Cattle Today

Cattle Today



by: Wes Ishmael

Conspiracy theorists unite. In President Barack Obama and his platform, you apparently will have plenty of room to say, “I told you so.”

Up front, I haven't yet met anyone who voted for Barack Obama…though there are a few acquaintances that I suspect. But then, I've never met anyone who voted for Bill Clinton the first time, let alone the second time. Maybe that's why I woke up November 5 feeling like a citizen without a country.

If you're a believer in socialism parading as humanitarianism and the Golden Rule, there's no need for you to read on. Likewise, if you're one of those who will claim that any criticism of the incoming president is because of his race, come back when you grow up.

If you believe in capitalism—unfettered competition by which you enjoy the benefits of your own ambition and ability, not corruption and greed masquerading as capitalism—it's impossible to rationalize electing a President whose platform is so diametrically opposed to that.

Just consider some of the issues most pertinent to cattle producers (Obama stance taken from Real Leadership for Rural America, from the Obama Campaign):

Packer ownership—Obama will push for legislation that bans packer ownership of cattle. Though it's always convenient to blame the packers and to rail about captive supplies, countless credible studies continue to support the fact that on average, the marketplace has remained stronger than it would have if packers, feedlots and producers were limited in deciding how best to produce, manage and market the products in which they assume risk.

Renewable Fuels Mandate—Obama's all for it. In fact, Obama was the only Democratic presidential candidate to co-sponsor and actively campaign to establish the nation's first federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which is now law. According to the Obama Campaign, “He and Joe Biden believe it is imperative that Congress adopt the Senate-passed proposal to increase the RFS to 36 billion gallons by 2022. They will seek to surpass these targets and establish a requirement to produce at least 60 billion gallons of biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel, by 2030.”

Yeah, increased international demand and equity fleeing the financial markets to commodities had plenty to do with the run-up in commodity input costs. But, when you effectively establish a price floor to corn prices with ethanol subsidies, you necessarily place one industry at a competitive disadvantage to another.

Forced Unionization—It's no secret that unions raised a staggering sum of money in support of Obama. As a Senator, one of the few things Obama accomplished, or voted on for that matter, was co-sponsoring the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Among other things, that act would force employers to recognize unionization whenever a majority of employees decided they wanted to unionize.

Closer to home, try this on for size. Last summer the United Farm Workers pressured Whole Foods to abandon buying product from Country Natural Beef (CNB), a rancher-owned cooperative, claiming CNB beef was fed at a feedlot – Beef Northwest (BNW) Feeders – that wasn't allowing its employees to unionize.

According to Stacy Davies of the Roaring Springs Ranch, a CNB member, neither the rancher-owned cooperative nor BNW have encouraged or discouraged the feedlot employees from unionizing.

“The workers at BNW provide superb care to our livestock while they're at the feedlot. We believe those workers have the right to the same freedoms and choices the rest of us have,” explains Davies, on behalf of CNB. “In this issue our sympathies are totally with the workers, who need to have a fair, credible democratic manner to choose whether they want organized representation or not. We will support they decision to unionize or not to unionize.”

What CNB wants is for the BNW workers to be able to decide on their own. There's plenty of evidence to suggest that the majority of workers there don't want to unionize, but here's the union claiming they must. CNB is caught in the middle, having to fight a fight that's not theirs, in order to preserve a hard-won market that is.

Folks close to Washington affairs say Obama will likely try to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as other trade pacts currently on the table to insert union demands. Some of those key trading partners intend to walk away if that's the case.

There's obviously nothing intrinsically wrong with unions, nor the desire of some to be represented by them. Forcing employers and employees into it is another matter, though.

It's also hard to dispute the growing irony. Unions supposedly want what's best for workers, more jobs and more pay, yet their demands over time have plenty to do with some of this nation's largest industries standing at the threshold of bankruptcy. Think here of what used to be the nation's Big Three auto manufacturers. Think here of airlines that existed not so long ago.

The list goes on.     

Looking for the Future

My feeling of disenfranchisement has lots less to do with the fact Obama was elected than the realization that only a minority of my fellow countrymen apparently still believe in the tenets upon which this country was founded and built.

Of course, consider that there were 16.4 million fulltime equivalent workers for state and local government, according to the 2007 U.S. Census. Add in the 2.4 million federal employees cited in 2002 Census (last data available), and you're talking 18.4 million. That's about 13.0 percent of the civilian work force (basis 2006 U.S. Census Bureau).

Now consider, acccording to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, “Nearly half of all domestic government spending (excluding interest on the federal debt) went to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which accounted for $1.16 trillion. The one-year increase in spending for these three programs was approximately $170 for every person living in the United States.

“The government spent $739 billion on retirement and disability. Of that amount, 80 percent, or $594 billion, went to Social Security. Social Security was comprised of retirement insurance payments ($350 billion), survivors insurance ($107 billion), disability insurance ($99 billion) and supplemental security income payments ($38 billion).

“The remaining federal dollars spent on retirement and disability went to civilian government workers' retirements ($59 billion), military retirements ($36 billion) and veterans' benefits ($34 billion).”

The point of all of this being that lots of folks depend heavily and directly on government for all or part of their livelihoods.

This comfort with federal government as savior and provider of all things has reached the point that few seemed to even flinch November 10 when the U.S. government assumed partial ownership of American International Group (AIG), the giant and financially beleaguered insurer. That was in return for another $40 billion in government aid, $150 billion all together.

Seeing the government so publicly taking a stake in a private sector institution does more than smack of centralization and government control. It should worry anybody who believes in the freedoms that have enabled democracy and yes, capitalism with its warts and all, to flourish in America.

Benjamin Franklin, who knew something about government's flexing their muscles, had this to say: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CATTLE TODAY.)


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