Democracy, food, and the Farm Bill

Threatening local control in our food system

When the Democrats took control of Congress, a colleague of mine looked at me with a sigh of relief and said, "Isn't it great that we won't have to be playing defense against bad policy anymore?" If only that first impression were the case. In a democracy, we shouldn't have to be constantly vigilant for bad legislative ideas that could hurt the public good. Our legislators are supposed to be the filter that guards against schemes that would strip rights and take choices away from people. Unfortunately, it seems to be the same politics, with the same money trails. JMG's post yesterday touches on a topic I have been thinking a lot about, and I want to address it in more detail. On the House Agriculture Committee website, summaries of all of the parts of the legislation being offered are posted. Under the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry there is a Title I Section-by-Section analysis. Section 123 is particularly problematic: SEC. 123. EFFECT OF USDA INSPECTION AND DETERMINATION OF NON-REGULATED STATUS. * Prevents a State or locality from prohibiting an article the Secretary of Agriculture has inspected and passed, or an article the Secretary has determined to be of nonregulated status. What does this mean? Also known as "preemption language," this broad statement basically says that if the USDA says something is safe, a state or local government is not allowed to regulate it. For example, there have been a number of counties around the country that have banned genetically modified organisms from being produced within their borders. This preemption-style language, if it's passed in the Farm Bill, would void those local laws.

Spotlight on Thomas Friedman

Thomas Friedman of The New York Times has been rolling in green editorials. In mid-April he wrote a major piece called "The Power of Green," in which he made the case for his generation to follow the footsteps of the Greatest Generation to become the Greenest Generation. He writes: We in America talk like we're already "the greenest generation," as the business writer Dan Pink once called it. But here's the really inconvenient truth: We have not even begun to be serious about the costs, the effort and the scale of change that will be required to shift our country, and eventually the world, to a largely emissions-free energy infrastructure over the next 50 years. More recently, Friedman has weighed in on how to begin to change the environmental decisions our political leaders make -- it starts with the upcoming election. In "Turning the Election Green" Friedman proposes a presidential debate on the environment and energy. According to a poll Friedman cites, done for the Center for American Progress, a substantial percentage of Americans want policies to address global warming and redirect our energy policy. Yesterday, Friedman had another piece, "Our Green Bubble." He writes:

Bush gets it from all sides

Poor guy

Poor Bush, he just can’t get a break. He announces a shiny new climate-change strategy, and what does he get? Nothing but grief. Nancy Pelosi called it "the same stale proposals he has repeatedly put forward to the international community." Al Gore called it "purely and simply smoke and mirrors [that] has the transparent purpose of delaying the efforts that could start now." Dan Froomkin called it an "attempt to muddy the debate about the issue and derail European and U.N. plans for strict caps on emissions." Britain and Germany are not amused: Britain and Germany yesterday joined forces to …

The new conservatism: Like the old totalitarianism

Whatever happened to local control is good?

From Organic Consumers: Failing to suppress grassroots control over food safety laws and labels in the last session of Congress, industry has now called on their friends in the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry to slip a similar poison pill into an obscure section of the voluminous 2007-2012 Farm Bill. The provision would give the White House appointed Secretary of Agriculture the power to eliminate local or state food and farming laws, such as those in four California counties banning genetically engineered crops, and set an ominous precedent undermining states' rights.

Brooks and Shields act out the bankruptcy of elite Beltway opinion

Watch at your own risk

I was going to wrap this into a previous post, but this kind of spectacular cluelessness deserves its time in the spotlight. Watch two mandarins of Beltway "moderation," Mark Shields and David Brooks, discuss Bush’s "new" climate strategy: Astounding. You really could not ask for a more crystalline example of the intellectual tics that have come to substitute for thought among the D.C. media chattering class. A couple of things to note. The first and most glaring is that throughout the entire discussion, neither Shields nor Brooks analyzes or even so much as mentions the merits of the new strategy. …

Being careful about the word 'voluntary'

More on Bush’s climate strategy

My post yesterday said what needs to be said about Bush’s "new" climate strategy, but this passage from Dana Milbank’s hilarious column today is too good to pass up: “Will the new framework consist of binding commitments or voluntary commitments?” asked CBS News’s Jim Axelrod. “In this instance, you have a long-term, aspirational goal,” [Bush environmental advisor Jim] Connaughton answered. Aspirational goal? Like having the body you want without diet or exercise? Or getting rich without working? “I’m confused,” Axelrod said. “Does that mean there will be targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, and that everybody will be making binding …

The real cost of property regulations

Regulations may increase rather than decrease property value

UPDATE 6/8/07: The study I mentioned in this post was was based on data collected and analyzed by two researchers at Oregon State University. Those researchers, William Jaeger and Andrew Plantinga, have produced a more complete report (pdf) containing a full economic analysis and no editorializing. The conclusion, however, is basically the same: there's no evidence to support the claim that Oregon's growth management protections have harmed property values, at least in aggregate. When Measure 37 was up for a vote in 2004, supporters claimed that Oregon's planning laws were so draconian they reduced property values by $5.4 billion per year. That eye-popping figure may be one of the central reasons voters were inclined to support the measure. (Voter support has since severely evaporated.) As it turns out, however, that $5.4 billion cost to Oregon's property owners was a chimera. To unmask the $5.4 billion illusion, Georgetown University's Law Center just published a rigorous empirical study of trends in Oregon property values and found that all those land-use regulations have cost, well, not much at all. In fact, they may have added value, at least on average. I won't walk blog readers through the whole study, but the Georgetown report should be required reading for those following the issue closely: it represents by far the best-researched examination of the question to date. Perhaps the most damning finding is one of the simplest: a comparison between property values in Oregon and other states from 1965 to 2005. As it turns out, Oregon's highly-regulated property slightly outperformed values in neighboring California and Washington, though it lagged Idaho by a little. Oregon also outperformed the national average.

Honey, pack up, we're moving to ... Minnesota!

Who knew the stoic people of Minnesota were so advanced?

Wow, we hear about California this and California that, occasionally some Vermont or Oregon thrown in, once in awhile someone will know that Texas is a wind capitol. But I can't remember anyone ever mentioning that, when it comes to a serious program to address global heating, Minnesota rocks! Just for comparison, note how weak and pallid Oregon's renewable energy standard (which only applies to electricity, not energy) is compared to Minnesota's comprehensive greenhouse gas law. From the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Al Gore and politics

Al Gore: When the inevitable question came — his intentions about 2008 — he said politics “rewards a tolerance for artifice, repetition, triviality that I don’t have in as great supply as I might have had when I was younger.” … “I think there are a lot of things about politics as it has evolved that I’m not really that good at,” he said. “Some people find out earlier in their lives that they’re not good at what they’ve chosen to do.” He interjected a self-deprecating laugh. Then he turned serious again. “And I’m not being falsely humble. I think …