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Archive for the ‘Taxpayer Ripoff’ Category

About one year ago, I decided to create a “Moocher Hall of Fame” to highlight how certain people went above and beyond the call of indolence in their efforts to sponge off taxpayers.

This award isn’t for ordinary deadbeats. You have to do something really special (the bad kind of special) to get recognized.

* Like convincing a government to give you “disability” benefits so you can satisfy your diaper-wearing fetish.

* Such as cutting off your own foot to maintain handouts from the state.

* Or trying to impregnate 12-year old girls to increase household welfare payments.

* And how about plotting to kill the people who are subsidizing your laziness.

We have a new candidate for the MHoF.

Or perhaps I should say candidates. Our contestants are a husband and wife who enjoyed a first class lifestyle at taxpayer expense. Here are some passages from a Fox News report.

A Minnesota couple who allegedly lived in expensive homes and owned a yacht while taking more than $160,000 in state welfare benefits has been arrested. …Court documents allege the pair illegally obtained food stamps and other benefits from 2005 to 2012. According to the criminal complaints, over the years, the Chisholms received medical assistance, welfare payments and food stamp benefits. …When they first applied for welfare benefits, the couple allegedly listed their residence as Andrea Chisholm’s mother’s home in Minneapolis. Shortly after getting approved, they moved to Florida, according to court documents. They remained in that state for at least 28 months, first on their $1.2 million yacht, and then moving to a house, officials said. They collected welfare from Florida, as well as Minnesota during that time, which is prohibited, according to court documents.

So why should the Chisholms win an award?

Well, I thought it was supposed to be difficult for married adults to sponge off taxpayers, particularly if there was an able-bodied male in the household, yet that didn’t stop the Chisholms from raking in the cash.

I guess you could consider them to be the older – and American – version of Danny and Gina (though I don’t know if that deadbeat couple is/was married).

But that’s not why the Chisholms deserve to be in the MHoF. What caught my attention is that they financed a yacht with welfare payments. That’s going above and beyond the call of indolence.

P.S. I have to confess that Mr. Chisholm reminded me of Rand Paul, at least at first glance.

Separated at birth?

Though I feel like apologizing for implying any connection. After all, Senator Paul has been kind enough to give me credit for jokes I steal from other people. More important, he defends taxpayers.

Whereas Mr. Chisholm likes to steal from taxpayers.

That’s a big difference.

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The President’s new budget has been unveiled.

There are lots of provisions that deserve detailed attention, but I always look first at the overall trends. Most specifically, I want to see what’s happening with the burden of government spending.

And you probably won’t be surprised to see that Obama isn’t imposing any fiscal restraint. He wants spending to increase more than twice as fast as needed to keep pace with inflation.

Obama 2015 Budget Growth

What makes these numbers so disappointing is that we learned last month that even a modest bit of spending discipline is all that’s needed to balance the budget.

By the way, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the President also wants a $651 billion tax hike.

That’s in addition to the big fiscal cliff tax hike from early last and the (thankfully smaller) tax increase in the Ryan-Murray budget that was approved late last year.

P.S. Since we’re talking about government spending, I may as well add some more bad news.

I’ve shared some really outrageous examples of government waste, but here’s a new example that has me foaming at the mouth. Government bureaucrats are flying in luxury and sticking taxpayers with big costs. Here are some of the odious details from the Washington Examiner.

What can $4,367 buy? For one NASA employee, it bought a business-class flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Vienna, Austria. Coach-class fare for the same flight was $39. The federal government spent millions of dollars on thousands of upgraded flights for employees in 2012 and 2013, paying many times more for business and first-class seats than the same flights would have cost in coach or the government-contracted rate. …Agencies report their premium travel expenses to the General Services Administration each year. These reports were obtained by the Washington Examiner through Freedom of Information Act requests. …The most common reasons across agencies for such “premium” flights in 2012 and 2013 were medical necessities and flights with more than 14 hours of travel time.

By the way, “medical necessities” is an easily exploited loophole. All too often, bureaucrats get notes from their doctors saying that they have bad backs (or something similarly dodgy) and that they require extra seating space.

Probably the same doctors who participate in the disability scam.

But I’m digressing. It’s sometimes hard to focus when there are so many examples of foolish government policy.

Let’s look at more examples of taxpayers getting reamed.

One such flight was a trip from Washington, D.C., to Brussels, Belgium, which cost $6,612 instead of $863. Similar mission-required upgrades included several flights to Kuwait for $6,911 instead of $1,471, a flight from D.C. to Tokyo for $7,234 instead of $1,081 and a trip from D.C. to Paris for $6,037 instead of $477. …NASA employees also racked up a long list of flights that cost 26, 72 and even 112 times the cost of coach fares, according to Examiner calculations. Several space agency employees flew from Oslo, Norway, to Tromso, Norway — a trip that should have cost $65. Instead, each flew business class for $4,668. Another NASA employee flew from Frankfurt, Germany, to Cologne, Germany, for $6,851 instead of $133, a flight that cost almost 52 times more than the coach fare. …One flight from D.C. to Hanoi, Vietnam, for an informational meeting cost $15,529 instead of $1,649, according to the agency’s 2012 report.

Frankfurt to Cologne for $6851?!? Did the trip include caviar and a masseuse? A domestic flight in Norway for $4668? Was the plane made of gold?

I do enough international travel to know that these prices are absurd, even if you somehow think bureaucrats should get business class travel (and they shouldn’t).

And as you might suspect, much of the travel was for wasteful boondoggles.

Department of the Interior employees, for example, flew to such exotic locations as Costa Rica, Denmark, Japan and South Africa in 2012. …The Department of Labor sent employees to places like Vietnam and the Philippines for “informational meetings,” conferences and site visits.

The one sliver of good news is that taxpayers didn’t get ripped off to the same extent last year as they did the previous year.

The agencies spent $5.7 million in 2012, almost double the $3 million they paid for premium travel in 2013.

The moral of the story is that lowering overall budgets – as happened in 2013 – is the only effective way of reducing waste.

P.P.S. Want to know why the tax reform plan introduced by Congressman Dave Camp was so uninspiring, as I noted last week?

The answer is that he preemptively acquiesced to the left’s demands that class warfare should guide tax policy. Politico has the details.

Republicans had vowed for more than three years to slash the top individual income tax rate to 25 percent as part of a Tax Code overhaul. …last week Camp abandoned plans for a deep cut in the top marginal tax rate. He settled for 35 percent, which is just 4 percentage points lower than the current one. “It was a distribution issue,” Camp said. Getting all the way down to 25 percent “would have reduced taxes for the top 1 percent” and “I said we would be distributionally neutral.”

In other words, this is the tax code version of the Brezhnev Doctrine. Whenever the left is successful is raising the tax burden on the so-called rich (the top 20 percent already bears two-thirds of the burden), that then supposedly becomes a never-to-be-changed benchmark.

Fortunately, Reagan did not accept the left’s distorted rules and we got the Economic Recovery Tax Act in 1981, which helped trigger the 1980s boom.

And even when Reagan agreed to “distributional neutrality,” as happened as part of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, at least he got something big in exchange.

The Camp plan, by contrast, is thin gruel.

A big rate cut is what powered the last major tax overhaul, in 1986, which delivered tax cuts to every income group while slicing the top rate to 28 percent from a whopping 50 percent. …Lawmakers may look at the proposal and think: “I’m having the world coming down on me” and “all this just to get the rate down 4 points?”

That being said, the Camp plan has plenty of good features, including modest rate reductions and repeal of a few bad loopholes. But it’s accompanied by some really bad provisions, such as increased double taxation and higher taxes on business investment.

P.P.P.S. Long-time readers may remember this amusing Reagan-Obama comparison.

For understandable reasons, that’s what crossed my mind when seeing this example of Obama humor.

I should hasten to add, incidentally, that this is not to suggest I want Obama to do anything about the Ukrainian conflict (other than perhaps encourage decentralized power).

Unless one genuinely thinks that Putin has both the capacity and the desire for global imperialism, it’s hard to see how America’s national security is affected.

But I still appreciate good political humor. I like it when Obama is the target, and I like it even when it’s directed at people like me.

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Every so often, I share stories about the ridiculous and outrageous way in which the federal government squanders our money.

So when I saw this New York Post story about the feds pissing away a six-figure sum on condom research, I figured this would be a perfect addition to my collection of government waste stories.

The federal government is stretching your tax dollars — in search of the perfect condom. The National Institutes of Health will spend $224,863 to test 95 “custom-fitted” condoms so every American man can choose the one that fits just right.

And it’s a good match with this story about Washington flushing away more than $400K on research about men not liking to wear condoms.

Do we really need to spend other people’s money to figure out that guys, if they have to wear condoms, would like them to fit?!?

But then I found something in the story that genuinely surprised me. Apparently there are federal regulations that restrict the types of condoms that can be sold in the United States!

The NIH blames US “regulatory guidelines” for American men having to choose from a “narrow range of condom sizes.” The six-figure grant was awarded to TheyFit of Covington, Ga., which offers a wide variety of condoms that vary in length — from a bit more than 3 inches to nearly 9 ¹/₂ — and in width. They’re available in European Union countries, but not in the United States, where they would have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

I’m flabbergasted. I can vaguely understand why the government might regulate some aspects of condom production, such as durability rules to limit breakage. I don’t think such red tape is necessary because companies already plenty of incentive – because of both reputational risk and preemptive legal protection – to maintain good standards.

But at least you can see a rationale for bureaucrats to intervene.

I can’t imagine, though, what excuse regulators came up with when they decided to limit the variety of condom sizes. Maybe this is a literal example of the one-size-fits-all mentality of Washington?

Condom UNAnd isn’t it embarrassing that Europeans have a more market-friendly approach on this issue?

Though none of us should be surprised that the Keystone Cops at the United Nations want to create a human right to obtain taxpayer-financed condoms.

At least Sandra Fluke will be happy about that.

P.S. Here’s a Glenn McCoy cartoon about Obama and subsidized condoms.

P.P.S. Since I started this post with examples of wasteful spending, but then decided that this story might belong in the category of absurd regulation, let’s close by sharing some examples of foolish red tape.

Addendum: A friend with a warped sense of humor emailed to suggest a unflattering link between the condom research and the note left on my windshield right before Christmas. So I can only imagine what my enemies are saying.

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Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…no it’s Super Bureaucrat!

Actually, look to New Jersey, because you’re going to see a taxpayer ripoff that will get your blood boiling. Depending on your perspective, this may be worse that the toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike who pocketed more than $300,000 in a single year.

Because today’s super bureaucrat isn’t getting overpaid for one job. He’s getting overpaid for six jobs!

Here are some excerpts from a local news report in New Jersey (h/t: Reason).

Patrick DeBlasio was hired Wednesday as Highlands’ chief financial officer — his sixth concurrent public job and ranking him among the highest-paid public employees in New Jersey. Highlands will pay DeBlasio a $40,000 annual salary on a part-time basis… DeBlasio will not have to work a minimum number of hours, said Administrator Tim Hill, or be required to go into the office.

Maybe one day I can get one of these $40,000 no-show jobs that don’t require any work. But I don’t know if I could juggle several of them, and this is what makes DeBlasio special.

DeBlasio has a full-time job as Carteret’s CFO and part-time gigs in Keansburg, North Plainfield and the Carteret School District, the report said. He is also currently Highland’s tax collector.

It’s rather convenient that he also serves as a tax collector since it takes a lot of money to finance all his government salaries.

In 2012, DeBlasio’s annual compensation totaled $244,606, more than Gov. Chris Christie or state Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff, who earn $175,000 and $141,000, respectively.

As the old saying goes, nice work if you can get it.

Maybe it’s time to start a Bureaucrat Hall of Fame, sort of like our Moocher Hall of Fame. In addition to Mr. DeBlasio (and the toll collector mentioned above), charter members could include the following.

When you read these stories, it’s easy to understand why so many states are in fiscal trouble.

And it also makes sense that state and local bureaucrats are far less likely to quit their jobs than folks in the productive sector of the economy. After all, how many people leave positions when they’re being overpaid?

But don’t forget that federal bureaucrats enjoy an even bigger pay advantage over private sector workers. Indeed, my Cato colleague Chris Edwards reports that they get twice as much average compensation as the serfs in the productive sector of the economy who pay their bills.

This video has the unhappy details.

P.S. Super Bureaucrat joins a list of other “super heroes,” including Government Man, and also two caped crusaders inspired by President Obama. Thanks to Michael Ramirez, we have “Stupor Man.” And there’s also Super-President-Constitutional-Law-Professor.

P.P.S. Is there some hidden strand of DNA that causes people named de Blasio to be burdens to taxpayers?

P.P.P.S. Shifting gears, remember our story about ten days ago featuring the little kid who was suspended from school for firing an imaginary bow and arrow? Well, we have another example showing that government schools could be considered a form of child abuse.

A 5-year-old boy was reportedly suspended from school after making a gun gesture with his hand on the playground. His father, David Hendrix, was furious when he found out his son was issued a suspension for the gesture. “He was playing army on the playground,” Hendrix told WBTV.

Yet another argument for school choice.

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When you work in Washington (and assuming you haven’t been corrupted), you run the risk of being endlessly outraged about all the waste.

But not all waste is created equal. Some examples are so absurd that they deserve special attention.

We now have another example to add to the list. Russian diplomats have been busted for bilking the Medicaid program of more than $1 million.

This is so outrageous that it may actually be the impetus for some desperately needed reform, as I suggest in this interview with Neil Cavuto.

But is fraud really a problem? Defenders of the Medicaid entitlement presumably would like us to think that this latest story is just an anomaly.

That would be nice, but the experts who have looked at the issue have come to a much different conclusion.

While food stamp fraud is significant, especially with a record-high 47 million Americans now on food stamps, it pales in comparison to what is stolen from Medicare and Medicaid. …It is widely accepted across the political spectrum that upwards of $100 billion of that amount is fraud and abuse. Recently, a report from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the US House of Representatives outlined many billions of dollars being wasted every year just in New York’s Medicaid program. Grossly inflated payments to intermediate care facilities and excessive salaries were just the tip of the iceberg in a $53 billion program that easily bleeds  more than $10 billion annually to criminals.

So what’s the best way of dealing with the Medicaid mess? Fortunately, we have a simple answer. As I mentioned in the interview, the entire program should be block granted and turned over to the states.

That doesn’t automatically eliminate fraud, but it does create much better incentives for sound governance since state taxpayers would be the ones picking up the tab if a state program is riddled with fraud. Under the current system, by contrast, the cost of waste and malfeasance is spread among taxpayers from all 50 states.

This video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity explains how block grants would work.

One final point to emphasize is that fraud reduction is really just a fringe benefit if we reform Medicaid.

The main reasons to decentralize the program are fiscal sanity and better health care policy.

But the one common thread is that third-party payer facilitates problems, whether we’re looking at excessive costs, health inefficiency, or rampant fraud.

P.S. Don’t forget the other two big entitlements that need reform, Social Security and Medicare. Like Medicaid, Medicare has major challenges with fraud. From what I understand, the retirement portion of Social Security doesn’t have major fraud issues, but the disability program is a huge problem.

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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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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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I just saw a headline that made me think that libertarian fantasies somehow had turned into reality.

As you can see, 24 IRS employees were just arrested for stealing. But what about the other 105,976 bureaucrats at the Internal Revenue Service who seize our money under the implied threat of violence?

Shouldn’t they be arrested for stealing from us as well?

IRS Employees arrested

But then my bubble burst. The story has nothing to do with the injustice of the internal revenue code and the shakedown of American taxpayers.

It turns out that these IRS bureaucrats were busted for getting unauthorized government handouts.

…authorities say Internal Revenue Service employees in Tennessee were stealing unemployment and other benefits while fully employed. On Thursday, 13 of those employees were indicted on federal charges that they lied to get unemployment, food stamps, welfare and housing vouchers. An additional 11 have been indicted on state charges of theft greater than $1,000.

In other words, these “public servants” were guilty of a form of triple dipping.

  1. They took money from taxpayers as part of their excessive compensation packages.
  2. Their day job was to then enforce a coercive and reprehensible tax system that took money from taxpayers
  3. And they then bilked taxpayers yet again by mooching from various handout programs.

I’m actually surprised that they got arrested. Based on Keynesian economics, they should get medals for “stimulating” the economy.

P.S. All humor aside, non-anarchist libertarians face an interesting mental challenge. Many of them view the tax system as a form of theft. And there’s no question that it is enforced – ultimately – at the point of a gun. But with the exception of anarcho-capitalists, libertarians support the kind of limited government envisioned by the Founding Fathers. So how do you justify the taxes needed to finance that limited public sector? Most people would justify tax systems if they’re the result of a democratic process, but libertarians believe in rights rather than untrammeled majoritarianism. So how can they rationalize taxation? I freely confess that I don’t have the right answer. As I’ve noted before, I’m a practical libertarian, not the theoretical type. My job is to somehow figure out how we can shrink the federal government back to 3 percent of economic output. After that, the theoretical libertarians can figure out the thorny issues.

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Every time some class-warfare Democrat or Charlie Brown Republican says we need higher taxes, I think of all the ways the government wastes money and I get angry because the political elite is ripping off the American people.

Should we send more money to Washington when the federal government is:

And those are just examples of nickel-and-dime programs. The bigger outrage is that politicians have created costly, inefficient, and bankrupt entitlement programs that threaten our fiscal future.

But the small examples have symbolic value, and now I have something new to add to the list. The idiots at the State Department thought it was just fine and dandy to pay 35 times the market price for some Kindles.

“Hey, let’s stimulate the economy by paying 35 times the retail price!”

IPads are too fancy, Nooks aren’t fancy enough, but Kindles are just right for teaching English, the State Department thinks, which is why it bought 2,500 of them from Amazon in a $16.5 million no-bid contract, NextGov’s Dawn Lim reports. That works out to $6,600 per Kindle Touch — a lot more than the $189 retail price. The plan, according to Kim, is to send the e-readers to “designated libraries and U.S.-friendly educational centers around the world.”

Since your paying for this ripoff, you might be a tad bit irritated. But that’s only because you’re an unsophisticated taxpayer. According to PR hacks, we really are getting a good deal because of all the extras in the agreement. Put down your coffee or soda before reading this passage from the report because I don’t want to be responsible for liquid on your computer screen.

Amazon is responsible for shipping the Kindles, providing 24-7 customer service, sharing data on how the Kindles are used to access content and pushing serialized content to the Kindles regularly. Amazon is also responsible for disabling “standard features, as as [sic.] requested by DoS, for the device such as individual purchasing ability.”

Wow, free shipping. That’s worth a lot. And the customer service surely adds a couple of bucks per unit, not to mention the extra pennies it must cost to disable features and provide electronic updates.

But let’s not be too hard on clueless bureaucrats. Maybe they just don’t understand high tech. After all, moronic government officials paid more than $22,000 each for big institutional Internet routers hooked up to just a handful of computers.

It’s almost enough to make you think government spending is the problem rather than the solution.

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If there was a contest for the best political cartoon about what’s been happening in Wisconsin, I would pick either this “fake negotiation” cartoon by Ramirez or this “coach class” cartoon by Payne.

But here’s a new entry from Bok that also deserves some consideration.

If you like humor about the Wisconsin fight, check out this Hitler parody about the recall.

And if you enjoy humor about overpaid government employees, regardless of where they’re located, here’s a great top-10 list from Letterman and here’s a cartoon about the relationship of bureaucrats and taxpayers.

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I’ve written about the high cost of red tape, and have cited crazy examples of regulation run amok.

The list could go on forever, so let’s look at a new example of regulatory stupidity.

Back during the Clinton years, the pinheads at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tried to coerce Hooters into ending its discriminatory hiring practices. These clueless bureaucrats thought it was unfair that fat, middle-aged men weren’t properly represented on the serving staff.

In a rare victory for common sense, the EEOC eventually backed down, in large part because Hooters launched a public “get a grip” campaign to embarrass the government which included newspaper ads and billboards showing how absurd it would be to change the company’s hiring practices.

Now, as Yogi Berra would say, it’s deja vu all over again. The EEOC is agitated because a Massachusetts coffee chain apparently has hired too many attractive young women. Here’s some of what the Boston Herald reported.

South Shore coffee chain Marylou’s is singing the blues over a federal employment-discrimination investigation, crying foul that the feds are going after its long-standing practice of hiring bubbly young bombshells to peddle the shop’s trademark joe. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been quietly probing Marylou’s’ hiring practices for nearly a year, the Herald has learned, with investigators pulling reams of job applications, interviewing company brass and grilling the 29-store chain’s pink-clad clerks about their co-workers’ gender, age, race and body type, according to the company. …Katherine J. Michon, a Boston lawyer who specializes in discrimination cases, said the length and scope of the investigation indicates the feds are serious about cracking down on the company. …he company also complained about the probe to state Sen. Robert L. Hedlund, who blasted the EEOC as “a meddlesome, overblown, intrusive federal agency.” He said he plans to contact the local congressional delegation, and is dumbfounded the agency is probing the stalwart South Shore coffee shop. “Why, because they haven’t hired old overweight men who want to wear a pink T-shirt and serve coffee?” Hedlund said. “The federal government has better things to do with my tax dollars than to harass a legitimate business.”

What’s especially nauseating about this case is that nobody complained about discrimination. Instead, some moron bureaucrats got upset that the TV ads featured attractive young women. Here’s more from a follow-up story in the Herald.

She [the head of the EEOC] refused to answer general questions about the agency, which critics say has run amok by initiating investigations into businesses even if no one has complained about their hiring procedures. Marylou’s execs, for example, say the feds’ yearlong inquiry started when investigators saw the chain’s flirty TV commercials. Sandry said the groundswell of support for Marylou’s has remained strong since the Herald broke the news Wednesday of the yearlong EEOC inquiry, which company founder Marylou Sandry has called “a witch hunt.” “It’s been crazy, but everywhere I go people are cheering the girls,” Ronnie Sandry said. “Boy, people hate the government.”

I’m greatly encouraged by the last sentence in the excerpt. We should all be very upset that overpaid bureaucrats are harassing and pestering people in the productive sector of the economy. These leeches should be immediately terminated.

Even though I don’t like coffee, I wish Marylou’s had some branches in the DC area. I would find something to buy just to show my support.

P.S. In the interests of fairness, I should point out that the federal government is not the only entity to pursue idiotic regulations. California lawmakers, for instance, have considered rules to regulate babysitting. And since we’re on the topic of coffee, let’s not forget the Seattle campaign to ban scantily clad baristas. But the all-time record for strangest government regulation belongs to Japan, which actually has government rules on the application of coffee enemas.

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It’s not easy being a libertarian, especially if your job is to convince the looters and moochers in Washington that they should stop pilfering. The Cato Institute is a great place to work, to be sure, but my job is akin to standing outside an all-you-can-eat buffet and trying to convince the bloated patrons to munch on celery stalks instead of going in for a 3-hour binge.

To add insult to injury, almost all of my personal interactions with government are unpleasant.

But even during my off hours, the annoying presence of government seems to follow me around. Driving back and forth to softball games this past weekend, I was irked that the radio was filled with vapid taxpayer-financed ads from fatherhood.gov and letsmove.gov.

The government apparently has so much money to burn that these empty bits of proselytizing were on conservative talk radio programs!

Now we have a new outrage to add to the list. President Obama is using $20 million of our money so a firm of PR hacks can promote Obamacare.

The Health and Human Services Department has signed a $20 million contract with a public-relations firm to highlight part of the Affordable Care Act. The new, multimedia ad campaign is designed to educate the public about how to stay healthy and prevent illnesses, an HHS official said. …The PR firm Porter Novelli won the…$20 million contract… Porter Novelli did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because the thugs at the IRS recently decided to squander $15 million on a contract to show the tax agency’s warm and fuzzy side. Interestingly, the same Porter Novelli firm got that contract, so they must specialize in sucking on the public teat. What a bunch of reprehensible leeches.

I’m sure there are many other examples of taxpayer-funded propaganda, though the only other two episodes that I recall writing about were the Census Bureau’s grotesque $2.5 million ad during the Super Bowl and dishonest television ads by Government Motors.

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One of my first posts on this blog featured this video showing how big government breeds corruption.

I’ve periodically provided examples of how this process works, citing Alaska, Chicago, Wall Street, and Washington.

Here’s another example, explicitly showing how big business and big government get in bed together to rape and pillage taxpayers. The sleazy details have been reported by Bloomberg.

Exxon Mobil Corp. and its partners in a $15 billion Papua New Guinea gas project last year paid the travel expenses for employees of the U.S. Export-Import Bank as it considered whether to help fund the venture. The four workers ran up $97,367 in bills traveling to London, Tokyo and the South Pacific, according to data compiled by the bank. They flew business class, viewed the project’s route by chartered aircraft and were entertained by costumed villagers. Eleven months later, the bank approved $3 billion in financing for the liquefied natural gas facility, the biggest transaction in the agency’s 75 years.

I posted last month about why it’s important to shut down the corrupt subsidies at the Export-Import bank. This story is a good example of why handouts for big companies are a carousel of sleaze.

Pay close attention to this issue. When the votes happen, you’ll be able to tell which Republicans understand the difference between free markets and cronyism – much as a pair of votes last year showed which Republicans believed in free markets instead of government subsidies for well-heeled housing interests.

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I’ve commented on some really nauseating and reprehensible examples of the welfare state running amok, ranging from handouts to terrorists in Europe to disgusting human scum in Florida who wanted to impregnate a child to increase monthly freebies from the state.

And I posted three examples of bizarrely wasteful spending on welfare state programs and asked which was the biggest ripoff.

Now let’s compare two unfathomably grotesque examples of the welfare state. And let’s make it a contest, sort of a “battle of the bums.”

Even better, let’s call it the Klondike Bar Contest, in honor of the a semi-famous jingle for an ice cream treat that asks, “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?”

Our first contestant is from Europe. He was asked, “What would you do to keep mooching off jobless benefits?”

In hopes of winning this battle of the bums contest, Hans Url of Austria took a big step. So to speak.

Here are some excerpts from the Daily Mail.

A scrounger…almost died after cutting his own foot off so he could stay on jobless benefits… Long term unemployed Hans Url, 56, had just been told his hand-outs would stop if he did not accept work found for him by job centre staff. And when his claims that he was too sick and did not like the work were challenged with the offer of a medical, he took drastic measures. …Url, of Mitterlabill, southern Austria, rigged up a mitre saw and sliced off his foot – then put it in the oven for good measure to ensure no surgeon could reattach it. …The police added that the man had almost died from loss of blood before the emergency services arrived and that they had recovered the foot from the oven – but that it had been too badly burned to reattach.

This story is so absurd that I wonder whether it is an April Fool’s prank. But the Daily Mail is a serious newspaper in England, and the story is dated March 27, not April 1. And there are also version of the story on Yahoo and at the Austrian Times. So it appears it might be true.

Not that we should be too surprised, because we also have an American version of the Klondike Bar contest, only this one asks, “What would you do to get a disability check?”

Here’s some of what I wrote last May about Stanley Thornton, a.k.a. Diaper Man, also known as Adult Baby.

The latest outrage is a 30-year old man who pretends to be an infant, and his roommate, who pretends to be his mother. I don’t care that he wears diapers and she changes them. I don’t care that he weighs 350 pounds. I wouldn’t care if I found out that they have sex with turtles and eat horse manure. As a libertarian, I genuinely believe people should be free to do anything that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. But I care very much that they are scamming taxpayers. In a typical display of government incompetence, both of them have convinced the Social Security Administration to give them disability payments.

By the way, after this scam was exposed, the Social Security Administration investigated and decided that this was a legitimate handout. Isn’t it nice that they are so generous with other people’s money!

What’s really tragic about these examples is that the people involved presumably are mentally ill. Or at least they are very disturbed.

I have no idea if the welfare state made their problems worse, but it’s also a safe assumption to say that handouts didn’t make them better. And they definitely didn’t promote responsibility and good behavior.

In any event, Stanley Thornton and Hans Url are screwed-up people, so we shouldn’t extrapolate from their odd behavior.

But we can look at other examples that show the perils of dependency, including this story from Connecticut, this court case from England, and this display of entitlement mentality from Greece.

And this is what matters most. We have decades of experience showing that redistribution programs create dependency and trap people in lives of despair.

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While I’m obviously not a fan of big government, I have mixed feelings about why the public sector is so blindly wasteful.

Is it because politicians and bureaucrats are well-intentioned morons who accidentally do damage (as illustrated by this cartoon), or is it that they are venal vultures looking to grab as much loot as possible before the house of cards comes crashing down (powerfully demonstrated by this example)?

The answer is probably a combination, so the real challenge is figuring out whether specific examples of government stupidity fall into one category or another.

Let’s look at three recent examples.

First, we have a story from the surveillance state known as the United Kingdom.

On a cold, dark night on the mean streets of the UK, an undercover police officer was radioed and informed that a potential suspect was close by. Keen to do the right thing, he set off in hot pursuit. Twenty fraught minutes later, he learned he’d been chasing… himself. The CCTV operator reported to police that someone was ‘acting suspiciously’, according to The Telegraph. Unfortunately, the officer who decided to follow up on the report was actually the shadowy figure in question. …The poor guy doing the chasing reassured the CCTV operator that he was “hot on the heels” of the suspect. Uh, at least until the police officer’s boss turned up in the CCTV control room and recognized him.

This definitely falls into the incompetence and stupidity category. Why didn’t the camera operator figure our that there was only one person on the screen. Then again, I once spent a minute or so looking in my bedroom for a cell phone that I was holding in my left hand, so I don’t want to be overly judgmental.

So let’s look at another case of government in action. Indeed, this could become the start of a new TV program: The Fart Police.

Harold Wayne Hadley, Jr., 19, was arrested at a Mississippi junior college after he allegedly wrote a note on a piece of toilet paper on Tuesday, containing the word ‘bomb,’ according to Weirdnews.net. The note prompted 11 emergency agencies to respond to the school, but there was no bomb. Hadley and his family contend that he was only explaining the joy of flatulating in the library. “He was in the restroom doodling on some toilet paper … we are from the country, and he calls passing gas, bombs,” said Hadley’s aunt, who wouldn’t give her name to WDAM. “[He] put ‘I passed a bomb in the library,’ talking about passing gas, and somebody came in and found it, gave it to a teacher that recognized his hand writing and it blew all out of proportion.” …Hadley was arrested and held on $20,000 bail. If convicted of threatening to blow up the school, he faces 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine,according to WAPT.

Part of me wants to forgive this example of government excess. After all, we live in a post-Columbine world and I suppose schools have to plan for the worst in case they have unstable Anthony-Weiner-type students.

But then I notice two things in the story that set off alarm bells, beginning with the fact that 11 government agencies responded. If that doesn’t tell you right away that we have too many government bureaucracies and too many bureaucrats with nothing to do, then you must be in a coma.

The other thing I noticed is that a teacher recognized the student’s handwriting. So if that was true, why didn’t someone contact the student before going nuclear on the situation?

Last but not least, let’s look at an example of government misbehavior that defies description.

[A] West Hoke Elementary School student was in her More at Four classroom when a state agent who was inspecting lunch boxes decided that her packed lunch — which consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, apple juice and potato chips — “did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines,” the Journal reports. The decision was made under consideration of a regulation put in place by the the Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services, which requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs to meet USDA guidelines. “When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones,” the Journal reports. The student’s mother told the Journal she received a note from the school about the incident and was charged $1.25 for the cafeteria tray, from which her daughter only ate three chicken nuggets. …The mother, who was not identified in the report, expressed concern about school officials telling her daughter that she wasn’t “packing her lunch box properly.”

This is downright horrifying, perhaps even more disgusting than any of these stories of government malfeasance and idiocy. Several questions come to mind.

  • Is the bureaucracy so bloated that we have food police in schools?
  • Why is the Department of Agriculture preparing food guidelines?
  • Why is there a Division of Child Development and Early Education
  • More important, why is there a Department of Health and Human Services?
  • When did the nanny state get the power to overrule parents on what kids eat for lunch?
  • And why are pencil-neck bureaucrats in charge of lunch box packing etiquette?

I rarely comment about religion on this blog, but reading this story almost makes me hope there’s no such thing as Heaven. That’s because I would hate to think our Founding Fathers are looking down from above and seeing what has happened to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

P.S. I’ll re-ask the question I posed last year: Why should we ever agree to more taxes when politicians and bureaucrats do such a rotten job with the money we’re already giving them?

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Is it April Fool’s Day? Has somebody in Paris hacked the website at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development? Have we been transported to a parallel dimension where up is down and black is white?

Please forgive all these questions. I’m trying to figure out why any organization – even a leftist bureaucracy such as the OECD – would send out a press release entitled, “Rising tax revenues: a key to economic development in Latin American countries.”

Not even Keynesians, after all, think higher taxes are a recipe for growth.

Ah, never mind. I just remembered that the OECD is a hotbed of statism, so the press release makes perfect sense. After all, the US-taxpayer-funded organization has become infamous for reflexively advocating big government.

With this dismal track record, it’s hardly a surprise that the Paris-based bureaucracy is now pushing to undermine prosperity in Latin America. Here’s some of what the OECD said in its release.

Additional tax revenues enable governments to simultaneously improve their competitiveness and promote social cohesion through increased spending on education, infrastructure and innovation. Latin American countries have made great strides over the past two decades in raising tax revenues.

You won’t be surprised when I tell you that the Paris-based bureaucrats do not bother to provide even the tiniest shred of proof to support the silly claim that higher taxes improve competitiveness. But that shouldn’t be surprising since even Keynesians don’t believe something that absurd.

And the claim about social cohesion also is a bit of a stretch given the riots, chaos, and social disarray in many European nations.

The only accurate part of the passage is that Latin American nations have increased tax burdens over the past 20 years. To the tax-free bureaucrats at the OECD, that is making “great strides.”

Let’s see what else the OECD had to say.

Despite these improvements, significant gaps between Latin America and OECD countries remain. The average tax to GDP ratio in OECD countries is much higher than in Latin American countries (33.8% compared to 19.2% in 2009, respectively). As the countries in the region still find themselves in relatively strong economic conditions, now is the time to consider reforms that generate long-term, stable resources for governments to finance development.

Wow. The OECD is implying that Latin American nations should mimic OECD nations. In other words, the bureaucrats in Paris apparently think it makes sense to tell nations to copy the failed high-tax, welfare-state model of countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain.

Is that really the lesson they think people should learn from recent fiscal history? Are they really so oblivious and/or blinded by ideology that they issued the release as these European nations are in the middle of a fiscal crisis?

To further demonstrate their bias, the folks at the OECD even acknowledged that the Latin American nations, with their less oppressive tax regimes, are enjoying “relatively strong economic conditions.” Normal people would therefore conclude that the failed high-tax European nation should copy Latin America on fiscal policy, not the other way around. But not the geniuses at the OECD.

Now that we’ve addressed the awful policy advice of the OECD, let’s take a moment to look at the real policy challenges facing Latin America.

The Fraser Institute, in cooperation with dozens of other research organizations around the world, produces every year a comprehensive survey measuring Economic Freedom of the World.

The report ranks 141 nations based on dozens of variables that are used to construct scores for five key measures of economic freedom. Of those five categories, the Latin nations have the highest average ranking on…you guessed it…fiscal policy.

Yet the OECD wants policies that will undermine the competitiveness of the Latin nations, hurting them in the area where they are doing a halfway decent job.

If the bureaucrats actually wanted to boost economic performance in Latin America, they would be pressuring those nations to make reforms in the two areas where the burden of government is most severe – legal structure/property rights and regulation.

But that would make sense, which is contrary to the OECD’s mission of promoting statism.

The only semi-positive thing to say about the OECD is that it is consistent. As this video explains, the Paris-based bureaucrats are advocating bigger government in the United States. And to add insult to injury, they’re using American tax dollars to push that agenda.

What a scam. Politicians from various nations send taxpayer money to Paris. The bureaucrats at the OECD then issue reports and studies saying the politicians in those countries should raise taxes and increase the burden of government. Everybody wins…except for taxpayers and the global economy.

Per dollar spent, OECD subsidies may be the most destructively wasteful part of the federal budget. And that says a lot.

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I’ve written many times about politicians and bureaucrats screwing taxpayers with lavish compensation packages, but this story from Philadelphia is jaw dropping.

Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco is retiring Friday, but only so she can collect a $478,057 pension check and return to work Monday, when she will be sworn in for her seventh term. Tasco was one of six Council members to enroll in the city’s controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan, better known as DROP. She did not immediately return a request for comment. …When DROP was introduced during the Rendell administration, it was thought that it would cost little or nothing. But a study by the administration of Mayor Nutter said DROP had cost the city $258 million over 10 years.

Remember stories like this every time ones of these reprehensible politicians claim that spending has been cut to the bone and taxes have to be raised.

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I’ve commented many times about wasteful government spending, including Social Security bureaucrats spending $700 thousand to party at a luxury resort, HUD bureaucrats giving huge subsidies for welfare recipients to live in upscale neighborhoods, rampant fraud in the unemployment insurance program, and tax dollars being used to subsidize a grown man wearing diapers and living as an “adult baby.”

Those are depressing examples, but here are three additional stories that may be even worse. They all show how entitlement programs squander other people’s money.

1. A local news outlet in Oregon revealed that recipients can use food stamps to buy luxury products:

Oregon Trail Cards — which are part of the state’s food stamp program — can be used to purchase luxury coffee concoctions at Starbucks counters inside grocery stores, investigators from Fox 12 in Oregon have discovered. …According to federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) guidelines, people cannot buy foods that will be eaten in the store or hot foods. However, luxury items that are allowed include soft drinks, candy, cookies, ice cream, even bakery cakes and energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label.

2. Benjamin Domenech of the Heartland Institute reports that hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on penis pumps:

According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare has spent more than $240 million of taxpayer money on penis pumps for elderly men over the past decade, and will surpass a quarter of a billion dollars this year for costs since 2001. The cost to taxpayers for the pumps more than quadrupled during that period… And these represent only the costs for external devices, technically classified as “Male Vacuum Erection Systems,” not implantable devices or oral drugs such as Viagra.”

3. A Seattle TV station has an expose about a woman receiving various forms of welfare even though she lives in a million-dollar home.

Search warrant documents unsealed Friday in federal court reveal that she received more than $1,200 a month in public housing vouchers, plus monthly cash from the federal and state government for a disability, as well as food stamps. Property records show the woman lives in a 2,500 square-foot home, with gardens and a boat dock, that is valued at $1.2 million. Records show she has received welfare benefits while living in the plush home since 2003. Records also show she truthfully provided her address when she applied for benefits.

These are the stories that I keep in mind every time I hear some politician whining that “spending has been cut to the bone” and higher taxes are needed.

P.S. I’m happy to report that American taxpayers were not victimized by the all-time record for the most absurd example of government waste, which took place when British taxpayers financed sex trips to Amsterdam for welfare recipients.

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I wrote last week about how the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based international bureaucracy, has launched a new campaign to promote class-warfare tax policy.

I’ve since learned that the OECD’s effort is even more objectionable than I first reported. For instance, the bureaucrats earlier this month organized a fancy three-day conference in India to promote the agenda of class warfare and redistribution.

Most of the speakers were from European welfare states and various international bureaucracies, but there was also a senior appointee from the Obama Administration (gee, what a surprise). The panels, as you might suspect, looked at various ways of imposing high tax rates, but there was also some political correctness, including a panel that looked at issues such as “the impacts of taxes on gender inequality” and “Incentives to alleviate gender pay differentials.”

And our tax dollars paid for a big chunk of that nonsense.

This is why, in today’s New York Post, I argued that it is foolish to subsidize this statist bureaucracy. Here’s some of what I wrote.

Support by Europeans for Obama’s efforts to Europeanize America is no surprise. But the OECD shouldn’t be using American tax dollars to promote Obama’s class-warfare agenda – especially since OECD bureaucrats get tax-free salaries. Actually, the real issue is whether it makes sense for American taxpayers to subsidize the OECD. OK, $100 million may not sound like much money when the federal budget imposes a $4 trillion-a-year burden on the economy. But when you look at how the OECD spends money, it quickly becomes apparent that sending US tax dollars to this Paris-based bureaucracy may be the most destructive on a per-dollar basis. For lawmakers looking for ways to save tax dollars, eliminating the OECD’s subsidy would be a good place to start.

Actually, what I wrote is too timid. The OECD is a parasitical collection of bureaucrats who are pushing policies that would undermine American competitiveness and they are doing it with money from American taxpayers.

If the GOP can’t zero out this item in the budget, they should resign in shame.

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I realize that national defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government, but that doesn’t mean the Pentagon budget isn’t riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse.

Here’s a jaw-dropping example reported by Bloomberg.

A U.S. contractor in Iraq overbilled the Pentagon by at least $4.4 million for spare parts and equipment, including $900 for an electronic control switch valued at $7.05, according to a new audit. Based on the questionable costs identified in a $300 million contract with Dubai-based Anham LLC, the U.S. should review all its contracts with the company in Iraq and Afghanistan, which total about $3.9 billion, said Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen. “The audit found weak oversight in multiple areas that left the government vulnerable to improper overcharges,” Bowen wrote in the forward to his 30th quarterly report, released today. The contract in question was funded with a combination of money earmarked for Iraqi Security Forces and Army operations and maintenance funds. Among the “egregious examples of overbilling” by Anham were $4,500 for a circuit breaker valued at $183.30, $3,000 for a $94.47 circuit breaker and $80 for a small segment of drain pipe valued at $1.41.

Those mark-ups are absurd, but I wonder whether this example from the story is even worse.

In other cases, Anham used subcontractors to purchase items that could have been bought directly from the manufacturer at lower prices, the report said. When Anham was asked to buy a loudspeaker system to alert warehouse employees of any danger, it chose not to buy the system directly from the manufacturer at the retail price of $44,615, the report said. Instead, Anham sought bids from subcontractors and paid a company called Knowlogy $90,908. That price included $20,000 for installation, even though the system setup meant little more than wheeling it into place and plugging it in.

I think I made a mistake becoming a policy wonk. I could have a great career as a loudspeaker installer.

On a more serious note, it would be nice if governments didn’t squander so much money. Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad if some people went to jail for these rip-offs of taxpayer money.

And let’s not forget that the bigger issue is whether the national security of the United States is advanced or undermined by nation building in the Middle East. Or remaining in alliances such as NATO that lost their raison d’être when the Warsaw Pact disappeared 20 years ago.

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I have a confession to make: I have a hard time making up my mind. At times, I am overcome by indecision. To be more specific, I can’t figure out which department of the federal government should be shut down first.

In the past, I’ve written about the squalid waste and corruption at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and argued that HUD should be shuttered.

But I’ve also written about the grotesque inefficiency and bloat at the Department of Transportation and urged that the building be razed to the ground.

Today, I can’t resist turning my attention to the Department of Agriculture. This is another part of the federal behemoth that specializes in taking money from productive taxpayers and dispensing it to well-connected agri-businesses to maintain a system of subsidies and central planning so Byzantine that it would probably make a North Korean Commissar shake his head with bemusement.

If you want to share my anger, read this column by Victor David Hanson. Here’s an excerpt to get your blood boiling.

The Department of Agriculture…is a vast, self-perpetuating postmodern bureaucracy with an amorphous budget of some $130 billion — a sum far greater than the nation’s net farm income this year. …This year it will give a record $20 billion in various crop “supports” to the nation’s wealthiest farmers — with the richest 10 percent receiving over 70 percent of all the redistributive payouts. …Then there is the more than $5 billion in ethanol subsidies that goes to the nation’s corn farmers to divert their acreage to produce transportation fuel. That program has somehow managed to cost the nation billions, to send worldwide corn prices sky-high, and to distort global trade in ethanol at the expense of far cheaper sugarcane. …About every 10 years or so, public outrage forces Congress to promise to curtail the subsidy programs. But when the deadline arrives, our elected officials always find a trendy excuse like “green energy” or “national security” to continue welfare to agribusiness. …In a brilliantly conceived devil’s bargain, the Department of Agriculture gives welfare to the wealthy on the one hand, while on the other sending more than $70 billion to the lower income brackets in food stamps. Originally, the food stamp program focused on the noble aim of supplementing the income of only the very poor and the disabled. But now eligibility is such that some members of the middle class find a way to manipulate such grants. In fact, 2011 could be another sort of record year for the Agriculture Department, as it may achieve an all-time high in subsidizing 47 million Americans on food stamps — nearly one-sixth of the country. …The multilayered Department of Agriculture has no real mission, much less a methodology other than to provide cash to congressional pet constituencies.

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I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’m nonetheless still nauseated to read that Mitt Romney has decided to endorse ethanol subsidies. Here’s a blurb from Fox in DC.

“I support the subsidy of ethanol,” Romney told an Iowa voter. “I believe ethanol is an important part of our energy solution for this country.” …Romney’s renewed support came just days after former Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty officially announced his candidacy and said the nation could no longer afford to subsidize ethanol, a position that he said backed up his claim to be the truth teller in the race.

I’ve written about ethanol subsidies before, noting that they rank as one of the most corrupt and inefficient special-interest programs in Washington. By endorsing ethanol, Romney demonstrates that he is a profoundly flawed candidate.

Indeed, he seems eerily similar to Richard Nixon. Not in the sense of being corrupt, but in his totally amoral approach to public policy.

From a policy perspective, Nixon was a terrible president. He raised taxes, created new government agencies and programs, imposed wage and price controls, and implemented many other policies to expand the burden of government. But he did those things for reasons of political expediency, not because of any set of beliefs.

Romney seems to have the same shallow approach. It appears that he will say anything and do anything to advance his own political ambition. Doing what’s right for America doesn’t seem to be a factor when he makes decisions.

By imposing Romneycare on Massachusetts, Romney paved the way for Obama to impose a similar policy on the entire nation. Now Romney has embraced one of the sleaziest scams in Washington, one that lines the pockets of a rich special interest and screws over taxpayers and consumers.

That does not bade well. If he makes it to the White House, I will predict right now that he would destroy America’s fiscal future with a value-added tax.

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Most of us have probably heard the joke about the moronic salesman who admitted to losing money on each sale but was hoping to make it up with higher volume.

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post is taking this financial approach to a new level. His column today asserts the auto bailout was a success and he celebrates the supposed efficiency and competence of big government.

Don’t expect to see a lot of newspapers and Web sites with this headline: “Big Government Bailout Worked.” But it would be entirely accurate. …Far too little attention has been paid to the success of the government’s rescue of the Detroit-based auto companies, and almost no attention has been paid to how completely and utterly wrong bailout opponents were when they insisted it was doomed to failure. …Government failure gets a lot of coverage. That’s useful because government should be held accountable for its mistakes. What’s not okay is that we hear very little when government acts competently and even creatively. For if mistakes teach lessons, successes teach lessons, too.

So was the auto bailout a success? That’s certainly Dionne’s spin. He sets the bar at a very low level. Basically, if GM is still in business and every so often has a profitable quarter, he wants us to believe the bailout was a giant success.

Libertarians, by contrast, set the bar very high. They would say the bailout is a failure, regardless of GM’s status, because it relied on the coercive power of the government to steer capital in ways that reward failure and exacerbate moral hazard.

The average person presumably is more lenient, and will say the bailout is a success if GM returns to profitability, all the taxpayer money is repaid, and the company isn’t relying on special handouts.

By this “average-person” standard, the GM bailout is a failure. Yes, the company is still in business, but only because of huge handouts, special tax treatment, and the ability to screw creditors. In other  words, GM is sort of like the ethanol industry, kept afloat with other people’s money. Indeed, GM is even worse since (so far as I know) companies like ADM get handouts and special tax loopholes for ethanol, but don’t have the ability to renege on their debts.

So what does all this mean? Nobody disagrees with the notion that a money-losing company can be kept alive forever so long as politicians are willing to provide sufficient levels of other people’s money. And that certainly is a good description of what’s happened with GM, but Dionne wants us to see this as a remarkable success for the wisdom of government intervention.

But let’s do an experiment. If the GM bailout is a success, what would happen if we replicated that “success” over and over again. If we lose money on each bailout, can we make it up on volume?

In E.J. Dionne’s fantasy world, the answer is yes. In the real world, we become Greece even faster.

For those that want more information, my Cato colleague Dan Ikenson has some good analysis about the auto bailout here and here, and Megan McArdle dissects the profitability argument here. Mickey Kaus is a must-read on these issues. You can find his discussion of GM’s profitability here, and his discussion of the company’s IPO here.

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Let’s start in Washington, where USA Today reports that there are “at least 17,828 federal employees whose annualized salaries totaled $180,000 or more in September 2010.” That’s rather distressing news for taxpayers, but these excerpts from the story provide additional reason for us to be upset.

…their ranks soared from the 805 with annualized salaries of $180,000 or more in 2005. Nearly 90% held “excepted service” jobs, meaning they worked at agencies that set their own qualification requirements and aren’t subject to the appointment, pay and classification regulations that apply to other civil service posts. …Light said he was surprised the federal data showed that 598 SEC lawyers ranked second among the largest employee groups with the top annualized salaries. The financial industry regulator, widely criticized for its failure to detect and stop Ponzi scheme architect Bernard Madoff, “hasn’t been doing its job very well, and yet its lawyers come out on top. That’s a shock, don’t you think?” said Light. Given the national concern with fighting crime, he questioned why federal prosecutors didn’t top SEC lawyers in numbers of highest-salaried attorneys.

Keep in mind, by the way, that the article is examining salaries rather than total compensation. And since bureaucrats generally get benefits that are four times higher than their counterparts in the productive sector of the economy, the gap between the bureaucratic elite and the serfs who pay their salaries is even larger than these figures suggest.

But at least the overpaid federal bureaucrats are mostly doctors and lawyers, so there’s at least some argument for high levels of compensation. If you want to read something truly outrageous, let’s travel to Newport Beach, California, where the city’s lifeguards are bleeding taxpayers in an obscene fashion.

…the city’s full-time lifeguard force has finally come under scrutiny. Next week the city council will decide if cuts are needed to the full-time lifeguard force where last year the top earner received $211,000 in pay and benefits, including a $400 sun protection allowance. In 2010 all but one of the city’s full-time lifeguard staff had annual compensation packages worth over $120,000. Not bad pay for a lifeguard – but what makes these jobs most attractive is the generous retirements. These lifeguards can retire at age 50 with full medical benefits for life. One recently retired lifeguard, age 51, receives a government retirement of over $108,000 per year—for the rest of his life.

The examples in this post are especially egregious, but the key thing to keep in mind that compensation levels for bureaucrats (at all levels of government) are far too high. I’ve posted this video before, but I’ll embed it again for folks who want to see some of the key statistics to prove that the government workforce is too large and paid too much.

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This is one of those a-picture-says-a-thousand-words moments.

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On rare occasions, I dream about being a politician or high-level international bureaucrat. Not because I want to be a moocher (please put me out of my misery if that ever happens), but because I periodically read about some sleazy interest group making petulant demands for handouts and I think about how much fun it would be to tell them to go jump in a lake.

In some cases, the sleazy interest group is an entire nation. Greece recently took a bailout from both the European Union (i.e., European taxpayers) and the International Monetary Fund (i.e., all taxpayers). In exchange for getting a handout, Greek politicians agreed to implement a bunch of deficit-reduction policies.

But like many welfare recipients, the country of Greece has an entitlement mentality and is now whining and complaining about having to live up to its side of the bargain.

All I can think about is how rewarding and satisfying it would be to say, “okay, a__h___s, have it your way, we’re revoking your bailout. Have fun becoming Argentina on your way to becoming Zimbabwe, you bloodsucking leeches.”

Actually, if I had that power, Greece never would have received a bailout in the first place, but I think you know what I mean.

Here are some excerpts from the Reuters report about Greece’s chutzpah.

Greece accused the EU and IMF of interfering in its domestic affairs on Saturday after the international lenders said Athens must speed up reforms and sell more public assets. On Friday, EU and IMF inspectors visiting Greece to monitor the implementation of a bailout plan that saved Greece from bankruptcy, approved more aid for the country but adopted a more critical tone than on previous visits. In rare harsh words, the Greek government said the inspectors’ approach was unacceptable, after coming under fire from local media for not reacting to criticism of the pace of reforms and the call for privatizations. …Earlier in the day, government spokesman George Petalotis said: “We asked nobody to interfere in domestic affairs … We only take orders from the Greek people.”

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There’s a lot of attention being paid to yesterday’s landslide vote in the House to prevent a big tax increase next year. If you’re a glass-half-full optimist, you will be celebrating the good news for taxpayers. If you’re a glass-half empty pessimist, you will be angry because the bill also contains provisions to increase the burden of government spending as well as some utterly corrupt tax loopholes added to the legislation so politicians could get campaign cash from special interest groups.

If you want some unambiguously good news, however, ignore the tax deal and celebrate the fact that Senator Harry Reid had to give up his attempt to enact a pork-filled, $1 trillion-plus spending bill. This “omnibus appropriation” not only had an enormous price tag, it also contained about 6,500 earmarks. As I explained in the New York Post yesterday, earmarks are “…special provisions inserted on behalf of lobbyists to benefit special interests. The lobbyists get big fees, the interest groups get handouts and the politicians get rewarded with contributions from both. It’s a win-win-win for everyone — except the taxpayers who finance this carousel of corruption.”

This sleazy process traditionally has enjoyed bipartisan support, and many Republican Senators initially were planning to support the legislation notwithstanding the voter revolt last month. But the insiders in Washington underestimated voter anger at bloated and wasteful government. Thanks to talk radio, the Internet (including sites like this one), and a handful of honest lawmakers, Reid’s corrupt legislation suddenly became toxic.

The resulting protests convinced GOPers, even the big spenders from the Appropriations Committee, that they could no longer play the old game of swapping earmarks for campaign cash. This is a remarkable development and a huge victory for the Tea Party movement. Here’s part of the Washington Post report on this cheerful development.

Senate Democrats on Thursday abandoned their efforts to approve a comprehensive funding bill for the federal government after Republicans rebelled against its $1.2 trillion cost and the inclusion of nearly 7,000 line-item projects for individual lawmakers. …Instead, a slimmed-down resolution that would fund the government mostly at current levels will come before the Senate, and Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it will pass by Saturday. …The majority leader’s surrender on the spending bill marked a final rebuke for this Congress to the old-school system of funding the government, in which the barons of the Appropriations Committee decided which states would receive tens of millions of dollars each year. …Almost every Senate Republican had some favor in the bill, but as voter angst about runaway deficits grew before the midterm elections, Republicans turned against the earmark practice.

This is a very positive development heading into next year, but it is not a permanent victory. Some Republicans are true believers in the cause of limited government, but there are still plenty of corrupt big spenders as well as some Bush-style “compassionate conservatives” who think buying votes with other people’s money somehow makes one a caring person.

In other words, fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and Tea Partiers have won an important battle, but this is just one skirmish in a long war. If we want to save America from becoming another Greece, we better make sure that we redouble our efforts next year. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

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As indicated by my post on how to handle prisoners with AIDS, I periodically run into issues where I’m not sure about the right answer. Here’s another case. Politicians in New York have a proposal to prohibit people from using food stamps to buy sugary drinks. Part of me is irritated by paternalistic, nanny-state busybodies who want to tell other people how to live. On the other hand, maybe this proposal will make people less willing to mooch off taxpayers by accepting food stamps (though I suspect they’ll just bring two carts to the checkout line, one with things that can be purchased with food stamps, and the other filled with sodas, booze, and other items that would require cash). The ideal answer, of course, is to get rid of the federal food stamp program and let states and communities experiment with the best way of handling these issues. Here’s an excerpt from the AP report.
New Yorkers on food stamps would not be allowed to spend them on sugar-sweetened drinks under an obesity-fighting proposal being floated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson. …If approved, it would be the first time an item would be banned from the federal program based solely on nutritional value. The idea has been suggested previously, including in 2008 in Maine, where it drew criticism from advocates for the poor who argued it unfairly singled out low-income people and risked scaring off potential needy recipients. And in 2004 the USDA rejected Minnesota’s plan to ban junk food, including soda and candy, from food stamp purchases, saying it would violate the Food Stamp Act’s definition of what is food and could create “confusion and embarrassment” at the register. The food stamp system…does not currently restrict any other foods based on nutrition. Recipients can essentially buy any food for the household, although there are some limits on hot or prepared foods. Food stamps also cannot be used to buy alcohol, cigarettes or items such as pet food, vitamins or household goods. …There still are many unhealthful products New Yorkers could purchase with food stamps, including potato chips, ice cream and candy.

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There’s a wise old saying about “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” But perhaps we need a new saying along the lines of “don’t subsidize the foot that kicks you.” Here’s a good example: American taxpayers finance the biggest share of the budget for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is an international bureaucracy based in Paris. The OECD is not as costly as the United Nations, but it still soaks up about $100 million of American tax dollars each year. And what do we get in exchange for all this money? Sadly, the answer is lots of bad policy. The bureaucrats (who, by the way, get tax-free salaries) just released their “Economic Survey of the United States, 2010” and it contains a wide range of statist analysis and big-government recommendations.

The Survey endorses Obama’s failed Keynesian spending bill and the Fed’s easy-money policy, stating, “The substantial fiscal and monetary stimulus successfully turned the economy around.” If 9.6 percent unemployment and economic stagnation is the OECD’s idea of success, I’d hate to see what they consider a failure. Then again, the OECD is based in Paris, so even America’s anemic economy may seem vibrant from that perspective.

The Survey also targets some very prominent tax loopholes, asserting that, “The mortgage interest deduction should be reduced or eliminated” and “the government should reduce further this [health care exclusion] tax expenditure.” If the entire tax code was being ripped up and replaced with a simple and fair flat tax, these would be good policies. Unfortunately (but predictably), the OECD supports these policies as a means of increasing the overall tax burden and giving politicians more money to spend.

Speaking of tax increases, the OECD is in love with higher taxes. The Paris-based bureaucrats endorse Obama’s soak-the-rich tax agenda, including higher income tax rates, higher capital gains tax rates, more double taxation of dividends, and a reinstated death tax. Perhaps because they don’t pay tax and are clueless about how the real world operates, the bureaucrats state that “…the Administration’s fiscal plan is ambitious…and should therefore be implemented in full.”

But even that’s not enough. The OECD then puts together a menu of additional taxes and even gives political advice on how to get away with foisting these harsh burdens on innocent American taxpayers. According to the Survey, “A variety of options is available to raise tax revenue, some of which are discussed below. Combined, they have the potential to raise considerably more revenue… The advantage of relying on a package of measures is that the increase in taxation faced by individual groups is more limited than otherwise, reducing incentives to mobilise to oppose the tax increase.

The biggest kick in the teeth, though, is the OECD’s support for a value-added tax. The bureaucrats wrote that, “Raising consumption taxes, notably by introducing a federal value-added tax (VAT), could therefore be another approach… A national VAT would be easier to enforce than other taxes, as each firm in the production chain pays only a fraction of the tax and must report the sales of other firms.”

But just in case you think the OECD is myopically focused on tax increases, you’ll be happy to know it is a full-service generator of bad ideas. The Paris-based bureaucracy also is a rabid supporter of the global-warming/climate-change/whatever-they’re-calling-it-now agenda. There’s an entire chapter in the survey on the issue, but the key passages is, “The current Administration is endeavouring to establish a comprehensive climate-change policy, the main planks of which are pricing GHG emissions and supporting the development of innovative technologies to reduce GHG emissions. As discussed above and emphasized in the OECD (2009), this is the right approach… Congress should pass comprehensive climate-change legislation.”

You won’t be surprised to learn that the OECD’s reflexive support for higher taxes appears even in this section. The bureaucrats urge that “such regulation should be complemented by increases in gasoline and other fossil-fuel taxes.”

If you’re still not convinced the OECD is a giant waste of money for American taxpayers, I suggest you watch this video released by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity about two months ago. It’s a damning indictment of the OECD’s statist agenda (and this was before the bureaucrats released the horrid new “Economic Survey of the United States”).

 

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State and local politicians have rigged the property tax system so they always come out ahead. When home values are rising (even if incomes are flat), they automatically collect more revenue. Sometimes they even decide to reduce the tax rate, though rarely if ever by enough to compensate for the rise in home values. But when home values are falling, that’s almost always an excuse to impose a higher tax rate so that the bureaucrats don’t have to worry about tightening their belts (that’s a role reserved for us peons). Or they simply lie and over-value homes. The Tax Foundation has a new report showing that politicians collected more than 4 percent more money from property taxes even though actual home values dropped by 16 percent.

The recession that began in December 2007 was precipitated by a financial crisis which in turn was triggered by the popping of a real estate bubble, particularly in residential property. And indeed, property values did decline dramatically. The Case-Shiller index, a popular measure of residential home values, shows a drop of almost 16 percent in home values across the country between 2007 and 2008. As property values fell, one might expect property tax collections to have fallen commensurately, but in most cases they did not. Data on state and local taxes from the U.S. Census Bureau show that most states’ property owners paid more in FY 2008 (July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008) than they had the year before (see Table 1). Nationwide, property tax collections increased by more than 4 percent.

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