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Archive for May, 2013

We’ve gotten to the point where you need a guide-book to keep track of all the scandals in Washington.

As a fiscal policy wonk, I focus mostly on the sleaze at the IRS, but I also recognize that the other scandals are equally troubling.

So I’m amused by Lisa Benson’s portrayal of the…um…plumbing problems at the White House.

DC Septic Cartoon

But there’s a theme to all the scandals, regardless of whether they’re happening now under Obama or whether they happened under Bush or during the reign of previous Presidents: Many of them take place solely because government is large, bloated, and involved in areas where it doesn’t belong.

Here’s my video explaining why corruption is much more common when government is bigger.

P.S. You can see some of my favorite Benson cartoons herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehereherehereherehere, hereherehere, and here.

And here’s my favorite one, which criticized Obama’s class warfare policy and became part of my political cartoon contest.

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What’s the most absurd “health” expenditure by government?

Your tax dollars at work

There are lots of potential responses, including $240 million for penis pumps. Or how about the fact that Obamacare allows taxpayer-subsidized viagra for sex offenders?

But another potential answer is cosmetic surgery for “droopy eyelids.” Here are some of the details from a Miami Herald report.

Aging Americans worried about their droopy upper eyelids often rely on the plastic surgeon’s scalpel to turn back the hands of time. Increasingly, Medicare is footing the bill. Yes, Medicare. The public health insurance program for people over 65 typically does not cover cosmetic surgery… In recent years, though, a rapid rise in the number of so-called functional eyelid lifts, or blepharoplasty, has led some to question whether Medicare is letting procedures that are really cosmetic slip through the cracks — at a cost of millions of dollars. …From 2001 to 2011, eyelid lifts charged to Medicare more than tripled to 136,000 annually, according to a review of physician billing data by the Center for Public Integrity. In 2001, physicians billed taxpayers a total of $20 million for the procedure. By 2011, the price tag had quadrupled to $80 million. The number of physicians billing the surgery more than doubled. …surgeons also acknowledge an increased awareness of the surgery fueled by reality television, word-of-mouth referrals, and advertising that promises a more youthful appearance. And doctors concede they face increased pressure from patients to perform eyelid lifts, even when they do not meet Medicare’s requirement that peripheral vision actually be impaired.

Yet even though the Medicare requirements aren’t being met, these surgeries are still taking place. Why? Well, because the doctors and old people both realize that Uncle Sam will pay the bill so long as you make a nebulous claim that peripheral vision is affected.

Just like doctors and scammers will agree on a diagnosis of “bad back” or “mental illness” in order to get somebody on the taxpayer-financed disability gravy train.

In other words, once politicians create a pile of free money, people will figure out ways of getting their hands on that money.

That’s true for all programs.

But because of the amounts of money involved, Medicare is a far bigger problem than other programs, as explained in this video.

Which is why we desperately need the right kind of entitlement reform.

P.S. You won’t be surprised to know that other nations also have crazy government-financed health systems. In the United Kingdom, for instance, you can get a boob job at taxpayer expense. The government in the United Kingdom also provides taxpayer-financed sex trips to Amsterdam. And the bureaucrats at the European Commission get penile implants at public expense.

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I’ve shared some bizarre horror stories about adults being victimized by anti-gun fanaticism, including the Washington, DC, man who got fined $1,000 for saving a child’s life and a British man who got arrested for finding a gun and turning it over to the police.

But I get more worried about the future of the country when I read reports of children being subjected to this kind of politically correct nonsense.

Consider, for instance, these absurd details from a local news report.

Lego gunA Massachusetts kindergartener has been given detention and could be suspended from the bus after bringing a Lego-sized gun to school last week. …the incident happened on an Old Mill Pond Elementary School bus in Palmer last week. A 6-year-old had the toy gun, which is slightly larger than a quarter, on the bus and it was seen by another student, who alerted the bus driver. The boy’s mother, Mieke Crane, said her son had to write a letter of apology to the driver, was given detention and could be temporarily suspended from the bus.

Reading that passage, I don’t know whether to be more angry with the bratty tattle-tale kid who told the bus driver, or with the bus driver who obviously must have informed the school.

Both of them could use some serious counseling.

But that’s just part of the story.

The school sent home a letter to parents explaining what happened, stressing no gun was on the bus and there was never any danger. “(The driver) said he caused quite a disturbance on the bus and that the children were traumatized,” Crane told WGGB.

A letter to parents about a tiny plastic toy gun?!? Are the bureaucrats in this school so under-worked that they have time to waste on such nonsense? If I was a parent in this school district, I would put my kids in a private school.

Especially if it’s true that “children were traumatized” by a piece of Lego. I wouldn’t want to take the risk that wimpiness and poor cognitive skills could be transmitted by proximity to my kids (perhaps causing them to need “emotional support” animals in college).

By the way, this is not an isolated example. To get depressed about the future of the country, read these posts about children being exposed to foolish thinking.

Stories like this make me wonder whether I should emigrate, though the rest of the world tends to be in worse shape so the moral of the story is that we need to save the United States from the brainless (and overpaid) bureaucrats who are trying to ruin our children.

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As a long-time advocate of tax reform, I’m not a fan of distortionary loopholes in the tax code. Ideally, we would junk the 74,000-page internal revenue code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax – meaning one low rate, no double taxation, and no favoritism.*

The right kind of tax reform would generate more growth and also reduce corruption in Washington. Politicians no longer would have the ability to create special tax breaks for well-connected contributors.

But we won’t get to the right destination if we have the wrong map, and this is why a new report about “tax expenditures” from the Congressional Budget Office is so disappointing.

As you can see from this excerpted table, CBO makes the same mistake as the Tax Policy Center and assumes that there should be double taxation of income that is saved and invested. As such, they list IRAs and 401(k)s as tax expenditures, even though those provisions merely enable people to avoid being double-taxed.

Likewise, the CBO report assumes that there should be double taxation of dividends and capital gains, so provisions to guard against such destructive policies also are listed as tax expenditures.

CBO Tax Expenditure List

The CBO report says that tax expenditures will total about $12 trillion over the next 10 years, but about one-third of that amount (which I’ve marked with a red X) don’t belong on the list.

By the way, at least the Tax Policy Center has an excuse for putting its thumb on the scale and issuing a flawed estimate of tax expenditures. It’s a project of the Brookings Institution and Urban Institute, both of which are on the left side of the political spectrum. So it’s hardly a surprise that they use a benchmark designed to promote punitive tax policy.

But what’s CBO’s excuse?

To be fair, at least CBO admitted in the report that there’s a different way of seeing the world.

…tax expenditures are measured relative to a comprehensive income tax system. If tax expenditures were evaluated relative to an alternative tax system—for instance, a comprehensive consumption tax, such as a national retail sales tax or a value-added tax—some of the 10 major tax expenditures analyzed here would not be considered tax expenditures. For example, because a consumption tax would exclude all savings and investment income from taxation, the exclusion of net pension contributions and earnings would be considered part of the normal tax system and not a tax expenditure.

But admitting the existence of another approach doesn’t let CBO off the hook. At the very least, the bureaucracy should have produced a a parallel set of estimates for tax expenditures assuming no double taxation. That basic competence and fairness.

By the way, the Government Accountability Office is worse than CBO. When GAO did a report on corporate tax expenditures, that bureaucracy didn’t even acknowledge that there was an alternate way of looking at the data.

*Actually, the ideal approach would be to dramatically reduce the burden of government spending, shrinking the size and scope of the federal government back to what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Under that system, there presumably wouldn’t be a need for any broad-based tax.

P.S. This new report is not even close to being the worst thing produced by CBO. The bureaucrats on several occasions have asserted that higher taxes are good for growth, even to the point of implying that the growth-maximizing tax rate is 100 percent! And CBO is slavishly devoted to Keynesian economics, notwithstanding several decades of evidence that you can’t make an economy richer by taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another pocket.

Yet for inexplicable reasons, Republicans failed to deal with CBO bias back when they were in charge.

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John Geary is not a good person.

He’s been a bureaucrat for about a decade, which almost surely means he’s over-paid and under-worked.

IRS welfareNot only is he a bureaucrat, but his job is to distribute welfare, which means he’s been screwing taxpayers and trapping poor people into government dependency.

But apparently he wasn’t satisfied with screwing taxpayers and poor people, at least in the figurative sense of the word. Here’s some of a report from a local CBS station.

Welfare Bureaucrat CriminalA state welfare worker is facing charges after allegedly offering benefits in exchange for sex. …According to the police criminal complaint, Geary also repeatedly asked the woman to smoke crack with him on the weekends when his wife was working and his children were asleep in their North Versailles home. …Police think there may be more victims as Geary allegedly told the woman that he had done the same thing with women in the past.

Gee, he sounds like a really swell guy and a model husband and father, wouldn’t you agree?

P.S. Perhaps Mr. Geary should be the first non-recipient member of the Moocher Hall of Fame?

P.P.S. Furthermore, we could include this in the Great-Moments-in-Local-Government series. Previous versions can be seen here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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Earlier this month, I explained four reasons why the Apple “tax avoidance” issue is empty political demagoguery.

And Rand Paul gave some great remarks at a Senate hearing, excoriating some of his colleagues for trying to pillage the company.

But this Robert Ariail cartoon may be the best summary of the issue.

Arial Apple Cartoon

What makes this cartoon so effective is that it properly and cleverly identifies what’s really driving the political class on this issue. They want more revenue to finance a bigger burden of government spending.

When I did my contest for best political cartoonist, I picked a cartoon about Greece and euro for Robert Ariail’s entry. While I still think that was a very good cartoon, this Apple cartoon would probably take its place if I did a new contest.

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The establishment media is very biased, largely in that they decide to cover stories that will help the left.

But that’s such a dog-bites-man observation and it hardly merits any discussion.

I’d much rather make fun of the lapdog press, which is why I’ve shared some funny cartoons here and here.

But whoever put this poster together deserves an award for cleverness. It not only nails the press for bias, but also mocks them for being treated like dirt by the establishment.

Media Chumps

Though I still think this cartoon is funniest thing I’ve ever seen about media bias.

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