Weekend Roundup: Ag, No; Beer, Yes

Finally, a use for emus • Virtual fences • McCaskill on the Postal Service • Finally, the DOJ gets tough on anti-trust

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Columnist Alan Guebert reminds us that the revolving door is still a-twirling between government and business. (See Guebert’s stuff here.) Here’s the story:

“Remember back in the early days of President Obama’s first term when the Department of Justice set out to end monopoly in the ag business? At the time, Christine Varney was head of DOJ’s anti-trust division.

“To many in agriculture, Varney burst on the antitrust scene like Joan of Arc,” Guebert writes. “Most saw her charging into battle with subpoenas and injunctions as swords to sweep farm fields and feedlots of market colluders, price fixers and deck stackers.”

And then, nothing happened. The inquiry — one that involved thousands of farmers and ranchers in hearings across the country‚ ended with a tepid report and no action. Then Varney left the government and….

Varney has landed on her feet. She is representing Grupo Modelo, the Mexican beer-maker that would very much like to become part of Anheuser-Busch for the price of a cool $20.1 billion. Trouble is, the Obama administration’s DOJ thinks this merger would violate anti-trust laws and is opposing the merger. 

Varney is opposing her old buddies at DOJ who want to do to Budweiser what the administration wouldn’t do to Monsanto or Walmart.

Guebert says Varney pressed the ag anti-trust issue hard but was rebuffed by the White House and Attorney General Eric Holder. Funny, then, that President Obama, in his second inaugural, said he would enforce anti-trust laws because “a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.”

“Exactly,” Guebert writes. “So, when?”

Endangered Places in the Southeast — The Southern Environmental Law Center has listed the most endangered places in the Southeast — uranium mining in Virginia, timber sales near the Blue Ridge Parkway, coal ash ponds near Myrtle Beach. 

Prissy Iowans — The West Des Moines (Iowa) town council is considering a ban on vegetable plants growing in front yards. This from an article by Emily Schettler and Jennifer Jacobs: 

Some Iowa gardeners and agricultural experts contacted Wednesday were sympathetic to unsightly plants in front yards. Although a demure radish or a flowering chive is unlikely to make neighbors twitch, some plants can be less than attractive, they admitted.

Cabbages, once picked, leave holes. Squash leaves can get scabby-looking, and a blighted tomato plant is downright ugly, they said. Leggy sweet corn plants can seem scraggly and disproportional, especially in contrast to a well-manicured lawn.

“I think most people have a vision of a nice, neat, tidy lawn with some trees and maybe some flowers, and they associate a vegetable garden with the backyard,” said Richard Jauron, a horticulturist with Iowa State University Extension.

Fracking and Greenhouse Gases — Production of natural gas and oil is the second largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., just behind power plants.

The tally comes from the Environmental Protectionn Agency, which found that emissions from drilling (including fracking) and transmission leaks contributed 225 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents during 2011. Power plants produce ten times this amount. 

More on Saturday Deliveries — Save the Post Office has its rundown on the decision by the Postal Service to stop Saturday deliveries in August. 

STPO reminds us that the Postal Service suspended Saturday delivery back in April 1957. The Postal Service began deliveries again after being reprimanded by the chair of the House postal subcommittee.

STPO also questions the savings the Postal Service says it will earn from the cutoff. The web site says the purported $2 billion is likely a “considerable overestimate of what the plan will actually save.”

Also, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill blames the debacle at the Postal Service on Republicans. She said:

“We won a hard-fought battle in the Senate last year with strongly bipartisan postal reform that would have put the Postal Service on the path to sound financial footing, protected rural post offices, and provided strict criteria for the Postal Service to meet before eliminating six-day delivery. Unfortunately, instead of passing the bill, the Republicans in the U.S. House abandoned rural America and allowed the legislation to die. And this is the result of their inaction — an unnecessary loss for business, rural families and the principle of compromise.”

Low Birthrates — Birth rates in Iowa and Nebraska have sunk to levels not seen in nearly a century, the Omaha World-Herald reports

Who’s Burning More Coal? — Europe, reports the Washington Post. 

With a decline in the use of nuclear energy and the lure of cheap coal from the U.S., Europe is using a lot more coal to produce electricity. U.S. coal exports to Europe were up 26 percent in the first nine months of 2012.

Iowans Prefer a Vilsack — A Des Moines Register poll finds that Iowans prefer one of two Vilsacks to take the place of retiring Sen. Tom Harkin. 

Fifty-six percent of Iowans say they think former Iowa governor and current Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack would be their choice for the Senate seat. Forty-two percent favored his wife, Christie Vilsack.

Waves of Post Office Cutbacks — There are stories like this one from the Berkshire Eagle in Massachusetts all over the country — about cutbacks in post office hours. The Eagle reports that eight Berkshire County post office will see cutbacks in hours. 

Emus — The New York Times reports that there may be a use for all those emus that were the rage among farmers a decade or more ago. 

Back in ’98, there were 5,500 farms raising emus. Now there are no more than 2,000. People just didn’t take to the bird’s lean meat.

It turns out that the emu has a large block of fat covering most of its body and the oil is good for many skin conditions.

“It’s a very nice oil,” said Mohammed Alam, head of the fats and oils program at Texas A&M University. “It’s not magical. It’s similar to other oils. But the mechanism for how it works needs to be figured out.”

We wonder if you have to frack an emu to get to that oil?

Virtual Fences — The Atlantic tells us about advances in virtual fences — “GPS-equipped free-range cows that can be nudged back within virtual bounds by ear-mounted stimulus-delivery devices.” 

USDA and School Integration — The headline is provocative: “Why Is Obama’s Agriculture Department Blocking School Integration?” 

The story, by the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg, tells us that the Iowa City, Iowa, school board voted that every school in its district be within 15 percentage points in the proportion of students eligible for subsidized school lunches. (Currently, the schools range from 6 percent eligible to 79 percent eligible.)

In other words, the district wants to integrate its schools economically.

But the Ag Department is objecting, saying that the use of school lunch data in this way violates federal law. The USDA says this move could violate students’ privacy.

 

 

 

 

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