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SoVaNow.com / August 29, 2019
How is broadband internet like the weather? Everyone talks about, but no one does anything about it.

Example zillionty-million-cajillion came Monday night in Chase City when 5th District Congressman Denver Riggleman roped in a bunch of agency types, both at the state and federal levels, to talk about available sources of money for broadband deployment. A forum organized by Riggleman drew representatives of local governments and other entities that hope someday to bring all of Southside Virginia into the digital age.

Judging from the sums of money that were being tossed around the room as the best-we-can-do solution for broadband expansion, Riggleman should have left the bureaucrats at home and brought a better sidekick.

Dr. Evil would have been a good choice.

Remember that guy, from the Austin Powers movies? He was the idiot version of SPECTRE’s Blofeld, the villain to Mike Myer’s comedic take on James Bond. Anyway, you’ll probably remember the scene from the movie where Dr. Evil, reanimated after spending decades in deep freeze, carries out his dastardly plan to wreak death on the planet and demands his ransom, pinky finger pressed to his lips: “One million dollars!”

The numbers at the Riggleman’s broadband forum were slightly better, but not by much. Let’s start with the Federal Communications Commission, which, according to officials present at the meeting, has set aside $84.5 million over the next decade to wire a whopping 31,000 customers in undeserved areas. Over a decade. Wow. I bet Trump is charging his own government more for tee times at Trump Doral Resort. (Wait till the foreign heads of state attending next year’s G-7 conference, which the Grifter-in-Chief proposes to hold at Trump Doral, get a load of their room charges.) The FCC is a pathetic organization, run by an ex-Verizon lobbyist, so colored me shocked that it’s doing less than zilch to foster broadband options in rural America. Not surprising there would be no love for where the big telecoms don’t want to go.

But at least everyone at the meeting seemed to acknowledge that the FCC sucks. What’s more mind-blowing is that Riggleman would get up and talk about his efforts in Congress to secure rural broadband funding with something other than a doleful tone of admitted failure. Hey, I didn’t vote for Riggleman, but I’ll concede that you can’t judge a congressman by his first eight months in office. So “failure” isn’t really the right word — “haven’t gotten it done” is more like it, and at least leaves open the possibility of improvement later on. But that’s not the reality that Riggleman was in town to cop to, and I honestly don’t understand why. Why can’t politicians just level with their constituents from time to time? Does a bear have to have broadband coverage to go in the woods?

But no: instead Riggleman talked up his work in Congress to secure $55 million for rural broadband expansion, with plans to ask for $25 million more. Big whoop. $55 million, $80 million spread over the entire country, it’s meaningless. The numbers themselves don’t amount to the rounding error on the federal budget, unless the numbers are decimals with lots of zeroes in front of them. C’mon folks. This is pathetic.

Anyway: that’s my rant. For anyone looking for alternatives, I would highly recommend paying attention to the Democratic presidential campaign, as several candidates have proposed meaningful funding programs for rural broadband. Elizabeth Warren, one of the leaders of the Democratic field, had an excellent op-ed in The Washington Post this week in which she talked about not only providing more money for rural broadband, but pushing back against market giants that sabotage the work of public utilities, rural cooperatives and others that are seeking to connect the heartland. You can find the piece at washingtonpost.com. It’s a useful corrective to the same-old-same-old that was dished out in Chase City.

» I couldn’t help but to laugh at the lead-in to a very good New York Times article this week: “Farmers’ Frustration With Trump Grows as U.S. Escalates China Fight.” From the Aug. 27 piece:

Peppered with complaints from farmers fed up with President Trump’s trade war, Sonny Perdue found his patience wearing thin. Mr. Perdue, the agriculture secretary and the guest of honor at the annual Farmfest gathering in southern Minnesota this month, tried to break the ice with a joke.

“What do you call two farmers in a basement?” Mr. Perdue asked near the end of a testy hourlong town-hall-style event. “A whine cellar.”

A cascade of boos ricocheted around the room.

Don’t you just hate it when some Washington elite dumps on ordinary citizens like they’re a bunch of rubes? I suppose we shouldn’t really be surprised to see the leader of USDA telling a bad, infuriating joke, when said cabinet secretary works for a libertine Manhattanite who routinely enriches himself and his family in office at the nation’s expense and cares not one whit for working people. Sonny Perdue’s not-cute, snide little crack is an insult to our hard-working farm families that surely won’t be soon forgotten or forgiven.

Oh, wait … the Times article continues:

But many farmers continue to support Mr. Trump and express hope that the president knows what he is doing in his dealings with China. A July survey from Farm Journal found that 79 percent of 1,100 farmers still back Mr. Trump despite the lack of progress in negotiations with China. However, his support dropped to 71 percent in August.

For now, Mr. Perdue largely remains an effective emissary, with the industry still hoping Mr. Trump can pull off the kind of trade deal he has been promising.

“He’s one of us; he’s a farmer,” Brad Kremer, a Wisconsin farmer who is the treasurer of the American Soybean Association, said of Mr. Perdue. “I think he’s got a tough job in a tough administration.”

“Treasurer of the American Soybean Association” sure sounds like a high-powered job; too bad the organization hasn’t found someone to fill it with the analytical capabilities to match. Seriously, if anyone still thinks that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” — scratch that, if anyone thinks Trump has any idea what he’s doing — I have a corn patch under the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you, cheap.

It is encouraging to know that some in the farm community understand better than others exactly what’s going on. Again, from the Times:

“We’re not starting to do great again,” Brian Thalmann, the president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, told Mr. Perdue at the event. “Things are going downhill and downhill quickly.”

On Monday, after a 72-hour period during which Mr. Trump twice escalated his trade war with China, Mr. Thalmann said he could no longer support the president as he did in 2016.

“At some point we have to quit playing games and get back to the table and figure this out,” Mr. Thalmann said. “There’s no certainty to any of this.”

The only certainty is that losing isn’t winning, no matter what our president says on Twitter. As for the part where Mr. Thalmann urges the Trump administration to quit the game-playing? Good luck with that.





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