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Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

You won’t know whether to laugh or cry after perusing these stories that will be added to our “great moments in government” collection.

For instance, did you realize that American taxpayers were saddled with the responsibility to micro-manage agriculture in Afghanistan? You’re probably surprised the answer is yes.

But I bet you’re not surprised that the money was flushed down a toilet. Here are some excerpts from a report on how $34 million was wasted.

American agricultural experts who consider soybeans a superfood…have invested tens of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to try to change the way Afghans eat. The effort, aimed at making soy a dietary staple, has largely been a flop, marked by mismanagement, poor government oversight and financial waste, according to interviews and government audit documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. Warnings by agronomists that the effort was unwise were ignored. The country’s climate turns out to be inappropriate for soy cultivation and its farming culture is ill-prepared for large-scale soybean production. Soybeans are now no more a viable commercial crop in Afghanistan than they were in 2010, when the $34 million program got started… The ambitious effort also appears to have been undone by a simple fact, which might have been foreseen but was evidently ignored: Afghans don’t like the taste of the soy processed foods.

Sadly, this $34 million boondoggle is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s been said that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. Well, it’s also the graveyard of tax dollars.

…the project’s problems model the larger shortcomings of the estimated $120 billion U.S. reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, including what many experts depict as ignorance of Afghan traditions, mismanagement and poor spending controls. No one has calculated precisely how much the United States wasted or misspent in Afghanistan, but a…special auditor appointed by President Obama the following year said he discovered nearly $7 billion worth of Afghanistan-related waste in just his first year on the job.

I’m guessing that most of the $120 billion was squandered using traditional definitions of waste.

But using a libertarian definition of waste (i.e., money that the federal government should not spend), we can easily calculate that the entire $120 billion was squandered.

Let’s now discuss another example of American taxpayer money being wasted in other nations. I’ve written previously about the squalid corruption at the Export-Import Bank, but Veronique de Rugy of Mercatus is the go-to expert on this issue, and she has a new article at National Review about “a project in Brazil that, if it goes bust and the Brazilians can’t pay the American contractor, your tax dollars will end up paying for.”

And what is this project?

…an Export-Import Bank–backed deal to build the largest aquarium in South America…the taxpayer exposure is $150,000 per job “supported.” Some people in Brazil are rightly upset about this. The Ex-Im loan may have lower interest rates and better terms than a regular loan, but this is probably money the indebted and poor Brazilian government can’t afford. …a real problem with the Ex-Im Bank: On one hand, it gives cheap money to large companies who would have access to capital markets even in its absence. But on the other hand, it encourages middle-income or poor countries to take on debt that they probably can’t afford, whether the products purchased are “made in America” or not.

Gee, aren’t we happy that some bureaucrats and politicians have decided to put us on the hook for a Brazilian aquarium.

But let’s try to make the best of a bad situation. Here’s a depiction of what you’re subsidizing. Enjoy.

Subsidized by American taxpayers

I hope you got your money’s worth from the image.

Perhaps I’m being American-centric by focusing on examples of bad policies from the crowd in Washington.

So let’s look at an example of government foolishness from Germany. It doesn’t involve tax money being wasted (at least not directly), but I can’t resist sharing this story because it’s such a perfect illustration of government in action.

Check out these excerpts from a British news report on over-zealous enforcement by German cops.

A one-armed man in Germany has received a full apology and refund from the police after an overzealous officer fined him for cycling using only one arm. Bogdan Ionescu, a theatre box office worker from Cologne, gets around the usually cycle-friendly city using a modified bicycle that allows him to operate both brakes – one with his foot. But on 25 March he was pulled over by a police officer who, he says, told him he was breaking the law. Under German road safety rules, bicycles are required to have to have two handlebar brakes. After a long argument at the roadside, the officer insisted that Mr Ionescu’s bike was not roadworthy and issued him with a €25 (£20) fine.

At least this story had a happy ending, at least if you overlook the time and aggravation for Mr. Ionescu.

Our last (but certainly not least) example of foolish government comes from Nebraska, though the culprit is the federal government.

But maybe “disconcerting” would be a better word than “foolish.”

It seems that our friends on the left no longer think that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” In a very troubling display of thuggery, the Justice Department dispatched a bureaucrat to “investigate” a satirical parade float.

Here’s some of what was reported by the Washington Times.

The U.S. Department of Justice has sent a member of its Community Relations Service team to investigate a Nebraska parade float that criticized President Obama. A Fourth of July parade float featured at the annual Independence Day parade in Norfolk sparked criticism when it depicted a zombie-like figure resembling Mr. Obama standing outside an outhouse, which was labeled the “Obama Presidential Library.” The Nebraska Democratic Party called the float one of the “worst shows of racism and disrespect for the office of the presidency that Nebraska has ever seen.” The Omaha World-Herald reported Friday that the Department of Justice sent a CRS member who handles discrimination disputes to a Thursday meeting about the issue. …The float’s creator, Dale Remmich, has said the mannequin depicted himself, not President Obama. He said he is upset with the president’s handling of the Veterans Affairs Department, the World-Herald reported. “Looking at the float, that message absolutely did not come through,” said NAACP chapter president Betty C. Andrews.

If you look at the picture (and other pictures that can be seen with an online search), I see plenty of disrespect for the current president, but why is that something that requires an investigation?

There was plenty of disrespect for the previous president. And there as also disrespect for the president before that. And before that. And before…well, you get the idea.

Disrespect for politicians is called political speech, and it’s (supposedly) protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

That’s even true if the float’s creator had unseemly motives such as racism. He would deserve scorn if that was the case, and parade organizers would (or at least should) have the right to exclude him on that basis.

But you don’t lose your general right to free speech just because you have unpopular and/or reprehensible opinions. And the federal government shouldn’t be doing anything that can be construed as suppressing or intimidating Americans who want to “disrespect” the political class.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of politicized bureaucracy, we have an update to a recent column about sleazy behavior at the IRS.

According to the Daily Caller, there’s more and more evidence of a big fire behind all the smoke at the IRS.

Ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s computer hard drive was “scratched” and the data on it was still recoverable. But the IRS did not try to recover the data from Lerner’s hard drive, despite recommendations from in-house IRS IT experts to outsource the recovery project. The hard drive was then “shredded,” according to a court filing the IRS made to House Ways and Means Committee investigators.

Gee, how convenient.

I used to dislike the IRS because of the tax code. Now I have an additional reason to view the bureaucrats with disdain.

P.P.S. One last comment on the controversy surrounding the parade float. Racism is an evil example of collectivist thinking. But it is also reprehensible for folks on the left to make accusations of racism simply because they disagree with someone.

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In some sense, there’s nothing remotely funny about the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party organizations.

It is disgusting that a powerful arm of the government became a corrupt vehicle for illegal partisan politics.

But it’s better to laugh rather than cry, so let’s enjoy this new video from Remy at Reason TV.

And let’s not forget that the IRS rewarded itself with big bonuses after the scandal!

President Obama infamously claimed there wasn’t a “smidgen” of corruption at the IRS. This Glenn Foden cartoon is the only appropriate response.

P.S. Switching to another topic, I explained recently that the left was wrong about unemployment insurance. The statists told us that paying people to be unemployed wouldn’t increase joblessness, but virtually all the evidence is on the other side.

Now we have even more research emphasizing that point. Here’s a blurb from some new research published by the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

…we find that the extension of unemployment benefits affected the labor market status of long-term unemployed workers in late 2013. Without extended UI benefits, these unemployed workers would have been more likely to be employed, more likely to exit the labor force, and on average 1.9 percent less likely to remain unemployed in the following period. In short, our simulated early termination of the EUC program lowered the unemployment rate by 3 to 5 basis points, suggesting that the December 2013 expiration of the EUC program might have slightly lowered the unemployment rate in early 2014.

However, since most leftists are not very literate about economics, let’s simplify the issue. Maybe they can understand some cartoons. Here are some options from Michael Ramirez, Robert Gorrell, and Chuck Asay, as well as a great Wizard-of-Id parody.

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I thought TARP was the sleaziest-ever example of cronyism and corruption in Washington.

The Wall Street bailout rewarded politically well-connected companies, encouraged moral hazard, and ripped off taxpayers. Heck, it was so bad that it makes the sleaze at the Export-Import Bank seem almost angelic by comparison.

But I may have to reassess my views.

One of the provisions of Obamacare allows the White House to give bailouts to big health insurance companies. You’re probably wondering why these big firms would need bailouts. After all, didn’t Obamacare coerce millions of people into becoming involuntary customers of these companies? That should give them lots of unearned profits, right?

But here’s the catch. The President wasn’t being honest when he repeatedly promised that Obamacare would reduce premiums for health insurance. And since the Democrats don’t want consumers to get angry about rising costs (particularly before the 2014 elections), they want health insurance companies to under-charge.

Avik Roy of Forbes explains in greater detail how the White House is coercing health insurance companies to limit premium increases before the mid-term elections. Here are some excerpts.

Hidden in the midst of a 436 page regulatory update, and written in pure bureaucratese, the Department of Health and Human Services asked that insurance companies limit the looming premium increases for 2015 health plans. But don’t worry, HHS hinted: we’ll bail you out on the taxpayer’s dime if you lose money. …The White House is playing politics with Americans’ health care—and they’re bribing health insurance companies to play along. The administration’s intention is clear: Salvage the 2014 midterm elections. …Technically, the regulations don’t force health insurance companies to tamp down their premium spikes. But the White House isn’t asking nicely. …Under Obamacare, insurers are so heavily regulated that they have to play nice with the bureaucrats who call the shots. …If insurance companies don’t give in, regulators have powerful ways to make life hard for them. A shrewd CEO doesn’t need to look far to see what might happen if his company opts out.

But before you feel sorry for Big Insurance, remember that these corrupt companies supported Obamacare and fully expect to get bailed out by taxpayers. Here are some blurbs from an article last month in the Weekly Standard.

Most Americans don’t think it’s their job to bail out insurance companies who lose money under Obamacare, but that’s exactly what’s poised to happen. Obamacare’s risk-corridor program — which President Obama has been using as a slush fund to placate his insurance allies and keep them quiet about his lawlessness — shifts financial risk from insurers to taxpayers. According to the House Oversight Committee, health insurers expect Obamacare’s risk corridors to net them nearly $1 billion, at taxpayer expense, this year alone. …It was a win-win that would boost Obamacare in its early days — to the benefit of those who’ve gained extraordinary power at the expense of Americans’ liberty, and of those whose product has become mandatory for Americans to purchase.

In other words, we have a stereotypical example of Mitchell’s Law. Government screws up something, and then uses that mess as an excuse to impose more bad policy!

This Lisa Benson cartoon is a perfect summary of what’s happening.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for some dark humor, here’s the federal government’s satirical bailout application form.

P.P.S. Switching to a different topic, it’s time for me to rectify a mistake. When I first created the Moocher Hall of Fame last year, I didn’t include the “Octo-moocher” as a charter member. After all, having 14 kids while living on the dole didn’t seem particularly noteworthy.

But now we’ve discovered that she could afford her kids. She just wanted other people to pick up the tab.

Octomom Nadya Suleman pleaded no contest Monday to a single count of misdemeanor welfare fraud for failing to disclose income she was receiving from videos and personal appearances while collecting more than $26,000 in public assistance funds to care for her 14 children.

This may not be as impressive as the deadbeat who got handouts while living on a $1.2 million yacht, but still worthy of membership.

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I periodically share polling data. This is because public opinion research (if done honestly) provides insights on the degree to which people are either well informed, uninformed, or misinformed.

And that kind of information is useful for policy wonks like me since it shows where we need to re-double our efforts to educate the American people.

And some of the best polling data today comes from the periodic Reason-Rupe survey. They ask fair questions (i.e., they’re trying to discover what people actually think rather than doing “push polls” designed to produce pre-determined results) and they ask interesting questions.

But that doesn’t mean I always like the answers. Reason-Rupe just did a major survey of Americans between ages 18 and 29. Perhaps I’m being a glass-half-empty person, but I’m not overly encouraged by the answers from these so-called millenials.

Heck, I’m tempted to say that the voting age should be raised to 30.

Is this because of how they voted in the past two elections?

Young Americans (ages 18-29) have shifted markedly left in their voting behavior over the past decade. …by 2008, 66 percent voted for Barack Obama, as did 60 percent in 2012.

Nope, that’s not why I’m distressed about millenials. It’s hard to blame voters for turning against the GOP after eight years of Bush’s big-government paternalism. Moreover, both McCain and Romney held a lot of statist views, so I didn’t view the 2008 and 2012 elections as a rejection of libertarianism or small-government conservatism. The Reason-Rupe experts have a similar assessment.

The Republican Party—which rhetorically lays claim to free markets, limited government, and fiscal responsibility—found itself lacking credibility… The Republican Party’s policy mishandlings tainted not just its own brand, but those who share its rhetoric. Messengers selling free markets and limited government under the GOP banner have found it more difficult to reach a trusting audience.

At most, millenials were guilty of believing the nonsensical hype that Obama was some sort of post-partisan leader.

So why, then, am I distressed about the Reason-Rupe poll results? Mostly because millenials appear to be scatterbrained.

We’ll start with the good news. In some ways, they seem very sensible.

…millennials are not statists clamoring for government management of the economy. Quite the opposite. Millennials are still free marketeers—they like profit and competition, they prefer capitalism over socialism… There has been a surge in the share of millennials who think government is wasteful and inefficient… Most also think government agencies abuse their power… Millennials say hard work brings success, as older generations do. They also believe in self-determination and say that individuals are and should be primarily responsible for both their successes and failings, even if this leads to unequal outcomes. Millennials are concerned about growing income inequality, but they prefer a competitive, merit-based society that rewards personal achievement over one with little income inequality. …nearly three-fourths of millennials support “changing the Social Security program so younger workers can invest their Social Security taxes in private retirement accounts.”

But before you conclude millenials have their heads on straight, let’s look at these results.

A plurality of millennials says there is more government should be doing… the cohort still favors social welfare spending and a variety of government guarantees. …Millennials are more favorable toward socialism than they are to a government-managed economy, even though the latter is arguably less interventionist. …Millennials are far more likely than Americans over 30 to identify as liberal. While only 14 percent of Americans over 30 call themselves liberals, 25 percent of millennials do the same. …They support raising taxes to increase financial assistance to the poor, they think government should guarantee access to health care, and a slim majority favors guaranteeing access to college. …American millennials agree government should spend more to help the poor even if it leads to higher taxes. …Nearly seven in 10 say government should guarantee health insurance and a living wage. …The plurality of millennials (48 %) think people usually get rich at the expense of others, a zero-sum view of wealth in society.

So does this mean young voters are statists?

Perhaps, but the most accurate conclusion is that they simply don’t know enough to give consistent answers.

A 2010 CBS/New York Times survey found that when Americans were asked to use their own words to define the word “socialism” millennials were the least able to do so. Accord to the survey, only 16 percent of millennials could define socialism as government ownership, or some variation thereof, compared to 30 percent of Americans over 30 (and 57% of tea partiers, incidentally).

So maybe we should raise the voting age to 30.

Or at least have a rule that says you can’t vote until you have a job and are paying taxes (that might be a good rule for all ages!).

Now that we’ve tried to figure out how millenials are thinking, let’s look at the entire population.

And let’s focus on just one issue: How many Americans think corruption is widespread in government.

The good news is that Gallup found that a record number of Americans recognize that the public sector is a sleazy racket for the benefit of bureaucrats, lobbyists, contractors, politicians, cronies, interest groups, and other insiders.

By the way, I like these results, but they don’t necessarily mean that people want to shrink government. As we saw with the data on millenials, it’s possible for people to favor more government even though they think that it is corrupt, wasteful, and inefficient.

But at least (I hope) this means that they are susceptible to the common-sense message that shrinking government is the most effective way of reducing corruption.

Last but not least, I’m not sure this qualifies as an opinion poll, but it does deal with responses to questions.

It turns out that “unattractive” people are most likely to donate to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

A new series of studies from Stanford researchers has found that people who feel “unattractive” are more likely to donate to the Occupy movement. …participants were then asked to rate their own attractiveness… Finally, after watching a short video about the Occupy Movement, participants were asked if they would like to donate their compensatory $50 lottery ticket to the movement. Researchers found that those who perceived themselves to be less attractive were almost twice as likely to donate to Occupy.

And while we don’t have any research on this issue, I’m going out on a limb and asserting that folks who donate to America’s best think tank are beautiful, charming, debonair, suave, virile, and popular.

P.S. But as you can see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, the Occupy protesters did generate some good political humor, so they’re not all bad.

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The internal revenue service has allowed itself to become a tool of the White House. To be more specific, bureaucrats at the tax-collection agency sought to undermine a free and fair political process by stifling political speech. And now the IRS is lying about its activities and trying to cover its tracks.

This should be deeply horrifying to all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or philosophy.

Particularly since the partisan Democrat appointed by Obama to head the IRS refuses to even apologize for the agency’s rogue behavior.

There are several appropriate responses to the IRS scandal, including some genuine budget cuts. But you probably won’t be surprised to learn that some people think the IRS instead should be rewarded with even more money.

Here are some excerpts from a column in today’s Washington Post.

…this is an especially strange time to stick up for the agency, given the suspicious disappearance of a few thousand key e-mails that Congress wants to see. But right now, the IRS desperately needs a champion. …the IRS has been laboring…with fewer resources. Since 2010, when Congress first began hacking away at discretionary spending, the bureau’s funding has fallen 14 percent, in inflation-adjusted terms… These cuts have come even though the agency’s responsibilities and workload have increased, thanks to new laws such as the Affordable Care Act and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act… Now House Republicans want to hobble it even more. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted to slash the bureau’s budget by another $340 million.

It’s true that both Obamacare and FATCA grant new powers and obligations to the IRS, but we can solve that problem by repealing those misguided laws.

But since that won’t happen while Obama is in the White House, let’s consider whether “fewer resources,” “hobble,” and “hacking away” are accurate ways of describing what’s been happening to the IRS’s budget.

The Office of Management and Budget has detailed tables showing spending by agency. And if you look at the administrative portions of IRS spending (culled from lines 2491-2533 of this massive database), it turns out that spending has increased dramatically over time.

Yes, it’s true that IRS spending has declined slightly since 2010, but the agency’s budget is still about twice as big as it was 30 years ago. And these numbers are adjusted for inflation!

In other words, it’s very misleading to focus merely on the post-2010 budgetary data (just as Krugman was being deceptive when he looked only at post-2007 data when writing about Estonia’s economic performance).

Looking at the historical data reveals that the IRS budget is much bigger than it’s been in the past.

There are a couple of additional points in the column that deserve some attention. The author argues that people who care about the budget deficit should be delighted to give more money to the IRS because it produces a “darn good return on investment.”

If you care about narrowing the budget deficit — as Republicans generally say they do — gutting your chief revenue- collection agency makes little sense. …The IRS generates way more money than it spends, after all. For every dollar appropriated to the IRS in the 2013 fiscal year, the agency collected $255, according to the national taxpayer advocate’s office. That’s a darn good return on investment.

Wow, what a scary mindset. Based on this thinking, why don’t we simply give the government carte blanche to seize our bank accounts? After all, they could probably collect hundreds of thousands of dollars for every dollar spent. That would be an even better “return on investment.”

As an aside, this is an example of why I get so agitated when supposed fiscal conservatives focus on deficits and debt. It creates an opening for people who want to push bad policy. But if you focus on the real problem of government spending, that problem disappears.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the column. There’s one other point that cries out for correction. The author claims that a bigger IRS budget will reduce tax evasion and that this will keep tax rates from going higher.

Some of that money comes from going after tax cheats, and…rampant tax evasion has a tendency to drive statutory tax rates higher so that the government can extract more money from those poor saps still obeying the law.

The only problem with this assertion is that it is grossly inconsistent with the facts.

We have very powerful evidence that politicians lowered tax rates during periods when there were substantial flows of money to so-called tax havens.

Why? Because they felt competitive pressure to implement less onerous tax rates in order to keep even more money from escaping.

And now we have strong evidence that tax rates are going up as opportunities to escape bad tax policy have decreased.

Why? Because the politicians now feel that taxpayers have fewer escape options.

To summarize this post, the IRS needs and deserves more money in the same way that Charles Manson needs and deserves a group hug.

Here’s one last bit of humor to augment the cartoons I’ve already included. It’s PG-13, so don’t read too closely if you get easily offended.

P.S. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could junk the tax code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax? That would eliminate almost every possible conflict with the IRS and also take away the agency’s discretionary power.

Not a bad fantasy to have, at least for a policy wonk.

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I’ve posted more than 3,500 items since I started International Liberty. And if you look at the earliest posts, way back in April of 2009, you’ll find that one of the very first of them made the link between big government and big corruption.

My premise was very simple. When government is very large, with all sorts of power to provide unearned wealth via taxes, spending, and regulation, then you will get more sleaze.

Sort of like the way a full dumpster will attract lots of rats and roaches.

A story in Fortune reports that government corruption at the state level is very costly.

…corruption is everywhere, in one form or another. And it’s costing U.S. citizens big time. A new study from researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Indiana University estimates that corruption on the state level is costing Americans in the 10 most corrupt states an average of $1,308 per year… The researchers studied more than 25,000 convictions of public officials for violation of federal corruption laws between 1976 and 2008 as well as patterns in state spending to develop a corruption index that estimates the most and least corrupt states in the union.

Most Corrupt StatesHere’s the list of the 10-most corrupt states. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern.

Southern states are over-represented, it appears, but that’s obviously not an overwhelming factor since Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas (among others) didn’t make the list.

But it turns out that there is a factor that seems to be very prevalent among corrupt states.

The researchers also found that for 9 out of the 10 of the most corrupt states, overall state spending was higher than in less corrupt states (South Dakota was the only exception).

The authors suggest an attack on corruption could lead to a lower burden of government spending.

Attacking corruption, the researchers argue, could be a good way to bring down state spending.

I don’t disagree, but I wonder whether there’s an even more obvious lesson. Maybe the primary causality goes the other direction. Perhaps the goal should be to lower state spending as a way of reducing corruption.

Returning to the analogy I used earlier, a smaller dumpster presumably means fewer rats and roaches.

That’s not the only interesting data from the study. Fortune also reports that infrastructure projects and bloated bureaucracies are linked to corruption.

The paper explains that construction spending, especially on big infrastructure projects, is particularly susceptible to corruption… Corrupt states also tend to, for obvious reasons, simply have more and better paid public servants, including police and correctional officers.

I’m not surprised by those findings. Indeed, I would even argue that a large bureaucracy, in and of itself, is a sign of corruption since it suggests featherbedding and patronage for insiders.

For more info on the size of government and corruption, here’s a video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. It’s several years old, but the message is even more relevant today since the public sector is larger and more intrusive.

P.S. Speaking of corruption, there’s actually a serious effort on Capitol Hill to shut down the Export-Import Bank, which has been a cesspool of corruption and cronyism.

P.P.S. Switching to a different topic (though it also fits under corruption), we have another member for our potential Bureaucrat Hall of Fame. Or maybe this person belongs in a politician-ripping-off-the-system Hall of Fame.

Here are some of the details from an Irish news report and you can judge for yourself.

Ireland’s outgoing European Commissioner, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, is entitled to a total €432,000 EU pay-off over the next three years to help her adjust to life after Brussels. …EU commissioners leaving office are entitled, subject to certain conditions, to a “transitional allowance” over three years varying between 45pc and 65pc of salary. Mrs Geoghegan-Quinn’s entitlement amounts to 55pc of her salary, or €137,000 per year.

Huh?!? A transitional allowance? For what? That’s more than $500,000 in American money.

Is it really that difficult to end one’s term as an overpaid European Union Commissioner?

But what really makes Ms. Geoghegan-Quinn an inspiration to other bureaucrats (and a nightmare for taxpayers) is that she’ll also have her snout buried deeply in Ireland’s public trough.

And from this autumn, she can also resume collecting her Irish TD and ministerial pensions totalling €108,000 a year – giving her total pension entitlements worth over €3,000 a week.

Though to be fair, she’s simply doing what other politicians already have done. Not only in Ireland, but also in America.

Government has become a racket for the benefit of insiders.

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When I wrote recently that the IRS was corrupt, venal, and despicable, I didn’t realize that I was bending over backwards to be overly nice.

Every new revelation in the scandal shows that the agency is beyond salvage.

Writing for Real Clear Markets, Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute is appropriately skeptical of the IRS.

Coincidentally, Lerner’s computer crashed 10 days after Congress expressed concern about possible targeting of conservative groups. Emails between January 2009 and April 2011 were lost. Her computer is not available for examination, because it has already been recycled by the IRS. In a further coincidence, or not, a backup tape of agency emails made by the IRS was erased after 6 months. …As Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins said, the story sounds more and more implausible.

Diana then explains why this matters, using Obamacare as an example of why we should worry about a corrupt and politicized IRS.

Why should we care about missing emails from 2009 to 2011? As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a 2013 hearing about Benghazi, “What difference at this point does it make?” It is not just that Americans’ basic trust in the IRS is being called into question. Over the past five years the IRS has been concentrating its power, giving the agency increased opportunities to pick on people and groups it dislikes. …Sarah Hall Ingram, who was commissioner of the IRS’s Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division from 2009 to 2012 during the Lois Lerner scandal, now heads the IRS Affordable Care Act Office. …Do Americans trust the IRS to calculate these subsidies and refunds impartially? The IRS already made a power grab in May 2012 by extending premium subsidies to the 34 states with federal exchanges.

She also points out that the IRS is carrying water for the President’s attempt to stifle opposing views.

…the IRS proposed regulations that would allow the agency to regulate the free speech of President Obama’s political opponents, while leaving the political activities of his friends untouched. …The regulations were targeted at tax-exempt organizations that file under 501(c)(4) of the IRS code… Under the new rules these groups would not be allowed to engage in voter education that mentions a candidate within two months of a general election or one month of a primary. Left untouched by the proposed regulations were unions, which file under 501(c)(5) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute also is not persuaded by the IRS’s deceitful excuses.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the administration have consistently spouted lies and half-truths about the IRS scandal. The latest development in the controversy is that crucial emails have conveniently gone missing – is there any reason to believe that it is, as the administration claims, a mere accident? …This effort to keep conservative 501(c)(4) organizations from attempting to prevent president Obama’s reelection was, of course, hidden from the public. Ms. Lerner was careful to try and structure the IRS’ targeting in such a way that would not be appear to be a “per se political project,” in her own words, and denied in meetings with, and letters to, congressional oversight staff in 2012 that conservative groups were treated exceptionally or that the IRS’ ways of evaluating 501(c)(4)s had ever changed. The claims were false… In her response to a planted question from the audience at an American Bar Association tax conference, Ms. Lerner blamed the targeting of conservative groups on “our line people in Cincinnatti.” This has also turned out to be false. …non-Tea Party groups were never subjected to the same delays and investigations as Tea Party groups were. This once more suggest that obfuscation and dishonesty were central to the IRS’ approach to their targeting practices.

He even crunches some numbers to show that the claims from the IRS are utterly implausible.

It would be very helpful to see what communications took place between IRS officials and other Democrats. And this is where the missing emails come in. …They are gone, they now tell us, hard drives crashed and tapes were erased. Should we believe that? Of the 82 IRS employees tied to the targeting operation, 7 had their email disappear, or 8.5%. According to IRS commissioner John Koskinen, the industry standard is 3 to 5%. Under reasonable statistical assumptions, that makes the IRS scandal disappearance rate about as likely as the emails having been eaten by unicorn, with a probability far smaller than 1%. Given the IRS’ track record in this affair, that is way beyond anything that would justify giving the IRS and Lois Lerner the benefit of the doubt.

Amazingly, 12 percent of Americans believe the IRS. Here’s some polling data that Phil Kerpen shared on his twitter feed.

I’m particularly happy that younger people are more skeptical. They’re more tech-savvy and realize that the IRS’s excuses are a bunch of….well, a bunch of stuff that comes out of male cows.

And here are some good cartoons on the topic, starting with Eric Allie’s gem.

I like how he includes a representative of the 12 percent of deliberately gullible Americans.

And here’s another contribution from Allie.

And here’s Steve Kelley’s cartoon on the topic.

He’s right, needless to say. It would be better if the IRS was merely squandering money rather than seeking to subvert the democratic process.

Last but not least, here’s an evergreen cartoon about the IRS from Glenn McCoy.

Oh, and let’s not forget two other items.

The political hack who now heads the IRS is a partisan leftist.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen contributed more than $85,000 to Democratic candidates and committees…with a $5,000 donation to President Obama in 2012 and $19,000 to the Democratic National Committee from 1988 to 2008.

And the political hack who was forced out of the IRS actually wanted to target a US Senator.

…the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) targeting of conservative individuals includes a sitting United States Senator. According to emails reviewed by the Committee under its Section 6103 authority, …Lois Lerner sought to have Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) referred for IRS examination.

There are more horror stories to share, but this is enough for one day.

Suffice to say, you can understand why my fantasies involve tax reform rather than supermodels.

P.S. I can’t resist one more comment. Don’t forget that the corrupt and partisan IRS is in charge of Obamacare enforcement, but the bureaucrats want to be exempt from that government-run healthcare system. Just like politicians.

The moral of the story: Washington is even worse than you think. It’s a racket for insiders, but a burden for the rest of us.

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I actually have a perverse fondness for Bill Clinton.

This is both because we got better policy while he was President (whether he deserves credit is a separate question) and because he single-handedly generated a lot of quality political humor.

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a typical politician. And the same is true for his wife.

Indeed, they are strong candidates for the Hypocrisy-in-Government Award.

That’s because they want to subject other people to the death tax, but they’re taking aggressive steps to make sure they aren’t subject to this punitive and immoral form of double taxation.

Here’s some of what Bloomberg is reporting on the issue.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have long supported an estate tax… That doesn’t mean they want to pay it. To reduce the tax pinch, the Clintons are using financial planning strategies befitting the top 1 percent of U.S. households in wealth. These moves, common among multimillionaires, will help shield some of their estate from the tax that now tops out at 40 percent of assets upon death. The Clintons created residence trusts in 2010 and shifted ownership of their New York house into them in 2011, according to federal financial disclosures and local property records.

But you have to give the Clintons credit for chutzpah.

They have tens of millions of dollars in assets, but Hillary said they were “dead broke.”

The Clintons’ finances are receiving attention as Hillary Clinton tours the country promoting her book, “Hard Choices.” She said in an interview on ABC television that the couple was “dead broke” and in debt when they left the White House in early 2001. …The Clintons’ finances are receiving attention as Hillary Clinton tours the country promoting her book, “Hard Choices.” She said in an interview on ABC television that the couple was “dead broke” and in debt when they left the White House in early 2001. …Since she left the government last year, Hillary Clinton, 66, has been giving speeches for hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Bill Clinton, 67, also makes paid speeches and appearances, receiving $200,000 each in October 2012 from Vanguard Group Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG, according to Hillary Clinton’s disclosures.

Geesh, I wish I was “dead broke” the same way.

Political cartoonists certainly aren’t impressed. Here’s Gary Varvel’s take on the topic.

Michael Ramirez, winner of my cartoon contest, also is unimpressed.

By the way, Hillary was quoted in the Bloomberg story as being in favor of a meritocracy.

Which makes you wonder whether she opposed the special sweetheart deal that her daughter received to work at NBC News.

Chelsea Clinton earned an annual salary of $600,000 at NBC News before switching to a month-to-month contract earlier this year, sources with knowledge of the agreement told POLITICO. …As special correspondent, Clinton worked on service-related feature assignments for NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams” until the show’s cancellation in June 2013. Clinton has since worked on packages for NBC Nightly News. …When Clinton joined NBC, many media critics chafed at the network’s decision to employ a former first daughter with no experience in journalism. The New York Post referred to Clinton as “just another spoiled, aimless child of rich, successful parents chauffeured through adulthood by Mommy and Daddy’s connections.”

I have nothing against parents helping their kids and using their connections. I surely would help my kids if I had any influence in a hiring or pay decision.

But this smells of cronyism. Let’s not forget that NBC is owned by General Electric, and GE is infamous for getting in bad with politicians in exchange for handouts and subsidies.

In other words, it’s quite likely that Chelsea was given an extremely lucrative contract precisely because the company figured it was a good way of earning some chits with the then-Secretary of State and possible future President.

I’m not aware of any smoking gun to confirm my suspicion, but it would take heroic naiveté to assume that Chelsea’s parents had nothing to do with NBC’s decisions.

So, for their hypocrisy on both the death tax and meritocracy, the Clinton’s could win the Hypocrisy Award.

But there are plenty of other worthy candidates.

Such as the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which advocates higher tax for everyone else while providing gold-plated tax-free salaries and benefits to its own employees.

Such as the leftist political types who say tax havens are bad and immoral while simultaneously utilizing these low-tax jurisdictions to protect and grow their own wealth.

Such as the politicians and congressional staffers who decided to coerce others into Obamacare while seeking special exemptions for themselves.

Such as the rich leftists who advocate higher taxes for other people even though they refuse to send more of their own money to Washington.

Such as Prince Charles of the United Kingdom, who preaches coerced sacrifice for ordinary people even though his “carbon footprint” would be in the top 1 percent.

Such as the statists who fight against school choice for poor families while sending their own kids to pricey private schools for the elite.

Such as the Canadian politician who supports government-run healthcare for his constituents but comes to America for private treatment when he’s sick.

As you can see, the Clintons face some very tough competition.

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Some statements are so lame that they now serve only as punch lines.

Nobody, after all, would ever claim to a teacher that “the dog ate my homework.”

Moreover, surely few if any people ever actually assert to bill collectors that “the check is in the mail.”

And I have to imagine that no guy would be dumb enough to think a girl would fall for the line that “I’ll still love you in the morning.”

But we now have a new champion in the contest for the most laughable and pathetic assertion ever made.

But first some background. Congressional investigators have been trying to figure out the level of criminality and malfeasance in the IRS’s campaign to interfere with the 2012 election by targeting Tea Party groups. Much of the attention has focused on the activities of Lois Lerner, a left-wing ideologue at the center of the scandal.

And it is because of this investigation that we have a winner in the most-preposterous excuse contest. The political hacks at the IRS are now claiming, with straight faces, that they can’t turn over thousands of emails sent and received by Lois Lerner because of a “computer mishap.”

Here’s some of what’s been reported by the Washington Times.

The IRS has told Congress that it has lost some of former employee Lois G. Lerner’s emails from 2009 through 2011, including those she sent to other federal agencies… Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he was stunned… “The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to congressional inquiries,” Mr. Camp said. “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.” …the emails lost were “critical years” from the beginning of the targeting of conservative groups.

At this point, I suppose I should acknowledge that there’s an infinitesimally tiny chance that the IRS is being honest. Maybe, just maybe, the IRS’s immense computer infrastructure and multiple levels of redundant back up happened to fail. And, by an amazing coincidence, they can recover everything except the emails from Lois Lerner that were sent at precisely the time she was instrumental in the IRS’s harassment campaign.

Yeah, right, there’s a chance the IRS is being honest. Just like the Nixon White House could have accidentally erased 18-1/2 minutes of tape.

That being said, there’s a chance I’ll be playing center field next month for the New York Yankees. And an even bigger chance that the models from Victoria’s Secret will invite me for a weekend orgy (and just in case the Princess of the Levant is reading this, I naturally would say no).

Let me now detour into the world of public policy.

The IRS’s venal and corrupt behavior is only possible because the tax code is a Byzantine nightmare of about 75,000 pages. And that doesn’t even include all the tax court decisions and IRS letter rulings that also govern the internal revenue code.

It is this thicket of special-interest sleaze that enables hacks like Lois Lerner to wield unjustified power.

So if we want to actually reduce the chances of similar malfeasance in the future, then action is needed.

But I’m not just talking about prison for the crooks who tried to misuse the power of government.

We also need to rip up the internal revenue code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax.

As you can see in this video, I’m mostly a fan of tax reform because it will help the American economy. But I’m also delighted the flat tax will reduce the discretionary power of politicians and bureaucrats.

In the long run, of course, it would be even better if we shrank the federal government so much that we didn’t need any broad-based tax of any kind.

 

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I’m frequently baffled at the stupidity of Republicans.

When they took control of Congress back in 1994, for instance, they had unrestricted ability to get rid of the bureaucrats that generated bad economic analysis at both the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office.

Yet notwithstanding more than a decade of congressional power, GOPers did almost nothing to neutralize the bureaucrats who produced shoddy research that helped the left push for more spending and higher taxes.

Sort of like a football team allowing the opposing coach to pick the refs and design game plans for both teams.

Another painful example is that Republicans never used their majority status to defund the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

This international bureaucracy is infamous for pushing policies to expand the power of government. That’s not too surprising since it’s dominated by European welfare states. But it is amazing that Republicans seem to think it’s perfectly fine to send about $100 million each year to subsidize the OECD’s agenda.

Particularly when the OECD so often pushes policies that are directly contrary to American interests.

It has allied itself with the nutjobs from the so-called Occupy movement to push for bigger government and higher taxes in the United States.

The bureaucrats are advocating higher business tax burdens, which would aggravate America’s competitive disadvantage.

The OECD is pushing a “Multilateral Convention” that is designed to become something akin to a World Tax Organization, with the power to persecute nations with free-market tax policy.

It supports Obama’s class-warfare agenda, publishing documents endorsing “higher marginal tax rates” so that the so-called rich “contribute their fair share.”

The OECD advocates the value-added tax based on the absurd notion that increasing the burden of government is good for growth and employment.

It even concocts dishonest poverty numbers to advocate more redistribution in the United States.

Let’s elaborate on the last item dealing with poverty in the United States. According to the OECD, poverty is more sever in the United States than it is in relatively poor nations such as Greece, Portugal, and Hungary.

Indeed, the bureaucrats in Paris even put together a chart showing how “bad” America ranks in this category.

But it’s all bunk. Utterly dishonest garbage. Here’s some of what I wrote last year on this topic.

…if you read the fine print, you may notice one itsy-bitsy detail. The chart isn’t a measure of poverty. Not even close. Indeed, the chart wouldn’t change if all of the people of any nation (or all nations) suddenly had 10 times as much income. That’s because the OECD is measuring is relative income distribution rather than relative poverty. And the left likes this measure because coerced redistribution automatically leads to the appearance of less poverty. Even if everybody’s income is lower!

But the OECD isn’t letting up. In a new “Society at a Glance” look at the United States last month, here’s what the OECD claimed.

The relative poverty rate in the U.S. is 17.4%, compared to an OECD average of 11.1%. Only Chile, Israel, Mexico and Turkey have higher poverty rates than the U.S.

But unlike in other publications, the OECD didn’t bother to include any fine print admitting that its poverty measure has nothing to do with poverty.

That’s grotesquely dishonest and morally corrupt.

And since we’re on the topic of corruption, let’s broaden our discussion. National Review’s Kevin Williamson has an article on the rampant corruption among elected officials.

But what caught my attention weren’t the parts about pro-gun control politicians trying to help sell weapons to terrorists. Instead, I especially appreciated the broader lesson he provides for readers.

James Madison famously observed that “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But he also understood that men do not become angels once they win elections, become police, or are appointed to positions of power. Our constitutional order strikes an elegant balance between policing the non-angels outside of government and constraining the non-angels within government, setting the ambitions of the three branches against one another and subdividing the legislative branch against itself. …Adam Smith’s formula for prosperity — “peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice” — is the very modest ambition that conservatives aim for. Limited government is the tool by which government can be made to do good without necessarily being good, or being composed of good men. …The corruptibility of the political classes is fenced in by limiting the power of the political classes per se. You cannot expand the scope and scale of government without expanding in parallel the scope and scale of government corruption.

Amen to that. That’s the core message of this video I narrated, which explains that shrinking the size and scope of government is the only effective way to reduce corruption.

Remember the lesson of this superb poster: If more government is the answer, you’ve asked a very strange question.

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If you look at measures (such as the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World index) of what makes a nation competitive and prosperous, you’ll find some obvious variables such as fiscal policy, trade openness, regulatory burden, and monetary policy.

But in addition to those policy levers, you’ll find that it’s equally important that a nation does a good job of protecting and maintaining the rule of law.

This is not something easy to define or measure. It includes all sorts of characteristics such as protection of property rights, absence of corruption, honest courts, government transparency, and non-discriminatory application of laws.

But one thing is clear. Nations that don’t have good rule of law are not going to enjoy much prosperity, even if they have ostensibly good policies.

So it was with considerable interest that I saw that a Rule of Law Index has been released by the World Justice Project.

This is the first I’ve heard of the WJP, and I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area, but the Index is interesting and impressive.

And I’m a bit dismayed – but not surprised – to see that the United States only ranks #19 in their comprehensive measure of the rule of law. Here are the top 52 nations.

Rule of Law Rankings

If you look at the detailed data for the 8 major categories in the Index, you’ll see that the United States was fairly consistent, with a high score of 17 and low scores of 27.

To use a classroom analogy, America is akin to a decent student, with grades of B+ in some classes and B- in other classes.

Other nations display more variety. They may have a higher overall GPA (like #10 Singapore) or lower overall GPA (like #50 Belarus), but their grades for specific categories may deviate substantially.

Looking at the places with the strongest rule of law, the good performance of the Nordic nations is not surprising. Countries such as Denmark and Sweden may have big welfare states, but they have very laissez-faire policies in other areas.

And let’s give a special shout-out to the nation that produced the PotL. Lebanon made it into the top 50.

Interestingly, the WJP must have previous editions, or at least historical data, because they also show whether countries are getting better or worse.

The good news is that America apparently has more order and security. The bad news is that we’re moving in the wrong direction with regards to constraints on government power.

Rule of Law US Trend

I don’t know why the U.S. score deteriorated, but the Obama Administration’s abuse of the IRS and its lawless behavior on Obamacare might be good guesses.

Let’s now look at the slow students in the class.

Is anybody surprised to learn that Venezuela is in last place of the 99 nations in the Index?

Rule of Law Rankings 2

And if you’re interested in other nations that are in the news, the low rankings for Ukraine and Russia help to explain why these countries are under-performing (even though they both have a flat tax, which is one of my favorite policies).

Now that I’ve shared this data, it’s time to acknowledge that there’s no obvious way to improve the rule of law.

In my humble opinion, the rule of law is a form of social capital. And like other examples of social capital (work ethic, honesty, etc), it’s part of a nation’s culture.

That being said, let’s look at some polling data from Europe that captures one aspect of the rule of law. These numbers show the extent of corruption.

The moral of the story is that it would be a good thing to reduce the burden of government in countries such as Germany and Denmark, but that it’s absolutely critical to reduce the size and scope of the state in nations such as Greece, Italy, and Spain.

Simply stated, a smaller public sector would reduce opportunities to abuse the rule of law.

P.S. Since we just showed some data on Europe, let’s share some European humor. I don’t know if this is an example of someone from Europe mocking America, or someone from Europe engaging in some self-mockery of European stereotypes about America. In either case, this image is amusing.

American Breakfast

Well done, though maybe the carbs should be excluded.

And also long overdue.

I’ve shared some cartoons about Europe (here and here), and this Dave Barry satire about Europe is very funny, but I don’t often see political humor produced by Europeans.

The Brits occasionally step forward, as you can see from this terror alert humor and this jab at France and Germany. And this comedian definitely seems to be Greek, but that’s about it.

Though it’s possible someone from Europe put together these maps about European stereotypes. Or perhaps this video about a German-Greek romantic breakup.

P.P.S. There is a global ranking that puts Venezuela ahead of the United States. I’ll let you decide whether it has any merit.

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No matter how much I pontificate about Washington corruption, there’s no way I can get across the true extent of the DC establishment’s self-serving behavior.

Washington is rich because government is big and the beneficiaries of this system are enjoying their status as America’s new gilded class.

It’s even gotten to the point where children and other family members also put their hands in the cookie jar.

I guess we can call this a system of hereditary corruption. Heck, maybe we can even create hereditary titles for this new elite. The Duke of Pork. The Earl of Sleaze. The Marquise de Cronyism.

Just in case you think I’m exaggerating, check out these blurbs from a Daily Beast article.

Connected children of political families catching a break is something we Americans are plenty used to—there would be no Kennedy or Bush dynasties without the public’s acceptance… But it might be that Americans are less aware of political family power plays when they’re not accompanied by gripping and grinning and kissing our babies for cameras and votes. …“Members of Congress basically are profit centers for their entire families,” says Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The article cites examples of this unseemly process.

Nathan Daschle, son of former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, …did a stint at a D.C. firm before heading to the Democratic Governor’s Association (where he eventually served as Executive Director), and now works for Clear Channel Media as its Executive Vice President for Political Strategy. …then there are the lobbyists—that professional amalgam of business and politics—the litany of which reads something like an Old Testament family tree. There’s Andy Blunt, son of Senator Roy Blunt and brother of former governor Matt Blunt; Andrew Coats, son of Senator Dan Coats; Scott Hatch, son of Senator Orrin Hatch; David Roberts, son of Senator Pat Roberts; Shantrel Brown Fields, daughter of Rep. Corinne Brown; Giliane Carter, daughter of Representative John Carter; Sean King, son of Rep. Peter King; Clark Mica, son of Rep. John Mica.

As you might expect, this incestuous system produces spectacular examples of wasteful and counterproductive spending.

…sometimes there is trouble in the paradise where business and politics and family meet. There’s the case of Brad Enzi, son of Mike, Senator from Wyoming. Enzi the younger has been overseeing the building of the Two Elk Power Plant in Wyoming for North American Power Group. …Senator Enzi pushed for Department of Energy funds to go towards clean coal research projects in his state and Brad Enzi’s company benefitted from them; it received nearly $10 million in funding to drill a well to study the site surrounding the plant, and Enzi himself earned $128,000 in compensation from the federal money. …Chaka Fattah Jr., son of Pennsylvania Congressman Chaka Fattah, has similarly felt the double-edged blade of intertwining family, business, and political ties. The management consulting company he founded was paid $450,000 by an education firm with lucrative contracts with the Philadelphia City School District—turns out Chaka’s father requested a $375,000 earmark for the firm from a 2009 transportation bill. Both father and son are currently under federal investigation.

Keep in mind, by the way, that these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

For every bit of scandal and pork that gets publicized, you can be confident that there are hundreds of equally sordid deals that haven’t been exposed.

For all intents and purposes, big government in Washington has created a niche market for insiders who learn the specialized skill of transferring money from those who earned it to those with political pull.

And these insiders pass along this “skill” to their children.

…a hereditary specialized group of people who perform certain necessary social functions and because they have families, they’re going to gradually monopolize the functions they perform.” And in 2014, the place that’s increasingly being chosen as a place to call home by American “elites” happens to be Washington, D.C. The city’s greater metropolitan area boasts the largest number of “Super Zips”—those areas with the highest combined wealth and level of education—in the country.

They get the “super zips” while the rest of the country is treated as “super chumps.”

No wonder the Washington metropolitan area is now the richest part of the United States.

If that sounds like we’re becoming Argentina or some other cesspool of cronyism, then you understand the problem.

By the way, none of this should be interpreted to suggest that parents shouldn’t try to help their kids. Or even to give them some help joining the family business. That’s a normal part of life.

The problem exist when the “family business” is big government and income is obtained by facilitating the coercion and oppression of other people.

In a genuinely free market, by contrast, you get rich by serving other people.

P.S. Some people argue that the solution is to ban family members from lobbying or to otherwise impose restrictions on the political process. But until you deal with the underlying problem of Washington being a favor factory, all of these efforts will be akin to playing whack-a-mole.

This video explains.

P.P.S. On a totally separate issue, it appears that our right to keep and bear flamethrowers has been eroded in North Dakota.

Here are some excerpts from a Fargo news report.

Local resident Todd Fox has been detained for “reckless endangerment” and “illegal use of high-powered fire-breathing weaponry” for attacking snow with his flamethrower. …Fox stated that he was simply “fed up with battling the elements” and that he did not possess the willpower necessary to move “four billion tons of white bull [expletive deleted].” Police say that Fox surrendered his efforts immediately upon their arrival and that his front yard “looked like a hydrogen bomb had gone off.” They think he was just happy to be done with snow removal, even if it did mean a trip to jail.

I have two reactions to this story.

First, does Fargo really have a local ordinance governing the use of “high-powered fire-breathing weaponry”? I’m skeptical.

Second, isn’t this a great country? There probably aren’t many places in the world where citizens are allowed to own flamethrowers. Makes me proud to be American.

And we’re even allowed to own tanks and machine guns.

On the other hand, we do have a problem letting children possess pencils and pop tarts, so we obviously have some flaws to fix.

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We’ve reached the stage where Obamacare is the punchline to a bad joke.

The law has been a disaster, both for the economy and for the Democratic Party. Not that we should be surprised. You don’t get better healthcare with a poisonous recipe of higher taxes, added government spending, and more intervention.

With any luck, Obamacare will be a textbook example of why we should never again give power to a bunch of political hacks and dreamy-eyed central planners.

Because when they try to buy votes and create more dependency with Rube Goldberg schemes, the results are…well, we see the cluster-you-know-what of Obamacare unfolding before our eyes.

Not that anyone should be surprised. Remember what happened when politicians decided government would make housing more affordable?

And remember what happened when politicians decided government should extend American tax law into other nations?

Simply stated, grandiose plans for expanded government don’t end well.

But this isn’t a normal public policy issue.

The Obama Administration has just announced that it arbitrarily will be ignoring one of the requirements in the law, and this is the executive branch’s 18th unilateral change to Obamacare.

We have to ask whether the American political system is being corrupted by a White House that doesn’t feel bound by the rule of law.

To put it mildly, the Wall Street Journal is not impressed.

…the law increasingly means whatever President Obama says it does on any given day. His latest lawless rewrite arrived on Monday as the White House decided to delay the law’s employer mandate for another year and in some cases maybe forever. …last summer the Treasury offered a year-long delay until 2015 despite having no statutory authorization. …Now the new delay arrives amid a furious debate about jobs after a damning Congressional Budget Office report last week, only this time with liberals celebrating ObamaCare’s supposed benefits to the job market. …Oh, and the Treasury also notes that, “As these limited transition rules take effect, we will consider whether it is necessary to further extend any of them beyond 2015.” So the law may be suspended indefinitely if the White House feels like it. …The text of the Affordable Care Act specifically says when the mandate must take effect—”after December 31, 2013″—and does not give the White House the authority to change the terms. Changing an unambiguous statutory mandate requires the approval of Congress, but then this President has often decided the law is whatever he says it is.

I admit that part of me wants Obamacare delayed as much as possible.

After all, even more jobs will be lost if the employer mandate is properly enforced, and that would add to an already anemic employment situation.

But America isn’t Argentina, or some other Banana Republic, where the law is based on the arbitrary and capricious decisions of some political thug.

Political Cartoons by Lisa Benson

At least it shouldn’t be.

If the President wants to change the law, he should propose legislation and send it to Congress.

But it’s obvious what that isn’t happening. The White House understands that it would be forced to make concessions to get the changes it wants.

So why not make a mockery of the rule of law instead?

As nicely illustrated by the Lisa Benson cartoon.

This is such a depressing topic that we need to close this post with some cartoons about the failure of Obamacare.

We’ll start with Henry Payne, who uses an Olympics theme.

Political Cartoons by Henry Payne

Gary Varvel has some fun mocking the left about being “liberated” from the drudgery of employment.

Political Cartoons by Gary Varvel

Fans of James Bond my remember a certain scene from Goldfinger, and Glenn McCoy recreates that scene.

Political Cartoons by Glenn McCoy

Steven Breen looks at the law’s impact on jobs.

Political Cartoons by Steve Breen

And Robert Gorrell makes a nice point about labor supply incentives.

Political Cartoons by Bob Gorrell

These are all amusing cartoons, but let’s not forget that Obama will get the last laugh if the final result is more dependency and a permanent expansion of the welfare state.

At some point, we need to restore genuine market forces and get a lower-cost, more-efficient healthcare system.

And that means not only repealing Obamacare, but also addressing all the other programs and policies which have caused the third-party payer crisis.

P.S. Here’s some good news showing we’re not quite at the same level as Argentina.

You may remember what I wrote back in 2012 about the IRS seeking to impose new restrictions on the tax preparation industry.

This was a power grab with no legal justification. Indeed, it seems to have been an example of crony capitalism since H&R Block wanted to shut down low-cost competitors.

That was the bad news. The good news is that the Institute for Justice sued to block the IRS/H&R block scheme.

And the great news is that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals just drop-kicked the IRS thugs into a dumpster.

Here’s part of the Court’s decision, as reported in the Washington Post.

It might be that allowing the IRS to regulate tax-return preparers more stringently would be wise as a policy matter. But that is a decision for Congress and the President to make if they wish by enacting new legislation…. The IRS may not unilaterally expand its authority.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the Courts do the same – by defending the rule of law – on future Obamacare decisions.

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The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death,” but the same can’t be said of Washington, DC.

The bureaucrats, lobbyists, politicians, contractors, insiders, cronyists, and influence peddlers have rigged the system so that they get rich by diverting money from people in the productive sector of the economy.

How bad is the disconnect between Washington and real America?

Well, according to Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index, people in every state have a negative outlook.

But there is one outpost of giddy prosperity, and that’s the District of Columbia, where residents have a 20-point gap compared to the most optimistic (or, to be more accurate, least pessimistic) state and a whopping 35-point gap with the average American.

Gallup Confidence DC

If you’re a glass-half-full person, there is a tiny sliver of good news in the new Gallup report.

It turns out that DC is not as fat and happy as it was one year ago, and the likely reason is that the federal Leviathan got put on a modest diet.

The District of Columbia (+19) is the clear outlier in economic confidence, having the only positive reading for 2013 and well above the readings for even the most optimistic states. Its confidence has taken a hit, however, since 2012, when its index was +29. Likely factors in the 10-point drop include October’s federal government shutdown as well as the sequestration spending cuts that occurred earlier in the year.

This explains, of course, why lobbyists were so bitterly opposed to the sequester. It reduced the money flow to Washington, and that meant less of our money to be shared by looter class that dominates the DC establishment.

Unfortunately, the establishment ultimately prevailed and they weakened the sequester as part of the Murray-Ryan tax-hike budget deal.

So don’t be surprised if Washington’s Economic Confidence Index is higher when new numbers are released next year.

And that means that we’ll be one step closer to being another Argentina, a nation on the decline because a corrupt elite uses the coercive power of government to obtain undeserved and unearned wealth.

And the most depressing sign that this already is happening to the United States is that so many of America’s richest communities are now part of the Washington metropolitan area.

P.S. I’m a big fan of Australia. Their private Social Security system is a huge success, and I’ve even suggested that it might be the best place to go if America suffers a Greek-style fiscal collapse.

But that doesn’t mean its government isn’t capable of squandering money in stupendous fashion. Check out this blurb from an Australian news report.

A refrigerator lightbulb retailing for about $3 at a hardware store ended up costing a far north Queensland state school almost $500 after Queensland’s Public Works Department sent an electrician to install it in a teacher’s government-owned home. Doomadgee State School, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, was billed $200 for labour alone after the teacher was told workplace health and safety regulations prevented any staff member from buying and replacing the bulb themselves

This sounds even crazier than some of the absurd examples of waste that I listed last month.

And since I’m in the uncharacteristic position of beating up on Australia, you may as well click here and here to see other examples of government stupidity Down Under.

Though, to be fair, at least the Aussies manage to involve sex when trying to bilk the workplace compensation system.

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Imagine you’re a statist and you want to raise your kids to have the same spiteful and envious mindset.

What’s the best approach? Well, sending your children to a government school is an obvious first step.

But kids sometimes rebel against big-government orthodoxy, so perhaps you want to take additional measures such as a visit to their school from President Obama.

As shown in the image, he can tell them about the glories of redistribution.

You can also make sure to have them only visit certain houses on Halloween. That will help them appreciate class-warfare policy.

That being said, you probably want some insurance. An extra way of helping them understand the joy of living off other people.

So what could be better than these new toys, called the Kronies!

With these new toys, your kids will enjoy hours of fun as they learn to use mandates, protectionism, bailouts, and pork to obtain undeserved wealth!

They’ll definitely realize that big government is very profitable if you’re an insider!

P.S. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I feel compelled to inform left-wing readers that this post – including the video – is satire. In other words, there aren’t real action figures called the Kronies. If you want to teach your kids to rape and pillage other people using the coercive power of government, you’re on your own. My only advice is to keep them from reading about the fiscal chaos in Europe so they don’t realize the consequences of redistribution and corruption.

P.P.S. And for the rest of you readers, the Kronies satire video was produced by John Papola, who gave us the famous Keynes v. Hayek rap contest, followed by the equally entertaining sequel, featuring a boxing match between Keynes and Hayek. And even though it’s not the right time of year, he also gave us the satirical commercial for Keynesian Christmas carols.

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I don’t like government bureaucrats.

Actually, let me re-phrase that statement. I know lots of people who work for different agencies in Washington and most of them seem like decent people.

So maybe what I really want to say is that I’m not a big fan of government bureaucracies and the results they generate. Why?

Because a bloated government means overpaid bureaucrats, both at the federal level and state level (and in other nations as well).

Because inefficient bureaucracies enable loafing and bad work habits.

Because being part of the government workforce even encourages laziness!

And it may even be the case that government bureaucracies attract dishonest people. A story in the L.A. Times reveals that there’s a correlation between cheating and a desire to work for the government.

Here are some excerpts.

College students who cheated on a simple task were more likely to want government jobs, researchers from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania found in a study of hundreds of students in Bangalore, India. Their results, recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, suggest that one of the contributing forces behind government corruption could be who gets into government work in the first place. …Researchers ran a series of experiments with more than 600 students finishing up college in India. In one task, students had to privately roll a die and report what number they got. The higher the number, the more they would get paid. Each student rolled the die 42 times. …Cheating seemed to be rampant: More than a third of students had scores that fell in the top 1% of the predicted distribution, researchers found. Students who apparently cheated were 6.3% more likely to say they wanted to work in government, the researchers found.

I’m not surprised. Just as the wrong type of people often are attracted to politics, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that less-than-admirable folks sometimes are attracted to jobs in the bureaucracy.

But I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from this research.

The study looked at people in India and that nation’s government is infamous for rampant corruption.

However, if you look at how America scores in that regard (corruption measures are included in both Economic Freedom of the World and the Index of Economic Freedom), the problem is much less severe.

So even though I’m willing to believe that bureaucrats in America are more prone to bad habits than their private-sector counterparts, I don’t think many of them decide to get government jobs in the expectation that they can extract bribes.

Indeed, I would guess that the average American bureaucrat is far more honest than the average American politician.

That’s damning with faint praise, I realize, but it underscores an important point that the real problem is big government. That’s what enables massive corruption in Washington.

P.S. Switching gears, I’ve written a couple of times about the intrusive and destructive Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Well, we have some good news on that front. The Republican National Committee has endorsed the law’s repeal. I don’t want to pretend that’s a momentous development and I even told Reuters that the GOP may only be taking this step for narrow political reasons.

Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said: “It’s hard to imagine an issue this obscure playing a visible role in elections … It is making overseas Americans far more sympathetic to (Republicans) and could have an impact on fundraising.”

That being said, I’m more than happy when politicians happen to do the right thing simply because it’s in their self interest. And if we can eventually undo FATCA and enable more tax competition, that’s good news for America and the rest of the world.

P.P.S. And here’s another positive update on a topic we’ve examined before. Governor Rick Perry of Texas has joined a growing list of people who are having second thoughts about the War on Drugs. Here’s an excerpt from a report in the Washington Post.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Thursday voiced support for softening penalties for marijuana use, and touted his work moving in the direction of decriminalization. “After 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past. What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that’s what we’ve done over the last decade,” Perry said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

He joins a growing list of people – such as John Stossel, Gary Johnson, John McCainMona Charen, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Bransonwho are recognizing that it’s foolish to give government massive amounts of power and money simply to stop people from doing dumb things to themselves.

But maybe you disagree with all those people and would rather be on the same side as Hillary Clinton.

And make life easier for the folks in this cartoon.

P.P.P.S. I’ve written before about how leftists always criticize so-called tax havens, even though rich statists are among the biggest beneficiaries of these low-tax jurisdictions.

President Obama, for instance, has been so critical of tax havens that he’s been caught making utterly dishonest statements on the topic.

But I guess the President’s opposition to tax competition is less important than his desire to prop up Obamacare. Look at some of what’s been reported by Bloomberg.

…the job of taking over construction of HealthCare.gov, which failed miserably when it debuted in October, is going to Accenture Plc, which switched its place of incorporation in 2009 to Ireland from Bermuda. …Accenture has endured so much criticism over the years for its use of tax havens that it even has a disclosure in its annual report warning investors to expect as much. …Accenture’s roots date back to a once-iconic American business, which helps explain why it’s gotten a lot of heat for incorporating in tax havens since spinning off.

By the way, it makes sense for Accenture to be domiciled in Bermuda rather than the United States.

P.P.P.P.S. On a personal note, I’m down in Florida for my first softball tournament of the year and I’m happy to report that I managed to put one over the fence.

Tampa HRHitting home runs has become a distressingly infrequent event as I’ve gotten older (I’m playing in a tourney for the 55-and-up crowd), and I like to memorialize it when it happens just in case it’s the last time.

So forgive me if I engage in Walter Mitty-style fantasizing. Maybe, just maybe, the Yankees will call with a contract offer.

Wait, who am I kidding?!?

That’s even less likely than Obamacare succeeding. Or politicians surrendering some of their power by enacting a flat tax.

I’m doomed to be a policy wonk for the rest of my life.

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In the famous “Bridge of Death” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, some of the knights are asked to name their favorite color. One of them  mistakenly says blue instead of yellow and is hurled into the Gorge of Eternal Peril.

I can sympathize with the unfortunate chap. If asked my least favorite part of the tax code, I sometimes get confused because there are so many possible answers.

Do I most despise the high tax rates that undermine economic growth?

Am I more upset about the pervasive double taxation of income that is saved and invested?

Or do I get most agitated by a corrupt and punitive IRS?

How about the distorting loopholes for politically connected interest groups?

And the anxiety of taxpayers who can’t figure out how to comply with an ever-changing tax code?

Depending on my mood and time of day, any of these options might be at the top of my list.

But I also might say that I’m most upset about the way that the tax code facilitates a perverse form of legalized corruption in Washington. In this FBN interview, I explain how even small tax bills often are vehicles for lining the pockets of lobbyists and politicians.

To elaborate, some taxpayers may pay more when there’s new tax legislation and some may pay less. But this “winners” and “losers” game only applies outside the beltway.

The inside-the-beltway crowd always wins. Whether they’re lobbying for or against a provision, they get very big checks. Whether they’re voting yes or no on legislation, they’re getting showered with campaign contributions.

This chart, showing the growing number of pages in the tax code (by the way, we’re now up to 76,000 pages of tax law), also could be seen as a proxy for how the Washington establishment has gamed the system so that they always profit.

Or, to be more specific, it’s an example of how government has become a racket for the benefit of insiders. All of us pay more and endure less growth, but Washington’s gilded class lives fat and happy because there is always lots of money changing hands.

So how do we solve this problem?

The answer, at least for a period of time, in the flat tax. This video explains how this simple and fair system would operate.

But even though I’m a big advocate of tax reform, the flat tax is only a partial solution.

Simply stated, there’s no way to reduce Washington corruption until and unless you shrink the size and scope of the federal government.

That means somehow figuring out how to restore the Constitution’s limits on Washington. For much of our nation’s history, federal spending consumed only about 3 percent of our economic output.

And when the public sector was small and government generally focused only on core competencies, there wasn’t nearly as much opportunity for the graft and sleaze that characterize modern Washington.

P.S. The bad news is that all the projections show that the federal government will get far bigger in the future. So before we shrink the burden of government, we first need to come up with ways to keep it from growing.

P.P.S. The national sales tax is another intermediate option for reducing DC corruption, though that option requires repeal of the 16th Amendment so politicians don’t pull a bait-and-switch game and stick up with both an income tax and consumption tax.

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Let’s start 2014 with a depressing story about the reprehensible way in which big companies get in bed with big government.

If asked to list the example of cronyism that I find most nauseating, the Export-Import Bank would be at the top of my list.

The Obamacare handouts for Big Insurance and Big Pharma obviously belong on the list as well.

But don’t forget the corrupt TARP giveaways to Wall Street, the handouts for GM (though at least we got some good parody from that farce), the corrupt H&R Block collusion with the IRS, and the sleazy ethanol handouts to agribusinesses.

We could list more examples, but let’s look at something from today’s newspapers. We normally think of the light-bulb ban as silly environmentalism, but the invaluable Tim Carney writes in the Washington Examiner that the real impetus was from corrupt companies.

Say goodbye to the regular light bulb this New Year. …Starting Jan. 1, the famous bulb is illegal to manufacture in the U.S., and it has become a fitting symbol for the collusion of big business and big government.

Tim explains how companies worked the political system.

People often assume green regulations like this represent the triumph of environmental activists trying to save the plant. That’s rarely the case, and it wasn’t here. Light bulb manufacturers whole-heartedly supported the efficiency standards. General Electric, Sylvania and Philips — the three companies that dominated the bulb industry — all backed the 2007 rule… The lighting industry was the main reason the legislation was moving. …“Philips formed a coalition with environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council to push for higher standards.”

Equally important, Tim explains why the companies thought cronyism was an effective way to line their pockets with undeserved wealth.

Competitive markets with low costs of entry have a characteristic that consumers love and businesses lament: very low profit margins. GE, Philips and Sylvania dominated the U.S. market in incandescents, but they couldn’t convert that dominance into price hikes. Because of light bulb’s low material and manufacturing costs, any big climb in prices would have invited new competitors to undercut the giants — and that new competitor would probably have won a distribution deal with Wal-Mart. So, simply the threat of competition kept profit margins low on the traditional light bulb. …the bulb-makers turned to government. Philips teamed up with NRDC. GE leaned on its huge lobbying army — the largest in the nation — and soon they were able to ban the low-profit-margin bulbs.

The better alternative, needless to say, is freedom.

There is a middle ground between everyone using traditional bulbs and traditional bulbs being illegal. It’s called free choice: Let people choose if they want more efficient and expensive bulbs. Maybe they’ll chose LEDs for some purposes and cheap bulbs for others. But consumer choice is no good either for nanny-staters or companies seeking high profit margins.

Reading Tim’s piece, it makes me wonder what sleaze was involved in the rules forcing us to use inferior washing machines.

P.S. Here are my 10 most-viewed posts of 2013.

*Last January, I shared some gun control humor and readers must like mocking the gun grabbers because that post easily got the most views.

*And in October, Libertarian Jesus racked up the second-highest number of views.

*Interestingly, the third most-viewed post was one from 2012. I guess you won’t be surprised to learn it was another example of gun control humor.

*We also go into the archives – back to 2011 – for the post with the fourth-highest number of views. It’s the classic set of cartoons about the rise and fall of the welfare state.

*Another oldie came in fifth place with this 2012 post featuring – you guessed it – gun control humor.

*In sixth place, we get some 2012 lessons on how a story about beer can be used to explain the failures of class warfare tax policy.

*We finally see another 2013 post with our revelation about the most free-market “state” in North America.

*But then we return to 2011 because lots of people waited until 2013 before reading the classroom experiment with socialism.

*In ninth place, you can read a libertarian fantasy from last April.

*Rounding out the top 10 is a celebration of Obama’s biggest fiscal defeat.

My favorite post of the year, for what it’s worth, reveals my fiscal wonkiness.

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Last year, while writing about the sleazy and self-serving behavior at the IRS, I came up with a Theorem that explains day-to-day behavior in Washington.

It might not be as pithy as Mitchell’s Law, and it doesn’t contain an important policy prescription like Mitchell’s Golden Rule, but it could be the motto of the federal government.

Simply stated, government is a racket that benefits the DC political elite by taking money from average people in America

I realize this is an unhappy topic to be discussing during the Christmas season, but the American people need to realize that they are being raped and pillaged by the corrupt insiders that control Washington and live fat and easy lives at our expense.

If you don’t believe me, check out this map showing that 10 of the 15 richest counties in America are the ones surrounding our nation’s imperial capital.

Who would have guessed that the wages of sin are so high?

But even though the District of Columbia isn’t on the list, that doesn’t mean the people actually living in the capital are suffering.

Here are some interesting nuggets from a report in the Washington Business Journal.

D.C. residents are enjoying a personal income boom. The District’s total personal income in 2012 was $47.28 billion, or $74,733 for each of its 632,323 residents, according to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer’s Economic and Revenue Trends report for November. The U.S. average per capita personal income was $43,725.

Why is income so much higher? Well, the lobbyists, politicians, bureaucrats, interest groups, contractors, and other insiders who dominate DC get much higher wages than people elsewhere in the country.

And they get far higher fringe benefits.

In terms of pure wages, D.C., on a per capita basis, was 79 percent higher than the national average in 2012 — $36,974 to $20,656. …Employee benefits were 102 percent higher in D.C. than the U.S. average in 2012, $7,514 to $3,710. Proprietor’s income, 137 percent higher — $9,275 to $3,906. …The numbers suggest D.C. residents are living the high life.

Now let’s share a chart from Zero Hedge. It uses median household income rather than total personal income, so the numbers don’t match up, but what’s noteworthy is how DC income grew faster than the rest of the nation during the Bush years and then even more dramatically diverged from the rest of the country during the Obama years.

In other words, policies like TARP, the fake stimulus, and Obamacare have been very good for Washington’s ruling class.

Want some other concrete examples of profitable Washington sleaze? Well, here are some excerpts from Rich Tucker’s column for Real Clear Policy.

The real place to park your money is in Washington, D.C. That’s because the way to get ahead isn’t to work hard or make things; it’s to lobby Washington for special privileges. Look no further than the sweet deal the sugar industry gets. It’s spent about $50 million on federal campaign donations over the last five years. So that would average out to $10 million per year. Last year alone, the federal government spent $278 million on direct expenditures to sugar companies. That’s a great return on investment.

Big Corn may get an even better deal than Big Sugar.

Then there’s ethanol policy. Until 2012, the federal government provided generous tax credits to refiners that blended ethanol into gasoline. In 2011 alone, Washington spent $6 billion on this credit. The federal government also maintains tariffs (54 cents per gallon) to keep out foreign ethanol,and it mandates that tens of billions of gallons of ethanol be blended into the American gasoline supply. Nothing like a federal mandate to create demand for your product. How much would you pay for billions of dollars worth of largesse? Well, the ethanol industry got a steep discount. In 2012, opensecrets.org says, the American Coalition for Ethanol spent $212,216 on lobbying.

Rich warns that the United States is sliding in the wrong direction.

What makes Washington especially profitable is that its only products are the laws, rules, and regulations that it has the power to force everyone else to follow. …we seem to be sliding toward what the authors term “extractive” institutions. That means government using its power to benefit a handful of influential individuals at the expense of everyone else.

And let’s not forget that some people are getting very rich from Obamacare while the rest of us lose our insurance or pay higher prices.

This Reason TV interview with Andrew Ferguson explains that there is a huge shadow workforce of contractors, consultants, and lobbyists who have their snouts buried deeply in the public trough.

I particularly like his common sense explanation that Washington’s wealth comes at the expense of everyone else. The politicians seize our money at the point of a gun (or simply print more of it) to finance an opulent imperial city.

So if you’re having a hard time making ends meet, remember that you should blame the parasite class in Washington.

P.S. The insider corruption of Washington is a bipartisan problem. Indeed, some of the sleaziest people in DC are Republicans.

P.P.S. Though scandals such as Solyndra show that Obama certainly knows how to play the game.

P.P.P.S. Making government smaller is the only way to reduce the Washington problem of corrupt fat cats.

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I sometimes get irked when I read columns by David Brooks. He’s sort of the token Republican at the New York Times, so he has a very important perch that could be used to educate an important audience about the harmful impact of excessive government.

And Brooks often does a good job of highlighting important and worrisome social trends, but what rubs me the wrong way is that he frequently thinks the right answer is to give government even more power.

He wrote a column back in 2011, for instance, that nailed the problem of growing dependency and declining workforce participation. But then he proposed more government intervention.

And he correctly worried about the social costs of family instability in 2012, but then bizarrely decided that the right response was subsidies to make men more marriageable.

So it won’t come as much of a surprise that I’m perplexed by his reasoning in a new column on executive branch power. He starts with an observation that is true.

We’re in a period of reform stagnation. It’s possible that years will go by without the passage of a major piece of legislation.

But he thinks this is unfortunate, while I view government inaction as a positive development. Simply stated, most new laws lead to bigger government and less freedom.

I don’t want activist government – like we had during Obama’s first two years – if it means faux stimulus and government-run healthcare.

Anyhow, Brooks is unhappy and he thinks the problem is too many interest groups.

…there is the profusion of interest groups. In 1971, there were 175 registered lobbying firms. By 2009, there were 13,700 lobbyists spending more than $3.5 billion annually, and this doesn’t even count the much larger cloud of activist groups and ideological enforcers.

He’s right that there has been an explosion in the number of lobbyists and interest groups, but his analysis is backwards.

We have lots of influence peddlers because we have a big, sclerotic government, not the other way around.

If Brooks really wants to clean out the stables in Washington, he should support a radical reduction in the size and scope of the federal government.

But you won’t be surprised that he comes to a different conclusion.

Things would be better…if we had a more unified parliamentary system, with more administrative discretion. But we don’t. “So we have a problem.” …there is a way out: Make the executive branch more powerful.

The comment about a parliamentary system is rather strange. If evidence mattered in this discussion, shouldn’t there be some explanation of why a parliamentary system was better than America’s separation-of-powers approach?

My guess, based on the mess in Europe, is that the evidence is in the other direction.

But that’s a side issue. The main point Brooks is making is that the Presidency should have more discretionary power.

Amazingly, he even cites the pervasive problems with Obamacare as a reason to augment the power of the White House!

This is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power because we’ve just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout. … it is possible to mobilize the executive branch to come to policy conclusion on something like immigration reform. It’s nearly impossible for Congress to lead us to a conclusion about anything. …So how do you energize the executive? It’s a good idea to be tolerant of executive branch power grabs and to give agencies flexibility. …We need more unified authority. …Allow people in those authorities to exercise discretion.

Wow, those are some rather incredible assertions. Brooks is basically arguing against democracy and against the system of separation of powers created by the Founders.

And the corrupt use of discretion as part of Obamacare is hardly what I would call a positive argument for his position.

And what’s really ironic is that Brooks had a very good column on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back in 2011 that showed how unchecked discretionary power led to an economic crisis.

Mark Steyn has a much more logical analysis on this topic, writing that you’re much more likely to have competent government when you limit the power of Washington.

But since Brooks actually tried to equate Reagan’s small-government conservatism with Bush’s so-called compassionate conservatism, we shouldn’t be surprised he errs in other ways as well.

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Remember Sandra Fluke, the 30-year old student who got her 15 minutes of fame last year by becoming the poster child for subsidized birth control?

Fluke Birth ControlShe’s fortunately faded away, but the issue is still with us because the courts are being asked to decide whether government has the right to coerce people into decisions that violate their religious values.

But you won’t be surprised that this feature of Obamacare also has important economic and policy lessons.

Statists have tried to scare young people that there’s a fight over whether people have the right to access birth control. They’ll privately admit that this is just empty rhetoric (after all, there were no barriers to birth control in the pre-Obamacare era), but they nonetheless still argue that the mandate is needed for affordability reasons.

But this is utter bunk, as Megan McArdle explains in her Bloomberg column.

Regular, predictable expenses such as birth-control pills cannot be defrayed by insurance; they can only be prepaid, with a markup for the insurer’s administrative costs. The extra cost is passed on by the insurers to your employer, and from your employer to you and your fellow workers, either by raising your contribution or lowering the wage they are willing to offer.

I would take this one step farther. Costs will rise not only because of administrative costs, but also because we’ll have more third-party payer and that will make it much easier for the providers of birth control pills to raise prices.

And that is a perfect segue into the meat of today’s post, which is about the sleazy and corrupt interaction of big business and big government. And the Obamacare birth control mandate is a perfect example.

Tim Carney exposes this issue in his Washington Examiner column. He starts with a hypothesis that corporate cronyism is the real story.

Look at the contraception mandate from almost any angle, and you see the corporatism. Sometimes it’s on the surface, and sometimes it’s implicit in the arguments. The contraception mandate is nakedly a huge subsidy to the industry that most firmly supported Obamacare: the drugmakers. The drug industry has spent more on lobbying under Obama than any other industry.

Tim provides some of the sordid details.

Top Obama bundler Sally Susman oversees the lobbying shop at drug giant Pfizer, which sells $7.6 million a year in name-brand birth control pills, while also selling contraceptive injections and generic drugs. Pfizer’s CEO during the Obamacare debate was Obama donor Jeffrey Kindler. In a corporate filing, the company justified his salary increase by pointing to his Obamacare lobbying. …Merck, which also makes birth control pills, deployed top lobbyist, former Democratic congressional staffer and major Democratic donor Mark Raabe to Capitol Hill and the White House to lobby on “efforts to gain coverage of preventive services,” according to company lobbying filings. The administration uses the “preventive services” provision of Obamacare to justify the contraception mandate. Merck sells implants and other contraceptives — if “sells” is the right word for products that many customers now get for “free,” sticking colleagues and taxpayers with the bill. Conceptus, a company that sells a sterilization procedure, lobbied Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services on “implementation of the preventive services provisions of the Affordable Care Act,” according to lobbying filings. The mandate covers this patented procedure.

Needless to say, drug companies have spent all this money on lobbying and campaign contributions in the expectation that they can artificially increase their revenue as a result of government favoritism.

Obama’s contraception mandate requires all employer-sponsored health care plans to cover 100 percent of the cost of all FDA-approved contraception. That gives customers incentives to choose…name-brand pills, because the entire cost is passed onto employers and thus onto customers and colleagues.

It’s a different topic, but Tim also has some wise words about the Obama Administration’s arguments against the First Amendment.

…liberals argue that the owners of the privately held store Hobby Lobby are not protected by the First Amendment from intrusions of the “free exercise” of religion — and so it must cover the morning-after pill, which can cause a very early-term miscarriage. …It’s not a novel claim, but it’s still a scary one: A person gives up his First Amendment rights when he is acting as a businessman.

And his summary paragraph hits the nail on the head.

Sometimes people think politics is about the collective versus the individual. Most of the time, though, it’s about the state versus civil society. It’s coercion versus voluntary association.

By the way, the drug companies are just the tip of the iceberg. Companies like General Motors and General Electric also are experts at using government to tilt the playing field.

And don’t forget that companies like Boeing and Exxon Mobil use the Export-Import Bank to line their pockets at our expense.

Or what about H&R Block, which lobbies to protect its ability to profit from a corruption-riddled tax system.

The entire ethanol industry, meanwhile, is dependent on favors from Washington, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created by the government!

And Pizza Hut, joined by other fast food joints, lobbies for food stamps.

The TARP bailout was the epitome of Washington sleaze, which may help explain the revolving door between Wall Street in Washington.

We should also be upset that big corporations sometimes support higher tax rates on their competitors from the small business sector.

Gee, it’s almost enough to make one think Washington is a rat’s nest of corruption. Speaking of which, here’s my video on the link between big government and big corruption. I think you’ll agree that I understated the case.

P.S. Since we started this post by mentioning Sandra Fluke, we may as well close with some jokes at her expense. You can enjoy some laughs with this great Reason video, this funny cartoon, and four more jokes here.

P.P.S. But Sandra Fluke may have the last laugh since the clowns at the United Nations have declared that birth control (almost surely financed by taxpayers) is a human right.

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Regular readers know I complain about the army of overpaid bureaucrats in Washington, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The larger problem is that Washington also is filled with hundreds of thousands of other people who get rich thanks to big government. And these politicians, lobbyists, crony capitalists, interest groups, contractors, and influence peddlers almost surely are a bigger net drain on the economy’s productive sector.

When you combine the official bureaucracy with these other over-compensated beneficiaries of big government, it’s easy to understand why Washington, DC, is now the richest region of America, with 10 of the nation’s 15 richest counties.

Reuters did an expose last year on how Washington fat cats are living on Easy Street at our expense, and The Economist also has touched on the issue. But you know the problem has reached epidemic levels when even the local left-wing paper covers the story.

And that’s exactly what is happening. The Washington Post reports on how coerced access to other people’s money has meant boom times for the beltway elite. Here are some excerpts on how your money is creating unearned riches for DC insiders.

The avalanche of cash that made Washington rich in the last decade has transformed the culture of a once staid capital and created a new wave of well-heeled insiders.Wash Post Capital Wealth The winners in the new Washington are not just the former senators, party consiglieri and four-star generals who have always profited from their connections. Now they are also the former bureaucrats, accountants and staff officers for whom unimagined riches are suddenly possible. …They are the lawyers, lobbyists and executives who work for companies that barely had a presence in Washington before the boom.

Here are some depressing stats from the story.

During the past decade, the region added 21,000 households in the nation’s top 1 percent. No other metro area came close. …in 2010, companies based in Rep. James P. Moran’s congressional district in Northern Virginia reaped $43 billion in federal contracts — roughly as much as the state of Texas. At the same time, big companies realized that a few million spent shaping legislation could produce windfall profits. They nearly doubled the cash they poured into the capital. …Essentially, Washington has been the beneficiary of a ­decade-long, taxpayer-funded stimulus package.

Unfortunately, all this federal largesse is corrupting the business community, with many companies deciding that lobbying for tax dollars is more lucrative than competing for consumer dollars.

The federal government wasn’t the only one pouring buckets of new money into Washington in the 2000s. Big business did it, too. At a time when promising investments were hard to find, corporate America learned that lobbying was one of the most surefire ways of bolstering its bottom line. …Companies spent about $3.5 billion annually on lobbying at the end of the last decade, a nearly 90 percent increase from 1999 after adjusting for inflation… Legal services also boomed, fueled by the growing complexities of federal business regulations. The number of lawyers in the D.C. metro area increased by a third from 2000 to 2012, nearly twice as fast as the growth rate nationwide. And those lawyers have the highest mean salaries in the country, according to George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis.

Lobbying isn’t automatically a bad thing, by the way. Sometimes a company needs representation so that the political vultures in Washington don’t descend upon them.

“You know that if a company stopped lobbying, it would get creamed,” Drutman said. “That’s why companies don’t stop lobbying.”

The real moral of the story is that small government and genuinely free markets are the only effective ways to reduce sordid lobbying and political corruption.

The challenge, needless to say, is convincing the Washington establishment to adopt those policies. That’s not an easy task, particularly when it violates my First Theorem of Government.

P.S. Here’s a great video from Reason about Washington’s parasite economy.

P.P.S. Here’s an example of how Obamacare has lined the pockets of some DC insiders.

P.P.P.S. And here are some grating details about how the President is part of the problem.

P.P.P.P.S. You can enjoy some government corruption humor here, here, here, here, and (my personal creation) here.

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When I write about the importance of understanding the difference between a disease and its symptoms, I’m almost always seeking to help people understand why it’s important to focus on the problem of government spending rather than the side-effect of government borrowing.

But the same analogy is useful when looking at issues such as lobbying and campaign contributions.

It’s very understandable for people to get nauseated when we see things such as lobbying for corporate welfare or campaign contributions being given in exchange for things such as ethanol subsidies.

So would it make sense to outlaw lobbying or to restrict campaign contributions? Setting aside constitutional issues (the First Amendment protects our rights to petition the government and to engage in political speech), the answer is no.

Why? Because lobbying and campaign contributions are a function of government being too big and being involved in too many areas.

If we shrink the size and scope of the state, we reduce incentives to manipulate the system. But if we leave big government in place, laws to restrict lobbying and campaign contributions will simply lead to different forms of “rent seeking.”

Not surprisingly, leftists want the wrong approach. Here are some excerpts from Dana Milbank’s Washington Post column, which argues that campaign spending is the problem.

…the Supreme Court…has created a campaign-finance system that is directly responsible for the rise of uncompromising leaders on both sides of the Capitol. …Political money was again before the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning, and, judging from their questions, the conservative justices are poised to make things even worse. Milbank CorruptionNow they are prepared to expand on their 2010 decision that caused an explosion of independent spending by allowing the wealthy to give about $3.5 million apiece to candidates and parties in each election cycle. …The 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo made government for sale and created the arms race in campaign financing by equating unlimited spending with free speech. The John Roberts court in 2010 made the system dramatically worse in its Citizens United decision, loosening restrictions and spurring wealthy donors to make hundreds of millions of dollars in independent expenditures. …Justice Elena Kagan said those who give $3.5 million should expect “special treatment” from Congress — and Burchfield didn’t disagree. Under the Citizens United decision, he said, “gratitude and influence are not considered to be quid-pro-quo corruption.”

Milbank puts the cart before the horse. Big donors aren’t the problem. We should worry about big government.

If we had the type of limited central government envisioned by the Founding Fathers, there would be very little reason for billionaires (or the rest of us) to spend time or energy worrying about what happens in Washington.

I elaborate in this video on the real causes of political corruption in Washington.

P.S. In the title, I wrote that campaign contributions are a “possible” symptom. That’s because campaign contributions (like lobbying) don’t necessarily imply corruption. If John Doe gives money to someone like Rand Paul, he’s probably not looking for a government handout. But if the realtors cut a big check to someone like Chuck Schumer, it’s quite likely that they’re looking to obtain or preserve some undeserved goodie from Washington.

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At the risk of oversimplifying, there are two major challenges to overcome when you’re a pro-freedom policy wonk in Washington.

The first challenge is getting people to connect the dots.

They may understand that the job market is weak and they may understand that redistribution programs are overly generous, but can you help them understand that the job market is weak in part because redistribution programs make work relatively unattractive?

They may understand that the federal government is bloated and they may understand that there’s a big problem with corruption in Washington, but can you make them understand that there’s a lot of sleaze in Washington because government has so much power?

They may understand that the corporate tax burden is very high and they may understand that American companies sometimes aren’t very competitive, but can you help them understand that it’s difficult for firms to compete because they’re saddled with high tax rates?

The second challenge is getting policy makers to do the right thing when doing the wrong thing means more money and power for the political class.

Let’s consider the problem of corruption. And I don’t just mean illegal corruption, though there’s plenty of that in Washington. I’m talking about the everyday graft and sleaze that is perfectly legal, such as when dozens of politicians are caught red-handed supporting legislation that would line their pockets.

Using fiscal policy as an example, how do you get these people to do the right thing? They may understand – at least conceptually – that the United States faces a huge long-run fiscal nightmare because of an ever-growing burden of government spending. They may even vote for the Ryan budget, which theoretically commits them to supporting meaningful entitlement reform.

But the real fight occurs when you ask them to support policies – such as sequestration – that actually slow the growth of Leviathan and require them to say no to lobbyists. Particularly when many lobbyists are their former colleagues and staffers!

To get a sense of what I mean, check out these excerpts from a book review in The Economist.

Washington has always had a permanent establishment of politicians, lobbyists and journalists. But this class has exploded in size in recent decades, and has become more introspective and self-serving. Economist Corruption…The lobbying industry has spent billions greasing the revolving door: in 2009 alone, special interests spent $3.47 billion lobbying the federal government. In 1974 3% of retiring policymakers became lobbyists. Now 50% of senators and 42% of congressmen do. …a “change election” that was supposed to sweep aside the old order and create a politics fit for the 21st century. …But the Washington machine soon took over. …once in the capital, these same figures cashed in on their public service by getting lucrative jobs as lobbyists, bankers or talking heads. David Plouffe, an adviser to the president, joined the jackals at Bloomberg television. Mr Orszag went to Citigroup. Meanwhile, the city’s politicos grew richer while the rest of the country was mired in recession. Washington now has a higher income per person than Silicon Valley.

The final sentence of that passage is very depressing. Or it should be. Do we really want a society where becoming part of the political machine is the easiest path to wealth? Are there any nations that have prospered using that model?

Or is that a symptom of a country on a downward slide?

I don’t know the answer, but it’s very depressing to look at this map and see that 10 of the 15 richest counties in the nation are part of the Washington metropolitan area.

We now have something akin to an imperial capital being supported by coerced tribute from the serfs in the outer provinces.

And as this video explains, all of this unearned wealth is made possible by a bloated budget, a Byzantine tax code, and a maze of complicated regulations.

P.S. The latest example of Washington graft is the way that Obamacare has turned into a get-rich-quick scheme for DC insiders.

P.P.S. Down in Louisiana, Boudreaux and Thibodeaux have a rather sensible view about political corruption.

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I’ve written before that Obama’s Solyndra-style handouts have been a grotesque waste of tax dollars.

I’ve argued that they destroy jobs rather than create jobs.

I’ve gone on TV to explain why government intervention in energy creates a cesspool of cronyism.

I’ve even shared a column from Obama’s hometown newspaper that criticizes the rank corruption in green-energy programs.

And it goes without saying that I’ve disseminated some good cartoons on the issue.

But even though green-energy programs are a disgusting boondoggle, American taxpayers and consumers should be thankful they’re not in Germany.

Our programs may be wasteful and corrupt, but we’re amateurs compared to what’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic.

Here are some passages from a must-read story in Der Spiegel.

The government predicts that the renewable energy surcharge added to every consumer’s electricity bill will increase from 5.3 cents today to between 6.2 and 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour — a 20-percent price hike. German consumers already pay the highest electricity prices in Europe. But because the government is failing to get the costs of its new energy policy under control, rising prices are already on the horizon. Electricity is becoming a luxury good in Germany.

As is so often the case with government intervention, the promises from politicians about low costs were a mirage.

Even well-informed citizens can no longer keep track of all the additional costs being imposed on them. According to government sources, the surcharge to finance the power grids will increase by 0.2 to 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour next year. On top of that, consumers pay a host of taxes, surcharges and fees that would make any consumer’s head spin. Former Environment Minister Jürgen Tritten of the Green Party once claimed that switching Germany to renewable energy wasn’t going to cost citizens more than one scoop of ice cream. Today his successor Altmaier admits consumers are paying enough to “eat everything on the ice cream menu.”

Perhaps the most shocking part of the story is that Germans are being forced to pay $26 billion in subsidies to get less than $4 billion of green energy.

For society as a whole, the costs have reached levels comparable only to the euro-zone bailouts. This year, German consumers will be forced to pay €20 billion ($26 billion) for electricity from solar, wind and biogas plants — electricity with a market price of just over €3 billion. Even the figure of €20 billion is disputable if you include all the unintended costs and collateral damage associated with the project. …On Thursday, a government-sanctioned commission plans to submit a special report called “Competition in Times of the Energy Transition.” The report is sharply critical, arguing that Germany’s current system actually rewards the most inefficient plants, doesn’t contribute to protecting the climate, jeopardizes the energy supply and puts the poor at a disadvantage.

Here’s what it means for ordinary people.

In the near future, an average three-person household will spend about €90 a month for electricity. That’s about twice as much as in 2000. Two-thirds of the price increase is due to new government fees, surcharges and taxes. …Today, more than 300,000 households a year are seeing their power shut off because of unpaid bills. Caritas and other charity groups call it “energy poverty.”

Not surprisingly, politically well-connected interest groups are the ones reaping the benefits.

…the renewable energy subsidies redistribute money from the poor to the more affluent, like when someone living in small rental apartment subsidizes a homeowner’s roof-mounted solar panels through his electricity bill. The SPD, which sees itself as the party of the working class, long ignored this regressive aspect of the system. The Greens, the party of higher earners, continue to do so. Germany’s renewable energy policy is particularly unfair with respect to the economy. About 2,300 businesses have managed to largely exempt themselves from the green energy surcharge by claiming, often with little justification, that they face tough international competition. Companies with less lobbying power, however, are required to pay the surcharge.

Let’s conclude with an ominous excerpt from the article. Even though prices already are very high, energy will get even more expensive in the future.

If the government sticks to its plans, the price of electricity will literally explode in the coming years. According to a current study for the federal government, electricity will cost up to 40 cents a kilowatt-hour by 2020, a 40-percent increase over today’s prices.

And isn’t it nice to know that Obama is doing everything he can to impose these policies in the United States?

This cartoon from Michael Ramirez is a perfect summary of Obama’s policy.

Ramirez Green Energy Cartoon

You can see why Ramirez won my political cartoonist contest.

P.S. I don’t like being the bearer of bad news, but green-energy subsidies are just one part of the statist/green agenda. The IMF, for instance, has recommended a huge carbon tax (about $5,500 per year for a family of four!) for the United States. A few gullible folks think this might not be a bad idea if the money gets used to lower other taxes, but they’re the same people who get suckered into buying oceanfront property in Kansas.

P.P.S. Germany may be more responsible (less irresponsible) than certain other European nations, but the country’s political elite is hopelessly statist. Even the supposedly pro-liberty political party tilts left and wants bigger government. Yet the Washington Post still thought it was appropriate and accurate to declare that Germany is “fiscally conservative.” Sure, and I’m a socialist.

P.P.P.S. But at least the mess in Europe has generated some amusing videos (here, here, and here), as well as a very funny set of maps.

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Want to know why – as shown by this map – most of America’s richest counties are part of the metropolitan DC region?

Part of the answer is that federal bureaucrats are overpaid. Another part of the answer is that the Washington area is filled with consultants and contractors, and this shadow government workforce also is overcompensated by taxpayers.

But I’m guessing that DC’s vast population of lobbyists and influence peddlers dominate the upper end of the income spectrum.

And that community of back scratchers and deal makers are getting even richer thanks to Obamacare. Here’s some of what The Hill is reporting today.

ObamaCare has become big business for an elite network of Washington lobbyists and consultants who helped shape the law from the inside. More than 30 former administration officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers who worked on the healthcare law have set up shop on K Street since 2010. Major lobbying firms such as Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, The Glover Park Group, Alston & Bird, BGR Group and Akin Gump can all boast an ObamaCare insider on their lobbying roster — putting them in a prime position to land coveted clients. …The voracious need for lobbying help in dealing with ObamaCare has created a price premium for lobbyists who had first-hand experience in crafting or debating the law.  Experts say that those able to fetch the highest salaries have come from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or committees with oversight power over healthcare.  Demand for ObamaCare insiders is even higher now that major pieces of the law — including the healthcare exchanges and individual insurance mandate — are being set up through a slew of complicated federal regulations.

You’ll also be happy to know that beltway insiders can expect years and years of undeserved loot thanks to rules, regulation, and red tape that will be unveiled for another seven years.

…the healthcare law has generated steady work — a trend that is likely to continue for years to come. That’s because ObamaCare runs on a long timeline, well into the next administration. Unless the law is severely crippled, the reform’s rules and requirements will be rolling out through at least 2020. That’s good news for lobbyists who want to sign up clients for the long haul.

This is the social science equivalent of a kick-in-the-you-know-what. A bunch of political hacks pass legislation that increases both the fiscal burden and the regulatory burden on the rest of us, but they make it very convoluted so that they can cash in and make big bucks navigating the law for deep-pocket clients.

This is a win-win for the political elite and a lose-lose for America’s productive sector.

And it’s a perfect example of what I was trying to get across in this video I narrated about the link between big government and corruption.

There are lots of specific examples of Obamacare’s corruption.

Michael Barone has exposed the sleaziness of the waiver process, Tim Carney revealed the special deals for politically connected companies, and I suggested the process was eerily similar to a passage from Atlas Shrugged.

But don’t forget Obamacare is just one example of the sleaze that defines Washington. Maybe the best way of understanding the game is to watch Andrew Ferguson explain DC’s parasite economy.

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There’s an old joke that the definition of quandary is when your mother-in-law drives off a cliff in your new car.

But since I’m not married, I can’t use that joke.

Besides, I’m a policy wonk, so the type of quandary that catches my attention is when the Obama Administration delays big parts of Obamacare (hooray!), but does so by cavalierly deciding to disregard the law (boo!).

Unfortunately, this isn’t a joke.

I wrote about this topic last month and asserted that one of “the defining characteristics of a civilized government is adherence to the rule of law.”

Why is this important? Here’s some of George Will’s analysis of how Obama is subverting the law.

President Obama’s increasingly grandiose claims for presidential power are inversely proportional to his shriveling presidency. …at last week’s news conference he offered inconvenience as a justification for illegality. …Serving as props in the scripted charade of White House news conferences, journalists did not ask the pertinent question: “Where does the Constitution confer upon presidents the ‘executive authority’ to ignore the separation of powers by revising laws?” The question could have elicited an Obama rarity: brevity. Because there is no such authority.

Will then cites the infamous example of Nixon arguing that, “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal” and compares that to Obama’s lawlessness.

Nixon’s claim, although constitutionally grotesque, was less so than the claim implicit in Obama’s actions regarding the ACA. Nixon’s claim was confined to matters of national security or (he said to Frost) “a threat to internal peace and order of significant magnitude.” Obama’s audacity is more spacious; it encompasses a right to disregard any portion of any law pertaining to any subject at any time when the political “environment” is difficult.

And he also dings Obama for creating – out of thin air – a special handout for members of Congress and their staffs.

…his complicity in effectively rewriting the ACA for the financial advantage of self-dealing members of Congress and their staffs.  …Obama directed the Office of Personnel Management, which has no power to do this, to authorize for the political class special subsidies unavailable for less privileged and less affluent citizens. If the president does it, it’s legal? “Exactly, exactly.”

Charles Krauthammer is equally uncomfortable with the erosion of the rule of law. His column includes a good summary of how Obamacare is being arbitrarily enforced. Or, to be more accurate, how it’s not being enforced.

…the administration…unilaterally waived Obamacare’s cap on a patient’s annual out-of-pocket expenses — a one-year exemption for selected health insurers that is nowhere permitted in the law. It was simply decreed by an obscure Labor Department regulation. Which followed a presidentially directed 70-plus percent subsidy for the insurance premiums paid by congressmen and their personal staffs — under a law that denies subsidies for anyone that well-off. Which came just a month after the administration’s equally lawless suspension of one of the cornerstones of Obamacare: the employer mandate. Which followed hundreds of Obamacare waivers granted by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to selected businesses, unions and other well-lobbied, very special interests.

He then accurately explains that we are entering an unpleasant world where the law is not what’s written, but whatever politicians arbitrarily decide on any given day.

The point is whether a president, charged with faithfully executing the laws that Congress enacts, may create, ignore, suspend and/or amend the law at will. …Such gross executive usurpation disdains the Constitution. It mocks the separation of powers. And most consequentially, it introduces a fatal instability into law itself. If the law is not what is plainly written, but is whatever the president and his agents decide, what’s left of the law? The problem is not just uncertain enforcement but the undermining of the very creation of new law. What’s the point of the whole legislative process — of crafting various provisions through give-and-take negotiation — if you cannot rely on the fixity of the final product, on the assurance that the provisions bargained for by both sides will be carried out?

He closes by noting that Obama seems quite proud of his illegal behavior and he warns that America is becoming a banana republic.

…this president is not only untroubled by what he’s doing, but open and rather proud. As he tells cheering crowds on his never-ending campaign-style tours: I am going to do X — and I’m not going to wait for Congress. That’s caudillo talk. That’s banana republic stuff. In this country, the president is required to win the consent of Congress first. At stake is not some constitutional curlicue. At stake is whether the laws are the law. And whether presidents get to write their own.

This is a very troubling issue, so let’s enjoy some gallows humor with some cartoons about Obama’s lawlessness.

Those of you who read Orwell’s Animal Farm will agree that this Eric Allie cartoon is especially insightful.

Banana Republic Cartoon 5

Here’s a Chip Bok cartoon about The One deciding which laws to enforce. Sort of reminds me of this joke about his approach to the Constitution.

Banana Republic Cartoon 3

Not surprisingly, disregard of the law even extends to the President’s top legal appointee. Michael Ramirez shows how the Attorney General decides which laws to enforce.

Banana Republic Cartoon 2

And Lisa Benson has the same theme in a cartoon that includes other Cabinet officials.

Banana Republic Cartoon 1

Here’s another Chip Bok cartoon, this one focusing on the illegal decision to grant subsidies to politicians and their staff.

Banana Republic Cartoon 6

And since we’re making fun of self dealing for the political class, let’s look at a couple of cartoons that focus on Obama’s arbitrary gift for Capitol Hill.

Banana Republic Cartoon 4

By the way, I like the Steve Kelley cartoon because he echoes my comments about “brain drain.”

Last but not least, here’s Ken Catalino making fun of Washington’s gilded class putting themselves first.

Banana Republic Cartoon 7

Let’s close with a final serious point.

Here’s some of what I wrote a couple of years ago to describe the banana republic of Argentina.

…the problem is crony capitalism. Argentina’s economy, for all intents and purposes, is one giant Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac/Obamacare/General Motors/Goldman Sachs Obamaesque dystopia. Government has enormous influence over every major economic decision. It’s like being in the middle of Atlas Shrugged, as political connections are the way to get rich. This type of approach is far worse than the Scandinavian welfare state. Yes, the official size of government is bigger in places such as Sweden, but the negative role of government intervention is far more pervasive in Argentina.

But I actually understated the problem.

Much of what I wrote was a critique of interventionism and the corruption that is facilitated by big government.

That’s part of what defines a banana republic (with Obamacare being a perfect example), but arbitrary law is another characteristic.

And that’s what’s so worrisome about what the Obama Administration is doing.

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Two days ago, I shared an insightful article from Kevin Williamson as we contemplated the President’s ideology.

Yesterday, we reviewed an article by Richard Epstein in hopes of deciphering Obama’s approach to economic policy.

Let’s conclude our series by looking at whether there’s something special about the scandals swirling around the White House.

Big government is the mother’s milk of corruption, so it would be foolish to expect any administration to have a perfectly clean record. So what we’re looking for is some indication as to whether President Obama is better or worse than average.

There’s definitely a lot of smoke. Here’s some of what Victor Davis Hanson wrote for National Review on “Obama’s Watergates.”

The truth about Benghazi, the Associated Press/James Rosen monitoring, the IRS corruption, the NSA octopus, and Fast and Furious is still not exactly known. Almost a year after the attacks on our Benghazi facilities, we are only now learning details ofCIA gun-running, military stand-down orders, aliases of those involved who are still hard to locate, massaged talking points, and the weird jailing of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. We still do not quite know why Eric Holder’s Justice Department went after the Associated Press or Fox News’s James Rosen — given that members of the administration were themselves illegally leaking classified information about the Stuxnet virus, the Yemeni double agent, the drone program, and the bin Laden document trove.

But is there fire underneath all the smoke? Hanson obviously is rather suspicious.

Almost everything the administration has assured us about the IRS scandal has proven false: It was not confined to rogue Cincinnati agents; liberal and conservative groups were not equally targeted; and there were political appointees who were involved in or knew of the misdeeds. The NSA debacle can so far best be summed up by citing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has now confessed that he lied under oath (“clearly erroneous”) to the U.S. Congress. Even his earlier mea culpa of providing the “least untruthful” statement was an untruth.

Indeed, he suggest that the current administration is eerily reminiscent of the Nixon White House.

There is also nothing new in administration denials. Both President Obama and his press secretary, Jay Carney, characterized the Benghazi, IRS, AP, and NSA allegations as “phony.” So too Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, characterized the Watergate break-in as “a third-rate burglary attempt” and insisted that “Certain elements may try to stretch the Watergate burglary beyond what it is.” In August 1972, when news of the break-in first got out, Nixon himself assured the nation, “I can say categorically that . . . no one in the White House staff, no one in this Administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.” The Obama administration’s variation on outright denial is “What difference, at this point, does it make?” And when Jay Carney declares, “I accept that ‘stylistic’ might not precisely describe a change of one word to another,”  I am reminded of Ron Ziegler’s quip, “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”

In some ways, Hanson argues, the current Administration is worse than Nixon.

Nixon tried to use the IRS to punish his enemies, although Lois Lerner and William Wilkins appear to have had far less integrity than did Nixon’s IRS chief, Johnnie Walters, who resisted rather than abetted Nixon’s illegal efforts. As in the case of doctoring CIA talking points and pressuring CIA operatives, so too Nixon tried to cloak misdeeds as “national security” operations. Nixon went after members of the press; Obama had the communications of James Rosen of Fox News — and even those of Rosen’s parents — monitored. Mr. Nakoula was the poor soul the authorities almost immediately jailed for his supposedly right-wing, Islamophobic film. He proved a sort of updated version of the caricatured crazy Cuban burglars and the unhinged Gordon Liddy, whose freelancing zeal allegedly caused the Watergate problem in the first place. The only difference is that the latter really did commit relevant illegal acts, while Nakoula’s videomaking was uncouth, not criminal — and irrelevant to the Benghazi deaths.

So where’s it all going to lead? Hanson thinks it will get worse.

I expect more participants in the Obama-administration misdeeds will invoke the Fifth, and the dodges will ultimately have little effect, other than to remind us that many in the administration have lots to hide. …Nixon left office with historic low poll numbers and the economy a wreck.  …So too already with the unraveling of Obama.  …Because something terribly wrong occurred in Benghazi, with the IRS, with the treatment of the Associated Press and James Rosen, and perhaps with Edward Snowden and the NSA, and those involved are seeking to mask their culpability, the scandals grind on. They will not end until the truth sets us all free. So expect a long-drawn-out and sordid saga.

I agree that there will be more scandals, as well as more news from existing scandals, but I’m not sure any of this suggests Obama is any worse than other Presidents. Or that his appointees are any worse than the appointees of previous Presidents.

I’m not trying to defend the White House. Obamacare is an example of a law that was only made possible because of bribery, and now the Administration is in the process of arbitrarily and illegally rewriting its own signature legislation!

And let’s not forget boondoggles such as Solyndra, where lots of money conveniently wound up in the pockets of Obama donors.

But is there any reason to think that these examples of corruption are worse than TARP? Or some of the other ways that Republicans get in bed with big government and special interests?

In other words, I think the problem is Washington, not any particular politician or political party.

That being said, I reserve the right to change my mind if evidence comes to light that the White House was directing/ordering/approving the illegal partisan activities of officials at the IRS, FEC, and elsewhere.

P.S. If you enjoy the writing of Victor Davis Hanson and you’re not suffering from high blood pressure, read what he wrote about the squalid waste at the Department of Agriculture.

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What do you do if you’re part of a government bureaucracy that has been caught red-handed engaged in sleazy, corrupt, and (almost surely) illegal targeting of Americans for their political beliefs?

But before you answer, keep in mind that your bureaucracy also has been exposed for wasting huge amounts of money at lavish conferences. What’s the ideal way of dealing with the fallout from that scandal as well?

The answer is simple. Even though you and your pals already are paid more than the peasants in the private sector, give yourself and your cronies giant bonuses!

I’m not joking. Here are some excerpts from an AP report.

The Internal Revenue Service is about to pay $70 million in employee bonuses despite an Obama administration directive to cancel discretionary bonuses because of automatic spending cuts enacted this year, according to a GOP senator. …“The IRS always claims to be short on resources,” Grassley said. “But it appears to have $70 million for union bonuses…” Three congressional committees and the Justice Department are investigating the targeting of conservative groups. And key Republicans in Congress are promising more scrutiny of the agency’s budget, especially as it ramps up to play a major role in implementing the new health care law.

Sort of makes this cartoon self evident.

IRS Trust Cartoon

Indeed, this motivates me to announce “Mitchell’s First Theorem of Government.”

I’ve explicitly expressed this sentiment in the past, and hinted at it here, here, and here.

Now it’s time to make it official.

Mitchell's First Theorem of Government

I hope you’ll agree this is a nice addition to Mitchell’s Golden Rule, Mitchell’s Bleeding Heart Guide, and Mitchell’s Law.

And maybe one of these will catch on and I can be famous like Art Laffer.

P.S. Enjoy some cartoons about the IRS scandals here, here, and here.

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The title of this post is sort of like the age-old question of what came first, the chicken or the egg.

Should we blame politicians for our corrupt, loophole-ridden, abusive tax system?

Or should we focus our ire on the IRS, which seems to go above and beyond the call of duty to oppress innocent people?

I’ve generally directed my hostility to the politicians, but the latest IRS scandal is leading me to reassess my views.

This Lisa Benson cartoon captures the mentality of the tax collection bureaucracy.

Benson IRS Cartoon

The problem isn’t that the IRS wasted money at boondoggle conferences. Every government agency and department pisses away money in a frivolous fashion.

We should be far more worried about the IRS’s callous disregard of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

I’ve said many times that fundamental tax reform is the answer, but that’s only part of the story.

So long as we have a big and bloated government, the politicians are going to want some sort of oppressive bureaucracy to extract several trillion dollars of our money every year.

So if we really want to clip the wings of the IRS, we better figure out how to restore limited, constitutional government.

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