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September 14, 2008

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McCain Opposes Very Popular Farm Bill

August 6, 2008

Republican presidential candidate John McCain opposes the $300 billion farm bill and subsidies for ethanol, positions that both supporters and opponents say might cost him votes he needs in the upper Midwest this November.

His Democratic rival, Barack Obama, is making a more traditional regional pitch: He favors the farm bill approved by Congress this year and subsidies for the Midwest-based ethanol industry. McCain instead has promised to open new markets abroad for farmers to export their commodities.

In his position papers, McCain opposes farm subsidies only for those with incomes of more than $250,000 and a net worth above $2 million. But he’s gone further on the stump.

“I don’t support agricultural subsidies no matter where they are,” McCain said at a recent appearance in Wisconsin. “The farm bill, $300 billion, is something America simply can’t afford.”

McCain later described the measure, which is very popular throughout the Midwest, as “a $300 billion, bloated, pork-barrel-laden bill” because of subsidies for industries like ethanol.

It’s not a stand that pleases Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa.

“I would not advise him to take that position,” Grassley said. “For sure, he can’t lose Missouri and that’s in the upper Midwest. Could he lose Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin and still be elected president? Yes, but I wouldn’t advise him to have that strategy.”

Grassley, a conservative Republican, and his Senate colleague from Iowa, liberal Democrat Tom Harkin, have achieved enduring success in this state largely by mastering the politics of farm issues. Harkin chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, which wrote the new farm legislation.

“I don’t see any scenario in which McCain can get to the White House without carrying some upper Midwestern states,” said Harkin, an Obama backer. “I’ve never really understood in all my years why Sen. McCain has gone out of his way to speak against and vote against policies that are important to the upper Midwest.”

There’s a history of close elections in the region. President Bush carried Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota in 2004, earning 35 electoral votes. But his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, prevailed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, giving him 41 electoral votes.

Veteran GOP strategist Gentry Collins said McCain can defend his record on farm issues, including opposing “corporate welfare” for big operations, but he said there’s more at work.

“The upper Midwest is crucial in this election, and Midwestern voters value authenticity. They value experience,” Collins said. “I don’t think agricultural issues are the only issues Midwestern voters care about. There are some bigger-picture issues, broader issues where he’s strong.”

But on another important issue to Midwesterners, McCain opposed a tax break for developing wind power. Obama supported the tax break.

“We’re employing close to 2,000 people right now in Iowa in the wind energy industry,” Harkin said.

McCain has been most outspoken on ethanol subsidies, and that has Republicans worried in Iowa, the nation’s biggest producer of the fuel. Other top ethanol producers include Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri.

“It does challenge him in states like Iowa, the No. 1 ethanol state,” said Bill Northey, Iowa’s Republican agriculture secretary. “It does make it tougher to make the case.”

Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford said McCain’s problem on farm issues reflects a deeper issue he faces as he’s courted conservative GOP activists, many of whom are deeply suspicious of him.

“He’s essentially reverting to standard Republican supply-side economics,” said Goldford. “That’s where he’s got a problem. He’s got to find his own voice and so far he hasn’t had a voice.”

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat who has campaigned for Obama, said he’s puzzled by McCain’s position. He points to other Republicans who have a different view.

“President Bush and I just had a good conversation about how critically important ethanol is, and how Iowa is positioned so well to lead the nation,” said Culver. “I have no idea why John McCain doesn’t support it. It hurts him in Indiana, and Missouri and Ohio, and it’s not the message right now that any of us want to hear.”

Obama has a modest lead in national polls, but electoral votes will decide the election. Obama is poised to do well on both coasts, while McCain is favored in the South and some parts of the West. That leaves the upper Midwest as a swing battleground.

“The Midwest is crucial in this campaign,” said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat and an early backer of Obama. “Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and perhaps Indiana are very important states. McCain is behind, and he’s in danger of falling further behind.”

Article by Mike Glover

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Schwarzenegger’s Answer to Overcrowded Prisons is to Build More

June 22, 2008

A federal magistrate has rejected an attempt by the state to keep certain documents secret as courts decide whether to cap California’s overcrowded prison population. California’s 33 adult prisons were designed for roughly 100,000 inmates but currently hold 159,000. Inmate advocacy groups say the crowding has led to numerous problems, including and not limited to neglectful health care and poor mental health treatment.

A special panel of three federal judges had already set a June 27th date to convene a hearing to decide whether to go ahead with a November trial on a set of lawsuits that have been consolidated. Inmate advocacy groups that brought the lawsuits opposed the administration’s request, and federal Magistrate Judge John Moulds in Sacramento issued a ruling Friday generally siding with the plaintiffs and limiting the administration’s request.

In pretrial motions, the state sought to prohibit public disclosure of certain documents classified as sensitive communications or part of internal deliberations. The Associated Press filed written opposition with the court. This written statement suggests the administration’s motion was too broad and had the potential to improperly keep some records from the public.

The administration sought to, for example, define sensitive communications as those that include “budget change proposals for government agencies that are not defendants in this proceeding.”

Judge Moulds said only documents that clearly would jeopardize prison security if they were made public should remain secret. He also ruled that any personal information on inmates and state employees would be redacted. This seems like an even-handed distribution of secrecy when appropriate, as defined by the judge. The administration can and likely will appeal Moulds’ decision to the three-judge panel, according to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spokesperson. They are currently reviewing the decision.

The ruling comes as court-appointed mediators attempt to negotiate a settlement. Under the proposed settlement, 27,000 inmates would be released before serving their full sentences and a population cap would be set.

According to state Sen. George Runner, Republican state lawmaker who have intervened in the lawsuit will reject any settlement that includes a prison cap formula. In an almost predicatable fashion, he said Republicans agree that crowding needs to be reduced but believe it can be done by adding nearly 38,000 new prison and county jail cells through a building program approved by the Legislature last year. Spending more money on jailing the people than treating them, since much of the overcrowding comes from drug-offenders.

In addition, a federal receiver is seeking $7 billion in state money to add 10,000 hospital and mental health beds whose funding had been cut by Reagan administration.

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Bush Vetos Farm 300 Billion Dollar Farm Bill AGAIN

June 18, 2008


President Bush vetoed a $300 billion farm bill again Wednesday after a clerical error forced Congress to send the measure to his desk for a second time. Even after realizing the bill was missing 34 pages when it was sent to Bush’s desk originally, Congress hoped he might sign it into law although it was highly unlikely since they had voted to override his veto the first time.

The discovery of the missing section, “Title III,” prompted concerns from House Republicans that the override vote was improper. In order to put “Title III” into effect, Congress re-passed the entire legislation, including the missing pages, and resent it to Bush. The House voted 306-110 at the end of May. The Senate voted 77-15 for the bill at the beginning of June.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the sections of the bill that were originally sent to the president had become law after Congress voted to override Bush’s first veto. The veto will almost assuredly be overturned again, especially after the bill was passed both houses by margins greater than the two-thirds majority required to override a veto by the Constitution.

Two-thirds of the $300 billion in spending allocated in the bill would be for nutrition programs such as food stamps. An additional $40 billion would go toward farm subsidies, and $30 billion will be allocated for payments to farms to keep land idle.

After vetoing the latest version of the farm bill, Bush on Wednesday scolded Congress for not “modifying certain objectionable, onerous, and fiscally imprudent provisions. … I am returning this bill for the same reasons as stated in my veto message.”

When he vetoed the first version of the farm bill, Bush said it “continues subsidies for the wealthy and increases farm bill spending by more than $20 billion, while using budget gimmicks to hide much of the increase”, suggesrting that it would hurt efforts to improve American farmers’ access to overseas markets.

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Should Menthol Be Illegal in Cigarettes?

June 17, 2008

Is menthol a flavor that should be banned from cigarettes? That’s a tricky question, according to the American Medical Association whose members on Tuesday found themselves opposing some government health heavyweights.

Menthol flavoring would not be banned under a bill before Congress that gives control of tobacco products to the Food and Drug Administration. The bill would ban flavor additives such as mint, clove and vanilla, which appeal to young people.

Menthol is preferred by more than 75 percent of black smokers, according to government estimates. Fewer than 25 percent of whites smoke it.

“If we’re banning things such as clove and peppermint, then we should ban menthol,” said Dr. Louis Sullivan, health secretary from 1989 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and one of seven former health secretaries who sent a letter to lawmakers voicing opposition to the menthol exemption. “If it doesn’t happen, this bill will be discriminatory against African-Americans.”

Normally, the nation’s largest organization of doctors probably would agree. But in this case, the AMA president and many delegates support the menthol exemption pushed by the cigarette industry. The AMA voted Tuesday to refer the decision on menthol to its board, effectively silencing the doctors who wanted the organization to speak out against the exemption.

The reason is that the menthol exemption helped congressional leaders reach a bipartisan compromise on legislation that would put cigarettes under government regulation. Supporters say it would give the FDA authority to reduce harmful ingredients in cigarettes, require new health warnings and bar misleading labels such as “light” and “mild.”

Dr. Ron Davis, a preventive medicine specialist who is wrapping up his one-year term as president, said removing the menthol exemption from the bill might derail the legislation.

And while other flavor additives are aimed at luring young smokers, menthol is different, he said. Banning it would merely drive mature black smokers to other brands, said Davis. “It would change the entire political dynamic.”

Menthol cigarettes such as Kool were marketed during the 1960s in advertising campaigns targeting urban blacks, according to the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network. That group withdrew its support from the tobacco control bill last month over the menthol exemption and found allies in the former health secretaries.

The exemption harms the black community, said Robert McCaffree of the American College of Chest Physicians, the group that introduced the AMA proposal. He noted that cigarette maker Philip Morris USA supports the bill and the exemption.

William S. Robinson, executive director of the African American Tobacco Prevention Network, said the group believes a superior tobacco control bill could be crafted without the support of Philip Morris, which makes several menthol brands.
“We understand from an industry perspective why menthol is off the table,” Robinson said. “We think part of it is because menthol represents almost 30 percent of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market.”

Philip Morris spokesman Bill Phelps said the bill would give the FDA authority to remove ingredients that are determined harmful to health.

“Based on our scientific judgment, menthol does not increase the inherent hazards of smoking,” Phelps said.

Originally found @ AssociatedPress.com

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