Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 6, 2016

House Agriculture Discloses the Real News | Madisonville


Not much can beat the House Agriculture Committee for showing what a rich and diverse country we live in. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s appearance Thursday for a “Review the State of the Rural Economy” had moments that felt like the scene in “Men in Black” where Tommy Lee Jones turns to the National Enquirer to get reliable news.

The mainstream media are missing some big stories.

Like “the black vultures problem that is plaguing the Southeast,” says Tennessee Republican Scott DesJarlais. The vultures are attacking livestock, often going for the eyes — but not always. “They also attack the backside of animals,” DesJarlais says. That detail prompts a quick mental check about April Fools’ Day. There’s no comfort in confirming that it was two days earlier.

Farmers are setting off fireworks and firing their guns into the air because they can’t kill the vultures without a permit. Unruffled (heh heh), the vultures keep coming back.

Minnesota Democrat Tim Walz isn’t the only committee member to raise the subject of water, but he may have the biggest overlooked news story of the year. “I’ve got citizens in 2014 catching rainwater in cisterns for drinking.” This sounds dire. Are Minnesotans relying on rainwater to quench their thirst and nobody knew it until now?

Vilsack and members of the committee treat these reports as business as usual. Like airline crew members who stay calm in frightening turbulence, their stoicism reassures everybody else.

For the uninitiated, the language of agricultural policy has a way of hanging in the air, creating space around the words while the brain explores potential meanings. It’s Mamet speak for the farm. At least that’s how it was Thursday.

Arkansas Republican Rick Crawford brings up the “catfish program.” The words hang there while the brain toys with explanations: A fashionable new purgative for Hollywood starlets? The Central Intelligence Agency’s code for the Senate’s investigation of CIA torture? A congressional initiative to fill the gaps left by cuts to food stamps?

Whatever the catfish program is, Crawford says it’s hampered because the Agriculture Department is taking so much time to “define catfish.” The brain whirs: Lack of an up-to-date reference work? Scientific disagreement about classifying the whiskers? Nobody in the department wanting to be known as the guy who defined the catfish?

Republican K. Michael Conaway of Texas wants to know about China’s big strategic reserve in cotton and what China might or might not be up to with that. High-quality sheets? Outerwear that breathes?

Vilsack refers to the “aging nature of farmers.” He makes it sound like farmers have a genetic weakness that other people are spared. The brain revs.

Somewhere in the Agriculture Department, humming away at work, is the “Pollinator Working Group,” Vilsack says. Supervised by Men in Black.

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