Washington notes for May 5
May 5, 2013
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  • WASHINGTON — Murder charges against U.S. Army 1st Lt. Clinton Lorance have been reduced to second-degree murder, and the Oklahoma-born soldier is scheduled to face court martial in late July at Fort Bragg, N.C.

    U.S. taxpayers spent nearly $7 million last year promoting California wine overseas, and millions of dollars more to advertise agricultural products like raisins and citrus fruits. The money was spent through the Market Access Program, which has benefited individual companies and trade associations and has drawn fire from critics who see it as wasteful.

    Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, released a report about the program last year identifying numerous examples of taxpayer dollars being spent on behalf of profitable corporations.

    In a recent analysis, Taxpayers for Common Sense said, “Many examples of corporate welfare can be found in the federal budget, but few are as wasteful as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program (MAP).

    “Since its inception in 1978, MAP has spent billions of taxpayer dollars subsidizing overseas advertising campaigns, product demonstrations, and exhibitions for well-off agribusinesses and trade associations. Recipients include well-known companies (or their grower-cooperatives) such as McDonald’s, Nabisco, Welch Foods, Blue Diamond Growers, Sunkist, and organizations like the Brewers Association Inc. and Cotton Council International.”

    Among Coburn’s targets was the Blue Diamond Growers — almond producers that dominate the market in the United States and post hundreds of millions of dollars in sales each year. Those growers, Coburn reported, have collected more than $28 million in taxpayer subsidies since 1999 to promote their products internationally.

    The House and Senate are working on long-term farm legislation that could include renewing funding for the MAP program and others — like the Emerging Markets Program — that Coburn and outside groups say are duplicative.

    Coburn noted that the funding has Washington-based lobbying behind it, as many of the agribusinesses that benefit belong to trade associations that employ Capitol Hill lobbyists.

    President Barack Obama’s budget for the next fiscal year includes $200 million for the program, the same as the last two years, but has no funding for the Emerging Markets Program or the Foreign Market Development Program.

    Chris Casteel,

    Washington Bureau

    The charges against Lorance stem from his order to shoot two Afghan villagers on a motorcycle last year in a remote section of the Kandahar province. Lorance is also charged with attempted murder for ordering his soldiers to shoot a third villager who successfully fled and for ordering “illegal harassing fire into a nearby village and obstructing justice,” according to a spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.

    Lorance was leading his platoon on a patrol last July when the villagers on a motorcycle approached some of the troops. Houston attorney Guy Womack, a retired Marine and former military judge, said the soldiers who opened fire would have done so on their own if they had not reached Lorance on the radio and received the order to shoot. The fact that the Afghans were on a motorcycle strongly suggested they were Taliban fighters, and the shootings were within the rules of engagement, Womack said in a recent interview.

    Lorance, 28, was born in Hobart and lived in Jackson County — the home of his mother’s family — for a few years as a child but went to high school in the northeastern Texas town of Merit.

    Anna Lorance, the soldier’s mother, said her son is working as an operations officer at Fort Bragg “while he waits to see what his future holds.”

    Also …

    Pressure rises to keep control towers open

    After complaints from residents and industries affected by the furloughs of air traffic controllers last month, Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration acted quickly on a remedy to that budget problem. Now, lawmakers and others, including the mayors of some Oklahoma cities, are pushing for a reversal of the FAA decision to close 149 air traffic control towers operated by contract.

    Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett signed separate letters to the transportation officials last week urging them to reconsider the decision to close the towers. The closures have already been delayed because of legal action.

    “Aviation and our local airports are a critical economic lifeline for these communities, and we simply cannot afford this type of devastating blow at a time when our communities are already struggling to recover,” the letter from 70 mayors says.

    Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal, Stillwater Mayor John Bartley and Lawton Mayor Fred Fitch joined Cornett in signing the letter. All have contract towers in their cities, including the tower at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City, that would be closed because of budget cuts.

    Inhofe has blasted the FAA for instituting furloughs, saying the agency is taking draconian steps to deal with a budget cut of only 5 percent. He has authored legislation that would prohibit the FAA from closing any towers this year or next.