The Looming Bitter Harvest: A Father’s Day Reflection

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."  Luke 12:48

It's my Father's Day reflection.  I look at my children who have become productive, caring adults and think of the many advantages they had growing up on our Yuma County farm: a stable household, a caring school and church community, access to a great public education and health care.  Roots and wings.  In agrarian terms they are the product of a well-tended seed whose bounty fills the proverbial 'granary'. 

But the shifting demographics of the vast, 21-county landscape of Colorado's 4th Congressional District are setting the stage for a bitter harvest, reflecting a national trend of the vanishing middle class and growing inequality

In the case of Colorado's Fourth Congressional District, the differences couldn't be more stark.  I'll call it the "Lone Tree – Lamar Dilemma"  And this description is not derogatory to those in the lower Arkansas River Valley.  Quite the opposite.  In my 2010 failed state senate race for SD-1 I had the honor of making a lot of new friends in the southeastern portion of Colorado.  They are a very special community of souls.  Stung over the last decade by the closing of NeoPlan, the closing of the regional pickle plant, the closure of Fort Lyon, and skyrocketing energy costs due to a decision by local authorities to re-purpose a local plant to coal power; the drying up of over 37,000 acres of productive farmland for a proposed coal plant by Tri-State and a record drought plaguing the region – you'd still find hints of optimism in the Lower Arkansas Valley.  It's what prairie folk do: they survive. The 'dilemma' is the statistical, growing chasm in the lives of children across the state.

A drive from Pueblo to Lamar would convince anyone who grew up in an agrarian setting that this region – drowning in natural resources – has been ill-served by many.  It's a living example of the Boiling Frog anecdote: this area, ripe for food and energy production – and rich in culture – is unnecessarily challenged.  The entire valley could benefit from Strike Force, a USDA initiative to provide technical assistance to increase opportunity for rural communities that are challenged by pervasive economic challenges.  This would be a great time for our Congressman to champion southeastern Colorado as a participant in the program. 

In the past 10 years the rate of child poverty in Colorado has nearly doubled, from 10% to 18%.  Only Nevada leads us in the rate of increase nationally.  Douglas County has a rate of 4.9%; the Otero-Baca corridor in southeastern Colorado hovers at nearly twice the state average at 35%.  Seventeen of the 21 counties that make up CD-4 rank above the state average.  Nine of the 21 are at 125% of the state average.

We have very similar statistics regarding child health care.  While Colorado ranks amongst the best in the nation in this category we still have upwards of 124,000 kids without insurance – enough to fill Mile High Stadium one and a half times over.  And in this category once again we see the stark differences in the state divide: while only 3.2% of Douglas County residents rely on Medicaid, the Otero-Baca corridor averages 21.6%, nearly double the state average of 11.6%.  Medicaid, like food assistance, is a lifeline to so many of the most challenged amongst us.  Even so, that hasn't stopped the House from taking its 37th vote to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act.

Starting tomorrow our House of Representatives will begin debate on the 2013 Farm Bill after their failure in 2012 to bring it to the floor over caucus infighting.  The week promises to be full of drama. Committee hearings gave us a glimpse of what's in store for the boxing match that awaits us, with biblical quotes and not-so-small doses of hypocrisy.  The Club for Growth and Heritage Foundation have weighed in on their displeasure over Boehner's decision to bring it to the House floor for a vote.  Their discontent is focused on the allocations to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] – a lifeline to today's working poor.

SNAP is a societal 'safety-net equivalent' to our district's farmers ag subsidy program; a mechanism to assure a degree of stability to the most challenged amongst us; it is one of the most efficient and least abused federal programs.  Our agricultural sector in CD-4 has benefited greatly from our own safety net: ag subsidies to the tune of $3.64 billion since 1995.  The Congressman and I share a home county; our fellow agriculturalist have received $537 million in federal assistance in the same time frame.

A growing number of Colorado's families survive entirely on the food acquired through their SNAP benefits – which affords $31.92 per week to the average recipient in Colorado. That's $1.52/meal/per person/per week on the average.

Perhaps if the 109,326 children living in poverty in CD4 had a $5 bill to support a "HungerPAC" they might be given an equal opportunity to be heard as do the most popular of billionaires in the Republican caucus.  Unfortunately, that $5 is the equivalent of their meal budget for an entire day – a commitment that would mean the difference between eating and not eating in a 24 hour period.  Meanwhile, the monied interests at Americans for Prosperity [AFP], the Koch Brothers-funded organization that spent $40 million in the 2010 election cycle, works to keep their small hands and hearts out of reach of nearly any politician. To no one's surprise, AFP wants SNAP reform in the food assistance program, citing the $75 billion annual cost of the program. 

For AFP, funded predominantly by treasures made in the fossil fuel industry, it's estimated their subsidies approach $52 billion annually – a number that is exclusive of the health and environmental costs to their resultant emissions.  If those externalized costs were recognized, that number would grow by an estimated $120 billion to $172 billion.  A recent vote in the House to end their subsidies failed.

Welcome, children, to your new world: "Citizens United".  A world where only monied interests get to play – and set the public narrative.

This week Congressman Gardner will have the opportunity to stand with the 109,326 children in his district that live in child poverty and the 188,850 who depend on reduced lunch pricing.  That's enough children living in poverty to populate 31 cities the size of his hometown of Yuma, Colorado.  As the Congressman bows his head in thanksgiving this Fathers Day with his children beside him, I hope he will pause for a brief moment and reflect on the many tables across his district where food insecurity is a daily challenge.  And then as he begins his debate in the House chambers this coming week that his leadership will be with one eye on the least amongst us.  The vast majority of our working poor across the plains would rather have a job with a living wage and local opportunities that let them be a participant in the local marketplace of labor and ideas.  But we aren't there yet.  And until then they deserve your support and vote.

As a fellow-agrarian, the Congressman knows that the best way to produce a bumper crop is to tend to 'the seedlings'.  A nurtured, well-fed seedling sets the stage to fill a granary; a stressed seedling never achieves its potential – regardless of the amount of resources you may shower upon it at a later stage. 

Our children are no different.  Let's tend to these seedlings in the manner of a prudent, eastern plains farmer.

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  1. Algernon Moncrief says:

    IN THE U.S., 400 INDIVIDUALS OWN AS MUCH WEALTH AS 60 PERCENT OF THE REST OF THE COUNTRY.

    A few excerpts from: "The Next American Revolution Has Already Begun: An Interview With Gar Alperovitz"

    http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/16847-the-next-american-revolution-has-already-begun-gar-smith-interviews-gar-alperovitz

    "Gar S: You point out that 400 plutocrats in the US now own more wealth than 180 million other Americans. A scale of inequality that ranks as 'medieval.'”

    "Gar A: The concentration of wealth in this country is astonishing. 400 individuals—you could seat them all on a single airplane—own as much wealth as 60 percent of the rest of the country taken together. I was describing this distribution as 'medieval' until a medieval historian set me straight: wealth was far more evenly distributed in the Middle Ages."

    "It is anathema to a democracy to have that kind of concentration of wealth. More and more people are beginning to realize the extent and reach of corporate power and the power of those who own the corporations. The Koch brothers get a lot of publicity, but it’s a much wider phenomenon."

    "Some examples: If the nation's personal wealth were divided evenly, a family of four would receive $200,000 a year. The hourly US minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is now $2 less than it was in 1968."

    Sadly, as we have seen in Colorado, corporations are now seeking to claw back earned, contracted compensation from the middle class in order to further pad corporate earnings . . . exacerbate the inequality of wealth in the United States.

    Corporate lobbyists listed on the website of the Colorado Secretary of State as having supported SB10-001 in 2010, the bill that broke the contracts of Colorado PERA pensioners, a bill that takes the property of Colorado's elderly to keep taxes low in the state with the lowest per capita state tax burden in the nation:

    Peter Kirchhof – Colorado Concern – supporting

    Janice Sinden – Colorado Concern – supporting – (http://www.coloradoconcern.com/, Colorado Concern is a business organization. Denver Mayor Hancock has selected Janice Sinden to be his Chief of Staff.)

    Link: http://www.coloradoconcern.com/index.html

    From the Colorado Concern website:

    “Colorado Concern’s membership now includes 100 CEOs and business and community leaders from across the state.”

    The Colorado Concern Board of Directors:

    “Joe Blake – Chancellor Emeritus, CSU System
    Dr. Ted Clarke, MD – Chairman and CEO, COPIC
    Steve Farber – President, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
    Pat Hamill* – Chairman and CEO, Oakwood Homes
    A. Barry Hirschfeld – President, A B Hirschfeld & Sons
    G. “Buck” Hutchison – President and CEO, Hutchison Western
    Bill Hybl – Vice Chairman, Broadmoor Hotel
    John Ikard* – President and CEO, FirstBank
    Walt Imhoff – Retired Managing Director, Stifel Nicolaus & Co.
    Walter Isenberg – President and CEO, Sage Hospitality
    Don Kortz – Chairman of the Board, Fuller Real Estate
    David McReynolds – President, Columbine Health Plan
    Larry A. Mizel – Chairman and CEO, M.D.C. Holdings, Inc.
    Kay Norton* – President, University of Northern Colorado
    Kathryn Paul – President and CEO, Delta Dental of Colorado
    Blair Richardson – Managing Partner, Bow River Capital Partners
    Dan Ritchie – Chairman and CEO, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
    Dick Robinson – Co-CEO, Robinson Dairy, Inc.
    Richard M. Sapkin – Managing Principal, Edgemark Development, LLC
    Sylvia Young – President and CEO, HealthONE”

    Support contractual public pension rights and the rule of law in Colorado.  Contribute at saveperacola.com.

    • Gray in Mountains says:

      Moncrief–Bowman posted a very thoughtful piece about the dismal state of things in a large portion of our state. I really wish you would take every chance to think it is all about PERA. You are changing me from a sympathetic concerned voter on this issue to an "I don't give a shit about you"

      • Algernon Moncrief says:

        Hi Gray, as you know I am a single-minded advocate for this public policy issue.  Ninety-five percent of Coloradans already "don't give a s***," about this issue, the rule of law in Colorado, or the Colorado Constitution.  They simply want low taxes.  If the Colorado Constitution is abandoned in the process, so be it.

        This group, Colorado PERA retirees, has very little voice in our state.  Their natural allies, Colorado public sector unions, tossed them under the bus to benefit union "dues-paying" members.  There is no group representing public retiree interests as exists in other states, they were an easy target for lobbyists.

        It is not "all about PERA," but I am an advocate for PERA retirees, just as corporate lobbyists are single-minded advocates for enhanced corporate wealth. 

        I think my comments on the concentration of wealth in the U.S., actually bolster Bowman's points.

        Hey Gray, also note that I put up a post last week drawing attention to racial profiling in the U.S., a departure from the PERA COLA theft issue.

        A year or two ago, you were in the "don't give a s***" camp, I prefer that you remain "sympathetic."  Al

        • Gray in Mountains says:

          your comments re concentration of wealth are helpful to illustrate that the problem is nationwide. For the rest of it you're being a prick

          • Algernon Moncrief says:

            Algernon is a contented "pr***."  Gray, I am drawing attention to the fact that the State of Colorado is attempting to break its contracts.  How many states in the nation are trying to accomplish that?  How many states in the history of the United States have succeeded in abandoning contractual obligations?  If a person who single-mindedly defends the rule of law and the Colorado Constitution is a "pr***," I am a contented "pr***"!

            • Gray in Mountains says:

              I know what you are doing. You, because of your single minded focus, are willing to trash any other discussion

            • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

              I agree with Gray 100% on this. You hurt your side by being such an annoying ass.

              • BlueCatBlueCat says:

                Hi David. I thought you fell off the planet or something. Also agree 100% with you and Gray. If Montcrief is a one issue poster he should stay out of threads that aren't about that one issue instead hijacking a thread about providing adequate nutrition to hungry children in the world's wealthiest nation as if that's of no importance compared to his issue. 

                Most of us already don't bother to plow through his comically long, unreadable posts on PERA. Replacing deadly dull with downright offensive seems like a less than brilliant tactic if his goal is garnering support for his issue. 

              • BlueCatBlueCat says:

                I just noticed something. These posts all say Sunday the 16th. Sunday was the 15th. My comment is correctly marked Monday the 16th. What gives? They can't both be the 16th. 

  2. MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

    First things first:  Happy Fathers Day, Gray.  Second thought:  yikes.  AM, I haven't been following your issue but happy to get more informed.  If this thread gets promoted perhaps the webmaster can hit 'restart'?

    • Algernon Moncrief says:

      Michael, apologies for interfering with the potential discussion of your diary post.  I intended to post the relevant portions of the recent Truthout article relating to income inequality in the U.S.  Then, as a single-minded advocate for the public policy issue that shan't be named, I habitually inserted a reference to that public policy issue.  (Can't help myself.)  I believe that Gray is quite fond of you . . . and felt obliged to ensure that potential discussion of your diary post remained pure.  I forgive him.

  3. Algernon Moncrief says:

    Gray, Bowman writes:

    "But the shifting demographics of my home county – within the vast, 21-county landscape of Colorado's 4th Congressional District – are setting the stage for a bitter harvest, reflecting a national trend of the vanishing middle class and growing inequality."

    I posted: "The concentration of wealth in this country is astonishing. 400 individuals—you could seat them all on a single airplane—own as much wealth as 60 percent of the rest of the country taken together."

    Question #1: How is that "trashing a discussion"?

    Question #2: How is it possible for me to "trash a discussion" that I started?  Should I not have the right to trash my own discussion?

    Affectionately, Al the "pr***".

  4. MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

    AM – in all due respect, that part isn't trashing the discussion; you have the right to trash your own discussion and I'd be more than happy to participate in *your* discussion.  I don't know you – you appear to be quite passionate about this issue.  I'm more than happy to have a discussion about that.  But after seven posts on this thread we still aren't talking about the Farm Bill vote that will happen this week – which has nothing to do with the concerns you are bringing up. 

    • Algernon Moncrief says:

      Michael, what is "StrikeForce," the USDA initiative?  How can Colorado elected officials go about encouraging implementation of this program in Colorado?  Perhaps a bi-partisan resolution of the Colorado House and Senate, sent to our Congressional delegation?  This seems like something that both Democrats and many rural Republicans could embrace.  Al

      • MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

        You should be able to drill into the link that is in the story.  The USDA identifies areas/regions that are slipping towards chronic poverty based on a matrix.  Two of the major factors are child poverty and % of reduced-price lunch programs.  SE Colorado fits the criteria.  Strike Force then brings to bear all of their agencies to help initiatie a comprehensive development plan for the targeted area. 

        • The realistThe realist says:

          I would love to see that happen. 

          I'll be traveling to southeast Colorado for work this week.  Haven't been in the corner for several years – I expect it to be a sobering experience.

           

  5. Algernon Moncrief says:

    Brophy, Gardner . . . Get On It!

    Vilsack is hosting a virtual meeting tomorrow (at 2:00 pm ET) on the StrikeForce initiative.

    "Upcoming Event June 17, 2pm ET – Join Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a Google+ Hangout to discuss StrikeForce opportunities, success stories and how your community can get involved. Secretary Vilsack will be accompanied by a panel of StrikeForce experts, recipients and coordinators who will help to answer frequently asked questions from around the country and provide guidance on how to sign up to be a part of the StrikeForce initiative in your community."

    Vilsack has not included Colorado in his list of priority states:

    "In 2013, Secretary Vilsack announced new efforts to bring the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity to Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia."

    http://www.usda.gov/documents/usda-strikeforce-fact-sheet.pdf

    • MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

      It was started as a pilot project in 2010 in selected regions in Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi. In 2011 it was expanded to include Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.  We are already qualified – all someone needs to do now is *ask*

      • Algernon Moncrief says:

        Well, perhaps these Colorado legislators could "ask" tomorrow:

        Colorado Senate Districts representing rural areas (at least partially).

        1 – Sen. Greg Brophy

        6 – Sen. Ellen Roberts

        7 – Sen. Steve King

        8 – Sen. Randy Baumgardner

        35 – Sen. Larry Crowder

        Colorado House Districts representing rural areas (at least partially).

        57 – Rep. Bob Rankin

        58 – Rep. Don Coram

        59 – Rep. Mike McLachlan

        62 – Rep. Ed Vigil

        64 – Rep. Timothy Dore

        65 – Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg

    • MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

      Don't get your hopes up that anyone from Brophy's staff will be on the call.  He'd first have to believe that government can play a role in a local economy.  Forget the fact that our own county was electrified via the New Deal, we have one of the best cooperative telephone associations in rural America, our fathers belonged to cooperatives established under federal law, government built our roads that provide access to markets for our corn and watermelons, USDA funding provided the local funds for our community-owned assisted-living center and our community-owned day care center, that $537 million in federal subsidies have flowed into our county economy since 1995 and the state provided the low-cost money for the regions farmers to build the water pipeline to keep us in compliance with the Kansas Water Compact.  Other than that the government has been pretty useless in our parts.

  6. MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

    Here is a video of today's Google Hangout with Secretary Vilsack discussing Strike Force. 

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