Raisin Hell

This week, the White House launched a new initiative for a “better, smarter, faster government.” At a showy Monday press event, President Obama declared, “we need the brightest minds to help solve our biggest challenges… It’s up to each and every one of us to make it work better.”

Where exactly has The Smartest President Ever decided to focus several of his brightest minds? On punishing “Raisin Dissidents.”

No, Raisin Dissidents isn’t a college indie band or a molecular gastronomy trend that all the foodies are raving about. I would call the very concept “Orwellian” but not even the author of Animal Farm and 1984 could have concocted such a ludicrous term.

Hidden in the tottering mountain range of federal regulations, is the sinister-sounding Marketing Order 989. This rule has empowered the Marketing Order and Agreement Division of the Fruit and Vegetable Program of the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to manage a National Raisin Reserve.

That’s right, America: We’re $17 trillion in debt but we have a National Raisin Reserve.

The sub-sub-sub-division of the USDA even created a 35-person Raisin Administrative Committee to oversee our vital dried grape resources. In this Truman-era scheme, the federal government seizes a large percentage of every farmer’s crop in order to prop up prices.

Surely, Obama’s Smarter Government must have laughed at this ridiculous raisin cartel and ordered it dismantled at once. Right?

Believe it or not, President MENSA thinks it’s just swell and has spent untold piles of Chinese cash defending it in court, even hiring private investigators to harass Dangerous Enemies of the Raisin Cartel.

California farmer Marvin Horne is America’s leading Raisin Dissident. For years, the 68-year-old allowed the government to seize a percentage of his harvest. Those stolen raisins were placed into the reserve and he had to eat the cost. All farmers just considered this theft the price of doing business until 2002 when Horne said no. 

“I believe in America. And I believe in our Constitution. And I believe that eventually we will be proved right,” Horne said. “They took our raisins and didn’t pay us for them.

“The hell with the whole mess,” he said, “it’s like being a serf.”

Shocked at the serf’s insolence, the U.S. government is demanding Horne pay $650,000 in fines and surrender 1.2 million pounds of raisins. That equals four years of harvests.

The farmer lost every court case until he reached the Supreme Court this spring. Justices from the left and right were amazed that the program even existed.

Justice Antonin Scalia called it “a crazy statute.” Justices Breyer and Sotomayor insisted that Horne have the ability to “challenge this scheme.” Even Justice Kagan wondered “whether this marketing order is a taking or it’s just the world’s most outdated law.” They kicked it back to the Ninth Circuit to make a decision, but the U.S.D.A. has the power to end it today if they wanted.

If Obama wants anyone to believe his promises of a smarter government, he should start by axing the National Raisin Reserve and liberating freedom-loving farmers like Marvin Horne. 

Follow Jon on Twitter at @ExJon.

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