Northern Valley Beacon

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Friday, April 11, 2014

New Angus and old bullshit



White Oak Financial Advisers, the major lender to the bankrupt Northern Beef Packers that is attempting to redeem its financial loss by buying back the plant for pennies on the dollar, paid Brown County the back taxes owed on the plant, $1,090,859.   County officials say that the money will be used to make  payments, due in December, on Tax Increment Finance bonds approved by the county.  

White Oak also announced that it has changed the name of the company to New Angus.  In the current fad of meat marketing, it has become essential to have the breed Angus somewhere in the product name.  One of the successful branding ploys has been the promotion by the Angus breed association of its cattle.  In most supermarkets, their beef brand will have Angus somewhere in its name.   That prevalent use has more to do with the way the American public has been conditioned into a state of gullibility than with the quality of beef or what kind of animal it actually comes from.  So White Oak adopts New Angus, which leaves one to ponder what is, in fact, new. 

The status of the TIF bonds has never received mention in the bankruptcy proceedings or the news reports on the demise of Northern Beef Packers.  They are part of the devious tangle of finance that has beleaguered the beef plant from its first musterings in Huron, to its fleecing of investors and supporters in Flandreau, through its brief but agonizing flourish and eventual death in Aberdeen.  When the enterprise was ended in Huron, there were rumors that the plan was quashed because the original promoters, Ridgefield Farms,  ran afoul of the good will of the governor.  But it has been impossible to separate rumor from fact because of the clandestine circumstances under which the government and businesses are allowed to scheme and collude under the protection of South Dakota Codified Law.  South Dakota has a tradition of collusion and corruption between government and business that rivals post-Soviet Russia.  The prevailing attitude in South Dakota  regarding business is that if someone is making money from some arrangement, it is smart and good business—no matter how many people are oppressed and damaged. 

The announcement of the payment of back taxes was made with the incoherence and verbal confusion that has been typical of any information put out about the beef plant scheme. On one hand, the payment of back taxes was announced with statement that they would go toward making payments on the TIF bonds.   On the other hand, at the same time, the chair of the Brown County Commision is quoted as saying, “The county has not been and never will be liable to make TIF payments to bondholders…That money has to come from extra money collected as a result of TIF.”  (Aberdeen American News," The New Angus angle," April 5, 2014.)

Which leaves the reader asking, so why are the back taxes being used for payments on the TIF bonds?  And how does TIF generate extra money to pay bondholders?  Especially when the plant is bankrupt and closed?

And the financial incoherence goes on.  And on.  And on. 

Generally, when the news media reports the details of a corporate bankruptcy, it assembles a list showing:
  1. All the money owed by the company;
  2. All the money paid out by the company;
  3. All the money received by the company.

Lists of money received will categorize and list the sources of all money invested in an earned by the company.  But the records of the financing schemes for Northern Beef Packers are incomplete, missing or otherwise unavailable, and totally incoherent.  They follow the South Dakota Golden Rule of doing business:  if you are a business in South Dakota, you don’t have to be open or honest.  The only thing you have to give a shit about is gold and schemes for getting it. 

The news story covering the New Angus plans substantiates how government officials endorse and obey that Golden Rule.  White Oak has not announced what it plans to do with the plant, leaving local officials to speculate that it will eventually process beef.  But officials are quoted as saying, “It probably doesn’t serve White Oak’s interest to divulge its plans right now.”

Of course the public and the taxpayers’ interest in all of this is not even mentioned.  Their role is to be quiet and eat the bullshit. 
                                                                                      

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lessons in how to make a state an educational and cultural wasteland

This post has been revised to correct the mangling of some copy when a word processor document was transferred to the blog.  


The corruption that characterizes South Dakota’s economic development efforts reaches deep into the economy and culture of the state.  The stage was set when the state changed its usury laws to accommodate the credit card banking companies that eventually came to Sioux Falls for their high interest lending operations.  The relationship of state officials to businesses with larcenous and coercive principles of fleecing the public grew from the obsequious to the collusive, as officials liked to think they were among the economic movers and shakers.  The coterie of economic rulers includes state officials, local government and economic development officials (recall that Huron and Flandreau also took flings at the Northern Beef Packers scheme), lawyers and law firms, and corporate officials, who insist nothing is criminal if you call it a business decision.

The business mentality in South Dakota has been ruinous to education in the state.  Education and research require an integrity and good purpose that are considered impediments in the business world.  When the business mentality intrudes into matters of academic research and the processes through which knowledge is created, it subverts and eventually demolishes those intellectual enterprises.  Two examples of how this works in South Dakota are the efforts to convert the Homestake goldmine into a underground research laboratory and the establishment of the Center of Excellence for International Business at Northern State University. 

When the proposal to convert Homestake into a national underground research laboratory was proposed, almost every major physicist, physics department, and scholars in related fields signed on in support.  The goldmine had ideal features that made it eminently suitable as a place to conduct underground experiments, and those features are why it was eventually selected by the National Science Foundation as the site for a national lab.  But the owner, Barrick Gold of Canada, had a business decision to make.  It did not want financial responsibility for an environmental cleanup of destructive pollution that it left behind from its operation of the mine.  It made eventual transfer of the mine for laboratory purposes contingent upon being relieved of responsibility for any environmental damage.  If it did not get its way,  Barrick threatened to shut down the water pumps that keep the mine dry.  Which it did. 

At that point, the scientists realized that real science did not have much chance to be done in circumstances where a corporation was intruding its attitudes and values.  The business mentality more adversely affects and is a greater danger to honest science than the physical phenomena that scientists conduct their experiments in mines to prevent from compromising their small particle research.  All but a very few scientists abandoned the hopes of having a premier research facility at the old Homestake Mine. 

Then Governor Mike Rounds tried to revive the conversion project by making it an economic development project.  In South Dakota, there are few people, especially among the state leadership, who understand that basic, reliable research cannot be done with the aim of devising products for making money.  The engineering that produces useful and high-tech devices, such as resulted from space exploration, is dependent on science.  Experiments which are contrived for the production of goods are unproductive and produce unsound conclusions that do not meet the standards of scientific knowledge.  The idea of operating the laboratory as part of an economic development program drove the national and international interest in the lab away and eventually the National Science Foundation, which had led the effort to convert the mine, withdrew its professional and financial support.  The lead scientists explained that the project was being developed in a way that is inconsistent with the objectives and standards of  scientific research.  The conflict between science and economic schemes was never explained or discussed as the issue that ended scientists’ interest in Homestake as the site for a major research laboratory.

Money contributed by Denny Sanford which created the Sanford Underground Research Facility has revived the mine-as-lab on a smaller scale than originally planned and important, significant experiments are taking place.  But there is an irony involved that keeps scientists restrained and cautious about its development.  The Sanford money comes from the usurious proceeds of a credit card company and brings with it the lingering aspect of the business mentality that is such destroyer of sound research, knowledge and education, which are the ultimate objectives of real science.

                                                       ---


The establishment of the Center for Excellence in International Business at Northern State University on its face seemed consistent with academic and scholarly objectives.  However, as its programs developed, its emphasis quickly turned from the study of  economic and business practices to involvement in economic development schemes.  It was started during my last years as a fulltime faculty member, and I recall the concerns and skepticism about the program on campus, throughout the state system, and in national professional and academic organizations.  On campus, there was concern about a changing mission in the university.  It was established and continues to claim  the educating of teachers as a main part of its mission.  However, the College of Business had overtaken the College of Education in the number of students and programs it had.  This was exacerbated at one point in the mid-1980s when the College of Education lost its accreditation, which diminished interest on campus but set up circumstances in which NSU lost its eminence as the leading supplier of the state teaching corps to sister institutions.  On campus, the growing emphasis on the College of Business was felt in particular by the College of Liberal Arts as the course requirements in language, history, science, and social science were reduced for students to make room in their schedules for courses more germane to business.  One of the criticisms that came particularly from other state institutions was that the major in international business did not include a foreign language requirement.  And the College of Business took the English as a Second Language program for foreign students away from the College of Liberal Arts and established its own program.  There was a Friday night meeting among the college deans during which the changes in course requirements were made that was known as the Friday Night Massacre because it signaled that departments that offered majors in the arts and sciences were being reduced to service departments that offered token courses to meet the minimal liberal arts requirements for accreditation.  The vocational programs were in effect dictating the curriculum.  The decisions came down from the Board of Regents based on enrollment and course registrations.  The Board is business-oriented and often contemptuous about academic considerations. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, they tend to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. 

The Center for Excellence in International Business spawned an academic anomaly called the South Dakota International Business Institute which sponsored some institutes and other program for students and faculty, but quickly got into the business of economic development.  The development activities were supported by academic money and university resources.  In reviewing the academic programs at NSU, a new president was apparently troubled by a university program being devoted to the support of a commercial enterprise and found the arrangement inappropriate.  The SDIBI was removed from the NSU campus and quartered in the offices of the Aberdeen Development Corporation where it was transformed into the South Dakota Regional Center, the main purpose of which its to recruit and managed EB-5 loans through which foreign investors in American companies can obtain visas for residence in the U.S.  The Regional Center and its handling of funds and contracts is at the center of the troublesome scandal revealed by the bankruptcy of the Northern Beef Packers.

There is much quibbling about the legal maneuvers which amount to a shell game about the Regional Center’s relationship to state government agencies,  and the ruling party which holds major responsibility for oversight is frantically denying, covering-up, and outright lying about government roles in a scandal in an attempt to skirt criminal charges.  However, the documents involved in setting up the Center for Excellence in International Business reveal the questionable establishment of the South Dakota International Business Institute.  A most telling event is that the law on which its establishment is based is repealed effective in 2015.

A key basis for looking at the relationship of the SDIBI  to the university is the Regents Policy Manual:


SOUTH DAKOTA BOARD OF REGENTS
Policy Manual
SUBJECT: Relationship of Curriculum and Instruction to Statutory Objectives
NUMBER: 1:1013-9-
Curriculum and instruction at each institution shall conform to statutorily established objectives.  Planning and operation of curriculum shall be in accordance with individual institutional guidelines. A statement of the statutory institutional objectives must appear as a part of the catalog published at each institution.
---The Board recognizes and affirms its responsibility to serve as a catalyst for and as a resource to the economic development efforts of state and local governments. Faculty and staff expertise provides a valuable resource to various agencies of state government and to regional development efforts Inherent within this responsibility is the desirability of expanding programs and services beyond the physical boundaries of the institutions to provide greater access to quality higher education opportunities for South Dakotans. The Board acknowledges the programs and services offered by the private and tribal institutions in the state and the desirability of cooperation with these institutions in program articulation and delivery.
 
The NSU catalog in fulfilling its required statement of objectives states them this way:
Mission Statement
The legislature established Northern State University to meet the needs of the State, the region, and nation by providing undergraduate whicand graduate programs in education and other courses or programs as the Board of Regents may determine. (SDCL 13-59-1)
The Board implemented SDCL 13-59-1 by authorizing graduate and undergraduate programs in education to promote excellence in teaching and learning, to support research, scholarly and creative activities, and to provide service to the State of South Dakota, the region, and the nation. The Board approved a special emphasis on E-learning in the university curriculum and service.
Specific mention is made of the role that the Center of Excellence for International Business plays in college’s mission:

CENTER OF EXCELLENCE IN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS In 1997, the South Dakota Board of Regents designated Northern State University’s School of Business as a Center of Excellence in International Business, with the goal of creating a nationally recognized program in International Business. The Center has created an International Business major focusing not only on international business courses, but also on language and cultural training. The Center also provides both students and faculty the opportunity to have an international experience through exchange programs, conferences, and other international experiences. Northern’s Center of Excellence in International Business also sponsors an annual international business conference that is ahettended by faculty, students and business people from around the world. The Center provides today’s students with the scholarly and theoretical foundations to become tomorrow’s international business leaders.nen
SDCL 13-59-1 cited as the authority for the college’s programs reads this way:

13-59-1.     Names, locations, and purposes of schools--Degrees authorized by Board of Regents. The primary purpose of Northern State University, at Aberdeen in Brown County, and Black Hills State University, at Spearfish in Lawrence County, is the preparation of elementary and secondary teachers, and a secondary purpose is to offer preprofessional, one-year and two-year terminal and junior college programs. Four-year degrees other than in education and graduate work may be authorized by the Board of Regents.
The establishment of the Center for Excellence and the SDIBI turned Regional Center which it spawned rests with the Board of Regents.
The state law on the purposes of higher education is:
13-48A-3.   Goals for postsecondary education. The Legislature hereby recognizes that the current goals for public postsecondary education systems and institutions are as follows:
             (1)      To increase the number of graduates for the state's workforce; and                                                                       
             (2)      To increase the growth capacity of the state's economy by increasing the innovation and development capacity of the state and by increasing the skills of the state's current workforce. (This section is repealed effective June 30, 2015 pursuant to SL 2013, ch 81, § 5.)
Note in particular the parenthetical statement at the end of the section announcing the repeal of the law:  (This section is repealed effective June 30, 2015 pursuant to SL 2013, ch 81, § 5.) 
The pertinent aspect to note in this repeal is the clause that authorizes economic development activities as part of higher education’s mission:    To increase the growth capacity of the state's economy by increasing the innovation and development capacity of the state…”
Somebody somewhere must have convinced somebody that economic development and honest education and research do not mix. 
Some tough facts regarding the development of South Dakota are that it ranks at the very bottom of the states for its openness and integrity of government.  It endorses low pay for fulltime workers so that they cannot afford food, shelter, transportation, and healthcare without assistance.  It has reduced public education to political indoctrination.  It discourages those with talent and ability and forces them to leave the state in search of opportunity and the benefits of freedom, equality, and justice.
The Homestake and Northern Beef-EB-5 events have branded South Dakota.  Its economic development notions closed the door to serious and significant science, but some work is till being done because of the laboratory efficacies of the old gold mine.  The state seems to be unique in its handling of EB-5 investors and money, and with that reputation what investors are foolish enough to trust it again.  Especially with the state legislature engaged in covering up the incompetence, the fraud, the criminality. 
At this time, South Dakota is the nation’s prime example of what subverting education and honest knowledge with shoddy, fraudulent business schemes does to a state morally and economically.  Decent people want no part of it.  

Update:  Word was released to the press today that President of NSU, Dr James M. Smith, under whose leadership the university bolstered flagging enrollments and academic programs, including the Center for Excellence in International Business, is one of two finalists for president of Murray State University in Kentucky. Murray State has an enrollment of 10,000 and a very strong liberal arts program. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nice people don't use the n-word, so nobody knows they're thinking it

Only someone with a severe mental impairment could not realize that when Ted Nugent, the right wing's leading intellectual, called President Obama a "subhuman mongrel," he was reverting to Ku Klux Klan racism.  He later apologized for his particular words, but doubled-down on reasserting all the old racial stereotypes about black people that the KKK held so dear and many, many people still do.

Like many people, I made the fatuous assumption that the election of a black president meant that the nation had finally matured out of its racial and class bigotry and that such factors no longer shaped the character of the country.  Ted Nugent, many GOP leaders in Congress, and numerous people on the Internet, in saloons, and in church sanctuaries proved us all wrong.  The election of Barack Obama inspired a resurgence of racism, and with the likes of Nugent, it is there to stand as part of the American legacy.

The service that Nugent and his kind perform is to disabuse us of the notion that the nation leads the world within matters of equality, freedom, and justice.  Jim Crow has us by the short ones.  If Congress had any, it would have them by the cajones.  But they have demonstrated to those of us who struggled with civil rights that the struggle is far from over, and we need to renew our resolve, recognize that some of our neighbors are enemies, and deal with them more realistically.

In a recent news report on the chances of  Mary Landrieu to get re-elected to the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, NPR recorded the reasoning of a man named Beau Broussard.  Landrieu faces stiff opposition because she voted for the Affordable Care Act.  Broussard reveals the real reason for his hatred of this act in the NPR report:

Broussard has all kinds of problems with the law itself — that it's wrong to force people to buy insurance, that it will make businesses hire less. But there's something else that bothers him: The law is the signature achievement of a man Broussard never wanted to see become president.
To the NPR reporter, he explained:
"I don't vote for black people, lady," he says. "No, ma'am. I don't vote for black people. They got their place, I got my place. That's the way I was raised."
The right wing has taken to equating its hatred, its lust for discrimination, exclusion, and defamation with patriotism and Christianity. The latest ploy is to exercise bigotry and hatred as part of their religious faith, which they claim the right to do.  There are people who define themselves by who they hate and wish to exclude from any claims to liberty.   Madville Times took on a South Dakota blogger who insists that the exercise of his KKK hatred is a matter of religious devotion and Constitutional right. 

These are the latest examples of American exceptionalism.  They list those people they would like to except from civil rights and human dignity.  But what is most galling is those among us who insist that the we live in the land of freedom and tolerance, while so many  people are conniving ways to destroy any movement toward freedom, equality, and justice for all. 
 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Transcending racism

Slate reviews photographer Aaron Huey's book Mitakuye Oyasin on Pine Ridge.  It is a powerful antidote to the often bipartisan racism that afflicts South Dakota.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Watch out: here comes a huge load of irony

It is carried by Joop Bollen who as director of the South Dakota Regional Center is a major figure in the disaster of Northern Beef Packers,  EB-5 loans, and the alleged suicide of Richard Bender.  As a state employee and then a contractor for the Governor's Office of Economic Development,  Bollen obtained and administered the EB-5 loans which lost millions of dollars for foreign investors. 

The city of Aberdeen has a housing authority that oversees subsidized housing for low income people.  (More on that later.)  The housing authority has initiated a proposal to add 40 units, so it needs a resolution of necessity from the city council to proceed with the plans.  To support the request for a resolution, the housing authority presented the council with the results of a study conducted in January on housing needs in Aberdeen.  The study concluded that there was a need for low income housing, but Aberdeen landlords don't think so. The city council story in the Aberdeen newspaper carried the headline:

                Landlords disagree with need for housing authority request

However, the only landlord cited specifically in the story was Joop Bollen:  Here is what the story said:
Joop Bollen who owns various properties in Aberdeen, including the Fifth Avenue Apartments, said he is concerned with the validity of the study.

“I’m very concerned that the study is skewed,” Bollen said questioning whether the study takes into account recently constructed apartments in Aberdeen and the recent closure of the beef plant.

“You should review the study and make sure it’s accurate,” Bollen said. “If you sign off on that letter, you state you’ve seen the study and feel there’s a need. My concern is whether or not there’s a real demand.” 
In addition to concerns about the study, Bollen also questioned whether it’s the city’s role to subsidize public housing.
The mayor pointed out that Aberdeen has been involved in public housing for 50 years.

The private landlords have enjoyed a landlords' market in Aberdeen for years.  With the addition of hundreds of units in recent years to provide housing for an expected influx of workers, spearheaded by the opening of the failed beef packing plant, developers have erected a number of apartment units throughout town.  There is a disparity between what the units cost and what workers make in Aberdeen.

A perennial problem in Aberdeen has been the quality and price of rental housing.  During my years at NSU, students complained constantly about off-campus housing.  Much of it was in converted residences and were tacky to the point of being shanty towns.   When I first came to NSU, students had put together a program which listed approved rental units available to students.  The units were inspected according to a checklist and, if they met the standards, were listed for student convenience.  The originators of the program had long graduated, and it was getting difficult to find student association members who would go out and conduct the inspections, so an assistant manager in the student services department was asked to recruit, train, and coordinate inspectors.  After some months of accompanying students on inspection tours, he reported at a meeting that he found many housing units that did not meet the standards and that were overpriced.  The administration decided that the program served no useful purpose if there was such a limited number of units that the university could approve, and it ended the service and decided to concentrate on upgrading resident student housing.

The matter was brought up to Democratic Party members, and we had a study committee to investigate just what the complaints were about housing.  The first aspect was that the housing was, indeed, overpriced for what was available.  We broadened our focus from student housing to include young working people, who complained just as much.  We found what has  been repeated and denied consistently over the years.  While it is a South Dakota myth that the cost of living is cheaper in the state and justifies lower wages, we found that young people simply were not paid enough to cover their housing, utilities, food, transportation, and other necessities.  Rent was a big chunk of their expenses, and many of the rental units were dreadful--rundown, makeshift, and downright depressing to be in.  

Many students, especially single parents, found help in subsidized housing, which made it affordable for them to attend college.  The real complaint that some landlords have about subsidized housing is that they may have to lower their rents to compete.  City housing makes it possible for many people to live decently, something that is of no concern to the private rental market.   The study shows that there is a 3.9 percent vacancy rate in Aberdeen.  The private landlords want to be subsidized by eliminating the competition provided by the city.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Bill in South Dakota legislature to change title from governor to capo.

The state legislature has voted down any measures that could provide a comprehensive view of the nature of state government's role in economic development, the way government and private businesses and organizations intersect, and the degree of influence and control that business interests exercise over state government.  After the bankruptcy of Northern Beef Packers and the subsequent revelations of the state's efforts at economic development and the handling of EB-5 loans along with state money, an abundecance of evidence that indicates conspiratorial corruption exists, but the forces in place carefully word their findings and conclusions to evade any serious confrontation with malfeasance and misfeasance and they make any insidious findings sound like minor accounting errors.

Although state officials are careful to withhold from the public any substantive information for which the citizens have the right to demand an accounting, the reports issued on the Governor's Office of Economic Development contain an abundance of evidence of corruption and graft.  A frequent explanation bouncing around is that some acts which have been uncovered may seem unethical, but they aren't illegal.  They were conducted within the law.  There are two major aspects of the South Dakota Legal Code that promote and protect malfeasance and misfeasance as a way of doing business:

  1. Every statute which purports to require public access to information is laden with exceptireons and loop holes that effectually nullify the access by giving state officials the discretion and power to determine what is released.
  2. An absence of laws requiring the keeping of full records of the proceedings of government agencies.  Where there are no records, there is no information for which government agencies and officials can be called into account.
The Northern Beef Packers-Richard Benda-EB-5 affair demonstrates in many aspects how the government has been structured and operated to permit wholesale malfeasance.  The principles by which it operates are to keep unhealthy and criminal alliances with business interests and avoid any direct examination of those alliances by setting up jurisdictional barriers.  When the Department of Legislative Audit released its report on the Office of Economic Development last week, its cover letter carefully erected a jurisdictional barrier to prevent any examination of the collusion of government and business:

However, we considered responsibilities the SDRC, Inc. had to individual EB-5 investors, contractors, related limited partnerships and the projects receiving loans outside the scope of our audit.

 The legal code and the standard operating procedures of South Dakota government permit the establishment of relationships with business interests and the delegation of functions of government to private entities so that the government can disclaim any responsibility for any negative effects that arise.  South Dakota has in effect legalized graft to evade any responsibilities for the schemes it sponsors. 

In most states, such evidence of corruption and collusion would incite much activity by the press to obtain information about what went on and make it public.  Examples are the Chris Christie connection with the George Washington Bridge lane closures last fall.  But South Dakota has, perhaps, the most feckless and bumbling press corps in the nation.  Despite a few tepid editorials demanding information, such information is never forthcoming and the press backs away to keep its cozy relationship with government officials and the business community.  The South Dakota press is easily cowed into submission.

Then there are the bloggers.  Thorough and effective investigative reporting requires the careful coordination of effort and information as a team function.  Such coordination is needed to produce a comprehensive and coherent account of what is taking place.  Many times investigative reports involve legal counsel who helps the reporters and editors produce a story that conforms to presentation of evidence for a legal prosecution.  Bloggers tend to see their fellows as competitors, not team members engaged in a coherent pursuit of facts.  

However, when sound information is presented in some blogs, it is rendered useless by the  comments it inspires.  The many silly attitudes and ill-informed opinions expressed in comment section reduces good information to level of gossipy chatter and hard, astounding facts get flushed away in the wash.   

If ever the people of South Dakota are to be given an accounting of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, the South Dakota Regional Center,  Northern Beef Packers, and te death of Richard Benda, it will have to at the hands of some national news agency that exists outside of the fearful climate of South Dakota.  The problem is that to the national press, South Dakota is not a place of enough consequence to warrant national attention.

Meanwhile, malfeasance and misfeasance are the rule in South Dakota. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The key to poltical power for the GOP is to starve out the poor children to enhance the lives of the one percent

Many years ago, I was a newspaper farm editor. The matter of farm subsidies was a perennial problem that dominated the news coverage.  During World War II,  United States farmers were encouraged to ramp up production as their contribution to the war effort.  They did so.  The U.S. produced enough food to keep our troops well fed and to help our alliesWhen the war ended, farmers were still producing but the market for what they produced had shrunk as allies became more self-sufficient in producing food for their people.  The crop surpluses piling up in America revived depression-era fears that farmers once again would plow their production under and leave the farms looking for other work.  

The stability of an economy returning to peace-time production and the security of the nation quickly sliding into a cold war required that the farm economy be kept efficient and stable.  So, the government began programs of price supports and farm subsidies through which it bought agricultural surpluses.  Then the problem for the government was what to do with the growing surpluses it held in storage.    A partial answer was to distribute the surpluses to the poor, the hungry, the needy.  Semi-trailer loads of the surpluses,  initially consisting of flour, corn meal, butter, cheese, dried beans, and dry milk, would be hauled to distribution points where people who qualified could come and pick it up.  As farm editor, I was provided notice of such distributions so that the newspaper could publish the times and places well in advance.  And the government agents liked coverage of these events to convince the taxpayers that the products the government was buying with their money were being put to good use to keep the farm economy humming and nutrition flowing to those who needed it.

Who qualified for the commodity programs was largely a matter of self-selection.  Anybody who showed up and said they could use the help qualified.  Of course, there were those few who obtained commodities who were not in need, but that wasn't a big concern, because the people in charge of the distribution often had rather immense quantities of left-overs.  One of the workers talked me into loading up the back of my station wagon with leftovers to be distributed by my church.  That led to a program in our community through which a number of denominational social service agencies cooperated in a distribution.  Many people in need were too shamed and embarrassed to come to the distribution points and beg for handouts, but the social workers knew who was in need and where the food would provide much-needed nutrition.  There was paper work to be done to attest to auditors that the surplus was being appropriately distributed.  The main objective, however, was to give farmers a guaranteed income through price supports, soil banks, and conservation programs that attempted to balance production and demand. 

Over the years, the surplus food distribution program evolved into food stamps which made it possible for clients of the program to have more variety and nutritional balance in what they obtained.   Two things have led to a curtailment of the food stamp program.  One is ethanol.  With more cropland being diverted to the production of corn for ethanol from the growing of food for human consumption,  the problem of what to do with commodity surpluses is not much of a consideration.  The rise in food prices is evidence of that.  The second factor is the declaration of war on the poor.  The conservatives in America have adopted an attitude that militates against anyone who is having trouble with meeting basic expenses.  They ignore the working poor, which is a growing segment of the American population. They do this by fabricating falsehods and practicing systematic defamation of those who are in dire financial straits.  In their own frenzy of greed and hatred, they are incapable of understanding the impossible circumstances in which many must try to live.  And they refuse to acknowledge the fact that huge corporations with an insatiable lust for money and power are the biggest factor in pushing Americans into poverty,

Recently, the right wing has rediscovered the account of Plymouth Colony by its governor, William Bradford, in 1623 when the colonists had experienced short rations and needed to increase food production.   All agricultural production was put into common storage and distributed by the leaders to members of the colony.  The young and able-bodied resented that they were toiling hard while some people could not make an equal contribution to the labor and  that the benefits of their labor did not accrue to them.  Bradford writes:

For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. 

The officers of the colony solved the problem and increased food production by allotting each family a parcel of land for which it was responsible and could receive the benefits.  The incentive  increased production.  Conservatives cite this when they want to decry any government intervention into their lives, which they label as communism or socialism, and use it as a justification for their defamation of the poor and any programs designed to help them.  They conveniently ignore Bradford's concern that the assertion of self-interest conflicted with the religious principles with which the colony was ruled:  "...if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them."  

Conservatives also ignore the fact that a significant portion of American agriculture is run on a communal principle.  The Amish, the Mennonites, and the Hutterites employ an economic system in which their members work for the benefit of all and, thus, maintain the values and theology of their churches as the most vital factor in their lives.   Putting the welfare of all their members ahead of individual gain has made it possible for them to preserve those "mutual respects" which are essential to lives devoted to the practice of Christian principles.

The farm bill that will be signed into law today is an expression of  the abandonment of those mutual respects specified in the nation's founding documents to the neo-feudal establishment of a class and discrimination system.  The new bill eliminates direct payments to farmers but increases the crop insurance subsidies, which insures that farmers will have, on paper at least, some commodities to sell.  Ethanol and the conversion of immense amounts of farmland to corn for its manufacture put the prices of crops at levels that do not, for the time, need bolstering.  Something about which there has been little discussion surrounding the farm bill is what happens if the trend toward mono-cropping corn and soybeans creates shortages of other food products, and what happens if and when wind and solar power reduces the need for other renewable fuels and farmers find themselves once again with surpluses of crops for which there is no market?  The new farm bill benefits corporate and corporate-allied producers, but pays little attention to human food as a reliable and affordable commodity.

The most defining aspect of the farm bill is the reduction in food stamps.  While the surpluses are not a consideration in the bill, neither is the fact that a growing number of Americans cannot find jobs and the jobs they do find do not provide incomes sufficient to  cover the costs of food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and healthcare.  The GOP obsession with cutting food stamps shows the regressive movement back to a society with masters, in this case corporations, and serfs.  And the welfare of the serfs is of no concern.  They can be dismissed by defaming them as indolent and self-indulgent--despite the factual evidence that the charge is seldom true.  

The GOP embraces a society run as corporation, which requires that labor be cheap and submissive to any fate that corporations choose for it.  And the reduction of food stamps is indicative of the contempt and disregard the GOP has for working people, and especially their children.  When anyone goes hungry and ill-fed, it is a signal that there is no mutual respect and that the GOP has, as Bradford said, "cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men."

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