Editorial roundup

Pollinators are essential for crops

The majority of Americans pay little attention to pollinators – bees, butterflies, wasps, moths and other insects.

However, without pollinators, many crops would not grow. A large variety of fruits and vegetables would become scarce or incredibly expensive, and the cost of other products, including clothing (as cotton is bee-pollinated), would be impacted.

Over 70 percent of the world’s crop plants depend on pollination. In addition, many fruit and vegetable crops require pollination to produce. Wildlife like deer, quail, pheasants and other animals depend on the production of berries and fruits for food.

Many human actions, such as pollution and conversion of natural habitat, have impacted pollinators and their ability to provide ecosystem services.

In our modern agricultural world, drift (or unintentional off-target contamination) from aerial spraying of pesticides has become a major threat to our pollinators. Most insecticides (and a handful of fungicides and herbicides) can kill bees directly or have sublethal effects that can, among other things, negatively impact bees’ ability to reproduce and forage.

The best thing we can do for pollinator conservation is to avoid using pesticides. Unfortunately, avoiding pesticide use, particularly in today’s precision farming world, is not an option for most farmers.

A solution presented by DriftWatch and Xerces Society is to take steps in reducing drift and maintaining buffer zones between sprayed areas and pollinator habitat areas.

Check out driftwatch.org and xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center/ for more on pollinator conservation.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

By Becky Keim, beckyk@cfra.org, Center for Rural Affairs


A state of constant crisis

It’s not just last Monday night’s resignation of the National Security Adviser.

It’s not just the travel ban executive order that has been restrained by four federal judges.

It’s not just the claim that the judiciary has no business nosing about a presidential decision on immigration.

It’s not just “alternative facts.”

And it’s not just repeated allegations of widespread voter fraud for which no evidence has been presented.

But when you add all of it together, along with other odd happenings, the sum is this: The continual errors in judgment and poor decisions of President Trump and his key aides have become wearisome.

This state of constant crisis has sapped much of the energy that Trump brought to Washington when he took office less than a month ago. The White House has gone from an agent of change to a place that bounces from one issue to the next, sometimes trying to juggle multiple dramas at once.

Not much has gone right during Trump’s first month in office. While you can accept some of this as a result of the natural learning curve that every new administration must face, the repetitiveness is undercutting one of the president’s key claims — that he could bring his business expertise to Washington to make it run more smoothly and be more responsive to the people it serves.

Trump got elected to disrupt Washington, but he is learning that even outsiders have to play by some rules. This week’s departure of National Security Adviser Gen. Mike Flynn is a case in point.

Before Trump took office, Flynn made the mistake of talking about President Obama’s sanctions against Russia with that country’s U.S. ambassador. Technically, that could be illegal. But then Flynn compounded his error by misleading Vice President Mike Pence and others about what he and the ambassador discussed. Once the reporters that Trump perpetually mocks uncovered the details, Flynn was done.

The president’s defenders believe Trump has enemies from within. For example, they say the intelligence community is working against him.

Well, when the U.S. sanctions Russia for election meddling, and the Russian response is unusually meek, that’s a good signal that something’s amiss, and it is sure to draw the attention of American spies. It’s easy to speculate that Flynn suggested the Russians play it cool so that everything could be fixed after Jan. 20.

If the mistakes keep up at this pace, it will add to the cynicism that so many people already feel about Washington, no matter which party runs it. The responsibility for fixing this lies with Trump and his staff. They made the mess; they must clean it up.

Some citizens will never support Trump — just as there were those who intensely disliked President Obama. But it has to be frustrating for those who do like the president, or who at least appreciate what he is trying to do, as they watch him continually get undercut by fouled-up issues that are entirely preventable.

Flynn could have lived up to his military code and told the truth from the start. The travel ban executive order could have been properly researched in anticipation of a court challenge. Insulting Twitter commentary could have been withheld. All the work that has gone into addressing these pratfalls could have instead been spent on the bigger issues Trump campaigned on, like replacing the Affordable Care Act, lowering taxes or improving the infrastructure.

Trump is a frequent golfer, but right now his presidency is much more like a tennis game: full of unforced errors. At some point, hopefully soon, a measure of competence will set in. It cannot happen quickly enough.

Jack Ryan, Enterprise-Journal


An honest look at job numbers

Gov. Phil Bryant likes to brag about how well Mississippi has done economically under his watch.

Last month, during his State of the State address, the two-term Republican said that the number of Mississippians who are unemployed was at its lowest point in almost 13 years. He also bragged about the supposed 6,000 new jobs he and his team at the Mississippi Development Authority have fostered over the previous 12 months.

Last week, the state economist, Darrin Webb, presented a much different take on some of those figures. The reason that the number of unemployed is down is because many of them have given up looking for work or have left the state to find jobs elsewhere. Mississippi, said Webb, is one of only eight states in the country in which the number of persons employed at the end of 2016 was lower than it had been at the beginning of the Great Recession nine years earlier.

Certainly, in fairness to Bryant, some of this pattern is historical. During a national recession, Mississippi tends to be one of the last states to go into the downturn and one of the last to come out of it.

The current state of the economy, though, also reflects a misguided strategy toward job creation that Bryant and some of his predecessors have followed.

They have chased the big splashes — squandering the state’s limited resources by giving way too much in tax breaks and other incentives to lure foreign-owned automakers and tire makers, which, thanks to the government subsidies, can drain other nearby companies of their trained workers.

If landing the megaplants such as Nissan in Canton, Toyota in Blue Springs, Yokohama Tire in West Point and now Continental Tire in Clinton are so great for Mississippi, how come the economy  and the state treasury are still struggling so?

Probably because these heavily subsidized employers are taking more out of the state than they produce for it.

Instead of fixing the deteriorating roads and bridges or better funding education or expanding Medicaid, steps that could create a better business climate overall, Mississippi gives away $240,000 for a $40,000 job at Continental. Great for the German tiremaker. Not so great for the factory down the road whose skilled workers Continental is about to steal — or for the state treasury, which is bound to see more expense than income from Continental.

When the government picks the winners in an economy, it also creates losers. The unbiased numbers suggest Mississippi is doing more of the latter than the former.

By Tim Kalich

Greenwood Commonwealth


Roads: What’s left to study?

House Speaker Philip Gunn says he wants an independent study done before pushing for a comprehensive, long-term plan to fund road and bridge repairs.

I’ll volunteer to do the study. And it won’t take six months — and several high-paid consultants — to produce the results.

Here they are:

The highways, roads and bridges in Mississippi are in terrible condition. They are crumbling, adding to the wear and tear on vehicles and the cost of transporting goods across this state.

The cracks that might have been sealed and overlaid a few years ago are now too far gone. A lot of the pavement will  have to be dug out and replaced.

Addressing this problem today will cost the taxpayers more than if the work had started a year ago, and it will cost even more a year from now.

Study done.

Please send check.

When Gunn says he needs a study for road and bridge replacement and repair, that’s legislative code for: “I’m not ready to deal with this.”

Two years ago, the Mississippi Economic Council was asked to give Gov. Phil Bryant and his GOP allies in the Legislature, including Gunn, political cover by producing a study to show the need and how it could be funded. The research was conveniently released after the November 2015 elections.

MEC enlisted the help of two of the state’s major universities, Mississippi State and the University of Southern Mississippi, plus a private sector consulting firm to put together the $400,000 report.

It confirmed what Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall and Mississippi Department of Transportation executives had been saying for years: The state is not putting nearly enough money into care for all those fine four-lane highways it has built over the past 30 years, much less what it built before then. The fuel tax that funds the work hasn’t been increased in all this time, while the cost of construction has tripled.

The study by the state’s chamber of commerce projected it would take $375 million extra a year — about 20 percent less than MDOT’s  estimate — just to start catching up on the deferred maintenance. Although the study didn’t recommend any one source of revenue, it was obvious that the only realistic way to come up with that kind of money was by raising the fuel tax — which, nicely, also made perfect sense, because it asked the people who are wearing out the roads and bridges to help pay for repairing or replacing them.

To try to line up political support, the study recommended giving $75 million — 20 percent of what’s raised — for counties and cities to repair local roads and bridges.

Yet, one full legislative session and a half later, the Legislature is not much closer to a resolution than it was when MEC released that 2015 report.

Instead of sensibly raising the fuel tax to come up with the money, the House has passed a bill that would earmark for road and bridge repairs whatever the state gets out of future internet sales tax collections.

Collecting sales tax on internet purchases is a good idea. Counting on it to pay for infrastructure projects is not.

No one really knows how much internet purchasing is out there that’s presently avoided sales tax. Estimates on the potential tax revenue have ranged from $30 million to $120 million annually. Even if it were to come in at the high end, that’s not nearly enough money to  deal with the road and bridge problems. Nor is it certain that legislation to force ecommerce retailers to collect the tax will survive a likely court challenge.

Officially, MEC was making nice following Gunn’s stalling tactic last week, saying the speaker “offered a public policy route that makes sense.”

It only makes sense if wasteful duplication and costly hesitation are virtues.

Tepid leadership has become typical of the House speaker. He has proven himself more adept at amassing power than he has been at accomplishing much of substance with it.

Some in the business community compliment him on getting a workforce training bill enacted and for phasing out the state’s inventory and franchise taxes. Not exactly the stuff of legislative legend.

When Gunn has met resistance from his conservative base or other GOP members on initiatives that would take real courage to see through, he has balked. He says he supports changing Mississippi’s flag but has done did little to make that happen. He says a new funding formula for public schools is still coming, but apparently he’s dropped the idea, suggested by the consultant he and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves hired, to shift some of the cost to wealthier, heavily Republican areas of the state. He says he’s going to get meaningful campaign finance reform enacted this legislative session, after personally misusing the many loopholes in the current law to cover up his own spending of campaign funds. If the past is any indication, campaign finance reform will stall, too.

It would be true to form for Gunn to say that ending such legalized bribery also needs more study.

By Tim Kalich

Greenwood Commonwealth