Category: Rural

Don’t blame Canada for Wisconsin’s dairy crisis

The Canadian news program The National, which airs on Canada’s public broadcaster CBC in Canada, recently did a feature story about the dairy crisis in Wisconsin, which President Donald Trump is trying to falsely blame on Canada and their policies regarding trade of ultra-filtered milk from the United States to Canada.

The CBC featured a pair of Wisconsin dairy farm families, the Sauer family of the Waterloo, Wisconsin area and the family of Sarah Lloyd and Nels Nelson of Columbia County. Having watched the video on the CBC website more than once, it’s inherently clear to me that overproduction, not international trade policies, are responsible for Wisconsin’s dairy crisis. Despite the real problems facing Wisconsin dairy, Trump has tried to blame Canada for the struggles that Wisconsin dairy farmers have faced, and it’s clear to me that Trump has no real understanding of how the dairy industry works.

Additionally, as farmer and Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) regional director Chris Holman stated on the WFU website, state government policies in Wisconsin have only made the overproduction problem in the Wisconsin dairy industry even worse, and have also led to fewer dairy farms producing more of Wisconsin’s milk:

Here in Wisconsin, state programs like the Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30×20 Initiative have made the situation even worse. Beyond pushing Wisconsin dairy farmers to reach 30 billion pounds of milk production by 2020, the initiative—with no sense of irony—provides grants “to improve the long-term viability of Wisconsin’s Dairy Industry.” If you dive into data from USDA and the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistic Service, we’ve lost 2,411 dairy farms since March 2012 when the 30 x 20 initiative was announced. That’s an average of almost 500 dairy farms per year. We are growing our production but it is being done by fewer and fewer, larger farms.

The Wisconsin Farmers Union is an organization that seeks to improve the quality of life of family farmers and rural communities in Wisconsin.

Trump can blame Canada and sing the Green Acres theme song all he wants, but it’s not going to change the fact that he doesn’t understand the real problems facing Wisconsin’s dairy farm families.

One of the most right-wing newspapers in the entire country couldn’t find a single Betsy DeVos supporter in the education community

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This blog post was originally written on Medium by the administrator of this blog and has been republished in full.


Above the fold on the front page of today’s issue of The News-Gazette, a Champaign, Illinois-based newspaper that covers the east-central part of Illinois and has a very right-wing reputation, was this story about how many in the public education community are opposed to the nomination of Betsy DeVos to the office of U.S. Secretary of Education.

In The News-Gazette’s attempt to find a DeVos supporter, they couldn’t find a single one in the educational community in East Central Illinois.

The strongest opposition to DeVos came obviously from teachers’ union leaders, although many in management (i.e., public school administrators) strongly opposed DeVos as well. Sheila Greenwood, the superintendent of schools in the Bement, Illinois public school system (covering southern portions of Piatt County, Illinois), said this about DeVos:

Bement Superintendent Sheila Greenwood was so appalled by how DeVos answered senators’ questions last month that she contacted her legislators, “begging them to put a stop to this insanity.”

“She couldn’t answer basic questions about schools, funding or assessment. She is uber-wealthy and has no experiences with public education because she lives like the 1 percent and knows nothing,” Greenwood said. “I think Trump will have his puppet and others will run the department.

Jeremy Darnell, the superintendent of the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley public school system in Illinois (map of district here), said this about DeVos:

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Superintendent Jeremy Darnell was unimpressed with her hearing, as well, saying it was “very evident” she lacks understanding of current education issues.

[…]

“Votes should be cast on merit, preparation and the ability to effectively fill an essential role in our national government, not party line politics,” Darnell said. “All appointments should be considered for their ability to effectively advise our elected leadership. No leader can be a master at all so the essential need to surround yourself with experts in their field is more important today than ever.

The Bement and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school districts are located in some of the most Republican areas in all of Illinois, and voters in both school districts voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

The closest person that The News-Gazette could find to a DeVos supporter was Mr. Seth Miller, the superintendent of the public school system that I attended, the Westville Community Unit School District in Illinois. I’m paraphrasing, but Mr. Miller’s thoughts about DeVos were basically of the “give DeVos a chance if she’s confirmed” mentality without offering any explicit support of DeVos:

“We have the best educational system in the world. A leader who is committed to children, who need access to public education, would receive my support,” Miller said. “… Spirited debate with informed constituents helps make us a strong country — big enough and brave enough for diverse opinions. It is my hope that whoever is confirmed as the next secretary of education will help perpetuate this democratic ideal in our public school system.”

Having seen video clips of the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, it is clear to me that, if confirmed, DeVos would be a downright horrible Education Secretary.

Politically abandoned by both major parties, farmer suicide rates higher than during 1980’s farm crisis

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.


The 1980’s was not a good decade for American midwestern family farmers by anyone’s imagination. In fact, for much of the 1980’s, the Upper Midwest was in the grip of a crippling farm crisis that drove thousands of family farmers off of their land and drove many to take their own lives.

In 2017, the suicide rate among male farmers in the United States is much higher than it was during the 1980’s:

The National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield, Wis., tracked farm suicides during the 1980s in the Upper Midwest, the region most affected by the farm crisis, to try to better understand the relationships between the farm economy and suicide.

They found that 913 male farmers in the region committed suicide during that decade, with rates peaking in 1982 at 58 suicides for every 100,000 male farmers and ranchers.

[…]

Compare that with this year’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report, which found that current national suicide rates for people working in agriculture are 84.5 per 100,000 overall, and 90.5 per 100,000 among males. This means that suicide rates among male farmers are now more than 50 percent higher than they were in 1982, at the peak of the farm crisis.

(Emphasis is mine; I was not able to find a 1982 figure for suicide rates among the overall farmer and rancher population.)

There are major reasons why the suicide rate among farmers and ranchers is so high. First, crop prices are low to the point that farmers are not getting a fair price for their crop and rural communities that are dependent on the agricultural industry are suffering as a result of it. Second, farmers and ranchers have been effectively abandoned by both major political parties: most, but not all, farmers and ranchers in the United States vote for Republican political candidates, but Republican agricultural policies negatively impact family farmers and ranchers, and most Democratic elected officials who remain in office represent heavily-urbanized political constituencies, so the Democratic Party has increasingly ignored the legitimate concerns of rural voters.

Something is seriously wrong in rural America when the suicide rate among those who produce our nation’s food is extremely high.

For Democrats, winning over rural voters isn’t as simple as talking to a few rural people

For a number of years, Kathy Cramer, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been studying rural resentment towards Democrats and political elites, and seems to be one of only a handful of people who understand why Democrats are so awful at winning over rural voters in Wisconsin.

Recently, Cramer studied Donald Trump’s appeal to rural voters in Wisconsin, and you can read her findings at the end of this article by Jessie Opoien (last name pronounced oh-POY-en) of the Madison-based newspaper The Cap Times. Another thing that I enjoyed reading about in the article is Cramer’s epic response to a person who volunteered for the failed Hillary Clinton presidential campaign:

After Cramer presented her findings, a woman in the audience who said she had volunteered in Madison on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign asked Cramer what advice she would give Democrats on how to talk to the people in rural areas who voted for Trump.

“It’s not speaking to people,” Cramer said. “It will require just spending time with people and asking them, ‘What’s on your mind?’ for months — then trying to deliver a message.”

If winning over rural voters was a simple as talking to a few rural voters here and there, we’d still have Pat Quinn as governor here in Illinois. Obviously, that’s not the case. For Democrats to win over rural voters across the country, Democrats are going to start needing to emphasize agricultural policy proposals designed to give farmers a fair price for their crops and find other ways to connect with rural voters without alienating the progressive urban base of the party. Even better, Democrats should try to use rural resentment to their advantage by trying to paint Republicans as the party of urban and suburban political elites.

While there are several candidates that political insiders have floated as potential Democratic candidates for Governor of Wisconsin in 2018 (such as State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, Former State Senator Tim Cullen, U.S. Representative Ron Kind, State Representative Dana Wachs, and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, just to name a few), I’ve wondered for some time whether or not Kathy Cramer would be a good candidate for a statewide race in Wisconsin, such as governor or lieutenant governor. Given that she seems to know how Democrats can win over rural voters (or at least enough rural voters to win a statewide race in states like Wisconsin), I think that she could be a great candidate for a statewide race in Wisconsin. However, I highly doubt that Cramer would even consider the idea of running for public office.

Self-driving cars are a threat to the American way of life

President Obama recently pinned an op-ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praising self-driving cars as “an emerging reality with the potential to transform the way we live”.

Personally, I believe that self-driving cars are a grave threat to the American way of life.

Thousands of Americans are employed as taxi drivers, pizza deliverers, and in other similar professions. If self-driving cars were to become the norm, you can kiss thousands of American jobs, many of which are among the few American jobs nowadays that do not require a college degree, goodbye. Their jobs would be effectively replaced by computers manufactured in China or other foreign countries.

Also, who would want to watch a NASCAR race in which actual race car drivers are replaced by computer-driven cars? NASCAR would no longer be an actual sport if computers replaced drivers; instead, it would become effectively as scripted as WWE, but without the soap opera-esque storylines to keep the audience engaged. There’s a lot more entertainment watching real race car drivers compete against each other than computers competing against each other.

Another instance where self-driving vehicles are a threat to the American way of life is the all-American family farm. If tractors, combines, and other motorized farm implements are replaced with computer-driven machines, then it would be a lot easier for large agribusiness corporations like Bayer (which recently acquired Monsanto) to sweep in and take over family farms across the country.

While Obama has cited elderly people and disabled people (although I’m not elderly (I’m 26 years of age), I have Asperger’s syndrome, and I don’t drive) as two groups of people that might benefit from self-driving cars, the sobering reality is that there’s a lot more people who would be negatively impacted than those who would be positively impacted by self-driving vehicles. In fact, many of those who could benefit from self-driving cars don’t have cell phones that would be needed for them to get a ride in a self-driving car, either for cost reasons (most elderly and disabled people are very poor), or the nature of their disability makes it virtually impossible for them to operate a cell phone.

Bruce Rauner’s War on Downstate Illinois

Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has, despite winning a very large percentage of the downstate vote in the 2014 Illinois gubernatorial election, waged a war on downstate Illinois ever since taking office, much of which involves, either directly or indirectly, his political hostage-taking in regards to the state budget (which Illinois has operated without for a very long time because of Rauner).

There are several reasons why Rauner’s destructive politics has negatively impacted downstate Illinois.

Agricultural education

Rauner has, as recently as March of this year, targeted agricultural education, which has helped thousands of Illinois farmers better understand the land and farming practices, for complete elimination of state funding. This is obviously a blatant attack against downstate Illinois by Rauner, since nearly all of the agricultural industry’s economic activity in Illinois occurs downstate.

Higher education funding in general

It’s not just agricultural education that has been negatively impacted by Rauner’s War on Higher Education. Higher education in general, and, in particular, Eastern Illinois University, have felt the wrath of Rauner since taking office. Rauner has refused to fund public higher education institutions in Illinois. Eastern Illinois University, which serves a very conservative region of the state, has been forced to lay off nearly 200 employees and is on the brink of being forced to permanently shut down.

Illinois State Museum

Another casualty of Rauner’s War on Downstate is the Illinois State Museum, which is located in Springfield. The state museum was forced to close due to the lack of a state budget, meaning that the art exhibits, natural history exhibits, and other exhibits housed at the state museum are not accessible to the public.

Whoever Democrats nominate in the 2018 election for Governor of Illinois will have to address the concerns of downstate voters in order to defeat Bruce Rauner.

ENDORSEMENT: Sarah Lloyd for 6th Congressional District of Wisconsin

There aren’t too many Democrats who champion both rural America and progressive values. However, for Sarah Lloyd, championing rural America and progressive values is a way of life for her.

Now, Lloyd is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination in the 6th Congressional District of Wisconsin. I proudly endorse Sarah Lloyd and her campaign.

As a dairy farmer, Lloyd understands how free trade deals like President Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would severely hurt Wisconsin’s dairy industry, as she has personally experienced how free-trade deals that are currently in effect have hurt the dairy-farming industry in Wisconsin.

Rural America is, by far, the constituency that the Democratic Party has systematically ignored more than any other constituency. You don’t hear Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders talk about rural issues all that often, and big-city political power brokers that form the vast majority of the Democratic establishment are more concerned about getting their cronies elected than anything else. Don’t even ask for Republicans like Glenn Grothman to do anything to help family farmers and rural communities, as they’re more concerned about spewing bigotry and hate towards anyone who isn’t like them.

The Democratic congressional primary in the 6th Congressional District of Wisconsin is August 9. Should Lloyd win the Democratic nomination, she will be on the November 8 general election ballot in the 6th Congressional District of Wisconsin.

You can read more about Sarah Lloyd and her congressional campaign here.

Bruce Rauner launches war on local government in Illinois

As reported by WTTW-TV, the PBS-affiliated public television station in Chicago, Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL) has officially proposed prohibiting the creation of new local governments (cities, villages, etc.) in Illinois and allowing for the elimination of local governments via referendum:

Today, Gov. Rauner introduced a plan to reduce the number of local governments. He says it will save taxpayers billions of dollars every year, but some lawmakers say his plan has little chance of getting done.

[…]

The recommendations include:

  • A moratorium on any new units of government
  • Giving voters the ability to, via referendum, decide to eliminate or dissolve units of (government)
  • Eliminating the prevailing wage on union projects, which would allow for lower wages
  • Limiting collective bargaining for local government employees

As you can tell, two of those four proposals (specifically, the latter two of the above proposals) are clearly aimed at driving down wages in Illinois and stripping workers of their rights, which makes Illinois’s already broken economy even worse. Regarding the other two, one of them (the moratorium on new local governments) is clearly undemocratic, since I strongly believe that voters should have the right to create local governments, and the other one (allowing voters to eliminate or merge local governments via referendum) is something I would be open to supporting as stand-alone legislation (but not as part of a package proposal), depending on how it would actually work. While Rauner and his ilk think that suburban municipalities and townships in the Chicago area would be most likely to be consolidated or eliminated, the fact of the matter is that most consolidation of local government would take place downstate.

Not only is Bruce Rauner trying to undermine local control in Illinois, he’s also using his push to undermine local control to sneak in an anti-worker and anti-middle class agenda.

Bundy Family and militia takes over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, CNN isn’t reporting about it online

Ammon Bundy, the son of far-right anti-government crackpot Cliven Bundy, two of Ammon’s brothers, and far-right militiamen have taken over the administration building of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.

As of 9:30 P.M. PST/11:30 P.M. CST, CNN.com, CNN’s website, has reported absolutely nothing about the right-wing militia taking over the Malheur NWR headquarters. There’s nothing on the front page about the takeover, and there’s nothing on the U.S. page about the takeover. In fact, the Wikipedia page on Malheur NWR was edited at 1:57 A.M. GMT/5:57 P.M. PST/7:57 CST to include a one-sentence reference to the Bundy/militia takeover.

This story is clearly of national importance, because right-wing terrorists and members of the Bundy family of right-wing extremists have responded to the legitimate conviction of two Oregon ranchers who set fire to federal land set aside for the protection of wildlife, not for ranching, by an armed takeover of the Malheur NWR headquarters.

Furthermore, some corporate media outlets are trying to claim that the Bundy/militia occupiers are non-violent protesters, when, in fact, Ammon Bundy has openly called for militia members to join the occupation and bring weapons with them. This is clearly not a non-violent protest, although I’ve heard no reports of shots fired or any other acts of violence at this time.

CNN has become an absolute joke of a news organization, and most other corporate media outlets are not much better.

Hillary Clinton wants to destroy rural America by putting gun manufacturers completely out of business

Losing ground in recent Democratic presidential primary and caucus opinion polls, Hillary Clinton is trying one last thing to save her campaign from falling behind the Bernie Sanders campaign in the opinion polls in even more states. She’s proposing ending the gun manufacturers’ legal immunity from lawsuits every time someone uses one of their products for its intended purpose of killing a person or other living thing (such as a deer or a rabbit).

Make no mistake about it, gun violence is a serious problem in this country. We have far more mass shootings in this country than any other country, and, to put it mildly, it is a problem that needs to be addressed. I strongly support common-sense gun safety measures like universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole, and enacting a ban on assault weapons outside of the military, and these are all measures that Bernie Sanders supports. However, I cannot reasonably support completely eliminating legal immunity for gun manufacturers for reasons I will explain in the following paragraph.

I live in a region of Illinois that has a lot of deer hunters. While I’m not a hunter myself, and I’d never use a firearm for any reason, I can tell you for certain that Hillary’s plan to allow people to sue gun manufacturers every time some jackass decides to use a gun for its intended purpose of killing someone would put gun manufacturers in this country completely out of business, at least in regards to the civilian market. Without anyone to manufacture guns for the purposes of deer-hunting, downstate Illinois would lose a large part of its economy if Hillary were to get her way.

I thank Bernie Sanders for standing up and opposing the ridiculous idea of ending lawsuit immunity for gun manufacturers. He’s a real friend of rural America.