Cattle Today

Cattle Today

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by: Wes Ishmael

Up front, I don't care much about your political affiliation, and if you're a thinking person you care even less about mine.

So, none of this speaks to political affiliation, government or otherwise. Rather it is all about political agendas in and out of the cattle business. And, it's about the pressing need for stronger leadership and deeper integrity.

Presidential candidate, George W. Bush, took his opponent, Al Gore, to task during his nomination acceptance speech for calling his plans for Social Security some kind of risky anti-protection scheme. Bush believes Americans who are paying Social Security taxes should in fact have the option of choosing how to invest a portion of their individual taxes to have a crack at heftier returns than Uncle Sam can promise or even guarantee. In rebuttal, Bush reckoned how if Al Gore had been around when Edison invented the light bulb, the current Vice President would likely have labeled it some kind of risky anti-candle scheme.

Really, this is similar to the fiction and propaganda spouted by a vocal minority in the beef industry the last few years, ranting and railing to any listening ear about how things like international trade, producer check-offs and industry consolidation are all some kind of risky anti-cattle scheme aimed at eliminating independent cattle raisers and perpetrated by Them, whoever they happen to be against at the time.

Never mind the fact that a global economy offers no choice about participation, never mind that the mass majority of cattle producers clearly support the current check-off, and never mind that plenty of trusted research points to the fact that so far, especially as beef demand sucked the bottom of the consumer pool, consolidation has enabled the industry to remain larger and stronger than it otherwise could have.

Of course, there are plenty of reasonable and intelligent folks who believe just the opposite. That's swell. My personal beef comes with folks who dress up their attack in sheep's clothing, aiming at one issue when they're really out to get someone or something else.

For instance, consider the too-long, too-costly check-off battle waged between the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) and the Beef Board and National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the Beef Board's primary contractor. I visited with one of LMA's member directors a few months back. I told him I appreciated what I could only believe was sincerity on their part, but for the life of me I didn't see how spending money to vote on something a majority of producers already supported would accomplish anything. Best as I could tell, the crux of the problem boils down to a good old-fashioned, first-rate school yard shoving match—hurt feelings, hurt pride, a thirst for vindication, etc.

You have a problem with NCBA, go after NCBA. You have a problem with specific NCBA leadership or staff, go after them. But don't drag the industry through the mud along the way.

Understand, there are plenty of days when I don't agree with NCBA, or any other organization for that matter. For one thing, no matter the intentions, it's always amazing to me how people with vision and extraordinary decision making ability as individuals can come together as a group and make awfully average or downright poor choices.

With that said, the folks who want to beat their chests about doing away with organizations like NCBA—and there is at least one such cooperative effort currently—need to also answer a simple question: Do away with them and what's the alternative? In this case, at the very least, who will carry the industry torch on federal legislation? Hmmm…maybe we hire our own lobbyists. But, who gives them direction? Hmmmm…maybe we put together a cooperative of state associations and elect a board of directors. Sounds suspiciously like an organization.

And, all member organizations wind up dragging the same baggage and wearing the same wrinkles sooner or later. Just like all member organizations are governed by an interesting rule of nature that says in every membership, about 80% of the members will never show up, they'll just pay their dues and be happy to belong for whatever reason they belong. Of the remaining 20 percent, there will be 10 percent of the members actively involved because they believe strongly in what the organization is doing, while the other 10 percent will be actively involved because they vehemently disagree with what the organization is doing.

In both cases of active membership involvement, history proves the lever of progress is not a mortar shell aimed at destruction, but is members willing to be involved and to offer strong enough individual leadership to affect change.

This is the same kind of leadership that every voting-age citizen in the United States has the right and responsibility to wield on election day.

You want to talk about risk, especially on the threshold of the hand-wringing and ear-pulling that will become this nation's next farm policy? According to Gore's official campaign website—longer on rhetoric than a 40' rope in a boxed stall—Gore's plans to help save the independent agricultural producer include reducing the estate tax, fixing the Freedom to Farm fiasco, increasing what are termed counter-cyclical support payments to farmers and working to reduce consolidation in agribusiness.

In other words, fear not, Big Brother and Uncle Sam will both be their to save you—one hand on your billfold and the other leading you by the nose.

As for Bush's take on agriculture, according to his official campaign website: He wants to eliminate the estate tax and reverse the government's decades-long supply control management schemes, while providing business-based risk management tools. In other words, he wants to let the market work and let the people who make the market work keep the businesses they've spent lifetimes building.

On the subject of taxes overall, Gore spends plenty of ink and tooth polish touting things called Community Empowerment Zones, pro-savings tax cuts, and just for the heck of it, eliminating the marriage tax penalty.

That crazy Bush, though, along with doubling the child credit, expanding charitable deductions and eliminating the marriage tax penalty, he actually believes about 25 percent of the nation's current budget surplus should go back to the folks who paid the money to begin with—us taxpayers! He proposes broad-based tax cuts across the board, offering the biggest cuts to the lowest wage earners.

When it comes to the environment, Risky Bush calls for an end to the mandate-regulate-litigate ways of the federal government. Instead, he wonders why more control shouldn't be given back to the state and local authorities who know more about what's going on with their resources. And, he proposes market-based incentives for the folks who are serious about taking care of the environment.

Gore's environmental plans, on the other hand, include creating a new government entity called the Energy Security Environmental Trust Fund, enforcing the current asinine Endangered Species Act, expanding wilderness areas and working to ratify US agreement to the Kyoto Protocol that he helped negotiate. If you're not familiar with the Kyoto Protocol it is presumably a much needed plan for the world to get a handle on global warming, even though some of the brightest climatologists in the world, from Harvard on down, don't necessarily even agree global warming is taking place. In sum, this Protocol is so far the biggest shell game yet invented and could cost the US billions of dollars in the name of nothing.

Of course, it's tough to have a business or an environment if you don't have a home. Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney—a former US Defense Secretary—call for beefing up national security, beginning with more support and respect, along with renewed trust between the military and the government.

Gore's answer? In part: reenlistment bonuses, defining a new military strategy and developing new operational concepts and organizations. And,

“…stepping out smartly to transform the forces to a forward engagement strategy.”

Personally, how smartly anyone steps out concerns me a lot less than whether or not the folks willing to lay down their lives for my freedom have the support, pay and tools they need to be confident they made the right choice.

Obviously, it's at least a four-day ride between would do and will do, and both candidates have their warts, just like every organization you agree or disagree with in the industry. But it sure is tough to bet against someone like Bush who seems to believe more in the people who elect the government than in the government that is supposedly elected to serve the people.

(Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CATTLE TODAY.)


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