I Yap Therefore I Yam

Christmas-New Year’s maelstrom. And I would wager every one of
you is sporting a similar bite mark on your own behind as well.
How’d it get there? Remember the federal spending bill passed by
the Senate with a one-vote margin of victory during the Christmas
vacation? That’s the one for which Vice President Dick Cheney had
to cut short his visit to Iraq to cast the tie-breaking vote.
That’s the one we’re supposed to feel good about because a sneaky
back-door provision that would have opened the Alaskan Wilderness
to oil drilling was defeated. And that’s the one that cut about $40
billion from a host of federal programs that would otherwise have
helped the poor, the sick, and those seeking to pick themselves up
from the pavement or perhaps keep from landing there in the first
place. The Bush White House is now talking about controlling
runaway costs. There’s the war in Iraq. There are Katrina relief
efforts. And most importantly, there’s the next wave of tax
cuts — $27 billion worth just kicking in and another $95 billion
that has been provisionally approved — we all need to pay for so
people making more than $200,000 a year don’t feel pinched,
constrained, or otherwise annoyed. Given the weakened state of the
Bush White House these days, you can imagine Karl Rove — whom Bush
loves so much he nicknamed him Turd Blossom — had to use every
trick in the book to get these cuts approved. You would be correct.
Lost in the holiday cheer is how Karl discovered that a spoonful of
sugar beets was all it took to get some very bad medicine to go
down. Until the very last minute, it appeared the White House and
the Republican majority lacked the votes needed to pass the budget
cuts in the Senate. Not only were all the Democrats opposed to it,
but a small handful of Republicans felt squeamish about cutting
services to the poor to subsidize tax cuts for the rich and the
richer. (In the next five years, the federal treasury will lose an
estimated $27 million, due to new tax-deduction rules that will
overwhelmingly benefit those now making $200,000 a year or more.
And of the $94 billion in proposed new tax cuts, 54 percent will go
to households with incomes of more than $1 million, 43 percent to
households making between $200,000 and $1 million, and 3 percent to
households between $100,000 and $200,000.) To achieve the 50-50
deadlock necessary to allow Cheney, under Senate rules, to cast the
tie-breaking ballot, the White House needed to change just one
Republican vote. According to news reports buried in the L.A. Times
Christmas Eve edition, Rove identified two possible defectors:
Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Smith very
clearly explained how he could not vote for the measure so long as
the bill stuck it to Medicare and Medicaid recipients — which
provide healthcare for the poor and middle-class — while protecting
the profits of the pharmaceutical industry. But if there was some
equality of sacrifice in the form of lower drug prices for the
poor, Smith said, he could go along with the administration.
Obviously, the man was unstable, so Rove moved on. He got Coleman
on the phone and asked him what he would want. Not nearly so
squeamish as Smith, Coleman knew exactly what he wanted. The
proposed Senate bill would trim $30 million off the sugar beet
industry’s $350 million annual federal subsidy. Coleman wanted that
subsidy kept intact. After all, he thundered, the budget should not
be balanced on the backs of poor sugar beet farmers. Without such
subsidies, who knows what candy manufacturers might have to charge?
And if America’s children can’t have affordable medical care, at
least they can still have affordable candy bars. Some
populist-minded policy wonks noted that only 40,000 Minnesotans
derive their livelihood from the sugar beet industry, while nearly
600,000 depend on Medicaid. Despite this obvious imbalance of
interests, it’s possible the $107,000 Coleman received in campaign
contributions from drug companies over the past three years may
have tipped the scales. Right here in Santa Barbara, Coleman’s
cynical antics come far too late to do any good. That’s because we
no longer have any sugar beet processors. We did, though, until
about 15 years ago: Holly Sugar in Santa Maria. Holly’s decision to
abandon Santa Barbara has had profound effects. With the company’s
departure, a young and restless Andy Caldwell found himself
suddenly unemployed. Caldwell has since become the mouth that
roars — and roars and roars — for COLAB, a coalition of hard-line,
conservative-minded business and agricultural interests, mostly
from North County. As tireless as he is opinionated, Caldwell seems
to be paid by the word. He has something urgent and salty to say
about almost every agenda item that comes before the Board of
Supervisors. When Caldwell’s at the top of his rhetorical game, he
can single-handedly extend the length of a supervisors’ meeting by
20 to 30 percent. Supervisors Brooks Firestone and Joni Gray,
chafing at the torment inflicted by such long meetings, sought to
change the way meetings were run. Their proposed reforms, however,
put activists of all stripes in an uproar. In the face of
accusations that Firestone and Gray were trying to exclude the
public from the political process, the two supervisors beat a
discreet retreat. The moral of this story is that when it comes to
sugar beets, ignorance is decidedly not bliss and what you don’t
know will hurt you. If you’re one of the millions forced to make do
with a lot less thanks to the recent budget cuts, I’d suggest you
save your receipts and send them to Senator Norm Coleman of
Minnesota. Or better yet call him at (202) 224-5641 and wish him a
Happy New Year. And while you’re at it, tell him the Poodle sent


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