Entries from November 2010

What Congress’ Food Safety Bill Left Out

November 30th, 2010 at 6:19 pm 12 Comments

A new food safety bill, which just passed the Senate and is now headed for a House-Senate Congress, will probably end up being the biggest piece of legislation to come out of the lame duck session of Congress.  Although well intentioned (who, after all, doesn’t want safe food?) the bill deserves a good deal of skepticism.  In fact, there are good reasons for both “economy first” conservatives and “safety first” liberals to dislike it.

The conservative case against the bill, the one favored by most people who voted against it, seems pretty obvious: the bill doesn’t solve any problems.  While it’s easy to agree that it shouldn’t be legal to sell food likely to make people sick, there’s little evidence of a systemic food crisis problem in the United States. True, a spate of heavily publicized food safety problems—tainted peanut butter, eggs, and meat—show that it’s not perfect but none of the new powers and authorities granted to the government seem certain to stop the specific problems that drew lots of publicity. With the exception of a few marginal tweaks, a slightly broader power to do recalls, the bill basically just asks the government to do more of the same regulatory oversight activities that failed to prevent the problems the country has already experienced.   This could possibly prevent some problems but there’s no hard evidence that it will. In a healthy economy, maybe such caution could make sense. Right now, it may not.  Given that most manufacturing in the United States relates to grocery store items, furthermore, the financial and time cost of new regulation could end up being a job-destroying regulatory hurdle for an economy still in recovery.

On the other hand, those most interested in food safety also should have cause for caution for at least two reasons. First, thanks to organic farmers and their supporters on the political left, small-scale producers are exempted from nearly all new regulations and some old ones to boot. There’s a balance to be struck here—the FDA shouldn’t inspect every family that makes jam in its kitchen and sells it at the roadside—but smaller producers may really bear more careful watching than large ones. Big companies have brand reputations to defend and tons of assets that trial lawyers would love to go after. Small ones have none of these natural incentives. Under the bill, small (under $500,000) can include some decent sized producers; they’ll get left out.  Second, the bill leaves out an important part of the food safety equation: preparation.  Food poisoning introduced outside of manufacturing plants, after all, sickens far more people than problems happening inside of them.  Since many Americans eat out much more than they cook, this is a big potential problem. Local health departments of wildly uneven quality largely oversee food preparation. If one’s only goal was maximum food safety, additional standards on the preparation end–national standards for big chain restaurants, for example–probably would have done more to improve safety than the existing bill. (This isn’t to say that Congress should impose such standards; it shouldn’t; but a true “safety first” position suggests that it should.)

In the end, the new food safety bill, indeed, may provide a fitting epitaph for the most regulation happy Congress in history: much of it appears to be a solution in search of a problem.

Assange: Hillary “Should Resign”

November 30th, 2010 at 5:41 pm 7 Comments

Time reports:

Hillary Clinton, Julian Assange said, “should resign.” Speaking over Skype from an undisclosed location on Tuesday, the WikiLeaks founder was replying to a question by TIME managing editor Richard Stengel over the diplomatic cable dump Assange’s organization began loosing on the world over the weekend. Stengel said that the U.S. Secretary of State was looking like “the fall guy” in the ensuing controversy and was her firing or resignation an outcome that Assange would want? “I don’t think it would make much of a difference either way,” he said. “But she should resign, if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed up. Yes, she should resign over that.”

Assange spoke about the latest tranche of documents from WikiLeaks in a 36-minute interview with TIME (the full audio will be available soon on TIME.com). He said there would be more. “We’re doing about 80 a day, presently, and that will gradually step up as the other media partners step in.” Indeed, every region of the world appeared to be bracing for its turn in the WikiLeaks mill. Pakistani officials are almost certain more revealing documents will come out focusing on their country soon. Russian media is anxious to see if future leaks will detail behind-the-scenes dealing over the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

Assange said that all the documents were redacted “carefully.” “They are all reviewed and they’re all redacted either by us or by the newspapers concerned,” he said. He added that “we have formally asked the State Department for assistance with that. That request was formally rejected.”

Asked what his “moral calculus” is to justify publishing the leaks and whether he considered what he was doing to be “civil disobedience,” Assange said, “Not at all. This organization practices civil obedience, that is, we are an organization that tries to make the world more civil and act against abusive organizations that are pushing it in the opposite direction.” As for whether WikiLeaks was breaking the law, he said, “We have now in our four year history and over one hundred legal attacks of various kinds and have been victorious in all of those matters.” He added, “It’s very important to remember the law is not what, not simply what powerful people would want others to believe it is. The law is not what a general says it is. The law is not what Hillary Clinton says it is.”

Click here to read more.

Avlon: Boehner, Obama Need a Cigarette Summit

November 30th, 2010 at 5:00 pm 2 Comments

John Avlon writes at CNN.com:

On Tuesday afternoon, President Obama will meet with Republican Congressional leaders for the first time since the midterm election. The White House meeting had been dubbed the “Slurpee summit,” but it’s going to take something stronger than a flavored ice shake to cut through the deep distrust that’s accumulated between these two parties.

The Kool-Aid that gets passed around Washington most often these days is the belief that our political opponents are sworn enemies. It is an idea compounded by partisan media that demonizes even minor disagreements.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the past, Democrats and Republicans could disagree on policies throughout the day, then meet together for a drink or dinner. Their children went to school together. Their families saw each other on the weekends or at worship services. But now congressmen fly home from Washington as often as possible.

There is very little time for across-the-aisle socializing and much more time for accusing opponents of being socialist. Our political leaders don’t get to know each other as people.

That’s where the cigarette comes in. It’s a strange fact that Obama and speaker-elect John Boehner have been known to smoke, while the majority of Americans have given up this once common vice. It is a streak of illogic and self-destructiveness in otherwise disciplined and ambitious men who have climbed to the top of their field without wheezing.

So if Boehner and Obama are both going to be tempted to sneak out for a smoke at some point during their bipartisan summit, here’s a suggestion: Do it together. Have an honest off-the-record conversation and get to know each other as individuals.

These two men come from very different backgrounds. Boehner was one of a dozen children whose father ran a bar in Ohio; Obama was raised by a single mother in Hawaii after his father returned to Africa. But they are both examples of the American dream, and they both love their country. Sharing a smoke is an opportunity to acknowledge that they’re both hugely accomplished but still flawed individuals.

It’s an opportunity to admit that, yes, they have serious philosophical differences but that, for the good of the country, they need to find a way to work together, and that begins with a conversation.

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Throw the Book at Assange

November 30th, 2010 at 4:56 pm 46 Comments

In 1971, The New York Times began releasing information that showed that the federal government of the United States had been systematically lying to the American people about the causes, actions, and results of American involvement in the Vietnam War.  The Pentagon Papers would change the nation forever.  Not only would our war in Vietnam be cast in an appallingly different hue, but generations have viewed government propaganda through an increasingly cynical lens ever since.  Reasonable people disagree about the appropriateness of the release of the classified documents, but no one doubts their power to engender suspicion about “trust us” politicians and bureaucrats to whom the keys of government have been given.

Contrastingly, in 2010 the oily WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange finds some kleptocratic toady with security clearance and hurls onto the internet helter skelter anything sensitive that is remotely relevant to American foreign policy.

One is left to wonder what possible motivation he had beyond the desire to see America suffer.   Those chiefly responsible for the Pentagon Papers were convinced that the war in Vietnam was unjust, and an unjust government had lied to conceal its many malfeasances while officials told the American public a far different story.  Assange’s release of data is shockingly uncoupled with any justifications, much less any colorable ones.

Why, for instance, should the world know the names of America’s informants in Iran?  Is Iran a country with an excellent track record of human rights, democracy, and freedom while the rapacious Americans (like that horrible unilateralist warmonger, Barack Obama) want to destroy Iran?

Meanwhile, the same New York Times that fought all the way to the Supreme Court (even at risk of personal criminal prosecution of reporters and editors) to have its First Amendment rights vindicated in the Pentagon Papers case now blithely passes along much hard-earned intelligence because

the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing.

Really?  No sense that maybe governments have to keep certain things secret to actually function?  No sense that Americans already know that most of our allies aren’t angels?  No sense that Americans already know that we are spending lives and people in two wars?  Why give a damn if people die or money is wasted when Americans need to know the ends and outs of everything the government collects at all times.

Journalism is sacred in American life.  When you find a government report that admits it was lying, great, let us hear about it.

But this whole thing is nothing more than a disgusting bit of self-righteous, irresponsible nihilism.  I hope they catch Assange and lock him up for good.  And I hope The New York Times falls into financial ruin and sees its once-vaunted reputation in shreds.

Oops.  Too late for that last bit.

Obama, GOP Plan More Talks on Tax Cuts

November 30th, 2010 at 4:38 pm 1 Comment

Sam Stein at Huffington Post reports:

President Obama and congressional leadership agreed on Tuesday that the best way to resolve differences on the soon-to-be-expired Bush tax cuts would be to hold additional meetings.

In a classic Washington solution to an intractable political standoff, Obama proposed holding meetings with four members — a Republican and Democrat from both the Senate and the House — along with his Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Office of Management and Budget chief Jacob Lew.

“The president did suggest that to unlock the tax disagreement that we have that secretary of the Treasury and the director of the OMB would sit down with four of our members, one from each caucus, and begin discussion on how to unlock this disagreement they have over extending all of the current rates,” said incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) during a stakeout following the meeting with the president.

A Democratic aide confirmed the meeting proposal.

Both Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) indicated little to no willingness to move off their perch of opposing any reversion of tax rates (for any income bracket) to pre-Bush levels. They and incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor did, however, stress that the President admitted he had not kept up enough dialogue, to date, with his GOP critics.

“I was encouraged by the president’s remarks regarding his, perhaps, not having reached out enough to us in the last session and that this meeting was the beginning of a series in which he hoped we could work together in a [good] fashion for the benefit of the American people given the problems we face,” said Cantor.

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Senate Passes Food Safety Overhaul

November 30th, 2010 at 4:06 pm Comments Off

Reuters reports:

The Senate passed the largest overhaul of the U.S. food safety system in decades on Tuesday, a response to massive recalls such as last summer’s recall of half a billion eggs in a salmonella outbreak.

The Senate voted 73-25 to pass the bill. The House of Representatives backed a different version in July 2009. With their post-election session due to end by mid-December, lawmakers have just weeks to resolve their differences and send legislation to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

“I urge the House — which has previously passed legislation demonstrating its strong commitment to making our food supply safer — to act quickly on this critical bill, and I applaud the work that was done to ensure its broad bipartisan passage in the Senate,” Obama said in a statement.

The Senate legislation would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the power to order a food recall when a company refuses the agency’s request that it do so voluntarily.

It also would allow the agency to step up inspections at the riskiest food processing plants, expand FDA capabilities to trace the source of foodborne disease outbreaks such as E. coli and salmonella, and increase the number of FDA inspectors at food plants.

“Today’s vote will finally give the FDA the tools it needs to help ensure that the food on dinner tables and store shelves is safe,” said Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, a sponsor of the bill.

Pressure to overhaul the food safety system has grown after high-profile outbreaks of illness involving lettuce, peppers, eggs, peanuts, spinach and, most recently, eggs that have shaken public confidence in the safety of the food supply.

U.S. regulation of food safety is fragmented — split up among federal agencies. Consumer activists have complained that industry is given too much power to police itself.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees the bulk of the U.S. food supply, but about 20 percent of the supply is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Click here to read more.

Steele & Cino Won’t Show at RNC Chair Debate

November 30th, 2010 at 2:31 pm 1 Comment

FrumForum has learned that it is unlikely that incumbent RNC Chairman Michael Steele will be attending the RNC conservative caucus’ forum for prospective chairman candidates on Wednesday.

FrumForum has also confirmed that Maria Cino will not be attending the debate, but will be attending the 26-member conservative caucus’ private meeting on Thursday.

Announced candidates Saul Anuzis and Ann Wagner are both expected to attend, as well as potential candidate Chris Healy. An organizer for the debate also said that Gentry Collins was expected to attend, although FF could not immediately confirm this from Collins or sources close to him.

By scheduling the debate relatively early – December 1st – the conservative caucus has put pressure on potential candidates to decide whether or not to run. That decision, for many aspirants to the chairmanship, will depend on whether incumbent Chairman Michael Steele launches a bid for reelection, as he still controls a substantial bloc of RNC votes.

Don’t expect Steele to make up his mind soon. “I suspect that Michael Steele won’t make a decision [on whether to run] until next week… early to mid-week. That’s the impression that I get, but I could be wrong,” a Republican source close to the RNC told FrumForum.

If Steele doesn’t make a decision by tomorrow – which seems unlikely – he won’t be at the debate, something that will reduce the impact of the candidates’ forum.

“It seems that Bopp and the conservative caucus has marginalized the impact of this debate. The bet to [organize] it early forces candidates to have to decide to [enter the race] or not. And only Ann Wagner and Saul Anuzis have decided to go,” said one Republican strategist familiar with RNC chair campaigning. “However, Steele may be calling [Bopp’s] bluff by not showing his hand. Whatever decision Steele makes means that Bopp is not dealing with the full field.”

Maria Cino, the CEO of the 2008 Republican convention, has not announced a run for the chairmanship, but a spokesperson for the small group advising Cino on a potential run tells FrumForum that she’s close to announcing a bid. “She’s getting closer to announcement, and still going through the list of calls – it’s important to her that she reach out to every member and get feedback before she makes a final decision,” said the spokesman.

The same spokesperson told FrumForum that Cino will not be attending the public debate on Wednesday, but will attend the conservative caucus’ private meeting on Thursday. “While not an announced candidate, she thinks that, out of respect to her fellow conservatives, she should sit down and discuss any questions that they have,” said the spokesperson.

Still, the debate will feature several announced and unannounced candidates. Chris Healy told FrumForum on Monday that he expects to attend the debate, and announced candidate Ann Wagner’s campaign has confirmed her attendance to FrumForum. One debate organizer said former Michigan state chair Saul Anuzis was also expected at the debate.

As of this afternoon, none of the other potential candidates are expected to show up, an organizer for the debate told FrumForum.

UPDATE: FrumForum has obtained a list of all the RNC members to expected to be present at the National Republican Conservative Caucus’ debate tomorrow, moderated by FreedomWorks’ Max Pappas and Russ Walker. So far 20 RNC members are on the guest list.

  • Anthony Parker (National Committeeman, District of Columbia)
  • Bill Crocker (National Committeeman, Texas)
  • Bruce Ash (National Committeeman, Arizona)
  • Carolyn McLarty (National Committeewoman, Oklahoma)
  • Christine Toretti (National Committeewoman, Pennsylvania)
  • David Cole (State Chairman, Missouri)
  • Dee Dee Benkie (National Committeewoman, Indiana)
  • Demetra Demonte (National Committeewoman, Illinois)
  • Greg Schaefer (National Committeeman, Wyoming)
  • Henry Barbour (National Committeeman, Mississippi)
  • Jan Larimer (Co-Chairman, RNC)
  • Jim Bopp (National Committeeman, Indian)
  • Louis Pope (National Committeeman, Maryland)
  • Mike Stuart (State Chairman, West Virginia)
  • Pete Ricketts (National Committeeman, Nebraska)
  • Reince Preibus (State Chairman, Wisconsin)
  • Ron Kaufman (National Committeeman, Massachusetts)
  • Ron Nehring (State Chairman, California)
  • Solomon Yue (National Committeeman, Oregon)
  • Steve Scheffler (National Committeeman, Iowa)

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Mair: Five Keys for the Next RNC Chair

November 30th, 2010 at 1:06 pm Comments Off

Writing at CNN.com, Liz Mair looks at what the next RNC chairman will need to be successful:

In less than two months, members of the Republican National Committee will convene at National Harbor, just outside Washington, and select a chairman to lead the organization over the next two years.

With the midterm elections over, the race is already generating a phenomenal amount of chatter. That includes a former staffer and potential rival’s criticism of the incumbent, Michael Steele.

But often lost in all this discussion is a focus on what really matters — the personal and professional qualifications a prospective chairman must have to do the job effectively. Speculation abounds as to whether Steele will run for re-election; to date, however, he has not announced his intention to do so.

Here are the factors the group casually referred to as “the 168″ will be weighing as they make their decision.

1. Fundraising chops

Simply put, the RNC’s financial requirements are so vast — and weak fundraising has proved to have such negative effects on the RNC’s ability to carry out its operations — that committee members will treat solid fundraising chops as a litmus test applicable to all candidates for the job of chairman.

Someone capable of raising $200 million in a cycle will not pass muster; the RNC needs to be able to raise closer to twice that (or more) in a presidential cycle, with much of that sum flowing from day one as a direct result of person-to-person outreach by the chairman himself.

Online fundraising is great, and should be a priority, but without a solid fundraiser-in-chief, the RNC can be little more than a bit player on the sidelines — and that won’t cut it in 2012 when the presidency as well as control of Congress is on the table.

2. Fortune 500-quality management skills

At its best, the RNC is a powerhouse organization capable of influencing what happens at the highest levels in this country to an equal or greater degree to any Fortune 500 company.

It needs to be run by someone with the best possible management skills who is able to handle money and large budgets consistently well. It needs someone who can seek out and hire not merely competent individuals, but exceptional ones. The chairman needs to be able to lure them away from companies such as Microsoft or Yahoo to do jobs that are more stressful, more time consuming, less enjoyable and far less financially lucrative.

It is not enough to keep the trains running on time. A good chairman does it cost-effectively, after having hired high-level staff who have endurance, creativity and instincts roughly equivalent to those of Lance Armstrong, David Bowie and Predator combined. Management skills are key for this leadership role.

Click here to read the rest.

Why Toppling Steele is Harder Than It Looks

November 30th, 2010 at 12:34 pm 3 Comments

An interesting poll out by Public Policy Polling this morning has 47% of Republicans preferring the replacement of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, with only 23% supporting the continuation of his tenure.

Notably, Chairman Steele’s highest levels of support by far came from those who prefer Mitch Daniels for the presidential nomination in 2012.

About 2% of the poll’s respondents, all Republican primary voters, support Mitch Daniels. If I had to guess, I’d say that due to Daniels’ poor grassroots name identification, Daniels supporters are your ‘establishment types’. Remember, ‘establishment types’ have an extremely disproportionate say in who becomes RNC Chair – there are only 168 votes.

Undoubtedly, this poll can be used as an argument against a Steele bid for reelection – of course the opinions of rank and file Republicans should be considered by RNC members.

But in fact, there are other things that are more important to RNC members: whether the Chair can appeal to big donors and can run a tight ship at the RNC building in Washington, D.C. Say what you will about how Steele has performed on those metrics, but this poll doesn’t speak to that.

For what really matters to RNC members when they’re casting their ballots, see GOP strategist Liz Mair’s CNN piece here about the five things every RNC member will be thinking about.


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Why Romney and Huckabee Are Leading the Pack

David Frum November 30th, 2010 at 11:53 am 33 Comments

Andrew Sullivan is puzzled by new polls from PPP that suggest there is a bloc of Republicans who like Romney and Huckabee, but dislike Palin and Gingrich. Since Romney and Huckabee so dislike each other – and since they seem so very different in so many ways – how can this make sense?

Isn’t the answer that there are Republicans who recognize that Romney-Huckabee is the party’s natural ticket in 2012? They may be business oriented Republicans who prefer Romney or religiously oriented conservatives who prefer Huckabee, but they recognize that the ticket probably needs both. Such Republicans recognize something else: the real divide among the 2012 candidates is that between those who are primarily political figures and those who are primarily media figures.

Businessman Romney and multiply reelected governor Huckabee belong in the first category, along with Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty, while Palin, Gingrich and John Bolton belong in the latter category. The solution is to let everyone do what they do best: Nominate the politicians to run for office, leave the media figures to talk on Fox.