DeCoster’s man tried to bribe the USDA

I’ve written before about why self regulation doesn’t work and specifically did not work in the case of Jack DeCoster’s Iowa egg production facilities in Iowa.  Turns out DeCoster’s people were seeking to bribe their way out of the few regulations they were subject to:

Iowa Egg Farm Manager Pleads Guilty To Bribery by Jeff Whitten for KWQC, Sep. 12, 2012

According to the United States Attorney’s Office, Wasmund admitted that, on or about April 12, 2010, as part of the conspiracy, he authorized the disbursement of $300 from a Wright County, Iowa, egg production business knowing the cash was to be used to bribe a USDA Inspector. The bribe was intended to influence the USDA Inspector to release for sale fresh shell eggs that the USDA had retained because they failed to meet USDA standards.

Given that the 2010 salmonella outbreak went on to sicken thousands, it seems clear that whatever small number of eggs the USDA was able to hold back from market was not sufficient.  Props to their inspector for not taking the money (or at the very least holding out for a better deal that a measly $300!)


Hank Williams Jr., an ass and an idiot, at the Iowa State Fair

Yet another year has gone by with me not making it to the state fair.  Given Hank William Jr.’s comments during his performance this year, I guess I feel pretty good about that.

Surprising no one, Williams got in a good old ignorant jab at the President towards the end of his set:

Hank Williams Jr. brings country hits and political jabs to the fair by Joe Lawler for Metromix Des Moines, Aug. 2012

Following the song “We Don’t Apologize For America” a chant of “USA, USA” broke out amongst the crowd. Williams smiled, telling the crowd that he was their mouth piece and adding:

“We’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the US and we hate him!”

Now, like I said, no one should have been surprised by this outburst.  Recently Williams has begun to augment his cashing in on his father’s name with public statements about the President that are equal parts hateful and misinformed.  What I was surprised and disappointed about was the crowd’s reaction:

The cheers that followed were loud and enthusiastic.

Seriously, what were the fair organizers thinking?  I disagree with rejecting musicians simply because of their political views, but courting them and promoting them in spite of frequent vocal misinformed and destructive rantings seems like poor practice to me.

As an aside, I felt the same way when Coralville had Charlie Daniels perform at 4th Fest a number of years back after his 9/11 response song stoked racial/religious hatred with the lyrics “This ain’t no rag it’s a flag / And we don’t wear it on our heads.”


Iowa Republicans–Bigots, not constitutionalists

Iowa Republicans have laid bare their bigotry by openly calling for the ouster of State Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins who is up for a retention vote this fall.  Now I’m no lawyer, but I’m pretty sure the legal reasoning behind the same-sex marriage ruling that has Iowa Republicans all hot and bothered is pretty cut and dry.  Correct me if I’m wrong, please!

Iowa GOP chairman urges “no” vote on Iowa Supreme Court justice by O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa, Aug. 1, 2012

The chairman of the Iowa Republican Party has issued a “call to action,” urging Iowa voters to toss an Iowa Supreme Court justice off the bench.

To my mind, Iowa Republicans and anyone who votes to oust Justice Wiggins based on the marriage equality ruling give up the right to call themselves constitutionalists, constructionists, originalists, or non-bigots.

In other news, my heterosexual marriage has remained strong despite the ability of same sex couples to marry here in Iowa.


In preperation for Branstad’s attack on state workers during this year’s negotiation process

As we already know, Branstad is doing what he can to get an early jump on making state workers look bad prior to this year’s contract negotiaions.  His primary target is health insurance–remember how he magnaminously offered to allow state workers to voluntarily contribute 20% to their policies.  The point that this would be nothing but a backhanded paycut is well explained by Mike Owen of the Iowa Policy Project in a recent blog post:

Once and for all, let’s get one thing straight: Health benefits are part of compensation for work performed. Benefits are not “free,” any more than a paycheck is “free,” and it is absurd for anyone to suggest otherwise. Public employees receive those benefits because they put in the hours and provide the services as agreed upon by both employee and employer. They are not a gift.

I am a public school teacher and a union member.  Twice in the last four years our union has agreed to moving to a slightly less expensive insurance package in exchange for seeing more money put towards salaries in our district.  This has, no surprise, been controversial–but the move was made each time with the understanding that any savings from the change to our insurance would be transferred to salaries. As do all unions, we negotiate the total package–not just salary with insurance tossed in as a gift!

For the record, my wife is a state employee, so I do have something of a personal stake in this. Regardless, it is a fallacy to argue that health insurance is somehow separate from salary.


The Opposite of Disgust: The President in Cedar Rapids today

I was fortunate to be able to take my fourteen-year-old nephew to see President Obama in Cedar Rapids today.  While we were both disappointed to not get into the main hall for his speech, we were delighted to see him and hear his address to the overflow crowd.  Special kudos and thanks to the woman who saw my nephew and made room for him at the very front of the section we were in when the President arrived.

The comments themselves were not especially surprising if you follow the news and the race for the White House, but a great pleasure and honor to see our Commander in Chief–and a special joy to share that excitement with my nephew.

My blurry picture of the President.

Picture from the Gazette indicating our vantage point.

Text of his remarks from WhiteHouse.gov:

Remarks by the President to Overflow Crowd at Kirkwood Community College

Kirkwood Community College
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

12:47 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT: How’s it going, Iowa? (Applause.) Well, it is great to see you guys. It is good to be back. (Applause.) I’m not going to give a long speech because I’m going to give a long speech there. But I just want to say, first of all, all of you guys who were involved four years ago — thank you. (Applause.) For those of you who are getting involved for the first time — welcome.

This is going to be a close election. But I have so much confidence whenever I come to Iowa, because I remember four years ago, even when the national press was writing us off, we would come here, Michelle and I, and we would talk to folks and we would sit in people’s living rooms, and drop by a diner or a VFW hall, and everywhere we went we were reminded of the strength and the decency and the values of America — because nobody represents those values better than the people of Iowa. (Applause.)

We’re going to have two choices in this election. And one choice is to take us down a path of top-down economics and an approach that says if we do good for folks at the very top, somehow everybody benefits —

AUDIENCE: Booo —

THE PRESIDENT: — and my vision, which says, when we grow best it’s because our middle class is doing well and everybody who’s fighting to get into the middle class. (Applause.) And this debate we’re having right now about taxes — where we want to go ahead and just make sure that 99.9 percent of the folks here, I suspect, would get the tax break that they need to help provide for their families, and folks like me, we can do without, and we can lower our deficit, rather than give more tax breaks to folks who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them — that tax debate is representative of the kind of debate that we’re going to be having on a whole bunch of issues all throughout this election.

So the bottom line, though, is I’m going to need your help. (Applause.) And all of you are going to be bombarded with all kinds of negative ads, and it’s going to be non-stop. But the thing you guys taught me four years ago is that when you have grassroots folks who are energized and enthusiastic, nobody can stop you. (Applause.)

So I hope you guys are ready to hit the streets and knock on doors, and make phone calls, and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors — because if you do, we’re going to finish what we started in 2008 and remind everybody just why it is America is the greatest country on Earth.

Thank you, Iowa! Love you, guys. (Applause.) Hope you’re still fired up and you’re still ready to go! (Applause.)


In case you weren’t completely convinced that Branstad is a heartless ass

Recently Governor Branstad used the line-item veto to cut out $500,000 dollars that had been allocated for the Food Bank of Iowa by the state legislature.  You can read the text of the item veto here–note that the Governor’s office can’t even be bothered to scan documents straight.  Branstad argues that private funds should be used to fund the food bank.  While I agree that private people and business should make sure to support charities, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the State of Iowa supporting the good works of non-profits such as the Food Bank of Iowa.

Dean Lerner, the former Director of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals had a great op-ed about this issue recently in the Gazette:

Food Bank veto says a lot about Branstad by Dean Lerner in the Cedar Rapids Gazette Jun. 8, 2012

Branstad’s recent veto speaks legions about him, and us. The money will now revert to the state’s general fund, adding to nearly a billion-dollar surplus. In his veto message, the governor stated that he “strongly support[s] the Food Bank of Iowa and their important work to help needy Iowans.” However, he “believe[s] that private donations are the best way to support the Food Bank.” The Des Moines Register Editorial Board agreed, adding that there are already federal programs to feed the hungry, and that state assistance might discourage charitable donations. Really?

Maybe the editorial board missed reading the June 1 front page of the Register’s Business section: “Study: Income doesn’t cover needs for 1 in 4 working families in Iowa.” And contrast the governor’s “strong support” for the Food Bank to never-ending headlines such as the Register stories “Most [Iowa] tax incentives awarded to wealthy companies” (Jan. 15), “1st-quarter profits up 34 percent for Iowa Banks” (May 25), and “CEOs hauled in record pay during 2011, study finds” (May 27). Please don’t tell us that tax dollars haven’t been used, directly, or indirectly, to make this all possible!

Perhaps the governor’s plan is that the tremendous swell of riches to already wealthy companies, banks and CEOs — aided and abetted by his and the Republican colleagues’ policies — will help stimulate the private donations the Food Bank should, instead, rely upon. Of course, let’s not forget that their “generous” donations are accompanied by charitable tax deductions, and plenty of public praise for corporate citizenship. Some might view this as another version of “trickle down” economics.

I made a donation to the Food Bank of Iowa today and encourage you to do the same.  You can do so at this link.  I recommend filling in the bottom portion of the page as I did as shown below:


High corn prices have high environmental costs

I’ve posted before about farmers pushing the edges of the fields outward and planting in areas not fit for row crops.  The Gazette had a good piece this past weekend about the amount of land that farmers are taking out of the Conservation Reserve Program in order to cash in on the high prices for corn.  This program pays farmers a per acre “rent” in exchange for having them plant beneficial cover crops–this has a huge environmental impact from providing wildlife habitat to helping create buffers to prevent soil and fertilizer run off.  Sadly, the amount that the USDA pays per acre is not keeping up with what farmers can get from switching back to growing corn.

High cost of land, crops taking bite out of conservation acres by Orlan Love in the Cedar Rapids Gazette Jun. 17, 2012

In Iowa, expiring CRP contracts exceeded renewals and new program entries by more than 76,000 acres.

With CRP contracts on more than 175,000 acres expiring this year, Iowa landowners submitted offers of 105,000 acres, with contracts accepted on 99,684 acres.

That translates to a loss of over forty percent of the farmland that was set aside as part of this valuable program.  Of course given that there are over 30 million acres of farmland in Iowa, either number is just a drop in the bucket.  However, given the complete artificiality of Iowa’s landscape, any bit of protected land helps!

This problem is not limited to just Iowa:

States in the pheasant belt, which happens to coincide with the grain belt, lost nearly 2 million CRP acres at the conclusion of the recent signup.

Five states with annual pheasant harvests typically larger than Iowa’s — North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas and Nebraska — lost a combined 1.2 million acres of CRP.

And things likely won’t get better anytime soon, as the current draft of the Farm Bill continues the erosion of the CRP:

While the corn rush is squeezing CRP acreage, so, too, are federal budget constraints. A new farm bill working its way through the Senate would reduce the CRP acreage cap from 32 million to 30 million next year, with further reductions to 25 million acres by 2017.

There’s lots of areas of concern in the current Farm Bill, chief among them a proposed system of crop insurance that will encourage farmers to continue the recent trend to put increasingly marginal land into production.  Much, much more on the Farm Bill at the Iowa Environmental Council’s blog.