Friday, November 30, 2007

Why Republicans Love Farm Subsidies but NOT the Farm Bill

At the Republican Presidential Candidates debate, Ted Faturos asked “I'm curious which candidate could label themselves fiscally responsiblee, will endorse the elimination of farm subsidies if they are elected president in 2008.”

Mitt Romney responded “I believe in supports” and Rudy Giuliani added “The governor's right.” Giuliani went on to say “The subsidies in Europe are far higher than they are in the United States. We could reduce subsidies here if they would do it there. But we shouldn't do it on our own.”
{NOTE : For an additional comment on this logic, please see the SIDEBAR below.}

So the two leading Republican candidates professing love for subsidies … but what about the people who really authorize spending – Congress ?

With all the media attention about farm subsidies ( Link -Farm Subsidies Go to Billionaires “Farmers” of New York City , Link - Deceased Farmers Got USDA Payments , Link – How Growers Double their Subsidies , etc.), Congressman Ron Kind tried to address these issues during the House debate. Kind’s proposal would have overhauled the farm bill by ending payments to farmers earning more than $250,000 a year (which was in line with what President Bush proposed), limiting payments farmers can receive under guaranteed loan programs, expanding conservation programs and replacing many subsidies with crop insurance and other protection that pays only if farmers lose money.
Roll Call Vote 747 was voted down by the Republicans 151 – 44 with Minnesotans Bachmann and Kline supporting continuing the subsidies.

Therefore, to an overwhelming majority of Republicans, subsidies are good government. So why hasn’t the Senate moved the bill forward ?

Well, like so many other pieces of legislation, there are a number of competing purposes. So, while Republicans Love Subsidies, there are other parts of the bill that they don’t like – taxes and welfare.
Collin Peterson said at FarmFest "We are spending less than 12 percent on farmers. Over 68 percent of the farm bill is for nutrition, for food stamps and the other feeding programs." {MORE on this in a commentary tomorrow.} Further, the bill would impose taxes on some foreign and multinational corporations operating in the United States that do not now pay taxes on some earnings as a result of international treaties.

There we have the crux of the Farm Bill problem. Republicans Hate Taxes ( I suspect as much as they Love Subsidies) … even closing loopholes to help to pay for the subsidies. Futher, they Hate Welfare (unless its Corporate Welfare which is synomosis with Subsidies.)

There is reason why Congress's approval is so low ... all they want to do is reward potential contributors and not be fiscally responsible in ensuring that our citizen’s receive the essential needs of substance.

SIDEBAR : Romney and Giuliani both complained that foreign governments pay subsidies. Therefore, if America didn’t do also, American farmers would be a competitive disadvantage.
Yet, neither recognize that many of these same governments also provide health care for their citizens … thus the logic would be that American business should not have to provide health care for their employees but instead it should be provided through the government. Don’t US companies that provide health care benefits operate at a competitive disadvantage to their competitors?
Oh, uh … I can see another “subsidy” program in the making.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Winners and Loser : Farm Bill, Death Tax, Politicians versus Me, the taxpayer

Gil Gutknecht aptly called the US Senate “the graveyard of all good ideas” and this week the Senate applied a lethal Double Dose to two good pieces of legislation. Gutknecht was part of the 109th Do-Nothing Congress and the Senate seems to be acting to ensure that the 110th does no better.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin said Thursday that "If we can't get a farm bill through the Senate that came out of the committee without one dissenting vote ... If we can't do that then what's the use trying to do it next year with the same Senate?" and effectively postponing the legislation until after the 2008 election And Republican House members seem to be in agreement. So lobbyists will continue to make contributions until the legislation is resolved. And that’s why there will not be any legislation this term … the politicians win.

We may – or may not – like the Farm Bill, but to pass it along to the next Congress and President is not only shameful but woefully irresponsible.

On Wednesday, the Senate held hearings entitled “The Federal Estate Tax: Uncertainty in Planning Under the Current Law.” What is at stake is potentially $24 Billion in revenues, but the statements by Senators Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley indicate a strong opinion that this tax loophole be continued. Ironically, Warren Buffet appeared at the hearing and spoke of continuing the tax. The argument is full of dramatic misinformation that these taxes are largely unfair inheritance taxes paid by hard-working owners of small and medium companies. In reality most estates don't owe any estate tax at all. Gutknecht like to talk how people like Buffett would create trusts and nonprofit groups to avoid paying inheritance taxes. That’s true and a separate argument … (why isn’t the same argument made when nonprofit groups are created to avoid paying ordinary income which is commonplace with sports stars? Yes, those monies can support a number of great charities (for example, the Pohlad Family Foundation)
and we thank them … but we helped created their wealth by our support) There are a number of tax planning strategies (generation skipping trusts, etc.) and a number of significant exemptions that apply such that the number of estates that actually are taxed are relatively small in number. The tax only applies to the amount over the exemption (for example in 2009, the provision is for a $3.5 million exemption).
The people who potentially may pay it are the super-rich. For example, here is a list of 24 individuals from anti-estate-tax families on the Forbes 400 list, 20 owe their good fortune to their forbearers, since only four represent the first generation of family wealth. In fact, since they inherited their wealth, they received step-up tax cost basis thereby reducing the capital gains tax (talk about double-dipping on the taxpayers !) These people are lobbying Congress hard (i.e. making contributions to their "favorite" candidates ... fyi - Mitt Romney's first TV commercial was about the unfair death tax.) And that’s why there will not be any legislation this term … the politicians win.

So this week, the politicians have won twice … by doing nothing … delaying and denying good legislation. So who lost … that would be the taxpayers. As long as the politicians don’t act, the unfair tax system remains in effect and working Americans pay while good programs are not enacted. The national debt rises and the US dollars loses value.

The House has done a good job getting a Farm Bill passed as well as the Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007 (H R 3996) that would do a number of things including revising the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) that impacts working middle class families. But that Senate's inaction proves the axiom is correct : “the graveyard of all good ideas”.
How will Norm Coleman explain how he sat on the Agriculture Committee that passed the Farm Bill, yet he could not get it passed by the entire Senate ?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

FACT OR FICTION : Did CIA operative Mitch Rapp mislead Bush on Iraq ?

Some want to blame CURVEBALL or Ahmed Chalabi for misleading the Bush Administration on Iraq's W.M.D. programs, yet George Bush was the one who made the final decision to go to war. This was not a decision that one makes lightly, yet I wonder if he wasn't mislead by Mitch Rapp.

Never heard of Mitch Rapp ?

Mitch Rapp, is the relentless, marble-hearted CIA assassin and counterterrorism operative, who was assigned a seemingly impossible task when the rumor was that Saddam Hussein had acquired nuclear weapon components from North Korea. Further, the Iraqis are assembling them in a factory buried beneath a Baghdad hospital. This calls for a gutsy mission, one that entails stopping Saddam while avoiding the PR nightmare that bombing a hospital would cause.
Or so Vince Flynn wrote in his 2002 book, Separation of Power. Well, if you read the book, you know that Rapp succeeded in getting the nuclear warhead out of Baghdad to prove to the world that Saddam was definitely pursuing a nuclear program. And as a result, Rapp was lauded by the president as "the single most important person in America's fight against terrorism."

Flynn's fictional President and George Bush have something in common ... they're both fans of Mitch Rapp. Flynn revealed on KFAN radio that Bush has read all his books and even requested an advance copy of his Flynn’s new book Protect And Defend in which Mitch Rapp looks into the destruction of Iran's secret nuclear weapons facility. Now, we know why Bush is talking about Iran and World War III ... Mitch Rapp told him. Oh, goody … Flynn revealed that Bush liked the book, so we all better read it to find out how WWIII turns out in Bush’s mind.

So is that the problem … Bush thought that a team of CIA operatives would save the world from Saddam’s WMD and we wouldn’t even need to be liberators nor would the Iraqis need to “welcome the US forces with flowers and sweets." Ah, in a fictional world, everything is good and easy … but not so in real life. Yes, Bush had a shoot-out with the "bad guys" in Iraq last week, playing a computer game with war veterans that simulates a firefight in Baghdad.

But computer games and books are not real life.

Now, I enjoy a good book … mostly non-fiction, but when need a fiction-fix, I enjoy a political thriller. So when Vinny the bartender wrote his first book, Term Limits, I supported the Minnesota kid and read it. It was good but his later works have stretched from political fiction to science fiction … and that’s scary if Bush cannot see it.

I shudder at the thought that Bush may have read Robert J. Serling's, The President's Plane is Missing. The book was published about the time that Bush was in the Texas National Guard. In the novel, the country is faced with the possibility of a nuclear confrontation with Communist China. President Jeremy Haines is concerned that any wrong diplomatic move by the US could result in disaster. Badly in need of a vacation, Haines and his staff leave for a Palm Springs retreat. On route, Air Force One encounters atmospheric turbulence and disappears off the radar screen. Is the President dead? No, there is a good deal of trickery and mystery, but in the end the President takes charge. Well, I suspect that Bush would probably see himself as Harrison Ford (as in President James Marshall) in Air Force One ... and save the day.
No need for phony Mission Accomplished banners if you have a good writer.

If Bush is looking for some reading, maybe he should stay away from fiction.
If he wants to read a first hand account from people on the ground in Iraq, I suggest Hope Is Not A Plan written by participant-observers brought to Iraq to diagnose the insurgency and develop a get-well plan. The book is written to anyone interested in first-hand information about the workings of a coalition staff during wartime.
Hint : it’s kinda critical as even General David Petraeus was criticized for his pre-surge management.

And if Bush is ready to look beyond the Iraq situation, Osama bin Laden might suggest Perilous power : the Middle East & U.S. foreign policy : dialogues on terror, democracy, war, and justice by Noam Chomsky and Gilbert Achcar. Bin Laden called Chomsky “among one of the most capable of those from your own side.”
Hint : you can learn a lot from your enemy.

And if he wants to learn how the Republican Party has lost its way, read Victor Gold’s Invasion of the party-snatchers : how the holy-rollers and neo-cons destroyed the GOP.
Hint : Gold co-wrote a book with Lynn Cheney, so she may have passed a copy to her that you can borrow.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Saddam Hussein is to WMD as George Bush is to waterboarding

Tomorrow, many high school students will be taking the SAT reasoning test … you know, “Dog is to puppy, as Cat is to ???”

Hence, if the question was “Saddam Hussein is to WMD as George Bush is to ???” could the answer be “waterboarding” ?

While Richard Cheney may still believe that there may still be WMD in Iraq (after all the Reagan Administration supplied numerous shipments of "bacteria/fungi/protozoa" and other items to the regime), others believe that Hussein disposed of them.

So the question was asked, why didn’t Saddam say so?
The simple answer is that Saddam wanted to maintain the image. It was prudent to keep the threats and fear in his enemies’ minds. He didn’t need bullets, all he needed was to show that he had a gun.

So now the question is being asked of waterboarding in relation to the confirmation of Michel Mukasey as Attorney General.
On the surface it seems like a simple question, but Mukasey has offered a rather troubling answer.
Now, the New York Times is reporting that Senator Arlen Specter said he was trying to persuade the administration to brief Judiciary Committee members on the C.I.A. program, so that “we can talk it out amongst ourselves and try to come to a consensus.” But he said Mr. Bush’s aides had been “noncommittal.”

So, why would the Bush administration be “noncommittal”?
Could it be that they realize that they gain more with our enemies if they think waterboarding will be used?
It’s image-building … (you won’t question if there are bullets in the gun, if you see the gun.)
The Washington Post reported that “It is believed that fewer than five high-value detainees have been subjected to waterboarding, and the technique has not been used since 2003.”
ABC News reported that CIA Director Hayden had banned waterboarding in CIA interrogations in 2006.

While I would like to believe my supposition; I could not trust Saddam Hussein, and I cannot trust the Bush Administration.

Is waterboarding torture?
That shouldn’t be a question.
The question should be, “What techniques are effective?”
John McCain and others have spoken loudly that torture does not produce viable intelligence … and I believe John McCain.