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The GOP Tax Plan Tells Us Everything About Who Matters In American Democracy

Huffington Post | Posted on November 7, 2017

The GOP says its plan is an effort to “fix our broken tax code,” and there can be no doubt that the code is broken. Our fabulously wealthy nation is mysteriously plagued by poverty. More than 40 million Americans currently live in poverty, including 11.5 million children. Over 41 million people live in what the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as “food insecure households.” Millions of Americans literally could not afford to eat at some point during 2016. Families living a little higher up the economic ladder generally have a tenuous hold on their middle-class status: 78 percent of U.S. households report living paycheck to paycheck.These economic troubles persist as Wall Street and Silicon Valley are increasingly dividing the spoils of the broader economy among themselves. The financial sector is supposed to function as a sort of utility for manufacturing, agriculture and other elements of what economists call the “real” economy. But today it accounts for nearly 30 percent of corporate profits — about triple its share from three decades ago. Since 2000, compensation in the financial sector has increased at nearly three times the overall rate in the economy. Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook now mimic financial giants by acquiring tech startup after tech startup and then using their merged muscle to consume the profitable activity of others. Google and Facebook together take in 60 percent of the digital advertising market and collected 99 percent of all online ad revenue growth in the past year.The GOP tax plan won’t resolve any of those problems. Republicans have assembled a host of tax changes that will ensure that more and more of the nation’s wealth goes to the people who already have most of it. It’s a strategy to inflate existing fortunes, increase profits on Wall Street and enhance the social dominance of people who make their living from investments over people who make their living earning wages and salaries.

Pioneers of organic farming are threatening to leave the program they helped create

The Washington Post | Posted on November 7, 2017

The pioneers of the sustainable farming movement are mourning what they call the downfall of the organic program, following a Wednesday night vote by a group of government farming advisers that could determine the future of the $50 billion organic industry. At issue was whether a booming generation of hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic farms — which grow plants in nutrients without using soil, frequently indoors — could continue to sell their produce under the “organic” label.In a series of narrow votes, an advisory board to the U.S. Department of Agriculture voted to allow the majority of these operators to remain a part of the organic program, dealing a blow to the movement's early leaders. Organic pioneers have argued that including hydroponic produce under the label has undermined the integrity of the program they fought decades to establish, and at a time when it is already under intense scrutiny. Some have said they will consider leaving the USDA-regulated program entirely.

Organic board: aeroponics out, hydroponics, aquaponics in

The Packer | Posted on November 7, 2017

By a vote of 8 to 7, the National Organic Standards Board on Nov. 1 rejected proposals to make hydroponic and aquaponic production methods prohibited under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.The board did vote to make aeroponics a prohibited practice by a vote of 14 in favor of the ban, with one member abstaining. That won’t have an impact on organic supply, Frankel said, as he understands there are no aeroponic operations currently certified as organic. Several firms researching aeroponic technology for organic production were waiting on the NOSB vote before attempting to become certified as organic, he said. “It is highly unlikely that people will continue to spend any more time, money or effort to figure out how to make those systems organic.

National Organic Standards Board Decrees That Hydroponic Can Be Organic

Modern Farmer | Posted on November 7, 2017

On November 1st, the National Organic Standards Board finally made a decision on one of the most divisive issues in the organic world: should crops grown in water, containers, or otherwise not in the ground be allowed to call themselves organic? The decision is thus: hydroponic and container gardens will remain eligible for organic certification.This is a debate that’s much more complicated than it seems. Hydroponics and other types of high-tech farming get a lot of attention, most of it positive, for utilizing spaces that previously couldn’t house farms (abandoned factories, shipping containers, that kind of thing). They can potentially be very energy-efficient and reduce water usage. And there’s rarely a need for pesticides at all, since many of these operations are indoors.

Some Tax Code Changes Would Hamper Farmers and Ranchers

DTN | Posted on November 7, 2017

K-Coe Isom, an agricultural accounting and consulting firm,  said there were provisions in the tax bill that would hamper growth for farmers and ranchers and could increase their taxes. These include caps on the interest-expense deduction, scaling back carry-back of losses, the elimination of the Domestic Production Activities Deduction and limits on like-kind exchanges.The tax plan would cap business-interest deductions at 30% of adjusted taxable income. Like cash accounting, businesses with average revenue of $25 million or less would be exempt from that cap.Wald called on Congress to consider four changes to the bill:-- Exempt farm businesses from limits on interest deductions. Farms and ranches often finance equipment, land and input costs with debt financing.Unlike other sectors of the economy, agriculture rarely turns to equity financing, relying much more heavily on debt financing to operate. While it is good that small businesses are exempt from interest expense limitations in this bill, Wald said it would be better if all farm businesses were exempt from this limitation.-- Allow farmers and ranchers to use like-kind exchanges for farm equipment. The current tax code allows farmers to avoid paying taxes on the trades of equipment provided that the farmer acquires similar equipment.-- Congress should preserve the ability of farmers to use such like-kind exchanges. This creates an incentive to replace aging farm equipment with new purchases, which is good for agricultural competitiveness and good for ag manufacturers and equipment dealers.-- Exempt agriculture from the elimination of the Domestic Production Activities Deduction (Sec. 199). The Domestic Production Activities Deduction (DPAD) is a deduction that applies to proceeds from agricultural products that are manufactured, produced or grown by farmers.

USDA withdraws proposed biotech rule

Farm Futures | Posted on November 7, 2017

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced it is withdrawing a proposed rule to revise the agency’s biotechnology regulations and will re-engage with stakeholders to determine the most effective, science-based approach for regulating the products of modern biotechnology while protecting plant health.

Perdue Announces Farm Service Agency and Rural Development State Directors

USDA | Posted on November 6, 2017

 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced a slate of Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Rural Development (RD) State Directors, all serving as appointees of President Donald J. Trump.  FSA State Directors help implement U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) policies in planning, organizing, and administering FSA programs in their respective states. They are also responsible for running the day-to-day activities of the state FSA office.  Similarly, RD State Directors work to help improve the economy and quality of life in rural America.

Awaiting Trump's coal comeback, miners reject retraining

Reuters | Posted on November 2, 2017

When Mike Sylvester entered a career training center earlier this year in southwestern Pennsylvania, he found more than one hundred federally funded courses covering everything from computer programming to nursing. He settled instead on something familiar: a coal mining course.”I think there is a coal comeback,” said the 33-year-old son of a miner.Despite broad consensus about coal’s bleak future, a years-long effort to diversify the economy of this hard-hit region away from mining is stumbling, with Obama-era jobs retraining classes undersubscribed and future programs at risk under President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget. Trump has promised to revive coal by rolling back environmental regulations and moved to repeal Obama-era curbs on carbon emissions from power plants.“I have a lot of faith in President Trump,” Sylvester said.But hundreds of coal-fired plants have closed in recent years, and cheap natural gas continues to erode domestic demand. The Appalachian region has lost about 33,500 mining jobs since 2011, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission.Coal miners are resisting retraining without ready jobs from new industries, but new companies are unlikely to move here without a trained workforce. The stalled diversification push leaves some of the nation’s poorest areas with no clear path to prosperity.

Supreme Court rejects Louisiana dirt farmer's appeal

Fox News | Posted on November 2, 2017

The justices did not comment Monday in leaving in place a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling against Chad Jarreau of Cut Off, Louisiana. The local government agency in charge of protection from hurricanes took the dirt from just under an acre of Jarreau's property to build up a nearby levee.The agency initially paid him just $1,326. Jarreau won a judgment of $164,000 for the dirt after a trial, but ended up with less than $12,000 after the state high court ruled.Jarreau had dug up most of his 17-acre tract and sold the dirt for use in construction projects.

Voter suppression, the blueprint to a broken democracy

The Hill | Posted on November 2, 2017

Numerous false narratives have been advanced to sow division in the American electorate, with few more pernicious than the myth of voter fraud. Created as a tactic to justify discriminatory voter suppression practices, this mythos threatens our most fundamental constitutional right and undermines the core democratic values of republican government. The myth that voter fraud is rampant and our elections are infiltrated by undocumented immigrants was used as a pretext for state legislatures across our nation to make it harder for minorities to vote. Against the tide of reforms to expand the franchise for all voters, states like North Carolina began to repeal common sense legislation designed to ease the inconvenience of antiquated voting practices. In 2013, the state enacted a law allowing election boards to cut voting hours. The state Republican Party even informed election officials that “Republicans can and should make party line changes to early voting.” Consequently, 23 counties reduced early voting, accounting for half of all registered voters.