Take what you can get for the sake of sanity
My most recent column in the Storm Lake Times Pilot, Aug. 2, 2022
Crazy one way like the other, it’s been a manic-depressive roller coaster of volatility the past few years. Laid low by a pandemic and watching democracy under direct attack on TV, you pray that people can come together — the West is on fire, for Pete’s sake! — and rise out of it.
So they did, or so I thought, when the voters overwhelmingly threw out that loser Donald Trump and put in Joe Biden. He talked up a new social compact, an updated New Deal, irresistible to my naïve hope that humankind is capable of saving itself.
Congress came together to pass the Payroll Protection Program — it saved our newspaper and so many other small businesses. Unemployment coverage was temporarily enhanced, along with family assistance. It looked like we were actually restitching the social safety net. Congress passed a huge infrastructure bill on a bipartisan basis to fix our failing bridges and water systems.
Then everything came to a halt. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, put a hand up against the train. Too much government spending will lead to inflation, he said. He swore off climate legislation. He urged more fossil fuel production.
Congress would not make permanent benefits for families and those whipsawed by a gyrating labor market. Higher wages — Tyson has gone from $18 per hour for starters to up to $21.50 in two years — are eaten up by inflation in the three key areas of energy, food and housing. Those drivers are all fueled directly by the pandemic, abnormally low interest rates for a decade, and open war in Europe. A more flexible unemployment system does not drive inflation, and neither does child care assistance. Climate change does drive food prices higher as California decrops from persistent drought, and Kansas farmers disc under this year’s brown corn.
The body politic thinks the nation has gone off-track.
You would like to dunk Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell in the Potomac, one with each hand, until they gasped for mercy. You ask yourself how Biden could squander this opportunity when the pandemic lays bare our faults so clearly, how he could not keep Manchin and Sen. Kirsten Sinema, D-Az., in the fold. The spirit of Sam Rayburn, mentor of Lyndon Johnson, is withered in the Congressional office building named for him.
Coming in, Biden tabbed Tom Vilsack as his agriculture secretary. They said that this is it, the day that agriculture and the environment find common cause. Something to be celebrated. But so little happened you would not notice. The biggest deal to come down is a carbon pipeline serving corn ethanol plants in which Vilsack’s son is involved. It made us believe that we would be left to the whims of Nature and markets after all, to hell with the polluted river or the drought or whatever is roiling out there where you might not be able to grow corn in just 10 years.
Message from Washington: Bend over and kiss yourself goodbye where the sun don’t shine.
10-4. Copy that. Midterms? What difference does it make? Over and out.
Just when you’re ready to swallow the poison, the investment banker and Senate Majority Leader from Wall Street get on the phone to Manchin and assure Manchin, a coal operator by trade, of a shale pipeline serving West Virginia, of the possibility of drilling more on public lands, and that a tougher IRS will crack down on tax-cheats. Manchin drops his opposition to climate improvements as part of a $369 billion deal.
Agriculture gets $20 billion. That is not nothing. The Conservation Stewardship Program is oversubscribed 3-to-1. Benefits are reduced or denied for conservation efforts on working land. This will help. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program works with the CSP, and gets the biggest share of that $20 billion.
It could be better. Trump, for example, showered soybean growers, processors and traders with at least $60 billion in trade disaster payments over three years. But $20 billion can make a real start to dousing the fires and keeping the drought at bay.
A day before the climate pact was announced, the Senate agreed to reshore the semiconductor industry from Asia back to the USA. No doubt West Virginia is prime territory for a new chip factory.
You take what you can get. When Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican daughter of the vice president with a permanent snarl, calls out Donald Trump as a complete fraud, you think that this is a pretty good day for democracy. When Joe Manchin becomes a climate-action hero, you think that maybe we don’t have to be fuel for the pyre. You believe that we can lead ourselves out of this mess, maintain the world’s longest-running democracy, and possibly not asphyxiate ourselves. At least, for today.
Art wrote: Congress came together to pass the Payroll Protection Program — it saved our newspaper and so many other small businesses. Noone knows what that program was, or who did it, or who benefitted. In other settings, businesses might post signs saying thanks to this program or NFP might say thanks to this grant. I would like yard signs in front of all businesses that would not otherwise be alive today, along with number of employees. With big sign, saying thanks for this 2021 law.
I’m eager to read your columns this way!