Elections and debate on a new five-year Farm Bill are upon us. The Bee reported last week that members of the House Agriculture Committee will be visiting Stockton in the first week of March to hold hearings on the Bush administration's proposals.
These proposals include taxing dairymen 3 cents per hundredweight, cutting cotton and rice subsidies and a $200-million annual subsidy to promote American agricultural exports. Recent recipients include Blue Diamond Growers, the California Table Grape Commission and Sunkist Growers, the Bee reported. (1)
It's a shakedown. To make it more obvious, Bush is proposing sizable cuts in farm supports in this year's budget.
Mike Marsh, CEO of United Western Dairymen told the Bee that 3 cents per hundredweight worked out to about "$5,700" per year to an 800-cow dairy. A fraction -- probably a significant fraction but less than the tax -- will be required in the form of campaign contributions to buy off the tax.
Presumably, cotton, rice and the fruit and nut corporations are busily calculating the campaign-contribution costs, too. Meanwhile, learned consultants are coming up with new words for subsidies and new ways of hiding them from the public on the assumption that agricultural economics as we know it will continue and agriculture will come up with the political vig.
The choice of Stockton for the Central California hearing is interesting because Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy has a challenger in the Republican primary, former Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-Woodside.
Pombo is known primarily as chairman of the House Resources Committee and as the face of the ESA-gutting team. The rear end of the team is Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, a "Democrat" so popular with the Republican developers, landowners and real estate speculators in his district he appears to be running unopposed for his next term.
However, although Pombo and his “bipartisan” sidekick, Cardoza are primarily known for their hard right, pro-growth, anti-environmental positions, they are both members of the Agriculture Committee. He sits on the Livestock and Horticulture, and the Department Operations, Oversight, Dairy, Nutrition and Forestry subcommittees.
In local farming circles, the Pombo/Cardoza operation is known as The Pomboza.
The Bee commented:
Realistically, Capitol Hill is not fertile soil for many of the farm proposals planted by the Bush administration's fiscal 2007 budget, which starts Oct. 1. Some, such as a proposed 5 percent cut in crop subsidies and a $250,000 limit on subsidies paid to individuals, withered quickly in past years. (1)
In other words, it's an old, rotten story we no longer have to think much about because farmland is disappearing, replaced by subdivisions like those on Pombo Real Estate Farms in Tracy.
Coverage of the farm budget is more vivid in Great Falls, MT, not experiencing a speculative housing bubble at the moment, and is probably more representative of how the Central Valley’s remaining farmers sense the situation:
Ag feels pinch in Administration's proposed budget
By DALE HILDEBRANT, For The Prairie Star
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
There were few cheers on Capitol Hill, as President Bush delivered his proposed budget for the next fiscal year.
The budget slashes many domestic programs, including agriculture, while projecting a record $423 billion deficit. The overall suggested spending bill will cost $2.77 trillion and would give the Pentagon a 6.9 percent increase and a 14 percent boost to foreign aid.
There weren't any budget increases in the ag portion of the spending bill, only cuts and a proposed tax on sugarbeet producers and dairy farmers. The Administration plan would cut crop subsidies by five percent while increasing certain agricultural fees, including a 1.2 percent tax on sugarbeet growers, which is identical to a proposal made last year by the White House, but scrapped later by Congress.
Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee, in addressing the budget ag proposals said, “The President's budget proposed today is full of gimmicks and runs low on common sense.
“For agriculture, at best, this budget is a rehash of the President's strategy of sacrificing farm support for a sell at any cost international trade policy. At worst, this budget shows no commitment on the part of the President to the needs of our nation's farmers,” he continued. “America 's farmers and ranchers cannot afford the uncertainty that these proposals would create, and Congress should quickly reject them ...” (2)
The choice of Stockton as the site for this congressional hearing also has historical resonance with McCloskey in the race.
Dairy industry critic, Robert Cohen, wrote:
While writing MILK: The Deadly Poison, I discovered transcripts of Nixon's actual meeting with dairymen on March 23, 1971.
Knowing the tapes were running, and having been presented with $3 million dollars in cash, Nixon was recorded saying: "Uh, I know...that, uh, you are a group that are politically very conscious...And you're willing to do something about it. And, I must say a lot of businessmen and others...don't do anything about it. And you do, and I appreciate that. And I don't have to spell it out."
After the dairymen had left, advisor John Connally was alone with Nixon, and said:
"They are tough political operatives. This is a cold political deal." …
What did this $3 million dollar "investment"do for the dairy industry? In 1971, 120 billion pounds of milk were produced. An additional 27 cents per hundred pounds of milk translated to $3.24 billion extra dollars for the dairy industry.
On March 23, 1971, Secretary of the Treasury, John Connally summarized the day's events to Nixon: "These dairymen are organized; they're adamant, they're militant...And they, they're massing an enormous amount of money that they're going to put into political activities, very frankly." (3)
In March 1971, Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-CA, had just returned from Vietnam. Recently, he recalled that month:
While in Vietnam and Laos during March 1971, I had taken sworn affidavits from a number of pilots who stated they had been bombing targets in Laos and Cambodia, many with the coordinates of specific rural villages, some being in Laos' famous Plain of Jars, a considerable distance from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which had once been a legitimate bombing target.
Upon returning home, I testified before two Senate committees. I was interviewed on various television shows, including that of William Buckley. I related the stories of the bombings of which I had been told, both by Air Force pilots and by Laotian refugees from the Plain of Jars. My statements were immediately denied by various high-ranking administration spokesmen, who stated unequivocally that the United States was not bombing in Laos. The controversy received national coverage ...
A few days later, it was announced that we were indeed bombing in Laos, but that for security reasons, this knowledge had been withheld from the civilian secretaries of the Air Force, Navy and Army. At the direct order from the White House to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, false coordinates were reported to the secretaries for the daily and nightly bombing runs over Laos and Cambodia. The justification, then as now, was that national security required that the bombing raids not be disclosed to the American people. (4)
McCloskey ran against Nixon in the New Hampshire Republican primary in 1972. No doubt, the Nixon campaign in New Hampshire was funded partly by dairy money. McCloskey went on to serve another decade in Congress. Among his accomplishments was co-authoring the Endangered Species Act. He said at a Stockton meeting late last year that he had tried to testify on the ESA three times before Pombo’s resources committee and each time Pombo had refused him a hearing.
The Bushites might be holding this hearing in Stockton to shore up Pombo's support in his district against a dangerous opponent, not only of Pombo, but also of this administration. Rove could not possibly want McCloskey, who campaigned for Kerry in 2004, (5) in Congress next year. McCloskey would become an instant leader of moderate, ethically minded Republicans against the war-mad, rightwing House leadership and White House.
The Bush administrative version of political support is more money from fewer, bigger contributors. The aim could be to redeem the hearts and minds of the 11th CD by mixing agriculture and developer cash in with Abramoff contributions. Why not? Rove gave agribusiness what some say was the most lavish farm bill on record in 2002. (6)
Now the White House is playing rough: it's a guns v. butter moment.
What will Pombo say at the hearing on the esoteric topic of the next farm bill? Will he earn their money from gratitude by going against his president and his rightwing ideology? Or will he earn their money from fear by supporting the dairy tax and the subsidy cuts? Or will he, most characteristically, say one thing in public and do another thing in private? How will Pombo of Tracy's Pombo Real Estate Farms relate to Pombo, member of the House agriculture committee? Will he turn the hearing into an anti-ESA, pro-private property rights rally? Will he wear his cowboy hat?
Who cares? Whatever he does, he will remain within character as a buffoon of the emerging autocracy.
One can imagine a Pombo fundraiser in early March, co-hosted by Western United Dairymen and the region's most prominent developers, Grupe, Spanos and Tsakapoulos -- because today's young mega-dairyman may have to sell his real estate tomorrow if the subsidies aren't adequate.
In Pombo's politics, San Joaquin Valley agriculture, the greatest laboratory in the world for the study of what is wrong with the industrial, corporate agricultural model, has reached a higher stage of absurd destruction: Pombo’s politics are like the Holstein heifers born every day without working reproductive organs because their mothers are "spiked" with growth hormones; like the billions of almond blossoms waiting for bees that do not come; like developer-sponsored childhood asthma; like commuter-clogged highways to disappearing Silicon Valley jobs; like Pombo Real Estate Farms; like the dead San Joaquin River; and like the extinction of wildlife on land and fish in the Delta. This absurd destruction must be as attractive and familiar to Bush and Rove as McCloskey's honesty must be hateful to them.
However, rather than any clear political agenda in the latest proposed farm bill, we might just be observing the blind workings of the free market in that business enterprise called the American political system. Despite the recent overwhelming speculative bubble in housing in the Valley, agriculture is still the region’s enduring economy. It’s a terrible system at the moment. It is easy to agree with almost all its critics. The only caution is that if you too suddenly remove the system of subsidies upon which much of the Valley agricultural economy rests, and pave it over and turn it into a horribly polluted labor camp for the convenience of rich, coastal counties, it will have had no more chance of evolving than the San Joaquin Kit Fox.
Perhaps in the course of his campaign, McCloskey can teach the Pomboza the meaning of the word, “oversight.”
(5) inprogress.typepad.com/republicanswitchers/ files/ifyoureatruerepublicanvote4kerrymccloskey.pdf
(6) www.pacificresearch.org/ press/kqed/2002/kqed_02-06-04.html