Tag: washington times

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Farm Subsidies)

The Washington Times says that the upcoming farm bill re-write could “sow division in the GOP.” While House Republican leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy voted against the 2008 farm bill, the new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), is a dedicated supporter of farm subsidies.

The Times recalls Boehner’s comments on the 2008 farm bill:

“The farm bill has often been abused by politicians as a slush fund for bizarre earmarks and wasteful spending projects, and the latest version … is no different,” Mr. Boehner, then the GOP minority leader, said at the time.

It’s too bad then that the Boehner-friendly Republican Steering Committee, which decided the committee chairs, didn’t appear to blink at handing the agriculture committee gavel to a key supporter of the “slush fund.” And it’s not as if Lucas has been circumspect in his intentions. Lucas’s agriculture issues section on his website, which hasn’t been updated since the Republicans took back the House, makes that perfectly clear:

As Ranking Member of the Agriculture Committee, I have long been a champion of voluntary agriculture conservation programs. During the drafting of the 2002 Farm Bill, I worked to secure the largest ever increase in programs such as Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Reserve Program, and many others. In the 2008 Farm Bill, I advocated for renewable energy provisions to be included in the farm bill which would allow rural areas to play a larger role in making the U.S. less dependent on foreign sources of energy. I am proud that the 2008 Farm Bill devotes a funding stream to renewable energy research, development, and production….

[I] will work closely with Chairman Peterson and other members of the committee to ensure that cuts are not made to agriculture producers – farmers and ranchers.

Lucas isn’t shy about touting his support from the myriad farm lobby groups either:

I have been proud to receive recognition from various agriculture groups for my work in support of their concerns. The American Farm Bureau Federation has presented me with its “Friend of Farm Bureau” award for supporting Farm Bureau issues in Congress in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006. In both 2002 and 2003, the National Farmers Union recognized me with the “Presidential Award for Leadership” for issues important to rural America. NFU also recognized me with the “Golden Triangle Award”, which is given to those who have demonstrated outstanding leadership on issues affecting family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. In 2002 the Oklahoma Wheat Commission presented me with their “Staff of Life” award for voting in favor of wheat growers and farmers 100 percent of the time. And for two years running, the National Association of Wheat Growers named me one of only 11 “Wheat Champion” Members of Congress for superior action in Congress in support of the wheat industry.

Last year, Lucas criticized the Obama administration for proposing some minor agriculture program cuts, including a proposal to limit direct subsidy payments to farmers with more than $500,000 in annual sales.

Frank Lucas criticized the Obama administration for merely wanting to deny farmers with a half million dollars in sales from grabbing taxpayer money, but take a look what he has to say in a section on his website on “lower taxes and government spending:”

Spending in Congress has reached historic levels during the 111th Congress. The fiscally irresponsible behavior of former Speaker Pelosi and President Obama has driven our national debt level to the point that it is almost equal to the size of our entire economy. This is unacceptable and it must stop.

I have opposed – and will continue to oppose – spending initiatives that dramatically increase the size and scope of the federal government while adding to our already massive national debt. I have long been a supporter of tax reform and will continue to fight against increases in taxes and wasteful federal spending. Congress must get back to the business of fiscal responsibility and strive for a balanced budget without raising the taxes of hard-working Americans.

Lucas must know that “taxes of hard-working Americans” are pouring into the pockets of generally high-income farm businesses at the rate of $15 billion to $35 billion annually. While Lucas may be a “Wheat Champion” he sure isn’t a Taxpayer Champion, at least not on agricultural issues.

See this Cato essay for more on agriculture subsidies.

The CPSC’s Defective New Complaints Database

We are told constantly that government can play a beneficial role in the marketplace by taking steps to make sure consumers are more fully informed about the risks of the goods and services they use. But what happens when the government itself helps spread health and safety information that is false or misleading? That question came up recently in the controversy over New York City’s misleading nutrition-scare ad campaign, and it now comes up again in a controversy over a new database of complaints about consumer products sponsored by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

As part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), Congress mandated that the CPSC create a “publicly available consumer product safety information database” compiling consumer complaints about the safety of products. Last week, by a 3-2 majority, the commission voted to adopt regulations that have dismayed many in the business community by ensuring that the database will needlessly include a wide range of secondhand, false, unfounded or tactical reports. The Washington Times editorializes:

…[Under the regulations as adopted last week] anybody who wants to trash a product, for whatever reason, can do so. The commission can leave a complaint on the database indefinitely without investigating its merits “even if a manufacturer has already provided evidence the claim is inaccurate,” as noted by Carter Wood of the National Association of Manufacturers’ “Shopfloor” blog….

Trial lawyers pushing class-action suits could gin up hundreds of anonymous complaints, then point the jurors to those complaints at the “official” CPSC website as [support for] their theories that a product in question caused vast harm. “The agency does not appear to be concerned about fairness and does not care that unfounded complaints could damage the reputation of a company,” said [Commissioner Nancy] Nord.

Commissioners Nord and Anne Northup introduced an alternative proposal (PDF) aimed at making the contents of the database more reliable and accurate but were outvoted by the Democratic commission majority led by Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. Nord: “under the majority’s approach, the database will not differentiate between complaints entered by lawyers, competitors, labor unions and advocacy groups who may have their own reasons to ‘salt’ the database, from those of actual consumers with firsthand experience with a product.” Commissioner Northup has published posts criticizing the regulations for their definitions of who can submit a report, who counts as a consumer, and who counts as a public safety entity.

For those interested in reading further, Rick Woldenberg, a leading private critic of the law who blogs at AmendTheCPSIA.com, has critically commented on the politics of the proposal here, here, here, here, and here. More coverage: ShopFloor with followups here and here, New York Times, Sean Wajert/Mass Tort Defense. I’ve been blogging for the past two years at my website Overlawyered about the wider problems with the CPSIA law, including its effects on books published before 1985, thrift stores, natural wooden toys, ballpoint pens, bicycles, plush animals, Irish dance costumes, rocks used in science class and many more. Most of these problems remain unresolved thanks to the inflexible wording of the law as well as, sometimes, the unsympathetic attitude of the commission majority. I’ve heard that bringing overdue investigative oversight to the ongoing CPSIA disaster is shaping up as a priority for many incoming lawmakers on the (newly Republican-led) House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose outgoing chair, California Democrat Henry Waxman, is closely identified with the law and its consumer-group backers.

And You Look to Government for Cybersecurity?

Washington Times reporter Shaun Waterman has a characteristically excellent article out today about U.S. cybersecurity authorities failing to secure their own systems.

According to a new report by government auditors, systems at the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), part of the Department of Homeland Security, were not maintained with updates and security patches in a timely fashion and as a result were riddled with vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.

Time and again, people look to government intervention based on what they imagine government might do under ideal conditions. Real conditions produce far weaker results.

We’re better off distributing the problem of data, network, and computer security among all the self-interested actors in the country—fallible as they are. We should not abandon the problem to a central authority whose failure fails us all.

New Crime Stats Contradict Anti-Immigrant Hype

FBI crime figures reported in today’s Wall Street Journal challenge the perception that illegal immigrants have unleashed a crime wave in Arizona.

One of the clinching arguments for Arizona’s tough new law aimed at illegal immigration has been the perception in that state that crime has been rising, and that undocumented workers are largely to blame. Yet the Journal reports that the incidence of violent crime in Phoenix last year plunged 16.6 percent compared to 2008, a rate of decline that was three times the national average.

According to the Phoenix Police Department, the downward trend in crime has continued into 2010 even as the “illegal immigrant crime wave” story reverberates on cable TV and talk radio. As the Journal story reports:

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, “Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we’re significantly down.” Mr. Crump said Phoenix’s most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona’s major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn’t have exact figures.

The new crime figures confirm what I wrote in a column in today’s Washington Times under the headline, “Unfounded fear of immigrant crime grips Arizona,” and what I explored in a longer think piece, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime,” in Commentary magazine a few months ago.

The president and Congress need to fix our immigration system, but we need to do it in the right way and for the right reasons.

John Berry: Angry about Federal Pay

The head of the federal Office of Personnel Management, John Berry, has become unhinged by a few recent critiques of federal worker pay. Berry is an Obama appointee who apparently views his role as being a one-sided lobbyist for worker interests, rather than a public servant balancing the interests of taxpayers and federal agencies.

Here is an 11-minute audio interview with Berry on Federal News Radio on Friday, where he lashes out at USA Today, Washington Times, and the Cato Institute. Berry is defensive, emotional, and unwilling to accept that new data might indicate a possible problem with the underpaid federal worker thesis that is constantly pushed by the unions.

What do I mean when I say he is unhinged? An investigation by the USA Today found that in 83 percent of 216 occupations examined, federal workers earned more than comparable private-sector workers. Here is Berry’s response when asked whether he thinks the USA Today analysis is a good one: “It is absolutely not! It comes straight out of the Cato Institute!” But, believe it or not, the nation’s largest newspaper is not part of some libertarian plot.

The most troubling aspect of Berry’s performance is his deliberate effort to wrap himself in the flag and deny that anyone should even ask questions about federal workers during a time of national security concerns. It is strange that an Obama administration official would so vigorously use the Bush administration tactic of “waving the bloody shirt.

Here are excerpts from the interview starting at 1:48 minutes and then 5:54 minutes (my transcription):

Interviewer: “There was a line in this [Washington Times] editorial, one of the first lines, it was the first line of the second paragraph, and that is: ‘Consider how much money a bureaucrat can make for successfully sitting at his desk for a year.’

Berry: …You know, this is the kind of, it’s just a denigration of public service and, and it is, there should be no place for it in our country… And to be denigrated and say that they’re bureaucrats sitting at a desk pushing paper there should be no place in American society for such hyperbole.

Interviewer: I wonder if this is something that comes because of the economy. Where is this upswell of anger coming from?

Berry: …And that’s why I just get steamed when I read something like this because it denigrates that incredible motivation, and like I said to denigrate those who even put their lives on the line day in and day out so that the rest of us and our children can be safe, there should be no place for it. And I think my hope is that a lot of people, not just me, will rise up and respond to this with the anger and the facts that it deserves. Because as long as people can get away with denigrating that level of service, then we are putting at risk the future of our country.”

Have you got Berry’s message? We simply cannot allow people to use their free speech rights to question the operations of government because that will undermine national security. So people need to “rise up” and get “angry,” grab their pitchforks, and head to the homes of anyone who dares question high government worker pay because it puts “at risk the future of our country.”

Good grief!

More from me on federal worker pay here.

(Thanks to Solomon Stein and Justin Logan)

Trouble in Massachusetts

Yesterday, Cato released a new study, “The Massachusetts Health Plan: Much Pain, Little Gain,” which showed that official estimates overstate the gains in health insurance coverage resulting from a 2006 Massachusetts law by at least 45 percent.  The study also finds: supporters understate the law’s cost by nearly 60 percent; government programs are crowding out private insurance; self-reported health improved for some but fell for others; and young adults are responding to the law by avoiding Massachusetts.

Given that the Massachusetts health plan bears a “remarkable resemblance” to the Obama plan, the study should serve as a warning sign to members of Congress, says Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies.

The study has received coverage in Investor’s Business Daily, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Detroit News, The Washington Times, the Reason Foundation and the Pioneer Institute.

SSA Fails to Verify With E-Verify

Stephen Dinan reports in the Washington Times that the Social Security Administration—an integral part of the E-Verify government background check system—regularly fails to use E-Verify properly.

Despite helping run the government’s electronic database designed to weed out illegal-immigrant workers, Social Security failed to run E-Verify checks on its own employees nearly 20 percent of the time.

That’s according to this report, which also found that SSA failed to verify employees during the correct time-frame a whopping 49% of the time.

E-Verify is not supposed to be used for pre-screening, but SSA ran a background check before hiring new employees 25% of the time. Fifty-one percent were screened timely. The remaining 24% were screened after the seven-day window during which new hires are supposed to be screened.

If the federal agency at the heart of this background check system can’t operate it well, this casts doubt on the idea of mandating every private employer across the country to use it.

I discussed some of the problems with programs like E-Verify in my paper, “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”