- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 27

President Barack Obama’s assault on open government

The Obama administration is obsessed with secrecy - it is arguably the most secretive presidency since Richard Nixon scowled through the halls of power. The latest example: a furious crackdown on government watchdogs, the inspectors general at agencies whose job it is to keep the government honest.

It has been a stunning turnabout for Barack Obama who promised during his first inaugural address that “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

It has been anything but.



As The New York Times reported Friday, at least 20 investigations across the government have been “slowed, stymied or sometimes closed” because of disputes between the administration and its own watchdogs over how much access to give inspectors.

The signature example among many cited: an investigation last year by Justice Department inspectors into the role of federal drug agents in the killings of unarmed civilians during raids in Honduras.

The Honduran government cleared the U.S. agents of any wrongdoing but an American inspector investigating the case was denied emails on the attacks. It took 11 months to get the records.

In another case cited by the Times, investigators tried to look into allegations of sexual assault on Peace Corps volunteers overseas. A volunteer was murdered in Benin in 2009 and dozens of volunteers have reported that the Peace Corps handled their cases poorly. The inspector general for the agency reported that lawyers for the Peace Corps refused to turn over documents or only offered heavily censored documents - a common tactic by government agencies that may have something to hide.

At the Commerce Department, the inspector general closed an internal audit of how trade agreements are enforced after department lawyers refused to turn over records they claimed were proprietary.

Republicans and Democrats alike have complained about the administration’s record, and so has the press. Journalism organizations including the Society of Professional Journalists for months pushed for greater openness on behalf of the public. In a letter sent to Obama in August, the groups wrote: “The public has a right to be alarmed by these constraints - essentially forms of censorship - that have surged at all levels of government in the past few decades.” Those groups will meet with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Dec. 15.

When such constraints are imposed, government operates in the dark with little accountability. Whatever you think of the way Obama has handled his job as president, this is unacceptable and dangerous. The administration’s actions have created, as Bill Lueders, the president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, put it, “a culture of contempt for the public’s right to know.”

Just as we called on our readers to raise their voices against the pernicious assault on open government by the Wisconsin Legislature in July, all citizens should demand that Obama’s administration live up to its leader’s pledge made on that cold day in January 2009.

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Wisconsin State Journal, Nov. 28

Rein in farm bill spending

The 2014 farm bill is failing to produce the cost savings promised taxpayers. That’s why Congress should fix the holes in the bill that have let $5.2 billion more than expected flow out in one fiscal year.

A proposal sponsored by two Wisconsin congressmen offers a good starting point.

Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse and Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls introduced the plan, which would rein in subsidies received by farmers and insurance companies from the farm bill’s $9-billion-a-year crop insurance program. Some of the proposed spending cuts, totaling $24 billion over 10 years, may be an overreaction to unusual circumstances.

But the proposal - the Assisting Family Farmers through Insurance Reform Measures Act - should prompt Congress to attack runaway spending in agriculture programs.

The stakes for Wisconsin are high. Agriculture contributes about $60 billion a year to the state’s economy. The state is home to more dairy farms than any other state, produces more cheese than any other state and is among the top 10 corn-producing states.

The goal of any farm bill should be to provide consumers with a stable, affordable food supply by protecting farmers from boom-and-bust cycles. The bill also should keep the nation competitive in the global marketplace, encourage environmental stewardship and remain fiscally responsible.

The farm bill passed in early 2014 began with a sound idea: Rein in costly subsidies for farm production in favor of expanding a subsidized insurance safety net. The goal was to allow farmers to buy protection from risks to their income while eliminating direct government payments to farmers.

The plan was projected to save $16.6 billion over 10 years, compared to the old farm bill. But, as the State Journal editorial page warned before the farm bill passed, the insurance subsidies are too generous. Consequently, while the idea remains worthy, the cost savings have vanished, making taxpayers the losers.

Part of the reason is an unusual crop price decline, especially for corn. Farmers who received a corn price of $7.63 per bushel in August of 2012 received $3.68 per bushel in August of this year. Because of the steep price decline, many farmers will collect huge insurance payments.

The situation also exposed other faults in the insurance system, including how big, wealthy farmers collect large payments and how insurers collect subsidies for offering policies and filing claims.

The Kind-Sensenbrenner proposal would place caps on subsidies, disqualify high-income farmers from receiving subsidies and make other changes to cut costs. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

The legislation is expected to receive stiff opposition. While some compromises are warranted, Congress should use the Kind-Sensenbrenner bill as a guide to give taxpayers the victory they were originally promised.

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The Journal times of Racine, Nov. 29

Pause Syrian refugee program until security is in place

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, the House passed a bill Nov. 19 that essentially suspends entry of Iraqi and Syrian refugees into the United States until national security agencies can certify they don’t pose a security risk.

Some say: it’s succumbing to fear.

We say: it’s being safe, at least until there is a proven way to ensure those who enter the country are safe.

In comments to The Journal Times after the House vote, Speaker Paul Ryan said: “We can be a compassionate nation while also further guaranteeing that we are a secure nation. We can have it both ways.”

Not only can we have it both ways, but we need to have it both ways.

While the issue of accepting Syrian refugees is very divisive right now, just imagine what would happen if something like the Paris terrorist attacks happened here.

Both sides would be crying out: How could we allow this to happen?

The House bill requires the FBI to conduct background checks and FBI and Homeland Security officials and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States.”

That is hard to prove, especially with a large population that does not have documentation.

But we cannot forgive that detail and close our eyes to a potential threat.

If federal officials cannot prove someone is safe to enter, then that person shouldn’t be able to enter.

This is true for those coming in as refugees as well as with Visas and passports.

What doesn’t make sense is why President Barack Obama is not supporting this.

At a press conference in Turkey after the G-20 summit on Nov. 16, he said, “As president, my first priority is the safety of the American people, and that’s why even as we accept more refugees, including Syrians, we do so only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks,” according to a Huffington Post report.

That is what this House bill is proposing, yet the president is threatening to veto it.

Putting the pause on accepting Iraqi and Syrian refugees doesn’t mean the U.S. will never accept those men, women and children in need.

It means officials should determine how best to protect the nation and establish a secure system for allowing refugees in, before opening the doors.

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