By Noel Sheppard | June 22, 2011 | 11:13
Lawrence O’Donnell on Tuesday accused Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) of being a socialist.
“The Last Word” host, who has admitted on national television to himself being a socialist, did so by cherry-picking from an article published at the perilously liberal website “The Huffington Post” (video follows with commentary and full transcript at end of post):
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: Michele Bachmann, as has been pointed out in this space before, has a family farm that has received over a quarter of million dollars in direct cash from the federal government. That is, of course, in addition to her federal salary of $174,000 for her real full-time job as a member of Congress. Thanks to Sam Stein at the Huffington Post today, with we now have yet another example of Bachmann political dependence, career dependence on socialism.
The Huffington Post obtained a letter Bachmann wrote on October 5th, 2009, to the Obama administration’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack thanking him for government intervention in the pork industry. That’s right, government intervention in the market. She wrote, “Your efforts to stabilize prices through direct government purchasing of pork and dairy products are very much welcomed.”
Yes. This is the same woman who said this about the Democrats’ health care reform bill.
Unfortunately, O’Donnell chose to ignore some very important points from Stein’s piece:
“Your efforts to stabilize prices through direct government purchasing of pork and dairy products are very much welcomed by the producers in Minnesota, and I would encourage you to take any additional steps necessary to prevent further deterioration of these critical industries, such as making additional commodity purchases and working to expand trade outlets for these and other agricultural goods,” Bachmann wrote.
At the time, the pork industry was facing a two-pronged calamity: fallout from the H1N1 influenza crisis and the ripple effects of the recession. Pork producers had lost nearly $4.6 billion in equity since 2007 and Vilsack, sensing greater market doom, had injected funds into the industry at least four times since that spring. In March 2009, the USDA purchased $25 million in pork, in April it made a $50 million purchase and in July it bought 775,000 pounds of ham, according to reports. In September, just one month before receiving Bachmann’s letter, Vilsack had signed off on $30 million in additional federal purchases of pork.
This bears repeating: “At the time, the pork industry was facing a two-pronged calamity: fallout from the H1N1 influenza crisis and the ripple effects of the recession.”
So, beyond the recession, the pork industry was suffering from a calamity caused by the federal government’s own hysteria involving swine flu which led to massive declines in pork purchases internationally and a threat to the very survival of the entire industry.
As Time magazine wrote in May 2009 five months before Bachmann’s letter to Vilsack:
Swine flu, recently renamed H1N1 virus, is causing a swoon in pork prices. The Lean Hogs futures contract, traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), is down more than 10% since news of the potentially imminent pandemic first broke. The CME’s Frozen Pork Bellies futures contract has suffered comparable losses. […]
Fear and panic have gripped both traders and consumers, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have clearly stated that there is no evidence of contamination in raw or cooked meat. Although the genetic makeup of the H1N1 virus originated in pigs, the flu itself was not directly transmitted from pigs to humans. Ironically, there is at least one documented case of it going the other way: the flu has been transmitted from a man to a herd of pigs in Canada. But almost all transmission is human-to-human.
Yet the threat of this new influenza strain has apparently frightened consumers away from buying pork, frightened traders into selling hog futures, and frightened entire countries, such as Russia and China, into slamming their doors to pork imports from Mexico and the U.S. Also, with prices falling, there is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: as prices fall, food processors that buy hogs cut back on their orders because they believe they can buy hogs at even cheaper prices later on. The result: prices keep falling.
Since the government’s own hysteria helped cause this crisis, didn’t it make sense for it to try to rectify this situation?
This was a question O’Donnell didn’t broach, for nowhere in his six minute segment on this issue did he mention the connection to swine flu or what was actually causing the decline in pork prices.
Not one word.
But that’s not all he chose to ignore from Stein’s piece:
“This isn’t a subsidy,” said Dave Warner, Director of Communications at the National Pork Producers Council. “This is the federal government getting the food they need for food assistance programs and getting it at a good price.”
As Warner notes, the government helps feed significant swaths of the U.S. population, from low-income students to the elderly, military personnel and prisoners. When Vilsack purchased more pork, it came from within pre-existing Department of Agriculture budget allocations. It also saved jobs.
“I don’t know if it stabilized things, but it helped,” said Warner. “Obviously it helped.”
That’s right. The federal government purchases food for a number of assistance programs that O’Donnell most certainly supports. The funds used to purchase this pork were already budgeted.
And, such purchases are nothing new. As the National Pork Producers Council notes, it’s been going on since 1935:
Both the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Defense have been active in purchasing agricultural commodities. USDA’s Commodity Distribution Program has been a benefit to American agriculture since its inception by successfully stabilizing commodity markets while supplying much-needed food to government-sponsored feeding programs such as the school lunch program. The Commodity Distribution Program is the only program where the Secretary of Agriculture can make volume purchases of commodities to stabilize markets for non-price supported commodities such as pork.
The U.S. government has been a long-time purchaser of agricultural commodities, including pork. Annually the U.S. Government purchases 32.41 million pounds of pork valued at $42.37 million by the USDA for various food programs. Commodity distribution to schools was initiated in 1935 under legislation that made funds available in an amount equal to 30 percent of the gross receipts from duties collected on imports during the preceding year. These “Section 32” tariff receipts were used to remove price-depressing surplus agricultural commodities while encouraging domestic consumption of these commodities through donations to schools. In 1946, the National School Lunch Act was passed, permanently authorizing the school lunch program, establishing a basic meal pattern requirement, requiring schools to serve free or reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches to children in need and providing for the continuation of commodity distribution to schools.
Quite negligently, O’Donnell chose to withhold from his viewers anything regarding where the funds for these purchases came from, and that the associated pork would not only be served to folks in need by programs in existence for decades, they’d also come from moneys already allocated to do so.