Obama's "Five Worst Nominees"

Over at the Mother Jones blog, Kate Sheppard, David Corn and Daniel Schulman compiled a list of "Obama's Five Worst Nominees." Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner doesn't make the cut, which surprised me until I read the short bios of appointees who are likely to put corporate interests ahead of the public interest. In alphabetical order:

William Lynn, for whom the president made an exception to his policy on lobbyists in government. Lynn was the chief lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon before becoming deputy secretary of defense in the Obama administration.

William Magwood, a "cheerleader for nuclear power" who has "worked for reactor maker Westinghouse and has run two firms that advise companies on nuclear projects." Obama nominated him for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Scott O'Malia, who was apparently suggested by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. O'Malia "was a lobbyist for Mirant, an Enron-like energy-trading firm" and lobbied for weakening the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to which Obama appointed him.

Joseph Pizarchik, who helped form policies in Pennsylvania to allow disposal of toxic coal ash in unlined pits. Obama named him director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Islam Siddiqui, whom Obama appointed to be the chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. trade representative. Jill Richardson has been on this case at La Vida Locavore; see here and here on why Siddiqui is the wrong person for this job.

I wouldn't suggest that this rogue's gallery is representative of Obama appointees, but it's depressing to see any of them in this administration.

In the good news column, Obama has decided to renominate Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, along with five other nominees who didn't receive a confirmation vote in the Senate last year.

No more bailouts for factory farms

If your widget factory produces too many widgets, you will be stuck with extra inventory, affecting your bottom line.

In contrast, if your factory farm contributes to excess production of pork, high-level elected officials will ask the federal government to bail you out.

I learned from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement today that last week nine governors, including Iowa's Chet Culver,

requested $50 million of taxpayer money from the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) to buy over-produced pork off the market.  This follows similar requests made by the National Pork Producers Council in early May and Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey in June.

The hog factory industry, though, has received two recent taxpayer-funded bailouts from USDA -- one for $25 million in March 2009 and the other for $50 million in April 2008 -- to buy over-produced pork off the market. [...]

Ag economists have warned for months that the pork industry must stabilize prices by trimming the fat and reducing the herd size.  But the pork industry has ignored basic economic rules and continues to increase supply as demand goes down.  This is the result of continuous government subsidies and bailouts to the factory farm industry.

"Corporate ag receives government subsidies and guaranteed loans that promote the expansion of factory farms on the front end," said CCI member Lori Nelson of Bayard.  "And then, when they produce too much pork, they ask the government -- that's us -- to bail them out with huge amounts of taxpayer dollars. The factory farm industry is a house of cards that would crumble as soon as you take away taxpayers propping them up."

The governors of Nebraska, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Illinois and Oklahoma joined Culver in signing the appeal for federal aid. According to DTN/The Progressive Farmer, "Representatives from the Iowa and the National Pork Producers Councils, Tyson Fresh Foods, Hormel Foods and Paragon Economics support the letter's three proposals for aid."

I've posted the full text of Iowa CCI's press release at Bleeding Heartland. There's no reason to exempt corporate agriculture from basic laws of supply and demand. Taxpayers already pay too much to subsidize factory hog farms, not to mention the hidden environmental costs of air and water pollution.

There's more...

Chemical ag group upset about White House organic garden

Jill Richardson reported at La Vida Locavore that a group promoting the use of chemicals in agriculture is lobbying First Lady Michelle Obama not to make the White House garden organic. They want the White House to "consider using crop protection products and to recognize the importance of agriculture to the entire U.S. economy."

Jill posted the full text of the Mid America CropLife Association's letter to the first lady.

It's notable that conventional farming advocates were unconcerned about First Lady Laura Bush's insistence that White House chefs cook with organic food. Former executive chef Walter Scheib wrote that Mrs. Bush was "adamant that in ALL CASES if an organic product was available it was to be used in place of a non-organic product." It's fine for the Bushes to be closet organic eaters, but very different for the Obamas to promote growing food without pesticides or herbicides. I think Americans will be surprised by how much one organic garden can produce.

More important, as Think Progress noted, the Bush administration's agriculture policies repeatedly sought to water down organic standards. That hurts organic growers, not conventional growers. It remains to be seen how far President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will go in rewriting organic regulations. If I were the Mid America CropLife Association, I would probably also be trying to assure the first lady not to fear chemical-based "crop protection technologies."

Anyone with an interest in food or agriculture policy should bookmark La Vida Locavore and check it regularly.

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Vilsack confirmation hearing linkfest

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack appears to be on track for unanimous confirmation by the Senate as Secretary of Agriculture in Barack Obama's cabinet. At his confirmation hearing yesterday, Republicans didn't ask hostile questions, and Vilsack didn't have to explain away any embarrassing behavior like Treasury Secretary-nominee Timothy Geithner's failure to fully meet his tax obligations over a period of years.

Despite the lack of drama, Vilsack made a number of noteworthy comments during the hearing. Join me after the jump for some highlights and analysis.

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More reaction to Vilsack's nomination and good ideas on food policy

I don't recall nearly as intense a reaction to Bill Clinton's or George Bush's nominees for secretary of agriculture. Either food and farm issues are more salient now than they used to be, or I am noticing it more because Barack Obama is tapping an Iowan to head the USDA.

A few days ago I posted a Vilsack reaction linkfest at the Iowa progressive community blog Bleeding Heartland, but the hits just keep on coming.

Follow me after the jump if you care to read more.

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