The early reviews are in on the new George W. Bush administration.
It has all the elements of the classic horror story: a predictable
plot, familiar villains and an unshakable sense of déjà
vu. On the following pages, we take a look at Bush's nominees and
appointments, a diverse cast of characters in every way but ideology.
Left to their own devices, this collection of unrepentant cold warriors,
anti-choice extremists, Wise-Use desperados and corporate shills
(as well as a couple of reasonable old-fashioned conservatives)
could make for a harrowing next four years.
Can the forces of good thwart this evil plan? Well, as
In These Times went to press, thousands of townspeople were taking
their torches to Washington to protest Dubya's inauguration, making
one thing clear: There will be no honeymoon!
Corporate agribusiness minions may well be heralding the appointment
of Ann Veneman as George W. Bush's new secretary of agriculture,
but the nation's family farmers should be at best wary of the choice.
Regarded as a protégé of Richard Lyng, who was agriculture
President Reagan's second term, Veneman will oversee the department's
42 agencies, with a budget of more than $100 billion and a work force
of some 100,000 employees who run everything from soil conservation
to animal health agencies, from rural economic development to federal
Dubya introduces Ann Veneman.
Veneman has considerable experience within the USDA bureaucracy.
Beginning with the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) in
1986, Veneman rose to deputy undersecretary for international affairs
and commodity programs. She also was one of the early negotiators
of NAFTA, and she served from 1991 to 1993 as the deputy undersecretary
of the USDA, which at the time was the highest post at the department
ever held by a woman.
But her appointment is also a political reward for California's
Central Valley, where Bush concentrated his California campaign
and received much of his financial support. Veneman's parents were
peach growers in Stanislaus County in the San Joaquin Valley south
of Sacramento. Her father was a Republican state assemblyman and
undersecretary of health, education and welfare in the Nixon administration.
In 1995, California Gov. Pete Wilson selected Veneman to head the
state's Department of Food and Agriculture. Her tenure there offers
a few clues for what to expect from Veneman as head of the USDA.
For instance, her agency fought hard to extend the use of the deadly
chemical poison methyl bromide when the sunset clause under the
Birth Defects Prevention Act required that its registration be canceled.
Eventually, an extension was approved (with the support of key votes
from Democrats who represent agricultural areas of the state).
Veneman is a strong proponent of "free trade," believing that the
"trend toward globalization is unstoppable." Between her service
with the FAS, during which time she helped negotiate the Uruguay
Round talks for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT),
and her appointment in California, she worked for the influential
lobbying and law firm of Patton, Boggs and Blow. Among her clients
was Dole Foods Co., the world's largest producer of fruits and vegetables.
She also served on the International Policy Council on Agriculture,
Food and Trade with representatives from Cargill, Monsanto, Nestle,
Kraft, Universal Leaf Tobacco Co., the American Farm Bureau Federation
and Archer Daniels Midland.
Veneman also advocates high technology's role in farming, from
e-commerce to genetic engineering. She served on the board of directors
of Calgene, a Davis, California company, later acquired by Monsanto,
which pioneered genetically altered tomatoes. As she told an agricultural
biotechnology conference last year: "We simply will not be able
to feed the world without biotechnology."
Veneman's positions are not yet known on such pressing issues as
crop price-support payments, antitrust concerns, the environmental
dangers surrounding factory farms, and the fate of the expiring
and disastrous Freedom to Farm legislation. But her views on free
trade and biotechnology, coupled with her clear pro-corporate bias,
make Veneman an enigmatic, if not pernicious force, when it comes
to the immediate future of family farm agriculture.
A.V. Krebs is editor and publisher of The Agribusiness
Examiner, a weekly e-mail newsletter monitoring the activities
of corporate agribusiness from a public interest perspective. He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.