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Opinion | Cheryl Sommer: Simple rule change would help our farmers

Cheryl Sommer

Farmers feed the world. Here in rural Southern Illinois, we know that statement to be more than an ad slogan. Through international food security programs funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), food grown by our farmers provides emergency food when disasters strike around the world.

Our farmers also provide food for programs like the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, which feeds school children throughout the world. With a meal in their stomachs, children can better pay attention at school and have proper nutrition.

We Southern Illinoisans are also practical and want our money used effectively and efficiently. USDA and USAID rightly allocate grants to on-the-ground groups like Catholic Relief Services (CRS). These non-governmental organizations administer the programs in the most efficient manner they can, to maximize the number of people they can help.

Unfortunately, there is one issue that is hindering the efficiency of our U.S. food aid programs — the way food is shipped to countries in need. Current law requires that at least 50 percent of all U.S. food aid be shipped on U.S. flagged cargo vessels, which are almost always more expensive than ships from any other country. This requirement is applied to programs funded by USAID and USDA.

On top of that, food aid programs funded by USDA must meet the 50 percent requirement by country and by program each year. In contrast, USAID meets its 50 percent requirement by region. Because USDA country programs usually only have one shipment per year, programs like the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program, are forced to ship most of their food on U.S. ships.

With such a large share of the market, U.S. ships can charge USDA more than USAID to ship each metric ton of food. For CRS, U.S. ships charge their USDA programs almost twice as much per metric ton to transport food aid than they charge our USAID programs ($338.64 vs. $177.25). USDA programs should not have to pay twice as much to ship food aid given they use the same ships to transport the same kind of food.

USDA-funded programs are being renewed in the Congress through the 2018 Farm Bill. Currently one in nine people in our world do not have enough to eat. Catholic Relief Services and other NGOs would have money to feed a lot more people if Congress simply changed USDA shipping rules to match USAID rules. This is an opportunity for U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth to support more efficient food aid programs in the Farm Bill to help bring food to more people in need.

I close with words from Pope Francis about hunger in the world: “Let us be clear. Food shortage is not something natural, it is not a given, something obvious or self-evident.”

One simple rule change could allow more food to be purchased from U.S. farmers to feed hungry people around the globe without costing any more money. Let’s make this self-evident change.


Columnists
Opinion | Kathleen Parker: Jerusalem Jared and the city of truth

The past few days have provided a head-swiveling study in cognitive dissonance and dueling realities.

Monday started the week with a jolt in Jerusalem, where the U.S. and Israel celebrated the American embassy move from Tel Aviv. Television spectators around the world watched as the two nations' officials gathered inside a large, white tent — a metaphorical bubble that seemed to protect them from the tragedy unfolding 50 miles away in Gaza.

There, Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinian protesters, killing more than five dozen and wounding thousands more.

In stark contrast to the carnage, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was almost giddy as he cited historical justifications for the embassy's relocation — from Abraham and King Solomon to Zechariah, who 2,500 years ago declared Jerusalem "the city of truth." Netanyahu was effusive in his praise of Trump for "having the courage to keep his promises," which just happened to be the opening line in the White House's talking points afterward.

Even as one might have enjoyed Netanyahu's understandable elation and Jared Kushner's touching speech about truth, Western idealism and the pursuit of peace, there was something oddly Baghdad Bob-ish about the whole production.

You remember him. He was the so-nicknamed Iraqi government spokesperson during the U.S.-led invasion who insisted to television cameras that everything was just fine in Baghdad, as American tanks rolled into the city. One wonders if future Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, then a student at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, caught Bob on TV and thought to herself: Why, yes, he's right. It all looks good to me.

Kushner, whose task as adviser is to secure Middle East peace, noted in his remarks that the Palestinian protesters were "part of the problem," an analysis seconded by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley the next day. During a Security Council meeting, Haley dismissed the protests as having been caused by Hamas and said they had nothing to do with the relocation of the embassy.

One could say that.

One could say that the moon is cheesy and good with grits. Or that the person who invited Dallas pastor and Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress to Jerusalem to lead a prayer was a genius. (Jeffress has said that Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and the Catholic Church are all essentially satanic cults.)

One could further say that there was no one better to lead a second prayer than the Rev. John Hagee, who, you'll recall, blamed gays for Hurricane Katrina. He also has said that Hitler was a "hunter" for God and that Jews will be saved during the Second Coming of Christ, which is expected to occur in, guess where — Jerusalem.

The surprise isn't that Palestinians protested but that Israelis didn't.

Since Trump and cohorts are so suddenly enamored of the truth, let's stick to it. The relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv has everything to do with the Palestinian protests. Blaming Hamas for organizing the protests is like blaming Republicans for electing Trump. Did anyone really think there would be no protests against a move that essentially ends the bilateral peace process?

Moving the embassy may have been the right thing to do — and maybe no time would be right — but we shouldn't delude ourselves. The embassy was moved because it served Trump. How do we know this? Because everything Trump does is for Trump.

It burnished his tough-guy brand by demonstrating that he keeps his word and by putting Iran on further notice that he means business. He consolidated the support of conservative U.S. Jews and evangelicals, stabilizing his base and increasing the likelihood of his re-election. Most important, perhaps, it distinguished him from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who, though retired from government, continues to get under this president's skin.

If Trump had hoped to also further enhance his chances for a Nobel Peace Prize, which Obama received for merely talking eloquently about peace, then the Israeli clampdown in Gaza was surely unhelpful. Then again, the "collateral damages" weren't Trump's doing, he'd likely tell himself. Why, he wasn't even there.

It would be no surprise if Trump, in a bout of cognitive dissonance, were to believe that the Palestinians will quiet down in a few days and peace will settle over the valley, which sounds a lot like the flowers and candy American forces were told to expect from liberated Iraqis in the aftermath of "shock and awe."

Trump's evangelical base thinks we're in the End Times and the Rapture is right around the corner. It's all theirs.


Editorial
Voice of The Southern
Opinion | Voice of The Southern: Another missed opportunity with the Fair Map Amendment

The following editorial represents the collective opinion of editorial boards of the following papers owned by Lee Enterprises: The Southern Illinoisan, Carbondale; The Pantagraph, Bloomington; Herald & Review, Decatur; and Journal-Gazette & Times-Courier, Mattoon.

Our esteemed Springfield lawmakers again couldn’t summon the courage a few weeks ago to change one of the most dysfunctional parts of Illinois political process — how legislative boundaries are drawn. We, as residents and taxpayers, will be weaker because of it.

It involves the decidedly bland-sounding Fair Map Amendment, which would have reformed how House and Senate districts are mapped in the state of Illinois.

We’ve written about this before. Every 10 years, after the census is conducted, a panel of lawmakers gets together and determines how districts are reapportioned. Because rules dictate that districts can only have so many people, they rejigger the lines, sometimes gerrymandering the boundaries just enough to benefit, say, their political party in the next election.

This practice is one reason why so many primaries are so lopsided — the districts have been shaped to create that outcome. Consider that nearly half of the House and Senate races in the fall are uncontested.

Why?

Because lawmakers picked by political bosses to serve on the panel are picking who represents areas, not voters.

The system is rigged. And it is very much broken.

A far better process is to have an independent and bipartisan committee. That’s the idea behind the Fair Map proposal, which would make a panel of 16 citizens charged with hammering out equitable and proportional districts.

The GOP would pick seven. Democrats get seven. The Illinois Supreme Court selects three independents.

Such a change requires a constitutional amendment, which meant lawmakers would have to give the green light.

You see the flaw.

The legislation withered in committee, with Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat, not even calling it for a vote. And House Speaker Michael Madigan, also chairman of the state Democratic Party, also wasn’t going to budge.

Neither have a reason to.

Their lack of action is not surprising.

Madigan has fought previous efforts, including 2014 and 2016 citizen-petition efforts, to get the change on the ballot.

What is surprising is that so many lawmakers who tout respect for the political process wouldn’t step up for voters, when there's so much evidence reforms are not only needed, but wanted.

A 2016 survey by the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale found that 64 percent of those polled favored a Fair Map Amendment.

Iowa has taken similar steps. So has California.

Yet, last Sunday, the deadline to get the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot, came and went.

It didn’t stand a chance.

The next census is 2020.

Nothing will be changing with how the maps are drawn.

There’s something wrong with this picture.