Posts tagged ‘New York City’

Once Again, Obama’s USDA Less Transparent than Bush’s

The ballooning national debt and Tea Party pressure has members of Congress running in the halls with their budget-cutting scissors in hand. The Senate Agriculture Committee is no exception. This Thursday morning, the senators convened a hearing billed as focusing on:

… measuring the performance of every agriculture program, fighting fraud, eliminating duplication and waste, and cutting red tape for farmers.

It’s convenient for the committee that the Environmental Working Group released on the same day the latest update of its farm subsidy database, which has been searched 250 million times since it debuted in 2004.

We hope they’ll notice that despite lawmakers’ boasts of enacting major reforms in the 2008 farm bill, the new data clearly show that wealthy absentee land owners and mega farms awash in record income are once again the main beneficiaries of federal farm programs – while struggling family farmers go begging.

And once again, the database shows that many farm subsidy recipients get those fat government checks at addresses in New York City, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles – not exactly farm country, and a far cry from the programs’ original intent.

Compounding the bad news, under President Obama the US Department of Agriculture has again sharply limited the data that EWG receives under the Freedom of Information Act in order to assemble the database and identify the real winners of farm subsidy largesse. It’s those data that has allowed EWG to follow the money and exposed the gross inequities in federal spending that enable the big agricultural operations to come away with the most generous haul of taxpayer dollars.

In 2007, the USDA under former President Bush released previously unavailable records that allowed EWG’s database to uncover nearly 500,000 farm subsidy recipients whose identities had previously been shielded by byzantine mazes of co-ops and corporate shell games. The database revealed, for example, that Florida real estate developer Maurice Wilder, reportedly worth $500 million, was pulling in almost $1 million a year in farm subsidies for corn farms he owns in several states.

In 2010 and now 2011, however, the USDA has refused to release the data that provided this revelatory accounting of just who receives the billions paid out under the maze of federal farm programs.

In preparing for Thursday’s hearing, the Senate Agriculture Committee said that it would be focusing on the accountability and effectiveness of farm programs:

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General (USDA OIG) issued a report detailing its fraud prevention efforts in programs under its jurisdiction, including food assistance programs. USDA OIG’s report shows that in the last six months it has conducted successful investigations and audits that led to 516 arrests, 249 convictions, $47.8 million in recoveries and restitutions, 114 program improvement recommendations, and $11.1 million in financial recommendations across all initiatives under USDA purview, including 80 convictions and $7.9 million in monetary results in food assistance programs.

The Agriculture Committee’s hearing on accountability will examine all areas in the committee’s jurisdiction, including food assistance programs.

Targeting fraud and abuse in any government program is smart policy, and good politics. Federal money is increasingly scarce, and it should go to those that need it – such as poor women and children who depend on federal food and nutrition programs to get enough to eat. But the farm bill’s awkwardly assembled family of sibling programs – including nutrition assistance, farm subsidies and agricultural support – makes for intense rivalries, especially in tough economic times. The subsidy lobby that jealously guards the lavish payments to commodity crop growers finds it easy to stand by quietly while nutrition programs suffer sharp cuts while working feverishly to keep the spotlight off of the largesse of farm subsidy payments.

The outcome of these battles is easy to predict. The Senate Ag Committee members are unlikely to benefit personally or politically from federal nutrition programs for the poor. But as the EWG Farm Subsidy Database made clear, the committee’s members largely represent states with robust farm subsidy hauls, commodity crop payments to the states represented by the Senate Agriculture committee totaled $3.38 billion 2010. House Agriculture Committee Member Districts pulled in $1.99 billion in commodity crop subsidies in 2010.

Speaking of the House side, Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) is also beating the accountability drum.

We will examine how we are spending money, where the money is going, and whether the goals of each program are being met. We will look for duplication within issue areas to determine program overlap. We will scrutinize waste, fraud and abuse, and look for ways to build on the success USDA has already achieved.

We have an obligation to taxpayers to ensure our resources are being spent wisely.

But like beauty, what constitutes wise spending is in the eye of the beholder, and the makeup of the House Agriculture Committee’s membership, with its base firmly in states that are home to commodity crop growers, leaves little doubt where its priorities lie.

If the committee takes its cue from the House GOP leadership’s budget bill, which took aim at a wide variety of nutrition assistance efforts, programs like Know Your Farmer Know Your Food will be in peril.

The bill forces USDA to report to Congress every time officials travel to promote the department’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program, which supports locally grown food, and discourages the department from giving research grants to support local food systems. Large agribusiness has been critical of the department’s focus on these smaller food producers.

And for those concerned with soil erosion, water quality and the effectiveness of conservation programs authorized through the farm bill, there is a severe lack of transparency there, too.

All sides trumpet their insistence on accountability and “wise” spending, but somehow those priorities never seems to include transparency or equity. It’s long past time for America’s food and farm programs benefit all citizens, not just a handful of wealthy agribusiness churning out the raw material for an unhealthy food system. If Congress can’t manage to take a hard-nosed look at the skewed spending priorities of these programs, as well as the administration’s reluctance to identify the biggest winners of the government’s largesse, then taxpayers and eaters need to demand it.

Twitter Updates

  • At #findingnorth screening @sundancefest looking forward to audience reaction to the critical topic of hunger in America 2 days ago
  • Stalwart food and farm policy reformer @RepRonKind eyes crop subsidy reform #foodbill 2 days ago
  • Fair 2 ask farmers 2 protect water, soil in return for billions of $ that taxpayers spend on crop insurance? #foodbill 2 days ago

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt

 Assuming the Presidency at the depth of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt helped the American people regain faith in themselves. He brought hope as he promised prompt, vigorous action, and asserted in his Inaugural Address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Born in 1882 at Hyde Park, New York–now a national historic site–he attended Harvard University and Columbia Law School. On St. Patrick’s Day, 1905, he married Eleanor Roosevelt.

Following the example of his fifth cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, whom he greatly admired, Franklin D. Roosevelt entered public service through politics, but as a Democrat. He won election to the New York Senate in 1910. President Wilson appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and he was the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 1920.

In the summer of 1921, when he was 39, disaster hit-he was stricken with poliomyelitis. Demonstrating indomitable courage, he fought to regain the use of his legs, particularly through swimming. At the 1924 Democratic Convention he dramatically appeared on crutches to nominate Alfred E. Smith as “the Happy Warrior.” In 1928 Roosevelt became Governor of New York.

He was elected President in November 1932, to the first of four terms. By March there were 13,000,000 unemployed, and almost every bank was closed. In his first “hundred days,” he proposed, and Congress enacted, a sweeping program to bring recovery to business and agriculture, relief to the unemployed and to those in danger of losing farms and homes, and reform, especially through the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

By 1935 the Nation had achieved some measure of recovery, but businessmen and bankers were turning more and more against Roosevelt’s New Deal program. They feared his experiments, were appalled because he had taken the Nation off the gold standard and allowed deficits in the budget, and disliked the concessions to labor. Roosevelt responded with a new program of reform: Social Security, heavier taxes on the wealthy, new controls over banks and public utilities, and an enormous work relief program for the unemployed.

In 1936 he was re-elected by a top-heavy margin. Feeling he was armed with a popular mandate, he sought legislation to enlarge the Supreme Court, which had been invalidating key New Deal measures. Roosevelt lost the Supreme Court battle, but a revolution in constitutional law took place. Thereafter the Government could legally regulate the economy.

Roosevelt had pledged the United States to the “good neighbor” policy, transforming the Monroe Doctrine from a unilateral American manifesto into arrangements for mutual action against aggressors. He also sought through neutrality legislation to keep the United States out of the war in Europe, yet at the same time to strengthen nations threatened or attacked. When France fell and England came under siege in 1940, he began to send Great Britain all possible aid short of actual military involvement.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt directed organization of the Nation’s manpower and resources for global war.

Feeling that the future peace of the world would depend upon relations between the United States and Russia, he devoted much thought to the planning of a United Nations, in which, he hoped, international difficulties could be settled.

As the war drew to a close, Roosevelt’s health deteriorated, and on April 12, 1945, while at Warm Springs, Georgia, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

For more information about President Roosevelt, please visit
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum

The Presidential biographies on are from “The Presidents of the United States of America,” by Michael Beschloss and Hugh Sidey. Copyright 2009 by the White House Historical Association.

Learn more about Franklin D. Roosevelt ‘s spouse, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

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Occup Wall Street Drops Eviction Lawsuit

‘Occupy Wall Street’ drops eviction lawsuit

“Occupy Wall Street” protesters dropped on Tuesday their two month lawsuit against New York City over the group’s eviction from Zuccotti Park. The National Lawyers Guild, representing the protesters, said the decision stemmed from private security removing the barricades surrounding the park two weeks ago. The park’s owner, Brookfield Properties,…

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Police drag Occupy activists from Santorum event

Police on Monday physically dragged several Occupy Tampa protesters from an event with Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and cited them for trespassing. One of the men had thrown glitter at the candidate as he was he was giving his closing remarks. WESH cameras caught a man in a suit…

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Occupy DC faces no-camping clampdown ‘very soon’

WASHINGTON — The National Park Service (NPS) said Tuesday it will “very soon” clamp down on a Washington offshoot of Occupy Wall Street that pitched camp near the White House nearly four months ago. Testifying on Capitol Hill, NPS director Jonathan Jarvis defended his federal agency’s decision to tolerate open-ended…

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Director of National Park Services defends right of ‘Occupy DC’ protesters

Jonathan Jarvis, Director of National Park Services, explained to Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) on Tuesday why the “Occupy DC” protesters had a constitutional right to camp out 24 hours a day. His comments came during a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee hearing regarding the the “Occupy” protesters in Washington,…

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TARP pay czar caved on executive pay limits, bonuses

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Pressure from financial institutions and Treasury officials undermined an effort to limit executive pay at seven companies rescued with taxpayer money, a new government audit showed on Tuesday. The official overseeing executive pay for bailout firms limited cash compensation and made some reductions in pay, but still…

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Romney to protesters: ‘Take a hike’

At a campaign event in Florida Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried to get tough with a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters, telling them to “take a hike.” While speaking in Ormond Beach, the candidate found himself being “mic checked,” a phrase Occupy Wall Street protesters often use…

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‘Occupy London’ vacates building after brief stay

Anti-capitalist protesters of the ‘Occupy London’ movement have vacated a building in the city’s financial district less than a day after entering it, they said on Sunday. ‘Occupy London’ activists entered the abandoned nine-storey Roman House building — formerly used by finance companies — in the Barbican arts and conference…

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‘Occupy London’ protesters take over new building

Anti-capitalist protesters said Saturday they have taken over a large building in the City of London financial district. ‘Occupy London’ activists entered the nine-storey Roman House building in the Barbican earlier this morning, the group announced. “Occupy London this morning publicly repossessed Roman House, an abandoned nine-storey office building in…

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Portland, ME calls for end to corporate personhood

The city of Portland, Maine joined other cities across the nation in supporting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing corporate personhood. The Portland City Council voted 6 to 2 in support of a nonbinding resolution calling on Maine’s congressional delegation to support such an amendment, according to the Portland…

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Romney scolds protester for asking about the 99 percent

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took a page out of the Chris Christie playbook on Thursday and berated an Occupy Wall Street activist for asking him how he would support less-wealthy Americans. Romney was signing autographs outside his campaign headquarters in Charleston, South Carolina when a man asked, “What will…

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