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Jim Hightower — Watering the weeds & pulling the flowers

December is a time of many holiday feasts — which makes it a good time to remember family farmers and the tremendous contributions they make to our country, culture, taste buds and tummies. But not all farmers contribute equally, which is why I'm sending out this special holiday sentiment to one group of unique agriculturalists: Thbbllllttttt!

That raspberry goes out to 50 billionaires who've been farming the U.S. farm subsidy program for years, harvesting a cornucopia of taxpayer cash for themselves or their corporate empires. They include top executives or owners of such diverse entities as Chase Manhattan Bank, Chick-fil-A, DISH Network, Fiji Water, Hyatt Hotels, Microsoft and Victoria's Secret. The diligent watchdogs of the Environmental Working Group matched the "Forbes 400" list of richest Americans with a farm subsidy database to unmask these Gucci-wearing Old MacDonalds. E-I-E-I-O, what a rip-off!

Among the richest of these faux-farmers are three Walmart heirs, whose personal wealth totals $100 billion. Then there's investment huckster Charles Schwab, sitting on a $5 billion wad of wealth, yet pumping half-a-million dollars worth of rice subsidies into his California duck hunting resort. Also, corporate take-over artist Henry Kravis, who has amassed some $5 billion in wealth, took more than a million dollars from us to subsidize safflower, sunflower and other crops raised on two of his ranches.

Especially jarring is the presence of such multibillionaire right-wingers such as oil and entertainment tycoon Philip Anschutz and nuclear waste mogul Harold Simmons. They've expressed disdain for government spending on poor people and other "takers," yet they've gladly taken more than $500,000 each in farm payments.

Actually, the Working Group's tally understates the total haul by these mega-rich tillers of our public treasury, for many also harvest crop insurance subsidies from the Department of Agriculture. But Congress did them the favor of outlawing any disclosure of this list of names to the public, even though it's our money they receive. In fact, the most valuable ag asset that these billionaires have are the Congress critters who pull their legislative plows and carry this farm abundance to them.
Congress is a very poor gardener, for it keeps watering the weeds and pulling the flowers. A conference committee is presently meeting in Washington to hash out a new, five-year farm bill — and what a hash they're making of it!

For some 40 years, one of the most beneficial flowers in the farm-bill garden has been the food stamp program, a symbiotic benefit for poor people who need the food and farmers who need the income they derive from sales generated by the program. Since 2008, when Wall Street crashed our economy, this flower has been especially worthy, keeping millions of knocked-down families from plunging into full-tilt poverty. Yet, with joblessness still raging unabated and poverty increasing, Congress cut $5 billion from food stamp benefits on Nov. 1, and the House now wants to yank an additional $40 billion from it during the next 10 years. Also, in a nasty, gratuitous slap at these hard-hit families, house leaders want to force them to submit to drug testing to receive food.

Meanwhile, the same gardeners are watering the farm program's noxious weeds. Specifically, they're expanding the $14 billion-a-year crop insurance subsidy, turning it into a guaranteed farm income. And guess who'll get the bulk of the benefits? While the House intends to make food stamp recipients prove that their incomes are low enough to qualify for those meager payments, the crop insurance handout requires no means testing and has no limits on how much recipients can get. This means that billionaires, who're only incidental "farmers," will be among the biggest beneficiaries.

You shouldn't be punished for being poor, and you shouldn't be subsidized if you're a billionaire. To help plant some seeds of common sense in American farm policy, contact the Environmental Working Group: ewg.org

(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 December 2013 09:07

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Michelle Malkin - Thank you Hobby Lobby

Religious liberty was front and center on the nation's Thanksgiving table. Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. The family-owned craft store company is intrepidly challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare's abortion coverage mandate. Hobby Lobby's faithful owners deserve our thanks and praise as they defend freedom of conscience for all Americans.

The privately held retail chain's story is the quintessential American Dream. Founder David Green started out making mini picture frames in his Oklahoma garage in 1970. He recruited his two sons, Mart and Steve, to pitch in at an early age. The family's first establishment took up a tiny 300-square-feet of retail space. Hobby Lobby now runs nearly 600 stores across the country, employs 13,000 people and topped $2 billion in sales in 2009.

The Greens' Christian faith is at the heart of how they do business. They are dedicated to integrity and service for their customers and their employees. The debt-free company commits to "honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles," as well as "serving our employees and their families by establishing a work environment and company policies that build character, strengthen individuals and nurture families."

The company donates more than 10 percent of its income every year to charity. All stores are closed on Sundays to allow employees more family and worship time. It's the company's dedication to biblical principles that led Hobby Lobby in April to raise full-time employees' starting minimum wage to $14 an hour at a time when many other firms have been forced to slash both wages and benefits.

"We believe that it is by God's grace that Hobby Lobby has endured, and he has blessed us and our employees," CEO David Green pointed out. "We've not only added jobs in a weak economy; we've raised wages for the past four years in a row. Our full-time employees start at 80 percent above minimum wage."

Many of Hobby Lobby's employees are single moms working two jobs. Green doesn't need federal mandates to tell him how to treat and retain good employees. He does it because it is the "right thing to do." While countless businesses have been forced to drop health insurance for their shrinking workforces during the Age of Obama, Hobby Lobby headquarters opened an onsite comprehensive health care and wellness clinic in 2010 with no co-pays.

Hobby Lobby employees are covered under the company's self-insured health plan, which brings us back to the company's legal case. Last September, Hobby Lobby sued the feds over Obamacare's "preventive services" mandate, which forces the Christian-owned-and-operated business to provide, without co-pay, abortion-inducing drugs including the "morning after pill" and "week after pill" in their health insurance plan. The company risked fines up to $1.3 million per day for defying the government's coercive abridgement of their First Amendment rights.

As Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby in its court battles, said at the time: "Washington politicians cannot force families to abandon their faith just to earn a living. Every American, including family business owners like the Greens, should be free to live and do business according to their religious beliefs." Amen.

This summer, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals exempted Hobby Lobby from the abortion mandate and allowed the business to avoid those crippling fines while pursuing its case. Now, the Supreme Court will decide whether Democratic Party pandering trumps bedrock constitutional principles.

Planned Parenthood femme-a-gogues, Senate Democratic leaders, Christian-bashing celebs and atheist bullies immediately attacked Hobby Lobby for "denying women access to birth control." The lies and religious persecution, especially near the date of America's national holiday commemorating the pilgrims' escape thereof, are unconscionable. Hobby Lobby's company health insurance plan covers 16 of the 20 FDA-approved contraceptives required under the Obamacare mandate — at no additional costs to employees. What Hobby Lobby refuses to do is to be forced to cover abortifacients that violate the owners' faith and conscience.

Every employee is aware of the founders' history, devout work ethic and faith. No one is forced to work at Hobby Lobby. If workers want birth control, they can pay for it themselves. (And unlike so many other service workers, they have more take-home pay to spend on the "preventive services" of their choice.)

The intolerant control freaks at the White House took to Twitter right after the Supreme Court announcement to pile on the pander to the Sandra Fluke/Lena Dunham wing of the Democratic Party. "Birth control should be a woman's decision, not her boss's," Team Obama tweeted. That's precisely the argument against federally mandated health care benefits enforced by government in violation of religious liberty and subsidized by employers and taxpayers against their will. Let's pray the Supreme Court sees the light.

(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Sean Sullivan - Invest Laconia TIF funds for maximum impact

The Belknap Economic Development Council (Belknap EDC) recently passed a resolution in support of the City of Laconia's use of the downtown tax increment financing district (TIF) to finance infrastructure projects that support business growth.
We specifically support use of the TIF to finance projects that will funnel local consumers and visitors to downtown Laconia, make it easier for pedestrians to circulate around downtown, and provide an activity in and around downtown that makes it a more attractive place for people to spend time and money. Projects in the October 2013 proposal by the Downtown TIF Advisory Board that would address these needs include Phase 2 of the WOW Trail, the new segments of the Riverwalk, and corresponding signage and wayfinding.
We already know that upwards of 41,000 people use Phase 1 of the WOW Trail each year. Connecting these folks to downtown via an expanded Riverwalk and WOW Trail will certainly make Laconia a more walkable city, which enhances everyone's quality of life. It will also make downtown Laconia a more desirable location for business development. Belknap EDC's economic impact analysis of the WOW Trail estimates that after completion, the entire nine-mile trail will attract over 150,000 trail users a year, with 38,000 of those users visiting from outside of the region and generating $1.8 million in new visitor spending each year. By completing more of the Riverwalk and connecting it to the WOW Trail, the city is positioning downtown Laconia to capture its fair share of this new visitor spending.
Tax increment financing is commonly used nationwide to revitalize downtowns and build infrastructure that is needed to attract private investment. Laconia's downtown TIF account currently has a balance of over $300,000 with projected revenue of $174,000 in 2014. As taxable values increase in the TIF, the incremental tax revenue (the amount generated by taxable value above the total taxable value in the TIF district when it was established) is used to pay the debt service on infrastructure improvements financed by the TIF. The projected TIF revenue over the next 20 years is at least $4.2 million.
In other words, the city can borrow, without risk, against the annual tax revenue generated by the TIF district. As future private investment is made, more revenue will be generated for further improvements. As TIF money is leveraged to make significant enhancements in the downtown area, the downtown area becomes more attractive and poised for new development.
Belknap EDC is encouraged by the forward thinking of the Downtown TIF Advisory Board as well as the interest and support expressed by the City Council. We encourage City Council to work cooperatively with the TIF Advisory Board to come to a consensus on TIF funding priorities soon, and then move forward and bond the recommended projects. The downtown TIF district was created by the City Council in 2004 with the purpose of financing public improvements that encourage economic expansion. Let's do just that.

(Sean Sullivan is chair of the Belknap Economic Development Council.)

Last Updated on Monday, 02 December 2013 09:36

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Froma Harrop - WIll Americans pay more for American-made?

Wow, this T-shirt costs only $8. Great color. Problem is, your finger could punch a hole through it. In most Americans' shopping experience, colors change and styles come and go, but there's one constant: low quality and a sweatshop-country label.
Lot's been said lately about a flickering comeback in American apparel manufacturing. Walmart vows to raise its meager buying of American-made products by $50 billion over the next 10 years. American clothing names — New Balance and L.L. Bean, for instance — now proudly advertise some of their wares as domestically produced.
Could an industry devastated by cheap imports come back? Americans are allegedly clamoring for more "made in USA" stuff. A poll shows almost half saying they'd pay an extra $5 to $20 for what's now a $50 sweater if the garment were made here.
But some skeptics doubt that consumers will act on these feelings. One is Marvin Greenberg, who spent many painful years in the garment business. As he sees it, consumers willing to pay more for better- and American-made clothes will remain a definite minority. The vast shopping public demands basement-scraping prices on two-for-one deals. Patriotism ends at the cash register. He's seen it happen.
"Back in the '60s, there was a union protest in Fall River (Mass.) about saving jobs, stopping imports," Greenberg recalls. "People carrying signs were wearing imported clothes."
Fall River's nickname is Spindle City, and it was there that Greenberg took over his father's sweater factory. He made products for the Garland label and then ran its manufacturing operations in Fall River, Brockton, Mass., Warrenton, Ga., and Beaufort, S.C. He contracted with small manufacturers throughout the South.
Then imports killed them. "I look around at all the empty factories here, down South," he says. "They're not coming back."
What about the supposedly revived interest in quality?
"My contention is most shoppers don't know quality," Greenberg says. "They know style. They know logos."
Greenberg recounts how he once tried to sell sturdy T-shirts. He looked for and found the finest cotton yarn in Belmont, N.C.
A competitor in New Hampshire was making T-shirts for Ralph Lauren with cheaper yarn but getting more money for them because of the logo. "Same guy makes for Ralph Lauren and J.C. Penney," Greenberg sighs, "and the only difference is the horse."
One suspects that some of these buy-American programs are mainly marketing ploys. You hear Walmart executives declaring their desire to help the struggling blue-collar workers who shop in their stores. But it was Walmart that urged its U.S. suppliers to move their factories to low-wage countries in the first place.
On the other hand, there seems to be a significant and growing market for higher-quality, locally produced goods, even if they cost more. Whole Foods is now a national presence. People will pay more for Apple's products. (Despite its aggressively American image, Apple manufactures most of its gear in low-wage countries. But Apple has started making more here.)
Advanced computers have enabled Americans to produce things with fewer workers. That's an advantage for domestic companies and the employees running their machines — though making apparel remains more labor-intensive than other kinds of manufacturing.
The good news is that companies such as Airtex Design Group in Minneapolis are indeed shifting some operations back to this country. The less-good news is that the industry has been so shrunk that Airtex struggles to find the old cutting and sewing skills that used to be plentiful, even as pay for them has risen.
Sad that the best place these days to find middle-class clothes made in America is on eBay. Things can change, right?

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

Last Updated on Monday, 02 December 2013 09:32

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Jim Hightower - Celebrate agriCULTURE, not agriBUSINESS

In December 1972, I was part of a nationwide campaign that came tantalizingly close to getting the U.S. Senate to reject Earl Butz, Richard Nixon's choice for secretary of agriculture.

A coalition of grass-roots farmers, consumers and scrappy public interest organizations (like the Agribusiness Accountability Project that Susan DeMarco and I then headed) teamed up with some gutsy, unabashedly progressive senators to undertake the almost impossible challenge of defeating the cabinet nominee of a president who'd just been elected in a landslide. The 51 to 44 Senate vote was so close because we were able to expose Butz as ... well, as butt-ugly — a shameless flack for big food corporations that gouge farmers and consumers alike. We brought the abusive power of corporate agribusiness into the public consciousness for the first time, but we had won only a moral victory, since there he was — ensconced in the seat of power. It horrified us that Nixon had been able to squeeze Butz into that seat, yet it turned out to be a blessing.

An arrogant, brusque, narrow-minded and dogmatic agricultural economist, Butz had risen to prominence in the small — but politically powerful — world of agriculture by devoting himself to the corporate takeover of the global food economy. He was dean of agriculture at Purdue University, but also a paid board member of Ralston Purina and other agribusiness giants. In these roles, he openly promoted the preeminence of middleman food manufacturers over family farmers, whom he disdained.

"Agriculture is no longer a way of life," he infamously barked at them. "It's a business." He callously instructed farmers to "get big or get out" — and he then proceeded to shove tens of thousands of them out by promoting an export-based, conglomerated, industrialized, globalized, and heavily subsidized corporate-run food economy. "Adapt," he warned farmers, "or die." The ruination of farms and rural communities, Butz added, "releases people to do something useful in our society."

The whirling horror of Butz, however, spun off a blessing, which is that innovative, freethinking, populist-minded and rebellious small farmers and food artisans practically threw up at the resulting Twinkieization of America's food. They were sickened that nature's own rich contribution to human culture was being turned into just another plasticized product of corporate profiteers. "The central problem with modern industrial agriculture ... (is) not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste, and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all. More fundamentally, it has no soul," said Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and former farm boy from Yamhill, Ore. Rather than accept that, they threw themselves into creating and sustaining a viable, democratic alternative. The "good food" rebellion has since sprouted, spread and blossomed from coast to coast.
This transformative grass-roots movement rebuts old Earl's insistence that agriculture is nothing but a business. It most certainly is a business, but it's a good business — literally producing goodness — because it's "a way of life" for enterprising, very hardworking people who practice the art and science of cooperating with Mother Nature, rather than always trying to overwhelm her. These farmers don't want to be massive or make a killing; they want to farm and make delicious, healthy food products that help enrich the whole community.

This spirit was summed up in one simple word by a sustainable farmer in Ohio, who was asked what he'd be if he wasn't a farmer. He replied: "Disappointed." To farmers like these, food embodies our full "culture" — a word that is, after all, sculpted right into "agriculture" and is essential to its organic meaning.

Although agriculture has forestalled the total takeover of our food by crass agribusiness, the corporate powers and their political hirelings continue to press for the elimination of the food rebels and ultimately to impose the Butzian vision of complete corporatization. This is one of the most important populist struggles occurring in our society. It's literally a fight for control of our dinner, and it certainly deserves a major focus as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner this year.

To find small-scale farmers, artisans, farmers markets and other resources in your area for everything from organic tomatoes to pastured turkey, visit LocalHarvest.org.

(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

Hits: 215

 
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