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Washington Calling

George who?... farm subsidies ... more
by Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service


February 18, 2005

Washington - In the three decades since President Richard Nixon transformed George Washington's birthday into today's federal holiday, the first president's standing among Americans is fading.

Washington College in Chestertown, Md., which the first president patronized during his life, commissioned a poll that concluded George Washington today ranks seventh among the presidents Americans think of as the greatest - behind Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Only 46 percent of the adults recognized Washington as the general who led the Continental Army, and barely 4 percent of young people identified New York as the place where the first inauguration was held.

Almost half of those asked correctly identified Mount Vernon, in Virginia, as his home. But 23 percent thought it was Gettysburg and 15 percent picked Monticello, 3 percent opted for Graceland, and 2 percent chose the Neverland Ranch.

G.W. can take some comfort in the finding that he would beat the current G.W. by 20 points if the two faced off in an election today. But presidential historian Ted Widmer said that fewer and fewer Americans today know much about Washington's life. "Let's face it, 'First in war, first in peace, and seventh in the hearts of his countrymen' doesn't sound very impressive," he said.

Skyrocketing crop subsidies are prompting lawmakers to take a second look at the 2002 farm bill, which wasn't supposed to come up for renewal until 2007. It's now costing more than $20 billion a year to subsidize food and cotton crops, more than double the $9 billion under the previous farm bill.

This bill was supposed to rescue the family farm, but the National Taxpayers Union estimates that barely 19 percent of the crop subsidies are going to small farmers, with huge agribusiness conglomerates reaping the most.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is backing a proposal that would cap some of the largest payments, particularly for crops like cotton where the subsidies are so generous they are resulting in overproduction.

President Bush wants tourist resorts to finance their own dredging operations to bring back sand swept out to sea in storms. The new budget proposes capping "beach nourishment" spending next year at $46 million - about two-thirds of what's currently being spent. Harry Simmons, president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, says Congress has backed the beach programs for half a century.

New student visa requirements, imposed in the wake of 9/11, involved so much red tape that foreign-student enrollment in American schools dropped 2.4 percent in the 2003-04 academic year - the first decline in more than 30 years. The central problem involved a two-month delay to complete background checks, which forced many students to accept competing university offers from other countries.

The State Department says it has now reduced the wait for F-1 student visa clearances to two weeks, and dropped requirements that student visas be renewed every two years. The visas will expire when a student completes studies.

Shrinking TV coverage of local and state politics prompts Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to back legislation requiring federal regulators to give more rigorous examinations when broadcasters get their federal TV licenses reauthorized.

Barely 8 percent of 4,333 news broadcasts last year included information on state or local politicians, or their races. Eight times more coverage went to stories about accidental injuries, prompting McCain to suggest the only way a local politician can get local TV coverage today is to be involved in a freak accident.


E-mail Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributes by Scripps Howard News Service


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