Watch Out for Fast Track

Look out America! The President is rolling out Fast Track in September. He wants the authority to negotiate another political treaty -- short on facts, long on fiction.

Fast Track is the authority for a treaty to be negotiated with only an up or down vote by the Senate. No amendments are in order. It's amazing how the Constitution can be nullified by law.

The problem for the Administration will be that Fast Track and the Global Warming Treaty will get connected. Both are treaties which will hurt the U.S. economy.

Washington usually follows the money. It will be interesting where this one leads to.

Farmers are watching the Global Warming Treaty. It looks like a bad deal for the U.S. Developing countries would be exempt from mandates of the Treaty. Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, China, India and dozens of other countries would have lax rules while the U.S. and the other developed countries would face strict mandates. Fuel, fertilizer, equipment and other farm input costs will be more expensive for U.S. farmers while trying to compete with Mexico and other food producers.

-- From David Senter's newsletter on agriculture. Contact Senter at 1901 L St. NW, Suite 300, Washington, D.C.; 202-452-9422; email bsenter@erols.com.

Alliance Heads for Atchison

The Alliance for Democracy will hold its second annual national convention Oct. 30 through Nov. 2 at the Mount Conference Center, Atchison, Kansas

The Alliance, seeking to support a national progressive populist movement, was founded last year in the Texas hill country where the 19th Century American Populist movement began to grow. This year the Alliance honors Kansas, where the agrarian Populists organized cooperatives, achieved massive self-education, and refused to concede to large corporations the economic and political power to which they had no democratic right and no democratic legitimacy.

Confirmed speakers so far include Alliance founder Ronnie Dugger, co-chair Ruth Caplan, human rights leader and activist comedian Dick Gregory, and international organizer against NAFTA and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) Tony Clarke of Canada, with many other guests expected.

For information, call convention registrar, Marie Smith at 816-523-1813, email marie@micro.com or write The Alliance for Democracy, P. O. Box 683, Lincoln, MA 01773.

Corporate Farm Welfare

The new tax bill passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton returns us to welfare as we used to know it -- for corporate farms.

The provision reducing the tax on capital gains to less than half the rate for ordinary income creates extraordinary incentives to invest in breeding and dairy herds found in no other industry. High income taxpayers will deduct the cost of raising replacement stock against ordinary income -- saving 40 cents of taxes for every dollar they spend. But when they sell those same animals, they will pay taxes of only 20 cents for every dollar they receive.

Thus, the federal government will pay them net tax savings of 20 percent of the value of every animal in their herds.

The bill is not nearly so generous to typical family farmers in the 15 percent bracket. They will receive only one-fourth the benefit per animal. Large corporate farms owned by high-bracket taxpayers are granted a government-sponsored competitive advantage over family-size farms, which they will use to expand production and drive prices down. ...

The Center worked with Senators Tom Daschle, Chuck Grassley and Bob Kerrey and many citizens to seek a limit on the amount of capital gain any individual could claim on breeding stock sales, but did not prevail. There was good news. The legislation repeals so-called "suspense accounts" by which large corporate farms such as Tyson Foods, Perdue and Murphy Farms saved millions in taxes under the premise that they were family farms. That designation enabled them to use cash accounting until the late 1980s. Suspense accounts allowed them to carry forward some of the benefits of cash accounting even after they lost the eligibility to use it.

-- Chuck Hassebrook, from the Center for Rural Affairs newsletter, PO Box 406, Walthill, NE 68067; phone 402-846-5428.

Boston Gets Living Wage

The Boston Jobs and Living Wage Coalition, a consortium of labor, religious and community leaders led by Boston ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO scored a huge victory July 30, as the Boston City Council passed the living wage ordinance 11-1.

The new ordinance is arguably the strongest such measure in the country, requiring companies getting sizable city contracts or subsidies to pay their employees a wage that is sufficient to keep a family of four above poverty, currently about $7.70 an hour.

The measure also includes resident hiring provisions, requires companies seeking city assistance to report on jobs and wages, and creates an advisory board on city assistance with labor and ACORN seats.

The Boston ordinance is the latest to pass in a slew of such ordinances being proposed all over the country in what appears to be a growing movement to hold businesses accountable for the public tax dollars they receive. The living wage victory came after months of petitioning, street visibility, demonstrations, public hearings, and intense negotiations.

Similar campaigns are currently under way in Philadelphia, Denver, St. Louis, Albuquerque, Reading, Pa., and several other cities. Living wage ordinances are on the books in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Baltimore, New York City, Jersey City, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Portland, Santa Clara County, CA, and New Haven, CT.

For more information, contact Nathan Henderson-James, Research Coordinator at ACORN, email resgeneral@acorn.org or phone 202-547-2500.

Family Farmers Need Help, USDA Commission Told

Independent family producers are being squeezed out by vertically integrated food processors, but American consumers need family farmers, the USDA's National Commission on Small Farms was told in an Aug. 22 hearing in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Pete Waletich, a member of the South Dakota Farmers Union, talked about his family's agricultural heritage, but noted that the economic realities of production agriculture have discouraged young people from entering the profession. "Farm families earn about $5,000 annually in farming income. Very few independent family farms can stay afloat without one or both of the spouses working off the farm, as is the case in my own family," Waletich said.

The South Dakotan presented stark statistics: From 1947 until 1997, commodity prices for spring wheat, corn and barley had increased by 35 percent, 69 percent and 3 percent, respectively. He compared this to a 966-percent increase in the price of a postage stamp, a 481-percent increase in the price of a tractor and a whopping 13,500-percent increase in the hospital costs associated with the birth of a child.

Waletich proposed that the commission consider recommending long-term, low-interest loans, short-term financing with competitive rates and financial counseling for beginning farmers. For existing farmers he reintroduced the concept of a marketing loan program targeted to family-sized production levels. He also suggested that tax incentives be given to retiring farmers who opt to sell their land and equipment to beginning farmers at lower interest rates.

"A lack of discipline on the part of large corporations in this country is allowing greed to spiral out of control," Gary Hoskey, a Montour, Iowa, producer who serves as vice president of Iowa Farmers Union, told the commission. "There comes a point where government intervention is needed. If this attitude of not caring for one's fellow man goes unchecked, it will destroy our nation."

Debra Lundgren of Kulm, N.D., representing the North Dakota Farmers Union, proposed USDA study the concept of operational cooperatives, which would enable farmers to share their abilities, such as management expertise, marketing knowledge and mechanical skills, with the goal of reducing their input costs. She punctuated the urgency of the family farm crisis and stressed the need to target USDA programs to independent family operators.

"Family farmers have three strikes against them from the beginning. We can't control our income, we can't control our expenses, and we can't control the weather. If we could gain a small measure of control over income and expenses, we can live with the weather," said Lundgren.

The commission, which had five other hearings, was scheduled to make its report to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman by Sept. 30.

-- From the National Farmers Union, 11900 E. Cornell Ave., Aurora CO 80014; phone 303-337-5500.

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