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The pork behind the pomp

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Hidden well behind the spectacular pomp and historic circumstance of inauguration week, the wheels of government continued the relentless grind, oblivious to the party in power at the moment. From deep within the bureaucracy, the USDA moved closer to taking control over every livestock animal and the land on which they roam. With a callousness hardened by expanded majorities, Congress moved closer to taking control over another 2 million acres of land and the resources it contains.

To accommodate a request of the National Institute of Animal Agriculture, a trade association of agri-business and livestock associations, the USDA set out in 2002 to create an electronic tracking system for every cow, horse, chicken, turkey, goat, sheep, pig – 29 species in all – that could pinpoint the location of every animal in the country and, within 48 hours, trace its every movement since birth. This massive project would bring the United States into compliance with the requirements of a little-known sub-agency of the World Trade Organization. Compliance with these requirements opens export markets coveted by the members of the National Institute of Animal Agriculture.

Initially, the USDA announced that the program would be implemented in three phases: premises identification; animal identification; and reporting of animal movement within 24 hours. The entire program was supposed to be fully implemented and operational by 2009.

Ranchers, farmers and animal owners raised such a fuss that the USDA was forced to back off its implementation plan and announce instead that the National Animal Identification System would be a voluntary program. Animal owners were appreciative, but skeptical.

While claiming that the program was voluntary, the USDA paid hundreds of millions of dollars to trade associations and state departments of agriculture to coerce animal owners into signing up for the NAIS. Idaho signed up more than 15,000 animal owners without their knowledge. Several states required animal owners to have a NAIS identification number as a condition for participating in the state fair. This is what the USDA called a "voluntary" program.

Still claiming that the program is voluntary, and while the nation's attention is focused on the inauguration, the USDA published a proposed rule that will essentially transform the voluntary program into a mandatory program. While claiming the program is voluntary, the new rule would require animal owners who receive certain vaccination services for their animals to be signed up with the NAIS. The rule says that the NAIS is voluntary, unless you want your animals vaccinated. Of course, vaccination is necessary for almost all marking.

Animal owners have spoken loud and clear: They do not want the NAIS. The USDA couldn't care less what the animal owners want. The USDA – government – is forcing its will upon the people it is supposed to serve.

Congress is no better; in fact, it's worse. During the last Congress, more than 150 bills were introduced to take land out of productive use in the name of wilderness, heritage areas, scenic rivers and the like. Some of this land contains badly need resources; some of this land is privately owned. Nevertheless, to avoid a battle on each of these bills, the last Congress bundled them into an "omnibus" bill that contained all 150 bills. Even with the cover of the financial collapse during the last days of the 2008, congressional leaders were afraid to risk an open vote on the omnibus land bill.

But the new Congress, with its expanded majority in both houses, waited until the last moment before the inauguration overwhelmed Washington to vote on the omnibus land-grab bill (S.22). Only 21 Republican senators voted against it. All Democrats and 19 Republicans voted for it.

Aside from the wisdom (or lack thereof) of taking 2 million more acres, including privately owned property, out of productive use is the issue of deceit displayed by congressional leaders who chose not to allow debate on the merits of each bill. Instead, by bundling more than 150 bills into the single omnibus bill, pork could not be identified and deleted, nor could the strings to special-interest groups be exposed.

The euphoria of this historic inauguration settled over millions of people who heard the new president promise post-partisan accountability and transparency in a government truly at work for the people. He, no doubt, was sincere in his intentions.

Before the crowds have departed from the National Mall, the porta-potties been removed, and the jumbo-trons disassembled, the USDA will still be pushing the NAIS down the throat of animal owners, and Congress will be finding new ways to hide pork and pamper special-interest groups in legislation that few representatives have even read.

Government can never be better than the people who govern. Government is not parades and parties and spectacular pomp. Government is the entire set of restrictions imposed by the people who govern – upon the people who don't.

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