Bi-partisan Farm Bill replaces insurance with subsidies – and screws people depending on Food Stamps

The Senate on Thursday voted to advance a farm bill that will set the nation’s nutrition and agriculture policy for the next five years…

The vote was 90 to 8. With the vote, the Senate will begin about two weeks of debate to consider the bill and amendments, according to Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, who is chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee and managing the legislation.

The bill is expected to cost about $969 billion over the next 10 years, but cuts overall spending by $23 billion. The cuts mainly reflect the elimination of direct payments to farm landowners, which cost about $5 billion a year, and cuts about $4.5 billion over 10 years from the food-stamp program…

Among other provisions, the bill would eliminate direct payments to farmers and make expanded crop insurance program the primary safety net for farmers. The government now spends about $7 billion a year on crop insurance to pay about two-thirds of the cost of farmers’ premiums. Under the federal program, farmers can buy insurance that covers poor yields, declines in prices or both.

To replace the direct payments, the bill would create a crop insurance subsidy, costing $3 billion a year, that would cover any losses farmers suffer, known as deductibles, before their crop insurance policies kick in…

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, introduced an amendment on Wednesday that would restore the $4.5 billion in cuts to nutrition programs…“As a mother, as a lawmaker, watching a child go hungry is something I will not stand for.” Ms. Gillibrand said in a speech Wednesday. “In this day and age, in a country as rich as America is, it is unacceptable and should not be tolerated, and certainly should not be advocated for.”

This is what the White House and Congress call bi-partisan legislation. Taxpayers save a chunk of money by directly subsidizing farmers instead of both insurance companies and farmers. But, don’t worry. The insurance companies will figure out to get that money back no matter how many politicians they have to buy.

To get this through everyone mostly agreed to take money away from poor people and their children. Ten years worth of cutting the Food Stamp program. Maybe this is what bi-partisan looked like in the era of Herbert Hoover. It’s not how a civilized nation treats citizens living in the lower half of the income spectrum. Not if you have a conscience.

Ending farm insurance subsidy could save billion$ for taxpayers

The federal government could save about $1 billion a year by reducing the subsidies it pays to large farmers to cover much of the cost of their crop insurance, according to a report by Congressional auditors…

The report raised the prospect of the government’s capping the amount that farmers receive at $40,000 a year, much as the government caps payments in other farm programs. Any move to limit the subsidy, however, is likely to be opposed by rural lawmakers, who say the program provides a safety net for agriculture…

Agribusiness needs subsidies like the Pentagon needs six more aircraft carriers. American farmers were the largest investors in the MF Global hedge fund which recently collapsed. Should we insure that for them too?

Under the federal crop insurance program, farmers can buy insurance policies that cover poor yields, declines in prices or both. The insurance is obtained through private companies, but the federal government pays about 62 percent of the premiums, plus administrative expenses.

…A Congressional Budget Office study cited in the report estimates that the premium subsidy will cost $39 billion from 2012 to 2016, about $7.8 billion a year.

Unlike other farm programs that have income or payment limits, crop insurance payments have no such restrictions, so farmers can get millions in subsidies regardless of their income. The G.A.O. said a cap last year would have affected about 4 percent of farmers in the program, who accounted for about a third of the premium subsidies and were mostly associated with large farms…

Agriculture interests say they oppose any changes to the crop insurance program. “We think it works just fine,” said Steve Wellman, president of the American Soybean Association…Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Most programs like this were initiated back in the 1930’s to help small farmers crushed by the Depression and the Dust Bowl blues. Since then, expanding agribusiness simply bought the politicians of their choice and kept the subsidies rolling.

Poisonally, I think we should take the insurance payments away from the farm industry – and apply the funds to Health Care for the citizens of America, irrespective to whether we’re rural or urban residents.

Farm law “reform” would increase subsidies, guarantee farm income

The farm law being written by agricultural leaders in Congress — and the lobbyists who own them — would boost support rates for some crops and may remove caps on how much money growers collect in subsidies.

Three agricultural sources said that crops grown in the Midwest and Plains — corn, soybeans and wheat — would be covered by one subsidy plan, while cotton and rice, grown in the South, each would have a separate program.

This three-track plan is designed to shore up support from a broader number of farm-state lawmakers for a new approach to farm policy.

Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees…hope to piggyback it onto a government-wide deficit bill in exchange for a $23 billion cut in their programs. It would bar any change in their plan and enact it a year ahead of schedule…

“There’s nothing good about any of this,” said agricultural economist Vince Smith of Montana State University after reviewing the expected crop subsidy changes.

Higher supports could encourage growers to over-produce, said Smith, and they could breach world trade rules against production-distorting subsidies…

Under their plan, corn, soybean and wheat growers would get federal payments when revenue from a crop was more than 15 percent below average, said a farm lobbyist. Crop insurance would cover deep losses. So-called marketing loans would put a floor on prices.

Cotton growers would operate with a higher marketing loan and revenue insurance policies. Target prices for rice and peanuts would be raised, an effective guarantee of revenue.

The package also could remove caps on subsidy payments.

What would happen if someone offered a bill before Congress guaranteeing income protection for working class Americans? Yes, I know that’s a silly question. The bill would never get out of committee much less face a vote before our manure pile of politicians.

Congress is more likely to vote for guaranteeing a healthy life for chickens before schoolchildren.

Supercommittee focuses lobbyists’ clients against one another

It will be a profitable Xmas season

The bipartisan congressional supercommittee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in budget savings is leaving Washington lobbying firms in a quandary, seeing their clients pitted against one another in a competition for government cash.

Major defense contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin have a dozen or more lobbying firms working for them, many of whom also represent the health-care industry, another likely target of budget cuts. While firms often deal with conflicts of interest, the supercommittee represents an unusual challenge, said Clyde Wilcox, a government professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

“This actually is going to be much more like a zero sum game,” Wilcox said. “If someone wins, someone loses…”

If all else fails, “I suspect that they’ll be rational businesspersons and make a decision based on their long-term financial interest,” Jeffrey Berry said. “They have a bottom line, just like their clients.”

You do recall, I hope, that principles, ethics, the needs of the people are irrelevant?

The 12-member panel, whose work has taken on greater urgency since Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating in August, will be the central focus of political and lobbying activity for the next few months…

It’s akin to working with congressional leadership, which we — as most firms — do all the time,” Stewart Verdery [whose clients include clients Boeing, General Dynamics, Eli Lilly & Co. and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America] said…

The politicians will have their hands out – and will find them filled.

Obama seeks end to oil industry subsidies

President Barack Obama on Saturday kept pressure on the Congress to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies, saying they were enjoying huge profits, as he sought to limit political fallout from rising gasoline prices…

“When oil companies are making huge profits and you’re struggling at the pump, and we’re scouring the federal budget for spending we can afford to do without, these tax giveaways aren’t right,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. “They aren’t smart. And we need to end them.”

Oil companies posted sharply higher first-quarter earnings this week with oil prices above $100 a barrel on unrest in the Middle East and growing global demand for energy.

Leading the way, Exxon Mobil, the world’s most valuable publicly listed company, beat analysts’ forecasts by posting a 69 percent rise in earnings to $10.65 billion, its biggest profit since the third quarter of 2008.

Obama insisted he remained committed to “safe and responsible oil production here at home” but said the money from oil industry tax subsidies would be better invested in developing alternative energy sources…

There’s the usual CYA crap in the middle of the article offering up Republican rationales for their butts belonging to Big Oil. Read it if you like collecting ancient propaganda.

Obama has insisted there is no “magic bullet” for bringing down gas prices. But the White House is worried that if gas prices continue rising, the issue could drown out the economic recovery message at the heart of his re-election strategy.

There is no sanity to providing subsidies and tax breaks to the wealthiest corporations in the world. Obviously Republicans presume a kickback from the Oil Patch Boys to fund their 2012 electoral campaigns. That’s pretty much a given. And in states mostly beholden to fossil fuel profits both wings of the Tired Old Party, Democrats and Republicans alike will siphon funds from that deep dark fuel tank.

The only surprise in this process is the number of Americans willing to accept the same old lies, the same foolishness about helping our economy with trickle-down voodoo economics. The only time anything trickles down the legs of Oil Companies results from fear and trembling at the prospect of paying their own way.

Fossil fuel subsidies are 5½ times greater than renewables

Eradicating fossil fuel subsidies would boost the global economy, environment and energy security, the International Energy Agency said on Tuesday, referring to a pledge made by G20 countries.

G20 leaders committed in Pittsburgh in 2009 to phase out, over the medium-term, inefficient fossil fuel subsidies which encouraged wasteful consumption.

Eradicating subsidies to fossil fuels would enhance energy security, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution, and bring economic benefits,” said the IEA, the energy watchdog to 28 industrialized countries, in its annual set-piece World Energy Outlook.

The report estimated such subsidies at $312 billion in 2009, mostly in developing countries, compared with $57 billion in subsidies for renewable energy.

Eliminating fossil fuel consumption subsidies by 2020 would cut global energy demand by 5 percent and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 6 percent by then, said the IEA report.

Economists say that governments should support low-carbon energy alternatives, or else penalize fossil fuels, to take account of the damage that greenhouse gas emissions will cause the climate, and blame fossil fuel subsidies for encouraging energy waste and for undermining greener alternatives.

A graphic lesson in who holds sway over political power in most of the modern world.

Scientists, educators, activists on behalf of humanity and nature vs. the Oil Patch Boys and Coal Barons. Not a fair contest by any measure – when it’s obvious who owns the referees.

Fixing a world that fosters fat

Why are Americans getting fatter and fatter? The simple explanation is that we eat too much junk food and spend too much time in front of screens — be they television, phone or computer — to burn off all those empty calories.

One handy prescription for healthier lives is behavior modification. If people only ate more fresh produce. (Thank you, Michael Pollan.) If only children exercised more. (Ditto, Michelle Obama.)

Unfortunately, behavior changes won’t work on their own without seismic societal shifts, health experts say, because eating too much and exercising too little are merely symptoms of a much larger malady. The real problem is a landscape littered with inexpensive fast-food meals; saturation advertising for fatty, sugary products; inner cities that lack supermarkets; and unhealthy, high-stress workplaces.

In other words: it’s the environment, stupid.

“Everyone knows that you shouldn’t eat junk food and you should exercise,” says Kelly D. Brownell, the director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. “But the environment makes it so difficult that fewer people can do these things, and then you have a public health catastrophe.”

Dr. Brownell, who has a doctorate in psychology, is among a number of leading researchers who are proposing large-scale changes to food pricing, advertising and availability, all in the hope of creating an environment conducive to healthier diet and exercise choices…

So what kind of disruptive changes might help nudge Americans into healthier routines? Equalizing food pricing, for one.

Fast-food restaurants can charge lower prices for value meals of hamburgers and French fries than for salad because the government subsidizes the corn and soybeans used for animal feed and vegetable oil, says Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill…

RTFA. More depth and detail in the article.

My own very subjective take from the decades I spent on the road relies quite simply on marketing 101. Make food cheap and accessible, fast food succeeds. It succeeded so well it dominates the landscape.

Perhaps it wouldn’t have done so well if it all was noticeably crap – but, it ain’t. Taste buds are taste buds and fat and salt are food groups our species figured out were enjoyable back in cave-mouth-barbecue days. Social pressure alone has prompted the best of the fast food vendors to offer alternatives. Will that be sufficient?

As some of us have learned to walk away from other leftovers from our primitive past, we have the capacity to reason and decide upon what we eat no matter the source.

Alaskans whine about the Feds, feast on U.S. taxpayer dollars

Carl Gatto alongside federal highway project in Wasilla, Alaska

Backed by a blue row of saw-toothed mountain peaks, the Republican state lawmaker Carl Gatto finds himself on a fine roll.

Roll it back, he says, roll back this entire socialistic experiment in federal hegemony. Give us control of our land, let us drill and mine, and please don’t let a few belugas get in the way of a perfectly good bridge.

“I’ve introduced legislation to roll back the federal government,” he says. “They don’t have solutions; they just have taxes.”

And what of the federal stimulus, from which Alaska receives the most money per capita in the nation? Would he reject it?

Mr. Gatto, 72 and wiry, smiles and shakes his head: “I’ll give the federal government credit: they sure give us a ton of money. For every $1 we give them in taxes for highways, they give us back $5.76.”

He points to a new federally financed highway, stretching toward distant spruce trees. “Man, beautiful, right?”

Alaskans tend to live with their contradictions in these recessionary times. No place benefits more from federal largess than this state, where the Republican governor decries “intrusive” federal policies, officials sue to overturn the health care legislation and Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, voted against the stimulus bill…

Alaska has budget woes, and, more perilously, oil production is slumping. But its problems are not mortal; the ax falls on new police headquarters and replacement Zamboni blades rather than on teachers and libraries. The state avoided the unemployment devastation visited on the Lower 48 in part because federal dollars support a third of Alaskan jobs, according to a university study.

RTFA. It should surprise no one.

Alaska is the northern terminus of the Bible Belt – where populism and greed feed off ignorant voters to maintain a veritable army of freeloaders at the federal tax trough.

Oil Industry gets billions in tax breaks and subsidies – from you

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform set off the worst oil spill at sea in American history, it was flying the flag of the Marshall Islands. Registering there allowed the rig’s owner to significantly reduce its American taxes.

The owner, Transocean, moved its corporate headquarters from Houston to the Cayman Islands in 1999 and then to Switzerland in 2008, maneuvers that also helped it avoid taxes.

At the same time, BP was reaping sizable tax benefits from leasing the rig. According to a letter sent in June to the Senate Finance Committee, the company used a tax break for the oil industry to write off 70 percent of the rent for Deepwater Horizon — a deduction of more than $225,000 a day since the lease began.

With federal officials now considering a new tax on petroleum production to pay for the cleanup, the industry is fighting the measure, warning that it will lead to job losses and higher gasoline prices, as well as an increased dependence on foreign oil.

They’ve learned all the appropriate catch phrases used by Democrats and Republicans alike.

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Plan to change student lending upsets Republicans, banks

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The private student lending industry and its allies in Congress are maneuvering to thwart a plan by President Obama to end a subsidized loan program and redirect billions of dollars in bank profits to scholarships for needy students.

Snort! How unAmerican can you get?

The plan is the main money-saving component of Mr. Obama’s education agenda, which includes a sweeping overhaul of financial aid programs. The Congressional Budget Office says replacing subsidized loans made by private banks with direct government lending would save $94 billion over the next decade, money that Mr. Obama would use to expand Pell Grants for the poorest students.

Because it would make spending on Pell Grants mandatory, limiting Congressional control, powerful appropriators are balking at it. Republicans say the plan is proof that Mr. Obama is trying to vastly expand government. Democrats are divided, with lawmakers from districts where lenders are big employers already drawing battle lines.

At the same time, the private loan industry, which would have collapsed without a government rescue last year, has begun lobbying aggressively to save a program that has generated giant profits with very little risk

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