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story.lead_photo.caption In this file photo U.S. Rep. French Hill speaks at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Little Rock. - Photo by Helaine Williams

Hill raps Amtrak after audit report

U.S. Rep. French Hill has awarded his latest Golden Fleece Award to the National Railroad Passenger Corp., also known as Amtrak.

During an audit, the rail company failed to account for maintenance-of-way equipment worth an estimated $4.1 million, the Little Rock Republican noted, citing a report by the Amtrak office of inspector general.

The equipment could not be tracked down "due to a lack of proper asset management controls," Hill's office said in a news release last week.

Maintenance-of-way equipment has been described as "track motor cars and other rolling stock used for maintaining rails and tracks."

Amtrak will be buying $370 million worth of maintenance-of-way and rolling stock equipment between now and the end of 2023, Hill noted.

"As the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer subsidies, it is stunningly irresponsible for Amtrak not to have basic inventory systems to keep track of its Engineering Department equipment," Hill wrote in a letter to Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson.

The late U.S. Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis., created the Golden Fleece Award, using it to highlight government spending that he considered wasteful. After Hill's election to Congress in 2014, he resurrected the award.

Cotton decries 'ghoulish' China

Photo by Jeff Mitchell
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark, is shown in this file photo.

The world's largest communist country got a Twitter shoutout Tuesday from President Donald Trump and a long-distance denunciation from U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

"Congratulations to President Xi [Jinping] and the Chinese people on the 70th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China!" Trump tweeted on Tuesday, the regime's 70th birthday.

Trump's message was posted on the same day that pro-democracy protesters clashed with law enforcement officials in Hong Kong. Police shot and later arrested one teenage activist, who now faces up to a decade in prison, FOX News and other outlets reported.

Cotton, who frequently criticizes Beijing, portrayed the anniversary as a sad day for the Chinese people and the cause of liberty.

"To see the price of the PRC's anniversary celebration, look no further than what's happening in Hong Kong: a ceaseless war against those who wish to live in freedom," Cotton said in a written statement. "From the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution to the camps in Xinjiang today, it has been a ghoulish 70 years of Chinese Communist Party control."

The lawmaker from Dardanelle was just 12 years old when the Chinese government quelled pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, killing dissenters and crushing opposition.

Call rises to pare India pecans levy

For the nation's pecan farmers, India is a tough nut to crack.

The country with the world's second-largest population places a roughly 36% tariff on the tasty American tree nuts. Almond and pistachio imports, on the other hand, face tariffs of roughly 10%.

Now a dozen southern and southwestern lawmakers, including U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, both Arkansas Republicans, are urging U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to do all he can to level the playing field for American pecan growers.

In a letter dated Sept. 20, they questioned the rationale for high pecan tariffs, noting that India's domestic pecan industry is "virtually nonexistent."

Lower pecan tariffs, they argued, would benefit nut-loving Indians and nut-growing American farmers without undermining Indian farmers.

"Reducing trade barriers into India is an opportunity to strengthen the economy of rural America," the letter stated.

India is "one of the most dynamic and fasted growing markets" in the world, the lawmakers noted. Since 1960, its population has nearly tripled, rising from roughly 450 million to roughly 1.35 billion today.

Pecans are native to the United States and northern Mexico and have flourished in much of the American South. Since 1919, the pecan has been Texas' state tree. Arkansas adopted the pecan as its state nut in 2009.

The "pecan industry" pumps $3.57 billion into the economy of 15 American states, the lawmakers stated.

Planning to visit the nation's capital? Know something happening in Washington, D.C.? Please contact Frank Lockwood at (202) 662-7690 or Want the latest from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Washington bureau? It's available on Twitter, @LockwoodFrank.

Metro on 10/06/2019

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