Thursday, August 9, 2012

What goes around comes around

Last year the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) filed suit – and lost – against Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of Ringling Brothers Circus’. The suit claimed mistreatment of circus elephants.

Filing such a suit is par for the course for HSUS, which flies under the banner of an alleged animal protection organization or “humane society.”

Animal welfare. Healthy puppy, healthy cattle. This is not what HSUS does.
The fact that such a high-profile animal rights organization lost a law suit should have been big news. After all, the fact that HSUS convinced Californian voters to kill their poultry industry was huge news, and every single “successful” HSUS operation receives primetime commentary and front page billing. HSUS’s recent failure was greeted with deafening silence across the airwaves and zero ink in the nations most prestigious newspapers.

Nor has it been reported that Feld Entertainment vigorously riposted against the malicious action brought by HSUS, counter-suing and alleging “…a litany of charges ranging from bribery to money laundering to racketeering.” Though the high-powered attorneys for HSUS, whom the organization compensates with an aggregate of more than $3 million annually, moved to have the charges dismissed, District of Columbia Federal judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the case must proceed under the RICO Statutes – statutes designed to combat Mafia gangsters, among others.

There’s a reason why there’s been little or no reporting of this matter. More on that later. First let’s turn over the slimy rock and see what HSUS looks like in the light of day.

You’ve seen the ads on television, the ones showing a parade of sick and abused puppies and kittens. HSUS, sponsor of the ads, leads you to believe that YOU can make a difference in the lives of those poor, abused creatures. For just $19 per month, or $228 per year. A mere pittance. What’s a few dollars when it comes to saving puppies and kittens? Perhaps you’ve signed up. The slick commercials present a compelling (though substantively empty) emotional argument. And it’s easy to donate. Just a brief phone call or a few mouse clicks, and there you are, a warrior against the abuse of puppies and kitties.

There’s just one slight problem, and if you’ve donated, you probably know what it is. There’s probably a sneaking suspicion in the back or your mind that, as your parents told you, if it’s too good (or cheap, or easy) to be true, then it probably isn’t. Here’s the problem in a nutshell. If you’ve donated, you’ve been scammed.

You see, HSUS isn’t about protecting animals. By their twisted logic, they support animal rights. As in human rights, only for animals. As Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA famously said, “…a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” No animal should ever be the property or pet of a human being. That’s slavery. And no animal should ever be eaten. That’s cannibalism.

The other side of the coin, that practiced by 99.999 percent of livestock producers and most pet owners, is animal welfare. From this perspective, humans who own animals are responsible for their wellbeing. I won’t belabor the difference. If you’re an adult, and capable of objective reasoning, you can figure it out for yourself.

To achieve their ends, the HSUS scams people and organizations to generate cash, which it uses to sue, badger and lobby politicians and businesses into adopting a radical animals rights agenda. Any objective observer would have to conclude that it’s a despicable way to behave.

Exhibit one. How much of a $19 monthly donation goes to support shelters for kitties and puppies? Care to guess? Seventeen bucks? No. Fifteen? Uh, nope. Ten dollars? Not even close. Okay, cut to the chase. Seven cents. No, not seven dollars. Seven cents. Seven pennies. In a whole year a whopping 84 cents of the $228 donation to HSUS goes to puppy and kitty shelters. That’s less than couch change.

Exhibit two. The shelters the HSUS supports have the highest euthanasia and lowest adoption rates of all pet shelters. According to Veterinarian Patty Khuly, the shelter euthanasia rate across America is 34 percent. In HSUS supported shelters the euthanasia rate is 97 percent. Why is the HSUS euthanasia rate so high? Because the HSUS position is that animals are better off dead than existing as property or as a pet. Also, most state laws require adopted dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered. This costs money. It costs almost nothing to euthanize a dog or cat.

Exhibit three. What happens with the remaining $227.16 of an annual donation? Here are some numbers, gleaned from 2010 HSUS tax records. HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle was paid $287,786. HSUS employed 636 people, 29 of whom make more than $100,000. HSUS pumped $2.6 million into it’s pension plan. It spent $3.6 million lobbying state and federal lawmakers. HSUS spent $47 million on fundraising. They spent 0.418 percent on puppy and kitty shelters, most of which went to euthanasia. All the rest went to salaries, promotions, pensions, and lobbying.

And that may be why HSUS is presently facing federal charges of racketeering, obstruction of justice, and malicious prosecution.

Now we return to the lack of media coverage. Why haven’t you heard a peep about this RICO prosecution? Well, honestly, why would you? The major media, including CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, the Associated Press and countless major newspapers gave HSUS more than $34 million in free advertising last year. It’s all there in the tax records.

You see, HSUS doesn’t just run a $19 per month numbers racket. They maliciously threaten American citizens with expensive legal action and violence. They pay top dollar to manipulate the legal system to achieve their unsavory and often criminal ends.

At the end of the day, they want all animals to be free. Even if they have to kill them.

This lawsuit easily could bankrupt HSUS, put it out of business and send some of its top executives to prison.

And it’s about time. These animal rights and environmental extremists have been pushing policy in this country for more than 20 years, through duplicity, malicious threats, strong-arm tactics, and violent criminal behavior. They’ve grown immensely wealthy through their lawsuits and racketeering schemes. They’ve misrepresented their true nature and goals.

There’s no room in this country for such criminal behavior. It needs to be stamped out.

Drought and Food Prices

The drought that much of the nation’s breadbasket is presently mired in provides a good illustration of the lack of understanding most Americans have when it comes to production agriculture.

Hopeful clouds soar above a field of dryland corn in a field south of Kimball, Neb.
News reports concentrate on the effect the drought will have on this year’s crops – particularly corn – and how a short crop will affect food prices. Unfortunately, the great majority of these reports represent a misunderstanding of both food production and market forces.

While it’s true that in a free market, supply and demand drive prices, the temporary reduction of supply as drought reduces yields this year will only really be felt once the harvest is in, and then only for a relatively short while.

Some may argue that ruthless supply-siders are using the excuse of the drought to jack up prices. But markets don't really work that way. To some extent American markets are less elastic or responsive to immediate real world events than they have been in the past. This is the result of government intervention through policy and regulation. Like it or not, when government enters markets, neither producers nor consumers gain. Everyone loses, in every transaction, at least by a tiny bit.

The present drought, as I said, isn't likely to affect food prices significantly or for a long period. I know, the press says otherwise, and they're "real" experts. So who are you going to believe? The press or your lying eyes?

Here's how it works. The bulk of the cost of retail food lies in post-production processing, storage and transportation. In comparison, the cost of food commodities is quite small and represents only a few percent of the overall retail cost of food at the supermarket. So while the drought will affect commodity prices and therefore a small fraction of retail food prices, it will not affect the other 90-plus percent of factors contributing to retail costs.

Corn is a bell-weather food commodity, and increasingly, a bell-weather energy commodity, yet a 50 percent increase in corn price will ultimately yield only about a one percent increase in retail food costs.

Corn is harvested but once a year, so the corn used today in food production comes from previous crops. Though the present drought has no effect on corn produced last year or earlier, the market does appear to anticipate events, and speculation about this year’s crop is, to some extent, driving a spike in the price of corn purchased today. But markets are mostly self-adjusting. They twitched up at the unexpected news of a possible (or probable) drought-caused yield reduction this year, and they will twitch downward when harvest nears and more certainty about the actual yield provides a moderating influence.

Drought is neither monolithic nor binary. In other words, it’s not an either-or proposition, but one which varies from place to place. In the present drought, a very few producers will have total crop failure, a very few will have bumper crops, and most will find themselves between the two extremes, with their crop affected to some extent but still producing a saleable yield.

The present drought isn’t permanent, and will only bear on food prices so long as it persists. We can’t know the future with absolute certainty, of course, but the past shows us that widespread drought is a statistical outlier. For every season of extreme drought, there is also a season of extreme wet, another outlier. The extremes occur only infrequently, while most seasons cluster around the statistical average and produce average yields. When the present drought eases, so will the temporary spike in commodity prices.

The annual cycle of crop production is a tough concept for many consumers to wrap their minds around, because it is so very different from the way they live their lives. Most don’t consciously understand that for the most part, crops are only harvested once each year, albeit in enough quantity to meet consumer demand until next year’s crop is harvested.

When people are told by seemingly reliable sources that their food security is threatened, they become rightly concerned. The fact that they do become concerned should be appreciated by all ag producers. Those we feed in turn feed us when they buy our crops at the retail level. In a perfect world the press would report objectively and completely on this and other issues. We don’t have a perfect world, though, and it’s extremely hard to counter the narrative.

Still, each of us can do some good by helping our non-ag fellows to understand the present drought and to put it in a reasonable context.

Food Prices

We’ve been talking about the disconnect between the realities of food production and the artificial understanding of agriculture held by most Americans. The fact that there’s a disconnect is in part understandable when you consider that fewer than two percent of the population feeds more than 100 percent of the population (don’t forget exports) and the vast majority – more than 98 percent – are two or more generations removed from the farm.

But being physically disconnected from agriculture isn’t the entire story. Education, media and entertainment paint a vastly skewed picture of the basic realities of the physical world, and a population that is increasingly urbanized and “connected” is in fact increasingly disconnected from reality. One might describe this phenomenon – where hundreds of millions of people blandly accept fiction as fact – as a mass delusion.

A few years ago a NASCAR driver attempted to win a race by charging into the final corner much too fast. He flew off the straightaway with excess speed and flashed by the race leader. But then physics took over, and his car slammed into the wall as he tried to corner. After the race he explained that he’d tried the maneuver on a video game and had been successful – the game allowed his virtual car to zip through the corner against the wall without damage and without paying the cost of transferring kinetic energy, or speed, into the heat energy produced by 3,500 lbs. of race car grinding against the Safer Barrier under centripetal force.

This was a reasonably experienced, successful driver. The point isn’t that he didn’t know what would happen – he did – but that he allowed himself to believe that the natural laws of physics just might prove to be malleable.

Unlike the driver, who had plenty of experience in the physical reality of hitting the wall, the majority of Americans have no experience with production agriculture, and increasingly, no experience of nature outside the artificial environment of cities and towns. Without experience – and like it or not, television and video games do not represent experience – these people are vulnerable to believing that reality is what the media, entertainment and education “experts” say it is, rather than what it is.

As I write this on July 17, the Washington Post (among others) is reporting that food prices are increasing because of the present drought across the Midwest and great Plains. The story in the Post is written with the certitude of an author who is describing factual reality.

But the drought is a recent phenomenon, while food prices have been rising since 2008, even though crop production as an aggregate has increased. So why isn’t the law of supply and demand driving food prices?

Firstly, and despite government and administration claims that the nation is “dong fine” economically, increased government spending has been directly driving inflation across the economic spectrum. The administration cherry-picks outlying data points and reports that there is no inflation, yet every food-buyer in the nation knows that food prices have been on the rise for years. The media have been largely silent on the subject until now, when they have a drought to blame it on, and can protect their precious narrative. But the fact remains that commodity prices contribute little to food costs, the bulk of which lie in processing and transportation. Nor do the relatively tiny drought-fueled market increases of today explain away the inflation of the last four-plus years.

Secondly, ever since the Renewable Fuels Standard became law, food prices have been decoupled from the agricultural market and coupled to energy the energy market. The driving force behind corn price increases has been ethanol, which has become the largest single user of corn. As corn goes, so do other food commodity prices.

Food cost inflation is directly linked to increased government spending and regulation. In attempting to force a fantasy ethos on reality, an adverse effect is created in the economy. Nature is unaffected; reality remains stubbornly real. Consumers pay the cost in increasing food prices and wonder why the fantasy of hope and change remains unrealized in the real world.