Is foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land a threat to the U.S.? Elizabeth Warren thinks so.

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Does growing foreign ownership of farmland threaten family farmers, food supply and U.S. national security.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, a leading challenger in the race for the Democratic nomination for president, thinks so.

Warren says she’s so alarmed about foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land she wants to ban it.

“Foreign companies and foreign countries like China and Saudi Arabia already own 25 million acres of American farmland,” she posted on Medium on March 27, 2019. “That jeopardizes our food security, which threatens our national security, too.”

She certainly has some support among America’s farmers. “Our rural communities are becoming factory farms for foreign corporations,” argues Family Farm Action, a Kansas City-based organization launched in 2017 to fight for America’s family farmers and rural communities.

In 2018, family farmers packed a Missouri House hearing room to support bills banning foreign ownership of agricultural land. They emphasized the values of family farmers and the deep connections that make them stewards of their land and communities. Foreign-owned companies don’t care about the community because they are so far removed from it, they argued.

“I would hate to see what our forefathers would think of us brokering our American soil off to foreign countries,” said Missouri farmer Terry Spence.

Land law is generally state law in the United States and state laws vary widely.

As of 2017, Six states had laws banning foreign ownership of farmland: Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota and Oklahoma.

Oregon’s only restriction was Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 273.255, saying that “Any individual who is 18 years of age or older and who is a citizen of the United States, or has declared an intention to become a citizen, may apply to purchase state lands. “

Warren’s solution? National legislation similar to that enacted in Iowa prohibiting foreign individuals or entities from purchasing farmland for the purchase of farming.

Warren’s acreage figure, drawn from a 2011 Dept. of Agriculture report, is out of date, but it does illustrate a trend.

Foreign investors controlled 13.7 million acres of U.S. farmland in 2004. By 2014, total U.S. farmland under foreign investors’ control was 27.3 million acres, more than twice the level in 2004 and about the size of Tennessee.

By 2016 it was at least 28.3 million acres, according to a report by The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting using data filed pursuant to the 1978 Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA).  7 U.S.C. 3501 et seq. A thorough review of current law on foreign investment of U.S. agricultural land can be found in the Drake Journal of Agricultural Law: Acquisition and Disposition of U.S. Agricultural Land by Foreign Investors: Federal and State Legislative Restrictions, Limitations, and Disclosure Requirements.

Foreign investors acquired at least 1.6 million acres of U.S. agricultural land in 2016, the largest increase in more than a decade, according to the Midwest Center.

The Disclosure Act requires that foreign owners who acquire, sell or gain interest in U.S. agricultural land must file disclosure paperwork, known as the FSA-153 form, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

In May 2019, Newsweek made it all sound like the sky is falling, “American farmland is increasingly being bought up by outside investors,” Newsweek wrote. “As NPR noted in a recent report, nearly 30 million acres of U.S. farmland were held by foreign investors in 2015, nearly double the acres owned by foreign investors a decade before.”

That may sound threatening, but the fact is only 2.2 percent of U.S. agricultural land is foreign owned.

And while Warren’s criticism of foreign ownership of agricultural land emphasizes the food security issue, most of that foreign-owned agricultural land is forestland, with pastureland next and then cropland.

The Midwest Center has found that timber companies and renewable energy companies are the biggest group of foreign investors.

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For example, EDP Renewables, a Portuguese renewable energy company, and Enel Green Power, an Italian renewable energy company, both control significant swaths of farmland through long-term leases, according to the Center.

In highlighting Saudi Arabia and China, Warren is also overplaying their role in U.S. farmland ownership, probably to make it appear more threatening.

In truth, Canadian investors owned the most U.S. agricultural land nationwide (6.87 million acres) in 2016, followed by The Netherlands (4.87 million acres) and Germany (1.94 million acres). Chinese investors owned 240,000 acres of U.S. farmland., and Saudi Arabian investors even less, just 35,731 acres, according to The Midwest Center.

The state with the most foreign ownership and investment in 2016 was Maine, which had 3.1 million acres that are foreign-controlled, followed closely by Texas at 3 million acres. Alabama, at 1.6 million acres, Washington, at 1.5 million acres, and Michigan, at 1.3 million acres, rounded out the top five, according to the Midwest Center’s analysis.

Oregon was way down the list, with just 315 plots of agricultural land totaling 792,864 acres under foreign ownership out of a total of about 15.9 million acres of agricultural land. That’s about 5%.

Warren seems to have a plan for just about everything. In this case, her plan is wrong. Foreign ownership of agricultural land in the United States or Oregon isn’t a crisis by any stretch of the imagination, no matter how much Warren wants to make it one.

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Political appointees as U.S ambassadors: a recipe for failure

President Trump clearly doesn’t believe the European Union  and its 28 member countries are important enough to have a trained career diplomat serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the large and complex organization.

Instead, Trump’s man in Brussels is Portland businessman Gordon Sondland, the Founder and CEO of Portland-based Provenance Hotels, which owns and/or operates 19 hotels in seven U.S. states and has another six hotels currently under development.

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Hotelier turned ambassador, Gordon Sondland

According to OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics, Sondland is a major Republican donor and bundler. He has given more than $446,000 to federal candidates and groups, 94 percent of which went to Republican causes. After Trump won, he funneled $1 million into Trump’s inaugural committee through four different LLCs.

The U.S. Department off State doesn’t even bother to emphasize Sondland’s experience in international diplomacy in his biography, choosing, instead, to start off with a description of his background that reads more like a promotional brochure for Provenance Hotels:

Ambassador Sondland is the Founder and CEO of Provenance Hotels, a national owner and operator of full-service boutique “lifestyle” hotels.  Provenance and its affiliates (founded in 1985), currently own and/or operate 19 hotels in seven states and have another six hotels currently under development.  Provenance creates unique, independent full-service, urban hotels, each with their own design, story and closely associated art collection.  The Company employs over 1,000 associates between its hotels and its Portland headquarters.  The Company has received critical acclaim for its hotels from such varied publications as The New York Times, Conde Nast, Travel and Leisure, and many other national and international publications.

You almost expect the bio to end with a link to Sondland’s hotels so you can book a room.

I spent part of my professional career working with the talented people of the U.S. Department of State on international treaties. I assure you there is no substitute for education and training in international affairs and diplomacy. Just as it is a mistake to believe that a businessperson is most qualified to be president because “the country should be run like a business,”  businesspeople are not necessarily naturals in the world of diplomacy.

Sondland’s involvement in sensitive discussions with Ukraine and the chaos that has ensued illustrates the point.

As Edward L. Peck, a former Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department oi State, wrote in The Foreign Service Journal.,“Without a doubt, the ability to raise millions of dollars for a presidential campaign is a valuable skill. But rewarding a fundraiser or “bundler” with the job of heading a U.S. embassy reveals total ignorance of what the job entails. Almost unknown outside diplomatic circles, an ambassador’s responsibilities are numerous, complex and important—sometimes critical. And, as with any and all top management positions, they cannot be effectively carried out by beginner.”

But that is who President Trump has been appointing ambassadors in far too many cases – diplomatic beginners.

As of Sept. 26, 2019, there had been 166 ambassadorial appointments under President Trump. Of those, 92 (55.4%) were career and 74 (44.6%) were political appointees. Among Trump’s political appointees are:

  • Jamie D. McCourt, Ambassador to the French Republic and Principality of Monaco: A former Owner, President, and CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers
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Jamie D. McCourt (center) being sworn in on November 2, 2017, as the U.S. Ambassador to the French Republic and Principality of Monaco.

  • Robert Wood Johnson, Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland/Court of St. James’s: Chairman and CEO of The Johnson Company, New York, NY, a private asset management firm, and Chairman and CEO of the New York Jets football team;
  • Sharon Day, Ambassador to Costa Rica: Worked for more than 20 years for the Republican Party at the local, state, and national level, and most recently in leadership roles as Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and RNC Secretary.
  • Ronald J. Gidwitz, Ambassador to Belgium: Former President and CEO of Helene Curtis, a toiletry and cosmetic manufacturer and marketer.

Many of the political appointees may be accomplished people, but that does not always translate into diplomatic skill.

“The United States has enjoyed a position of unprecedented global leadership in our lifetimes,“ said Barbara J. Stephenson, former President of The American Foreign Service Association. “This leadership was built on a foundation of military might, economic primacy, good governance, tremendous cultural appeal–and diplomatic prowess to channel all that power, hard and soft, into global leadership that has kept us safe and prosperous at home.”

Going forward, the interests of the United States in our troubled world will be best served by ambassadors with diplomatic prowess instead of political connections.

Boeing’s CEO should resign

恥 Haji

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Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) President Masataka Shimizu, center, TEPCO executive Toshio Nishizawa, right, and Vice President Masaru Takei bow during a news conference on its fiscal 2010

Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Masataka Shimizu resigned in disgrace in 2011.  He had been in charge when a tsunami devasted the company’s nuclear plant, endured public criticism for not stepping up in the disaster’s initial days and faced criticism for  the biggest financial losses in the company’s history.

He needed to take responsibility for the crisis.

Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muiulenburg, should pay attention.

It was during Muilenburg’s watch that Lion Air Flight 610 took off from Jakarta, Indonesia on October 29th, 2018, at 6:20AM local time. Its destination — Pangkal Pinang in Indonesia’s Bangka Belitung Islands. Twelve minutes later, Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 passengers and crew.

It was during Muilenburg’s watch that Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 took off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 10th, 2019, at 8:38AM local time. Its destination – Nairobi, Kenya. Six minutes later, Flight 302 crashed near the town of Bishoftu, Ethiopia, killing all 157 passengers and crew.

That’s 346 dead people.

As the planes plummeted down to their doom, seatbelts sliced and shredded internal organs. At impact, arms were torn off, spinal columns broken, brains separated from nerves. Organs flattened against internal cavities and blood poured out of all orifices, even into chest and stomach cavities. Bowels were punctured, so bile filled the space around hearts, lungs, stomach, and other intestines like a can of organ soup. Then, for the plane that hit the ground, there was fire, consuming jet fuel at 800 to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit.*

Masataka Shimizu did the right thing.

“We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 accidents,” Muilenburg said. He owes those 346 dead people, their grieving families, their saddened friends and their countries, so much more.

 

*Source: What Happens To Your Body When You Die In A Plane Crash

He’s back: Key player in Oregon securities fraud case resurfaces

Like a bad penny, Guy B. Rencher II, who swindled local investors out of millions during 2000-2001, has reappeared as one of the public faces of a West Linn, OR-based business.

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The October 2019 issue of Lake Oswego Living magazine, produced by N2 Publishing, features a 2-page ”business spotlight”  spread on the local owners of Action Northwest, an exterior home maintenance company. Prominently featured on the first page of the story is a color photo of Guy Rencher, a manager at the company, and his wife, Meadena., the owner.

“We caught up with these good local folks who own and run Action Northwest learn more about their services,” the Lake Oswego Living magazine said.

Good local folks?

That’s not the way a lot of folks defrauded of more than $7 million by Guy B. Rencher II see it.

In 2002, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS) filed a civil suit against against Guy Rencher, The Rencher Law Firm LLP, Paul James Peiffer of Aloha and Robert J. Skirving of Portland alleging securities fraud and other violations of Oregon Securities Law. Assistant Attorney General Daniel H. Rosenhouse and Special Assistant Attorney General Caroline L. Smith litigated the case for DCBS.

During 2000 and 2001, Rencher and two associates, Robert Skirving and Paul James Peiffer, sold more than $7 million of illegal investments to multiple investors, promising them high risk-free returns.  Many of the investors were Portland-area residents, and some were clients of Rencher’s law firm. Most invested at least $100,000. Some invested substantially more, $3.5 million in one case.

Investors purchased ownership interests in limited liability companies formed by Rencher and his law firm. Rencher used some investor funds to purchase certificates of deposit issued by a purported off-shore bank called Bank of the Nations, controlled by Peiffer and Skirving, and collected more than $300,000 in “management fees.”

But Rencher, Peiffer and Skirving were running a con game that took advantage of too-trusting people. DCBS officials said the three men were not licensed to sell securities and none of the securities they sold were registered.

On Aug. 6, 2003, Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris excoriated both Guy Rencher and his wife, Meadena Rencher, for their conduct.

“Debtor has fallen far short of providing complete disclosure, and his failure to do so is attributable to a deliberate and concerted effort to withhold information,” Perris wrote.  “The number and magnitude of the inaccuracies in debtor’s bankruptcy papers are, as the trustee’s attorney said during his opening statement, staggering. This is especially true considering that debtor is an experienced attorney and businessman and that he has had the benefit of being represented by an experienced bankruptcy attorney.”

“Debtor’s conduct leading up to trial was marked by a lack of cooperation and obstructiveness,” Perris added. “At trial, debtor did not directly answer the questions posed to him. Instead, he testified with calculated evasiveness. When debtor did testify directly as to relevant matters, I often found him not to be credible.”

Perris also took Guy Rencher’s wife, Meadena, to task. “Debtor’s wife, Meadena Rencher, also testified at trial,” Perris wrote. “I found her credibility to be equally suspect…I also found Mrs. Rencher’s testimony on other points to be evasive, rehearsed and generally unbelievable.”

On Oct. 15, 2003, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Frank L. Bearden ordered Guy Rencher, his law firm, Peiffer and Skirving to pay more than $2.3 million in fines and sanctions for scores of fraudulent securities transactions in what Bearden referred to as “a classic Ponzi-type scheme.”

Rencher was also fined $20,000 per violation for each of 16 violations involving misrepresentation to investors. The Rencher Law Firm LLP was fined $5,000 for each of 23 counts of selling unregistered securities. Total Rencher and Rencher law firm fines: $435,000.

The Oregon Department of Justice has not responded to a request for information on payments by Rencher, if any, of the fines ordered by Judge Bearden.

But Guy Rencher, who was already morally bankrupt, has avoided reimbursing the investors deceived by his schemes by filing a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition.

A graduate of Redmond High School in Central Oregon, Rencher started college and then went on a two-year Spanish-speaking mission for the LDS Church in Chicago, according to information he posted on his Redmond High School class of 1970 reunion page. He subsequently graduated from Brigham Young University in 1977 and then Willamette University College of Law. He was admitted to practice in Oregon in 1980.

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Guy B. Rencher II, Redmond High School, Class of 1970 yearbook photo.

In a Profile he posted to a Redmond High School Class of 1970 website, he wrote: “I mostly practiced law from 1980 in my own small firm in Corvallis and Portland until I retired from law practice in 2002.”

“Retired” hardly told the whole story.

According to the Oregon State Bar, at the time of his resignation from the bar a formal disciplinary proceeding was pending against him for violations of the disciplinary rules involving multiple matters, including:

  • DR 1-102(A)(2) (criminal conduct reflecting adversely on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice);
  • DR 1-102(A)(3) (dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation); DR 1-103(C) (failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities);
  • DR 5-101(A) (lawyer self-interest conflict);
  • DR 7-102(A)(3) (concealing or failing to reveal that which the lawyer is required by law to reveal);
  • DR 7-102(A)(5) (knowingly making a false statement of fact);
  • DR 7-106(A) (disregarding a standing rule or ruling of a tribunal);
  • ORS 9.527(1) (commission of an act or course of conduct that would preclude admission) and ORS 9.527(4) (willful deceit).

Guy Rencher’s resignation from the Oregon Bar was accepted by the Oregon Supreme Court effective Dec. 7, 2004. (Rencher was also once registered as a member of the State Bar of Texas, but he has been suspended for an “Administrative” reason and is not eligible to practice in Texas.)

Now living in a $500,000 home in West Linn and working as a manager at Action Northwest (a.k.a. Action Window & Gutter Cleaning, LLC), Guy Rencher appears to have emerged successfully from his transgressions. His investors haven’t been so lucky.

Donald J. and Michelle Yvonne (Shellie) Freund of Lake Tapps, WA, who invested $200,000 with Rencher, filed for bankruptcy in Dec. 2000 and never recovered any of their investment.

Philip Harker of Highland, Utah sought to recover $587,500 invested with Rencher. He recovered $0.

Joy Vandervelden died on Dec. 13, 2002 at age 88, without having recovered any of the $3,350,000 million she invested in Rencher’s scheme.

Even the Oregon Golf Club in West Linn was stiffed. Rencher owed the Club $18,544..16. It recovered nothing.

Guy wrote in his Redmond High School profile, “Life has been a lot of things, some expected, some unexpected, but it hasn’t ever been boring!”

Certainly not for his victims, many of whose whose lives were changed unalterably by his greed and perfidy..