Friday 19 July 2013
Picture, above: American taxpayers currently hand out about $23 billion annually to farmers, and not the fellow trying to make ends meet with six chickens and an acre of corn. Mostly, those monies go to well-financed, prosperous farm households. Vincent Smith, in a report for the Mercatus Center, points out that some $17.5 billion is given to the largest 15–20 percent of farm operations while another $2.5 billion goes to private agricultural insurance companies. See: Hour 2, Block A, Liz Peek, Fiscal Times.
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The basic premise behind farm programs that provide subsidies to farmers growing crops like corn, soybeans, wheat and rice is trying to protect farmers from a volatile market. While they still serve in that function, the faces of the recipients who actually benefit from this government funding have changed dramatically from small and medium-sized farmers to big agribusiness companies. Why? Because the buyers of these crops, the grain traders, food processors and meat companies who use the corn and soybeans, get to pay farmers low prices for the crops while the government payments to farmers help make up the difference.
Using taxpayer money to make up some of the income lost by farmers who grow commodities that get sold cheap doesn’t really benefit most farmers, as studies of farm income reveal. But as various agricultural markets have become more concentrated in the control of just a few key players, their influence has led to farm policy that makes more sense for them than farmers or consumers.
JOHN BATCHELOR SHOW
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 1, Block A: Carmen Gentile, USA TODAY, in re: Commander Cautions Against Full Afghan Pullout
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 1, Block B: Peter Coy, Bloomberg, Businessweek, in re:
THE RISE OF THE INTANGIBLE ECONOMY . The U.S. is set to count things like movies, books and ideas as part of the gross domestic product. It's about time. full story.
Photo, below: Boy Scout Billionaire Donates $25 Million for 10,600-Acre Park. See: Hour 1, Block C, Robin Respaut, Reuters. Photo: The scenic overlook onto The Summit Bechtel Reserve. Photographer: Gary Hartley/Summit Bechtel Reserve via Bloomberg
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 1, Block C: Robin Respaut, Reuters , in re: Reuters special report that takes a look at the huge bet the Boy Scouts are making on a $439 million park in West Virginia, which opens on Monday 22 July. The Scouts saw this project as a way of shoring up their financial support (which was falling amid membership decline and the brutal battle over gay rights). But, according to internal documents, it isn’t panning out as planned. The park is costing more than envisioned, and fundraising for it is below target. This is happening even as the recent compromise over gay membership – let in gay kids, keep out gay adults – has done nothing to alleviate the broader fundraising challenge.
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 1, Block D: Bob Zimmerman, Behindtheblack.com, in re: The Sun has a maximum and no one notices On July 8 NOAA released its monthly update of the Sun’s sunspot cycle, covering the period of June 2013. As I do every month, this graph is posted below, with annotations to give it context. After a brief period of renewed but weak activity during the last three months, the Sun’s sunspot production has once again plunged, dropping back to the levels generally seen for most of 2012. As predicted by some solar scientists, the Sun seems to have produced a double-peaked maximum, though the second peak appears at this time to have been remarkably wimpy and brief. It is still possible, however, that this second peak is not over and that we might see another burst of renewed activity in the next month or so, based on the Sun’s past behavior during the ending stages of the previous solar maximum in 2001 and 2002. Nonetheless, from all appearances it looks like the Sun has shot its load and is in the process of winding down from a solar maximum peak that occurred back late 2011. What's especially fascinating about this is that when that peak occurred in 2011, no one noticed! Read More
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 2, Block A: Liz Peek, Fiscal Times, in re: Farming has become the poster child for crony capitalism, and the GOP has emerged as its enabler. It’s a disgrace.
House Republicans managed to split the so-called farm bill into two appropriately separate pieces – food stamps and agriculture -- but then passed the farmer support section stuffed to the gills with cynical handouts. Carving the food stamps program out of the massive $955 billion, 1,150 page “farm bill” passed by the Senate makes sense; there is no coherent reason to link those two measures. The massive anti-hunger program, officially the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), accounts for 80 percent of the bill’s spending; hiding it under the “farm” umbrella is dishonest legislative sleight-of-hand. So far, so good.
Big Sugar: photo below of U.S. Sugar Corporation's refinery in Clewiston, the newest sugar cane refinery in the United States. Your tax dollars for small farmers are much enjoyed by the company.
RELATED: PUZZLING RISE IN FOOD STAMP USE AS ECONOMY IMPROVES But the point of the split was to allow greater oversight and reform of not only SNAP, but also of the farm support package – oversight which would do away with the blatant handouts that hike crop prices and so disgust the public. That did not happen. The bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee looks a lot like the farm package the Senate passed a few weeks ago. Actually, it’s even worse. Daren Bakst of the Heritage Foundation said in a phone interview, “It makes two new programs – the shallow loss and reference price provisions -- even more generous and also permanent, creating less incentive to revisit these provisions. “The whole point was to make reforms. They didn’t make reforms. It actually provides more money for crop insurance than President Obama asked for in his budget.” In short, our crusading GOP legislators look as craven as their predecessors.
The fate of the farm law is unclear. The House has not sent its bill to the Senate, so there is no effort currently underway to reconcile the two approaches. The current legislation expires on September 30. If no new bill or extension emerges, 1949 “permanent law” would go into effect, causing chaos – and a doubling of milk prices.
Fred Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Commission said the House bill would “not only cement subsidies in place without further reform, but would also remove much of the incentive to ever pass a new farm bill in the future…” American taxpayers currently hand out about $23 billion annually to farmers, and not the fellow trying to make ends meet with six chickens and an acre of corn. Mostly, those monies go to well-financed, prosperous farm households. Vincent Smith, in a report for the Mercatus Center, points out that some $17.5 billion is given to the largest 15–20 percent of farm operations while another $2.5 billion goes to private agricultural insurance companies. RELATED: HOW TO GROW ALMOST ANYTHING RISK-FREE As the farm bill has wended its tortuous way through committees and chambers, Congress has been patting itself on the back for ditching long-standing direct payments to millionaire farmers. But, those handouts have been replaced and then some by expensive insurance premium supports and safeguards.
The House Agriculture bill would save about $6 billion a year by ending direct payments and a program which pays farmers when their revenues fall below a certain target based on the previous five years. But, that savings is all but spent on new programs designed to prevent losses. In fact, if crop prices decline from current high levels, Smith estimates that the new programs could cost “American taxpayers as much as $10–20 billion per year,” or “two to four times more…than the farm subsidies the committees propose to eliminate.” In other words, more sleight-of-hand.
Moreover, taxpayers are on the hook for some 62 percent of premiums paid by farmers to protect crop price fluctuations, and for $3 billion to cover insurance deductibles. According to Michael Tanner of the CATO Institute, the insurance means that farmers can lock in today’s high agricultural prices; he also notes that the bill doesn’t just cover the traditional wheat, soybean, cotton and dairy farmers, but expands this protection to seafood harvesters, alfalfa growers and producers of biomass and sweet sorghum. . RELATED: THE OUTRAGEOUS FARM BILL THAT’S PACKED WITH PORK It used to be that farming was a risky business. Not enough rain, too much heat – something always threatened growers. Nowadays, farmers are a protected species. This, at a time when farmers are wealthier than ever, enjoying record income, and doing much better than most Americans. Planted acreage has increased in seven of the past 10 years, the prices of corn and soybeans hit new highs in 2012 and last year’s profits of $114 billion were topped only by 2011’s record total, despite a terrible drought. Farming, it turns out, is not so risky after all. Smith reports that the annual failure rate for farms is only 0.5 percent, compared to 7 percent for other businesses. Farming is one of our most successful and globally competitive enterprises. Why don’t we allow this profitable sector to stand on its own? The taxpayer provides a lot more than crop insurance. Our agriculture industry is given any number of fail-safe backstops. Take the sugar industry, one of the most protected in the world. Through trade barriers and extensive controls, producers are almost guaranteed a healthy profit. As Tanner describes it, the Agriculture Department dictates, under a five-year plan, how much sugar we should produce, how much should come from beets (54 percent) as opposed to cane (46 percent), and how much each supplier can produce. Chairman Mao would be proud. Republicans are being blasted by the likes of Paul Krugman for killing food stamps. As he well knows, the SNAP program will be contained in a different bill. The point of wresting the two programs apart was to challenge each separately. However, given their lame efforts at reforming our farm subsidies, the GOP is vulnerable to this kind of attack. Shame on them.
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 2, Block B: Sid Perkins, Science Magazine, SCIENCENOW, in re: ScienceShot: A Dinosaur's Conveyor Belt of Teeth Some sauropods replaced their teeth every few weeks. ScienceShot: Giant Dinos Shared the Salad Bar Large herbivores could co-exist because they divided up their ecosystem's bounty
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 2, Block C: Richard A Epstein, Hoover Institution/ Defining Ideas, Chicago Law, in re: Grand Theft Treasury (1 of 2)
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 2, Block D: Richard A Epstein, Hoover Institution/ Defining Ideas, Chicago Law, in re: Grand Theft Treasury (2 of 2)
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 3, Block A: Jim McTague, Barron’s, in re: S.E.C. Files Civil Case Against Steven Cohen of SAC Federal regulators filed civil charges against Steven A. Cohen, accusing him of “failing to supervise” employees and prevent them from insider trading.
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 3, Block B: . Sheela Kolhatkar, Bloomberg Businessweek, in re: HEDGE FUNDS ARE FOR SUCKERS Once seen as a ticket to obscene wealth, hedge funds have hit the skids. Why the industry’s glory days may be gone for good, and why this could also be the beginning of a virtuous cycle. If they are going to survive, hedge funds may need to get smaller and a lot more modest about their own prospects. full story…
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 3, Block C: Jack Hitt, NYT, D.N.A. Backs Lore on Pre-Columbian Dogs …These are Carolina dogs, and though they're friendly, one can instantly sense they're different from other dogs. Several rush to the gate, their whole bodies wagging eagerly. Others sprint off and take position — their jackal ears fully erect, their fishhook tails twitching like flags in a stiff wind. A black pup scrabbles away in crablike submission that eventually takes her into an underground den, dug deep enough that she's not seen again.
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 3, Block D: Mahul Srivistava Bloomberg, in re: BANGLADESH LABOR. Wiretapped Bangladesh Activist Learned Facebook to Stir Protest – Nazma Akhter and other labor organizers have been labeled provocateurs and enemies of the nation, a potential threat to the $21.5 billion Bangladeshi garment industry, which has been rocked by flash strikes, protests, and an international movement to improve working conditions ever since the collapse of a factory at Rana Plaza claimed 1,127 lives in late April. [more]
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 4, Block A: Turning the Tide: How a Small Band of Allied Sailors Defeated the U-boats and Won the Battle of the Atlantic by Ed Offley (1 of 4)
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 4, Block B: Turning the Tide: How a Small Band of Allied Sailors Defeated the U-boats and Won the Battle of the Atlantic by Ed Offley (2 of 4)
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 4, Block C: Turning the Tide: How a Small Band of Allied Sailors Defeated the U-boats and Won the Battle of the Atlantic by Ed Offley (3 of 4)
Friday 19 July 2013 / Hour 4, Block D: Turning the Tide: How a Small Band of Allied Sailors Defeated the U-boats and Won the Battle of the Atlantic by Ed Offley (4 of 4)
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