While we watch the cat-juggling carnival that is Washington, D.C. these days, real fake news experts—yes, there are experts in real fake news—are artfully mixing fact with myth to influence how Big Biotech’s mergers and buyouts play out in American agriculture.
The biggest merger, Dow and DuPont’s $150-billion hook-up, was completed last August. Another big one, Bayer and Monsanto’s $66-billion marriage, remains on hold. Farmers, too, are in limbo although most suspect the buyouts will limit choices and increase prices of already-costly biotech seeds and corresponding chemicals.
Confirmation of their worries appears to come from Syngenta, the Swiss-based biotech giant, and its cloudy connections to a farmer advocacy group now lobbying the White House against the Bayer/Monsanto deal. If true—and strong circumstantial evidence suggests it is—that’s a problem because Syngenta is owned by ChemChina, a China-owned state enterprise, and federal law prohibits foreign governments from lobbying U.S. officials.
The tale began in mid-December when a group calling itself Farmers and Families First, Inc. was formed to “advocate for free market-based policies to help the American farmers who grow our nation’s food and help the American families who consume that food.”
The group, which lists no office, address, telephone number or contact person on its website, named an “Advisory Board” who, according to its own descriptions, includes growers, farm group representatives, two “advocates,” and one “backyard poultry farmer.”
Its key project, however, was a glossy, 24-page white paper titled, “A Bayer-Monsanto Merger Will Raise the Price of Agricultural Inputs, Reduce Seed Choices and Increase Costs for U.S. Farmers.”
The report, filled with warm photos of farmers and families alike, is a sophisticated, detailed market analysis of the national and international consequences that a completed Bayer-Monsanto deal will bring, the group claims.
Section titles like “Anticompetitive Market Control,” “Vertical Monopoly through Tying & Bundling,” and “Reduced Innovation” make little secret of the report’s main message: U.S. farmers should tell Washington to kill this deal.
“Merging the world’s largest seed seller [Monsanto] to a company that is also the world’s largest agrochemical seller [Bayer],” it noted, “would only enhance its ability to raise agricultural input prices and engage in anti-competitive behavior using a variety of strategies Monsanto has employed in the past.”
Nothing in its many pages, photos, and 112 footnotes, however, offered one clue as to who wrote it, paid for it, put together the loose advisory panel or was pushing it in print and online.
A hint of authorship did appear in a Feb. 17 story in the Washington Examiner, a conservative weekly newspaper published in the nation’s capital. The newspaper connected Farmers and Families First, Inc. to DDC Public Affairs, a Washington, D.C. company that, notes on its website, “… has been helping clients navigate complex legislative, regulatory and policy issues… (to) sway public opinion and affect the political landscape.”
According to the Examiner, the key political landscape DDC Public Affairs has been trying to “affect” lately lies just two blocks from its office, The White House. In a February ad campaign broadcast on Fox News, Farmers and Families First called on “President Trump to ‘stand with America’s farmers and please stop the Monsanto merger’ (because)… Trump voters… are ‘overwhelmingly’ opposed to the merger.”
What DDC Public Affairs never broadcast, noted the Examiner, is that it “has long worked with Syngenta, a Swiss pesticide and seed company now owned by ChemChina.” As such, “it’s reasonable to ask whether the Chinese competitors of Bayer AG and Monsanto aren’t… behind this campaign to scuttle the merger.”
In fact, it’s more than reasonable because, as the Examiner explained, “If it can be established that Farmers and Family (sic) First is merely a front group for ChemChina, then DDC should probably be required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”
That’s a brilliant idea because, after all, enforcing our laws and preserving the integrity of our markets are two key jobs our representatives, senators, and president were elected to do.
Here’s another idea for them: lose the cat-tossing routine before November’s job review. It’s tiring and they’ve lost their audience.
At least in the U.S.
Sen. Robert Hilkemann made his arguments Thursday for changes to requirements on car restraints for Nebraska kids.
"We are to set the standards and, friends, with today's laws we are doing them a disservice," he said. "We can do better."
When children are moved into a seat belt before it fits properly, at ages 4 to 8, the lap belt during a crash can cause abdominal and spinal fracture injuries, he said. The shoulder belt, if improperly placed behind the back or on the neck, can cause head and neck injuries.
His bill (LB42) would put babies and toddlers through age 2 in a rear-facing car seat, and kids through age 7 would have to be in a child passenger-restraint system, in the back seat. No sitting in the front seat if seats in the back are not already filled with a child under age 8.
Those ages 8 through 17 would also have to wear restraints when riding in a car.
Enforcement remains a secondary offense, meaning a driver or a passenger can receive a citation only after a driver has been pulled over for a primary offense, such as speeding or running a stop sign. And the fine of $25 does not change.
"It does raise the bar and gives parents and caregivers a better guideline for safely transporting their children," Hilkemann said.
Apparently only a few senators weren't all aboard. It took less than an hour for Hilkemann to get a 36-3 vote on advancing the bill. Those opposed were Sens. John Lowe of Kearney, John Murante of Gretna and Steve Erdman of Bayard.
Current law in Nebraska requires any child up to age 6 to be secured in an approved child safety-restraint device.
Sen. Theresa Thibodeau said protecting young brains in their early development is important. Until 18 months of age a child still has a soft spot on the top of the head that allows for brain development.
She supports having children remain in the back seat until age 8 because children's bones are not strong enough to sustain the impact of an airbag until they have gone through puberty.
"Actually in my house, my children did not get to ride in the front seat until age 12, much to them complaining," she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children use a booster seat until they have reached 4-foot-9 and are between age 8 and 12. And children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they are 13.
Erdman asked Hilkemann if he was saying that parents don't know how to take care of their kids. Driving in a car is dangerous, and maybe an amendment should be attached that kids ought to wear helmets in the car, too, he said.
"Parents need to be able to make decisions for their own children," Erdman said. "We cannot protect people from everything. ... Sometimes people have to make their own decisions. ... My approach to life is you make decisions and then the consequences are what they are."
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said he supported the bill, but he was not sure he wanted a 7- or 8-year-old sitting in the back seat. In the front he could talk to them and monitor what they were doing, especially the ornery ones.
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist also would like to see updates for seat belts for adults.
"Did you know that there is no law in the state of Nebraska that requires people in the back seat of a vehicle to wear a seat belt?" he said. "Are you as shocked and appalled as I am?"
Six times he has tried to get a seat belt bill that addresses that issue out of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and has been unsuccessful, he said.
"Yep, (and) we're going to raise the speed limit," he said.
Wymore Community Coffee: 10-11 a.m. at the Blue Springs United Methodist Church. The public is always welcome.
Beatrice Toastmasters: 7-8 a.m. in the chamber office of the Carnegie Building, located at 218 N. Fifth St. Visitors are welcome. Ron Miller can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about Toastmasters’ club, visit www.toastmasters.org. Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.
Alliance Support Group: Alliance, a peer-run, faith-based mental health support group meets on the second and fourth Friday of every month. Meetings start at 7 p.m. at New Hope Community Outreach, located at 625 Court St. in Beatrice. For questions, call 402-806-5300.
Alcoholics Anonymous: 7:30 p.m. meeting at the Good Samaritan Event Center, 401 S. 22nd Street, Beatrice (use east entrance).
Beatrice Guardian Angels: 8 p.m. at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church, located at 19th and Garfield streets in Beatrice.
Guardian Angels Narcotics Anonymous: 8-9 p.m. in the basement of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, located at 19th and Garfield streets in Beatrice.
Free Tax Preparation Service: The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide offers free tax preparation to anyone of any age--especially if you are 50 or older, or if you can't afford paid tax preparation. The service will be available until April on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. at the Beatrice Public Library, located at 100 N. 16th St. Residents must bring their photo ID and Social Security card for each of the taxpayers. Social Security cards for all dependents must also be brought, and a copy of last year's return would be beneficial.
Cub Creek Guided Hike: The Nebraska Conservation Education Fund (NCEF) and Homestead National Monument of America encourage the public to join in on a guided hike along Cub Creek at Homestead on March 10 at 10 a.m. The hike will be lead by NCEF Conservation Director Adam Hintz and will have a special focus on birds and Cub Creek. Participants will begin and end at the Education Center. Admission is free of charge. For more information, call 402-223-3514.
Sign Crafting Event: Join Kim Houtz at the Sunflower Exchange at 6 p.m. on March 10 to craft signs featuring quotes from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis. The class costs $30 per person. Participants must be 21 or older and are invited to bring their own beverages. This event is part of a celebration of C.S. Lewis’s work, hosted by the Evangelical United Church of Christ in Marysville.
Weight Watchers: 8:30 a.m. weigh in, meeting at 9 a.m. at the Villa at Flowing Springs, 2211 Sunset Drive, Beatrice. For more information, go to www.weightwatchers.com or www.facebook.com/wwbeatrice.
Annual Soup Lunch: Saline County Area Transit will host its annual soup lunch on March 10 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 107 S. West Avenue in Western, Neb. The meal will be served for a free will donation, and free transportation is available within Saline County. Call 402-433-4511 or 1-888-433-7228 to make a reservation.
Founders' Day Celebration: "A picture is worth a thousand words" will be the focus of the annual founders' day celebration of the Holmesville Church of the Brethren, taking place on March 10. Pastor Dave Weiss from eastern Pennsylvania will present a message through the painting he will create as he speaks. The program will begin at noon with a fellowship meal and it will conclude at about 4 p.m. The church is located at 30748 S. 66th Road, or six miles east of the Highway 77 and Highway 136 intersection in Beatrice and three miles south on 66th Road. All are welcome.
Odell Fish Fry: The Odell American Legion will host its last fish fry of the season on March 10 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Odell Legion Hall. The meal costs $11.50 for adults and includes all-you-can-eat fish, ham, potatoes and a salad bar.
Veterans’ Club Fish Fry: The Veterans’ Club of Beatrice will host a fish fry on March 10, 2018 from 5:30-8 p.m. The meal includes fish, ham, potatoes, coleslaw and garlic bread. The public is invited to attend.
Alcoholics Anonymous: 8 a.m., Big Book study at the Salvation Army, located at Seventh and Market streets in Beatrice.
Alcoholics Anonymous: 8 p.m. meeting at the Salvation Army Community Center, located at Seventh and Market streets in Beatrice.
Free Movie Matinee: A free family movie will be shown at St. Peter’s parish hall, located at 10th and E streets in Wymore, on March 11 beginning at 2 p.m. The public is invited to come see the Disney classic, “Mary Poppins.” Admission and refreshment are provided free of cost.
Soup and Pie Luncheon: Wymore United Methodist Church, located at 121 S. 10th St. in Wymore, will host a soup and pie luncheon on March 11. The meal will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a free will donation.
Tri County Legion Baseball Fundraiser: A soup dinner fundraiser will be held for the Tri County Legion baseball teams on March 11 at the Plymouth Community Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. All proceeds will be used for operating and construction costs of the Legion baseball field, located a half mile north of Tri County Public Schools. Donations for the project can be sent to Karen Reynolds, P.O. box 274, Plymouth, NE 68424.
Alcoholics Anonymous: 8 p.m. at the Beatrice Mennonite Church, located at 12th and Summit streets in Beatrice.
Members of Torchbearer Zeta met at the home of Maggie Werner for the first meeting of March.
Werner chose a St. Patrick’s Day theme for her meeting. Each member received a shamrock necklace and pin, and participated in a St. Patrick’s Day word search. In keeping with the upcoming holiday, Werner gave a program on St. Patrick’s Day.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17 every year because it is believed that St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, died on that date in 461 A.D. It began as a religious holiday to honor the saint for bringing Christianity to Ireland. A lot of legends have developed around the life of St. Patrick, but the most notable was his use of the clover, or shamrock. He used each of the leaves to explain the trinity.
The very first St. Patrick's Day parade actually didn’t happen in Ireland, but in New York City back in 1762, when Irish soldiers serving the English military joined together and marched down the street to Irish music.
The biggest celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. takes place in Chicago, where residents dye the Chicago River green, a tradition that has taken place since 1962.
In Ireland, they have been celebrating this holiday, also known as the “feast day of St. Patrick,” since about the 10th century. It’s called this because it takes place during the Catholic season of Lent. Corned beef and cabbage is the traditional thing to eat on St. Patrick’s Day.
St. Patrick is often credited with ridding Ireland of snakes. It’s true, there are no snakes even today on the island. Leprechauns are often associated with St. Patrick’s Day, however, the celebration originally didn’t have anything to do with these mythical creatures. Then, Walt Disney released a film called “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” which introduced America to a very different sort of leprechaun than the cantankerous little man of Irish folklore.
Werner served members a potato bar with all the trimmings of potato, chili, butter, sour cream, shredded cheese and bacon bits. Green napkins, mints, nuts and peppermints, along with sherbet ice cream rounded out the meal.
The message from the Torch was the theme, “We put our hearts into it.” Werner told of a Wisconsin chapter that designed heart bracelets specifically for the chapter members. Each member earned the bracelet by meeting with a member, having lunch, visiting a member or doing a good deed for a member. When they encountered a fellow member in any of these ways, she earned the bracelet link and began earning the hearts which were crocheted by a chapter member. This is a unique use of the sorority theme. As with most themes, one of the main purposes is to strengthen our love and friendship!
President Cheryl Sargent has received information on the founders' day celebration to be shared at founders' day. The chapter is responsible for the place and menu, collecting money, paying bills and also providing a refreshment. Treasurer Zita Lomax has received the charms for founders' day.
Members will celebrate the chapter’s birthday at the next meeting, hosted by Marian Shaw. Members are asked to meet at the Pickrell Locker at 6 p.m. for a tour of the facility. Following the tour, members will proceed to Shaw’s house for the meeting and celebration.