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Idaho's Republican dairy farmers embrace socialism

Ray Ring | Aug 26, 2010 08:50 AM

This is a good counterpoint to the rightwing Tea Party accusations that Obama and Congressional Democrats are "socialists" because they increase the government's role in health care and economic stimulus and so on.

Dairy farmers in Idaho -- and around the country -- want new federal subsidies that would guarantee they make a certain profit above the cost of feeding the cows. As the Twin Falls Times-News reports, they're effectively a national movement of dairy farmers and dairy corporations advocating for that socialist goal.

The federal government already funnels billions into dairies through complex obscure handouts such as the Dairy Product Price Support Program, which guarantees that dairies get a certain price for their milk. But all those government handouts still allow dairy farmers to suffer hard times occasionally, which is happening now because of the global economic meltdown. So the dairy farmers' movement -- led by the National Milk Producers Federation -- wants Congress to OK a new handout called the Dairy Producers Margin Protection Program. If the "Margin Protection" handout is OK'd, dairy farmers and dairy corporations would get a guaranteed profit above their cow-feeding costs, no matter how their costs fluctuate.

Jerry Kozak, president of the National Milk Producers Federation, explains some of the rationale for this "reform" thusly: Right now, "there are producers who are receiving (government) checks when they don't need them. ... We've got to make it so producers don't get a check when they don't need it." Well, that sounds like an OK goal in and of itself -- hand out the government money only to those who need it.

And since they're Idaho farmers, and farmers in general, we can assume they're mostly conservative Republicans who -- in other venues -- often rail against Big Government and the taxes that raise the money for their subsidies.

File this under Shameless Hypocrites -- a folder that's getting fat.






California voters OK reform of primary system

Ray Ring | Jun 09, 2010 04:20 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

The biggest message in Western elections yesterday was California's Proposition 14 -- the ballot measure that aims to reduce the power of hardliners in both political parties. More than 54 percent of the California voters -- fed up with extremists who cause gridlock -- approved the reform.

From now on, if the reform isn't stalled by lawsuits, primary elections for most high-profile offices in California will work more like general elections -- all candidates for an office will be presented to all voters, and the two candidates who win the most votes will advance to the general election.

Washington state is trying the same "Top Two" reform, and while there are critics, the reform has a chance of improving politics around the West, as I wrote in a recent succinct HCN piece headlined "Going to extremes."

The Los Angeles Times reports the Proposition 14 news:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who championed the open-primary measure, called its passage a "historic change" that "sends a clear message that Californians are tired of partisan gridlock and dysfunction."

... Under an open primary system, voters will no longer be limited to choosing among candidates from their own parties. Proposition 14 puts the top two vote-getters in primary races for congressional, state legislative and statewide offices, regardless of political party, in a face-off in the general election.

Backers of the measure said the shift would produce more moderate candidates because they would have to appeal to a wider group of voters.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Opponents vowed to take the fight to court and predicted it could take years to sort out.

"I don't know how quickly or if it even will come into effect," said Christina Tobin, chairwoman of the Stop Top Two campaign and a Libertarian candidate for secretary of state.

Minor parties probably will seek to have the measure thrown out because it could limit their access to the ballot. Major parties, which also opposed Prop. 14, are likely to seek court review ...

 Whatever the courts do, it's clear that voters want fundamental reform.

For more info on reforming primaries, here's a former Oregon secretary of state's call for reform in the New York Times ... a Tom Friedman column for reform in the Times ... a balanced report on the potential negatives and positives of Proposition 14 ... a website by opponents of Proposition 14, including some progressives and libertarians ...  a Washington newspaper editor who likes his state's Top Two ... and a Sacramento Bee editorial endorsing California's Top Two.




Understanding an oil group

Ray Ring | Feb 10, 2010 09:45 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

 In 1995, during one of the never-ending controversies about federal management of oil and gas drilling, a prominent Western industry group made a radical suggestion.

The group -- the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States or IPAMS for short -- called for the end of federal land.

Diemer True, a Wyoming oil baron representing IPAMS, testified back then in a Congressional hearing that if the state governments took over all federal land, it "would lead to the overall reduction of government and (yield) economic prosperity for the Rocky Mountain Region." Another IPAMS spokesman echoed that radical call in 1995.

It's relevant today as IPAMS still claims to be the leading voice for the West's oil and gas industry. And IPAMS is still loud -- except now it's loudly resisting the Obama administration's efforts to reform drilling.

IPAMS' website, for instance, opens with a warning that "industry is facing an onslaught of federal legislation and regulations" even though oil and gas drillers are "impacting only 0.07 % of federal lands."

Many news stories highlight Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's reforms and IPAMS' complaints. Salazar says he's restoring "balance" after eight years of the Bush administration's relentless backing of oil and gas. For summations of the dispute, check High Country News and the Denver Post and the Center for American Progress. But most of the stories merely quote IPAMS without any background on the group.

So let this be a more complete reference describing the group.

Begin with the basic fact that IPAMS' resistance to federal regulations (and the whole idea of federal land) is an old refrain. Sifting through the history, apparently, since IPAMS was formed in 1974, the group has never met a regulation or a tax that it liked. In that sense, IPAMS is as hardline as the most hardline environmental groups on the other side of the spectrum.

Read More ...

Obama enviros now total 34

Ray Ring | Sep 10, 2009 12:30 PM
Filed under: Ray's politics

The Obama administration has now enlisted at least 34 people who have direct ties to environmental groups or clear leanings in that direction.

That's my running count of the enviros nominated or appointed to top jobs in federal agencies and the White House.

The latest is Harris Sherman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Today, the Obamaites nominated Sherman to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment. If the Senate approves the nomination, Sherman would oversee the U.S. Forest Service and all those issues.

Sherman, 66, has held a lot of environmental positions in Colorado government, ranging from water quality to wildlife to mine reclamation. According to his bio, he's also "active in land conservation efforts with the Nature Conservancy, Colorado Open Lands, and the Trust for Public Land."

In case you missed it in the opening sentence, here's the link to my full list of Obama enviros, which keeps growing and growing. It includes an additional three enviros who are very close to the administration but not officially in it (so the total is really 37 enviros wielding influence like this). They come from groups such as Environmental Defense Fund and American Rivers -- not the movement's left wing -- and they're in positions over public lands, wildlife, energy and climate policy. Please add to the list if you see I've missed some.



Obama does Montana ... and vice versa

Ray Ring | Aug 15, 2009 09:30 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

Preparing to be in a Montana town hall with the president of the United States on August 14, 2009: First think about what to wear. Faded jeans? That would be Montana-ish. But notice a hole worn right though the old denim. So not the faded jeans. Maybe the dark blue jeans that haven't faded yet -- that would be dressier and kind of Montana-ish. But technically the blue doesn't go with my best blazer, which is somewhat the color of a spruce tree. So the black jeans, faded to a unique dark gray that goes either with everything or nothing.

Then walk around the house grabbing what I need to bring. Pads for taking notes, and three or four pens, and the snapshot camera because a snapshot is better than nothing. Get on the road, feeling hurried, checking my watch for how I'm doing on the time. Spend minutes in Bozeman city traffic, get on the frontage road beside the interstate, get up to 60 m.p.h. -- hoping the tinny old Nissan pickup will hold together, same thought any time I drive it anywhere.

Raindrops begin tapping the windshield. A surprise. Riding my get-to-town-hall rails, I hadn't noticed the various clouds swirling overhead -- and that magical scene of some clouds strung low along the mountain fronts, clouds sneaking into canyons below the peaks. A smile -- nothing I ordered up -- comes over my face. Even at my age (59) it's possible to feel a touch of enthusiasm without reservation.

President Barack Obama! Here in my town!

Two sheriff's cars zoom past, like mechanical wolves with flashing light bars ...

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Obama enviros

Ray Ring | Jul 30, 2009 06:10 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

My list of 37 influential environmentalists who are in -- or very close to -- the Obama administration (updated most recently on Sept. 10, 2009):

I'm not saying environmentalists run everything now -- far from it. But most commentators focus on industry people who gain political power, so I'll contribute something original by tracking enviros. And it's interesting.

These are people who have direct ties to environmental groups, or clear leanings in that direction, along with various other credentials such as professorships and previous government service.

I'm defining "environmental group" somewhat loosely. I've included progressive or organic farming groups, for instance, and one unusual state agency (the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, which uses lottery revenues to buy open space and wildlife habitat).

Most of these groups are centrist or in the conservative wing of the environmental movement, not the left wing. Environmental Defense Fund and American Rivers seem to have the most representation in the Obama admin.

No lefties like Western Watersheds or Center for Biological Diversity folks on the list. No Sierra Club, no Greenpeace etc.

I've organized the list beginning with the departments most important to the West, and within each department people are listed according to the rough hierarchy (most powerful first) ...

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More on forest power plays

Ray Ring | Jul 28, 2009 10:20 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

Here are three more takes on experiments in running the West's national forests differently -- follow-up to my High Country News story, "Taking Control of the Machine."


Do I think the experiments will succeed? ... That question was posed by Colorado Public Radio host Kirk Siegler, when he interviewed me last Friday on KUNC in Greeley … I had to grin, thinking: Who can predict outcomes in our current political system? (The edited interview runs five minutes.)


Bob Decker, former head of the Montana Wilderness Association, has edgy remarks about wilderness politics these days ...

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A farmer's wilderness deal

Ray Ring | Jul 20, 2009 12:55 PM
Filed under: Ray's politics

I followed a log truck on a dirt road, breathing the dust it churned up -- heading to the RY Timber mill in Townsend, Montana, last Friday.


The truck stopped on the scales by the mill to have its load weighed.

I kept going only a few more yards to strangest-ever press conference for a wilderness proposal.

The star was Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the most genuine workingman in Congress. He's a third-generation farmer who comes home from D.C. frequently to drive a tractor and turn whatever wrenches need turning on his spread ...

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Enviro infighting on forest deal

Ray Ring | Jul 15, 2009 03:05 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

When I researched my new High Country News story on bold experiments emerging in national forests, I talked to a bunch of people whom I couldn't fit into the magazine story. That's a drawback of magazines -- the pages are not infinite the way the Web is.

So I'm going to use my blog to publish additional material related to the story.

Today, here are summations of the positions of two more environmentalists who don't like the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership -- the Montana experment in which the timber industry cut a deal with three sizable green groups (National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Montana Wilderness Association).

Montana Sen. Jon Tester says he'll hold a press conference Friday to announce how he's tuned the deal and wrapped it into proposed legislation that would designate new wilderness while supporting timber jobs and off-road driving in Montana. Forest restoration -- fixing mistakes of the past -- is also a primary goal.

These two environmentalists run small groups that challenge timber sales with appeals and lawsuits (often winning). They say it's a bad deal in many ways ...

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West's ATV carnage, part 2

Ray Ring | May 20, 2009 08:35 AM
Filed under: Off-road wreckage

At least 13 people have been killed in all-terrain-vehicle accidents in the West in the past month. The fatalities include a 10-year-old boy in California, a 16-year-old girl in Wyoming, and an off-duty sheriff's deputy in Utah.

Expanding the bloody accounting to include the serious nonfatal ATV accidents in the same period (since April 20), the victims include a 9-year-old boy with head injuries and a man who lost his right hand ...

Read More ...

About Ray

Ray has been a Western journalist since 1979. He's now High Country News senior editor, based in Bozeman, Montana. He's earned national recognition including a George Polk Award for political reporting, a Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award for investigating oil-field accidents, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors scroll for going undercover as a prison inmate. He's had three novels published.

Articles by Ray

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