreign affairs and the economy, albeit slowly. I urge you to think long and hard before you reflexively pull that Republican lever.
In closing, I would encourage you to access John Block’s website which archives his radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what he said back then. Go to
Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in for John Block in Washington.

The Facts of Modern-Day Farming

Jan 19, 2012


When my father started farming 75 years ago, one third of our nation’s population were farmers. Today, only three percent are farmers; an amazing transformation.
Under President Roosevelt in the ’30s and ’40s with the Depression and World War, the federal government tried to help farmers and influence their production decisions. We had price supports and land set asides in the ’70s and early ’80s. All of this was designed to cut production and strengthen price.
When I was Secretary of Agriculture, we began the process of backing away from government manipulation in favor of allowing the market to work. We have come a long way. When we write the farm bill this year (if we get it done), we will take another step away from government subsidies and control.
Our farm subsidies have declined over the years. We’re not the leader in this reform process, though. New Zealand is. New Zealand has the lowest level of government support of the developed countries at 1% of total farm income.
Australia’s subsidies are 3% of total farm income with the U.S. at 4%.
European farm subsidies have been coming down but are still high at 22%. The countries with a lot of reform ahead of them are South Korea, Japan, Norway – all above 47%. That’s right, 47% of farm income coming from the government.
Now, back to the U.S. – according to USDA, another surprising fact is that total crop land in the U.S. has decreased by 34 million acres between 2002 and 2007. That is the lowest level of crop land in 65 years.
Wait a minute – I thought we were cutting down the trees and plowing up the fields to grow corn for ethanol. The fact is that ethanol production has not resulted in expansion of crop acres at all. In addition, acres of grass land, pasture, and forest land has increased. The Renewable Fuels Association makes the point that it is “ironic” that the land use debate has fixated on biofuels, when the actual culprit of land conversion has been urban sprawl which has quadrupled in the last 60 years.
So, we’re not gobbling up fragile land to meet the demand for more crop production. We’re growing more on less crop land. As President Reagan used to say, “Facts are stubborn things.” Farming today has changed. It’s not my grandfather’s business.
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

The Facts on Obesity

Jan 13, 2012


I was hungry and in a hurry yesterday after a meeting down town. I couldn’t help myself. I ducked into McDonald’s and grabbed a double cheeseburger and ice cream. How could I do that – eating that junk food with all the concern about obesity?
Let’s consider this national obesity issue. I read a report this fall that predicted that half of the adults in the U.S. would be obese by 2030. It went on to say “personal willpower and efforts to maintain a healthy weight are largely impossible.”
There are all kinds of opinions about this problem. The experts in the field of nutrition have been telling us – eat less fat. Well, we are eating less fat. They told us to eat less meat. We’re eating less meat. Eat more fruits and vegetables. They attack fast food restaurants. The simple fact is that it doesn’t matter what we eat as much as how much we eat. All the research tells us that it’s calories that count. Consume too many calories and you will get fat.
I don’t think you can categorize what we eat as good food or bad food. We know it’s not good to just eat one thing. Gorging yourself on French fries or candy is bad. Eat a wide variety of food. There’s nothing wrong with a McDonald’s burger.
Let’s face the facts – food is cheap and it tastes good. And we don’t get the exercise we used to.
Taxing soft drinks, so-called junk food, won’t work. In a rich society such as the U.S., we will never raise the cost of food to a level to make any real difference. We spend less money on food in this country than any country in the world – less than 10% of expenditures. The world average is 35%. In the countries where they spend 30% or more for food, they aren’t fat. But we’re not going there.
Our government requires mandatory labeling of the food that we buy. That’s a good thing, but the only thing on that label that really counts are calories.
I don’t think that government taxes and regulation will do very much to deal with our obesity problem. That doesn’t mean that the politicians won’t try. It makes them look good. They are doing something; might help to get them elected.
I know we’re looking for an easy answer. How about personal responsibility and will power?
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.


Iowa Caucus – Finally Over

Jan 05, 2012

Thank heavens the Iowa Caucus is over. I’m tired of the candidates arguing with each other. On TV all the time. However tiring, the Presidential campaign process is very important. That’s how we get to know the candidates.
It’s crazy, embarrassing, and degrading as all the old dirty laundry is pulled up. But this needs to happen. It would happen eventually in the campaign against President Obama anyway. Better to get it over with. By the way – did you notice how little discussion there was about farm policy – even in Iowa? These are good times down on the farm; just don’t mess it up.

Mitt Romney wins Iowa – barely. The hit on Romney is whether he is Conservative enough. He has flip-flopped on some social issues. He has a strong resume of business experience and that would be valuable in running the country. He looks Presidential, is under control, and confident.
Newt Gingrich – at one time, I thought he would win. He is a real Conservative. The author of the Contract With America, he led the way for Republican take-over of the House in 1994. A super debater.

Rick Santorum is a solid Conservative. He and Newt worked closely together in the Congress. Coming out of nowhere, he finished second in Iowa, which gives him some hope.

Ron Paul – he is something else. An over-the-top Libertarian. Some of his views are very extreme. However, I like what he says on a lot of issues. Downsize the federal government – pull in our horns internationally – stop spending so much money.
We’re always in a war. We seem to think it is our job to fix everything in the world. Ron Paul’s brood support comes from the simple fact that a large segment of our voters have decided that they have had it with a government that wants to go down the road of European Socialism.
I predict that Romney will eventually win the Republican Presidential nomination. And, if he wants to beat President Obama next November, he will have to walk the Conservative Tea Party line and find a way to bring the Ron Paul supporters into his camp.
If Ron Paul decides to run in next fall’s Presidential election as an Independent, he would steal a lot of votes away from Mitt Romney.
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

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