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Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Secret farm bill’ primed for passage in debt supercommittee process - it will prop up U.S. farm payments through 2017 -

Secret farm bill primed for passage in debt supercommittee process - it will prop up U.S. farm payments through 2017 - 


Lawmakers on the House and Senate Agriculture committees are trying to write a new five-year farm bill through the supercommittee process. 


The legislators are using the supercommittee to avoid what would be a more public, election-year debate in 2012, when the current farm bill expires and new legislation would be scheduled for writing, according to critics of the effort.


“We call it the secret farm bill,” said one environmental activist, who worries that if the lawmakers succeed, it will prop up U.S. farm payments through 2017. 


Environmental groups and poverty advocates say the supercommittee should dismiss the recommendations from the farm-state lawmakers, which are expected to be delivered later this week. The recommendations are expected to propose the replacement of some existing farm payments with a new crop insurance program and new payments that would be linked to commodity prices. 
While some of the changes lawmakers are expected to propose would save billions on paper, critics say the new farm payments could balloon in cost if commodity prices fall. 


Opponents also worry the lawmakers are trying to get around longtime critics of the farm bill who for years have said the legislation is a symbol of waste that costs taxpayers money while hurting farmers in poor countries who do not receive similar levels of support. 


“They are completely trying to write a whole new farm subsidy program,” a second activist said. “They are making an end-run around people who question these programs.”


An advantage of locking in the changes through the supercommittee is that the panel’s recommendations must get an up-or-down vote in Congress. That would give less leverage to opponents of farm subsidies. 


Ben Becker, a spokesman for the Senate Agriculture Committee, defended the effort to propose farm bill changes to the supercommittee.


“Either the supercommittee would in essence write the Farm Bill, with no hearings or public input, or the Agriculture Committees and the communities we represent would have a voice. Democrats and Republicans are working hard within the process that’s been imposed on us to develop a sound bipartisan and bicameral recommendation that members of both parties can support,” he said.


But the secrecy of the process has even some farm lobbyists raising questions. 


Read more - 
http://thehill.com/homenews/house/193581-secret-farm-bill-primed-for-passage-in-debt-deal

London Cabs to TAPE ALL Conversations - drivers told to install the £460 devices by 2015 or have their licenses revoked -

London Cabs to TAPE ALL Conversations - drivers told to install the £460 devices by 2015 or have their licenses revoked - 


Plans to fit all taxis operating in the city of Oxford with audio recording devices have been branded a “staggering invasion of privacy” prompting calls for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to investigate how widespread the use of microphones on public transport has become.
Taxi drivers in the university town have been told that they need to install the £460 devices by 2015 or face having their licenses revoked. The microphones, accompanied by CCTV cameras, will activate once the ignition in the car is turned on and will remain recording for 30 minutes after the engine is turned off.
The council says the recording equipment is necessary to protect drivers and passengers as well as deal with any disputes over fares. Recorded information would only be accessible to the police or council officials.
But privacy campaigners say the plans represent a significant “ramping up” of surveillance culture in Britain and may well be in breach of Government guidelines.
“This is a staggering invasion of privacy being done with no evidence, no consultation and a total disregard for civil liberties,” said Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch. “To my knowledge this is the first time a council has brought in audio recording equipment like this in taxis.”
James Welch, legal director for Liberty added: "Local Authorities have fallen foul of public anger and the law in relation to CCTV before - we urge anybody concerned about the legal position to get in touch with Liberty"
Big Brother Watch has since complained to the ICO which confirmed last night that it was investigating the proposals.
Two Oxford bus companies, however, already use audio recording on some of their routes. The Oxford Bus Company confirmed that some of its newer CCTV cameras have their microphones turned one in the driver’s compartment whilst Stagecoach said it was trialling microphones on its “Oxford Tube” service to London.
Philip Kirk, the Managing Director of Oxford Bus Company said: “All our buses are fitted with CCTV and many of them also record sound at the entrance. In general we have found that CCTV works well to protect our passengers and our drivers.”
The exact extent of microphone use on public transport is not known. But one official involved in the sale of CCTV told the Independent: “It’s not unusual. Many of the newer devices have audio record options. Most of the time it is used to record conversations between, say, a bus driver and the passenger at the point of entry. It’s unusual for private conversations to be recorded.”
Other audio equipment that has been given the go-ahead in the past include panic buttons and noise sensors which only turn the microphones on in certain circumstances such as when someone is shouting or if a driver fears they are in danger.
London Transport, which operates a fleet of more than eight thousand buses in a city with considerably higher crime rates than Oxford, said it had no audio devices on its buses and no plans to bring them in.
The government’s guidelines on CCTV make it clear that audio recording can only be used in very limited circumstances.

Read more -