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Posts Tagged ‘Boondoggle’

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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It’s difficult being a libertarian.

In addition to all the other challenges (such as trying to convince people stealing doesn’t become okay simply because the government is the middleman), I get conflicted about government waste.

You’re probably thinking I’m wandering off the libertarian reservation. After all, aren’t libertarians big opponents of boondoggles, government waste, and pork-barrel spending?

All true, but here’s my challenge: I also don’t want “efficient government.”

In other words, our goal should be to shrink government, not to make it “work better.” To understand the point I’m making, ponder these questions:

Do we want government to efficiently lure people into dependency?

Do we want government to efficiently socialize health care?

Do we want government to efficiently cartelize the agriculture sector?

I hope the answer to all these questions is “NO,” which is why I generally focus my work on structural changes to shrink the size and scope of government.

But every so often, notwithstanding everything I just wrote, I can’t resist pointing out really absurd examples of wasteful spending. And today we have two jaw-dropping examples.

We know that government bureaucracies like palatial buildings and that cost overruns are the rule rather than the exception. Well, one of the new bureaucracies created by the Dodd-Frank bailout bill is setting records for extravagance with its new headquarters.

The newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is renovating the Washington, D.C., headquarters it rents—at a cost per square foot that is more expensive than Trump World Tower in New York City. The CFPB project is estimated to cost taxpayers more than $215 million… Cost projections have increased $65 million in six months and $120 million since last year’s estimate. Some of the building’s extravagant features include a four-story glass staircase, two-story waterfall and a sunken garden.

But what’s really amazing is that all this money is being spent on a rented building and that the cost of renovating is far greater than what was spent on building (yes, building, not just renovating) some of the world’s most famous landmark structures.

Now for our second example.

We’ve all heard about how big chunks of education spending get wasted on bureaucracy and don’t get used for classroom instruction.

And we read about how welfare bureaucrats consume a lot of money that supposedly is targeted to help poor people.

This principle also applies to other forms of government spending.

CNN reports that the federal government’s program for emergency food aid around the world is such a cluster-you-know-what that barely a bit more than one-third of money is actually spent on food for crisis-stricken regions.

International typhoons, hurricanes, and earthquakes leave behind devastating scenes of poverty and need. If you had about a $1.5 billion every year to send food to such desperate areas, how would you do it? …The way the U.S. provides international food aid is an antiquated and bureaucratic tangle. Food largely has to be purchased here in the U.S., and then shipped on boats by U.S. cargo carriers to the trouble spots. The Government Accountability Office says that 65% of the money for this aid program is spent on shipping and business costs – not on food. … it’s a system that has helped shipping companies and unions win billions in government contracts, companies like Maersk. …There’s also the transport workers unions. …The two leading maritime unions gave more than “three quarters of a million dollars to members of the current House of Representatives in the 2012 election cycle,” according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Geesh, what a typical example of insider corruption.

This is yet another piece of evidence for my view that disaster relief is not a function of the federal government.

P.S. Regarding the theme of today’s column, Fred Smith, the founder and former President of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told me on more than one occasion that we should “be thankful we don’t get all the government we pay for.”

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As you can imagine, there’s a lot to choose from in the contest for the most spectacular waste of tax dollars.

But the politicians in Oregon must really want the prize, because they managed to flush several hundred million dollars down a rat hole by putting together a state-run Obamacare website that has to be abandoned because it is so dysfunctional.

And if the Oregon website is so bad that it’s switching to the much-derided Washington Obamacare website, it must be a disaster of unparalleled dimensions!

Here are some excerpts from an AP report.

After months of trying to get its problem-plagued online health exchange to work, Oregon on Friday officially gave up on the state portal… Officials say fixing the existing system would be too costly at $78 million and would take too long. …Oregon’s exchange is seen as the worst in more than a dozen states that developed their own online health insurance marketplaces. The general public still can’t use Cover Oregon’s website to sign up for coverage in one sitting. Instead, Oregonians must use a time-consuming hybrid paper-online process to sign up for insurance — despite $134 million the state paid Oracle Corp. to build the online exchange. …In March, the federal Government Accountability Office announced an investigation of Oregon’s exchange, including looking at whether the federal government can reclaim grant money given to Cover Oregon if taxpayer funds were mismanaged.

Heck, it’s not just the GAO that’s investigating.

The FBI reportedly is probing the failed launch of Oregon’s ObamaCare insurance exchange, joining several other agencies looking into the multimillion-dollar program that was scrapped last month.  …the FBI has interviewed several people as part of the inquiry. The Oregonian reported that the bureau held a 90-minute meeting with a former Republican lawmaker who detailed potential wrongdoing — including suspicions that the state showed the feds a misleading demonstration to keep money flowing. …A U.S. House committee already is probing the Oregon debacle, as is the Government Accountability Office. The state received more than $300 million in federal grants to launch and operate the health care system. Much of what it has spent so far has gone to Oracle Corp.

But let’s be fair. Not all of the $300 million was squandered on the failed website.

The politicians also coughed up $3 million for this video, which presumably was supposed to lure people to the non-working website but probably just made people think Oregon is infested by patchouli-soaked deadbeats.

The video almost stands by itself as a form of left-wing self parody.

But what makes it especially amusing is that it generated this amusing segment on one of HBO’s programs.

Well done.

I don’t watch TV, so I don’t know if the guy who did this segment is on the right, the left, or somewhere in between.

But it would be nice to have a talk show host who is willing to go after all sides, unlike Colbert and Stewart who clearly bend over backwards to curry favor with the White House.

Anyhow, if you like videos that use humor to mock government-run healthcare, here are some good options.

*The head of the National Socialist Workers Party finds out he can’t keep his health plan.

*A creepy version of Uncle Sam wants to know about your sex life.

*Young people discover that they’re screwed by Obamacare.

*One of the biggest statists of the 20th century is angry that the Obamacare exchanges don’t work.

*A cartoon video showing how to buy coffee in an Obamacare world.

But never forget that this is a serious issue. Government has screwed up the healthcare system, yet politicians then use the mess they create to justify even more intervention.

The only effective solution is economic liberty.

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Last year, I conducted an informal poll at a conference in Paris.

I explained to the audience that the public sector consumed about 57 percent of the French economy and I asked them whether they got more services and better government than the people of Germany (where government consumed 44 pct of GDP), Canada (41 pct), or Switzerland (34 pct).

Unsurprisingly, not a single hand went up.

But maybe we should ask the same question in America. Are we getting the government we want?

That’s the message of this clever video.

I have a couple of editorial comments.

1. The video made a very good point about health insurance not being real insurance in a world of government intervention.

2. I also agree that much of the federal government is illegitimate, but that point is irrelevant since we have Justices on the Supreme Court who don’t care that the federal government is supposed to be limited to those functions listed in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution.

3. The system is based on coercion. If you don’t pay taxes, you go to jail. If you resist, they shoot you. Only in Washington is that type of system known as “voluntary compliance.”

4. The video is absolutely correct that the nation did just fine for most of our nation’s history with no income tax.

But enough of my commentary. Let’s think for a few minutes of what would happen if we could use our tax returns to allocate our tax dollars. How many people would voluntarily finance the waste at places such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development or Department of Agriculture?

Reason Waste Poll But even the legitimate parts of government are riddled with waste. I believe in national defense, for instance, but that doesn’t mean I want to pay for stupid statues, subsidize green fuel, or prop up Europe’s welfare states by keeping outmoded military alliances.

That’s why I’m not surprised to see that Americans think, according to a new Reason-Rupe poll,  that 50 cents out of every tax dollar is wasted.

My leftist friends, when confronted with this type of polling data, are generally dismissive. They say ordinary people are misinformed and stupid because fraud rates for government programs (as shown in the P.S. of this post) tend to be far lower than 50 percent.

But their definition of “waste” is far too narrow. I don’t care if every single dollar of food stamps goes to people who are “eligible” or if the rules are followed for every mass transit subsidy. Those are not legitimate and proper functions of Washington.

When government is taking money from some people and using those funds to buy votes from other people, every penny is being wasted.

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I’ve been asked whether I’m a hypocrite because I support decentralization while at the same time being critical of state and local governments.

I don’t think there’s any inconsistency in my position. Here’s some of what I wrote last July.

I’m a strong believer in federalism, but not because I think state and local governments are competent. Politicians and interest groups are a toxic combination in all circumstance. But at least people have considerable ability to cross borders if they want to escape greedy and despotic governments at the state and local level. And when the geese with the golden eggs can fly away, this facilitates competition between governments and forces politicians to restrain their appetites.

Maybe I’m just daft (as my leftist friends often claim), but I think that’s a perfectly defensible position.

Anyhow, I feel compelled to give that bit of background because it’s once again time to mock state and local governments.

Here’s an excerpt from the Detroit News that tells you everything you’ll ever need to know about the stupidity of government. The city actually loses money on parking enforcement.

The city is paying $32 to issue and process a $30 parking violation, and it hasn’t adjusted rates since 2001. On top of that, about half of Detroit’s 3,404 parking meters are not operating properly at any given time, says Orr’s spokesman, Bill Nowling.

Wow, this must be an all-time record. A local government can’t even fleece people competently.

The only thing more shocking is when the government is too incompetent to give away money, which actually happened with one boondoggle in the United Kingdom.

Now let’s travel a few thousand miles and look at another example of how Washington isn’t the only place where government does strange things.

I’ve written many times about the lavish pay and gold-plated benefits of bureaucrats, but cops in Hawaii may have set a new record for fringe benefits. Or maybe this is a new version of friends with fringe benefits, to coin a phrase.

Here are the fun (and PG-13-rated) details in Jacob Sullum’s article in Reason.

Hawaii’s prostitution law includes an exemption for “any member of a police department, a sheriff, or a law enforcement officer acting in the course and scope of duties.” …That’s right: Cops insisted that they must be free not just to receive blowjobs and handjobs from prostitutes but also to engage in vaginal and anal intercourse with them. Evidently the police also need permission to engage in “flagellation or torture by or upon a person as an act of sexual stimulation or gratification” (Hawaii’s definition of “sadomasochistic abuse”). Just in case. Since an entire chamber of the state legislature agreed to this request, the cops must have had a pretty persuasive argument.

Hmmm…makes me wonder if the legislators also added an exemption for themselves. Based on the state’s tax rates, we already know they screw taxpayers for money, so it’s not much of a leap to suspect they’re doing the same thing on a one-on-one basis.

Though, as shown in this cartoon, they’re not used to spending their own money.

All kidding aside, Jacob makes the very sensible point that the real problem is that politicians have enacted laws against a victimless crime.

…the double standard demanded by police highlights the utter absurdity of prostitution laws. Police do not commit murder to catch killers or knock over banks to catch robbers. Yet here they are insisting that they need the leeway to have sex with prostitutes in order to stop people from having sex with prostitutes. Even if cops never take advantage of that freedom, they routinely commit the crime of agreeing to pay for sex, except that in their case it is not treated as a crime. That exemption is considered acceptable only because exchanging money for sex, unlike murder and robbery, does not violate anyone’s rights. But if so, why not broaden the exemption to cover everyone?

I agree. I find the whole business of prostitution very distasteful, just as I feel nothing but disdain for illegal drugs. But prohibition just makes matters worse.

P.S. Since this post looks at both parking meters and prostitution, you’ll be amused by the way the Germans combined those two topics.

P.P.S. I periodically share polling data that strikes me as significant. Most recently, for instance, I noted that crazy left wingers openly admitted they want higher tax rates even if the government doesn’t raise any revenue. That was a depressing result, but I was encouraged to see that a vast majority of Americans view big government as a threat to the nation’s future.

Here are a couple of new polls that caught my attention.

1. I’m rather worried that a new Rasmussen poll found that “for the first time, fewer than half of voters believe tax cuts help the economy.” For what it’s worth, I suspect this is because politicians often gravitate to “tax cuts” that fail to reduce the burden on productive activity. Instead, they make the code more complex by expanding credits, deductions, exemptions, preferences, and exclusions.

If they started pushing for lower marginal tax rates or fundamental tax reform, the polling numbers would probably be better.

2. Let’s now cross the ocean and look at some remarkable Gallup data on the role of government in thwarting small businesses.

Gallup Europe Entrepreneurship

I already knew Greece had stunningly absurd barriers to entrepreneurship (click here for an unbelievable example), so one can only imagine the types of nonsense imposed by Italy’s feckless government.

3. Let’s close with some very good news. It seems that young people are beginning to realize that Ronald Reagan was right (see second video) when he said government is the problem rather than the solution.

Check out this excerpt from a report by National Journal.

Millennials who may have voted with youthful exuberance in 2008 seem to have grown fatigued with the government’s inability to get things done. In 2009, 42 percent of millennials said government programs are usually inefficient and wasteful, according to Pew data. By 2012, that number had increased to 51 percent. And young people say they’re losing trust in the government to Do the Right Thing. In 2009, 44 percent of millennials said they trust the government to do what’s right all or most of the time. By 2013, that dropped to 29 percent.

Makes me think maybe these youngsters finally figured out that programs like Social Security are empty Ponzi schemes.

By the way, here are the best poll numbers I’ve ever seen.

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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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One of my first blog posts, way back in 2009, was about bureaucrats from the Social Security Administration squandering more than $700,000 on a boondoggle conference at a fancy Arizona resort.

To pick a more recent example, taxpayers have plenty of reasons to be upset about IRS bureaucrats partying at their fancy conferences (including line dances, the real message of which is captured by this Lisa Benson cartoon).

The General Services Administration, meanwhile, had a good time on our dime at a posh confab in Las Vegas.

So did revelations about all this waste cause programs, agencies, and departments to be more careful with our tax money? As you can imagine, the answer is a big fat no.

The latest scandal to be unearthed is that “public servants” from a bunch of government agencies have been enjoying fun times in the Caribbean. Here are some excerpts from a Washington Times expose.

A group of federal officials skipped chilly Washington this month for a taxpayer-funded trip to the Virgin Islands in the name of protecting the world’s coral reef. The organizer, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, isn’t saying much about the total cost or reasons for the trip or why officials chose the St. Croix beachfront resort Buccaneer Hotel (made famous by an episode of TV’s “The Bachelor”) as their destination. But life couldn’t have been too bad for the G-men and G-women at the swanky resort, which is surrounded by a lush green golf course and boasts rooms with rates that begin at $323 a night. …topped off with a $74 meal per diem. …In addition to the room rates and food per diems, the various departments were also responsible for providing airfare for attendees. A quick search of travel websites shows that flights from Washington to St. Croix, where the meeting was held, range from $500 to $1,000.

So what was the total cost of this boondoggle? Well, we have no idea.

And this doesn’t even count the fact that many of the bureaucrats got to party at another sun-and-fun conference!

With 11 agencies involved in funding and support for the coral reef task force, it can be difficult to track down just how much is being spent and by whom. Spending records are spread across multiple agencies, with no single record of just how much these meeting might be costing taxpayers. An Interior Department representative said the task force meeting was held in conjunction with a meeting of the Caribbean Regional Planning Body, and many people participated in both.

So let’s think about big picture of what this means for taxpayers.

We know bureaucrats are overpaid.

We know they work fewer hours.

We even know bureaucrats admit to being lazy!

But the real insult to injury is when they get to do fun things at our expense.

Antigua

“If you outlaw cannons, only outlaws will have cannons”

P.S. By coincidence, I happen to be in Antigua while doing this post. I’m a big fan of the Caribbean, so it doesn’t bother me for people to go where there is warm sunshine. I just don’t want them taking trips at my expense.

P.P.S. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t detained at the airport, which happened on my last trip to Antigua.

P.P.P.S. My friend has a real (but non-operable) cannon mounted on one of his terraces. I think I read someplace that it’s legal to own a cannon in the United States, which is part of what makes America a great country. Heck, we’re allowed to own tanks, which is even cooler.

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When I wrote a few days ago about the “Continuing Obamacare Disaster,” I didn’t realize I was understating the problems with the President’s boondoggle scheme.

Now that the law’s been passed and implemented, the American people are finally finding out what’s in it (per Nancy Pelosi) and they’re not happy.

Indeed, they’re so unhappy that our overseers in Washington are scrambling to mitigate the political fallout.

The Wall Street Journal opined today on the meaning of President Obama’s announcement.

In a major political reversal, the President announced at a surprise press conference that he is suspending the regulations that he now admits are the reason that millions of health insurance plans have been terminated. …Now these mass cancellations are proving to be unpopular, and Democrats are panicking, so Mr. Obama is offering a temporary stay of execution.  …There is less reprieve here than Mr. Obama claims. It’s hard to un-cancel insurance. The rules Mr. Obama is repudiating were written in 2010, and insurers have been adapting to them for years. They will now have to scramble to revive the policies they can while throwing all of their actuarial assumptions out the window. The faux reprieve also lasts for only one year and applies only to anyone who was covered in 2013.

But even that’s not the full story. Here’s more of the editorial.

The burden will also now fall on state insurance commissioners to decide if they want to try to reapprove old plans, or something similar to the outlawed products. But even the insurers that want to exercise this option will need to resuscitate plans in a mere six weeks. The first they heard about the President’s “fix” was at the press conference. …Such regulatory rewriting is also probably illegal. The Administration claims it has “enforcement discretion” to suspend the regulations. But like the employer mandate Mr. Obama also delayed for a year, their hard start-dates are defined in the statute—January 1, 2014. The black-letter law of the Affordable Care Act does not say the rules apply whenever they are politically convenient.

Megan McArdle also thinks the White House is brazenly disregarding legal requirements.

The administration is not changing the rules, just declining to enforce them against the insurers. This is becoming a pattern: Obama’s position on the law seems to be that it’s his law, and therefore the law is whatever he and his appointees say it is. That’s dangerous for all sorts of reasons.

I’ll be less polite and say that the President is acting like America is a banana republic and he’s the tinpot dictator who can arbitrarily decide the law.

Keep this going and we’ll eventually be Argentina.

Though maybe this isn’t a bad thing. If I can somehow magically become President, I can use the Obama precedent to suspend bad tax law and to unilaterally decide to shut down a bunch of wasteful government departments.

Returning to the real world, Veronique de Rugy gives us a very important reminder in the Washington Examiner that this mess was entirely predictable because of the inherent incompetence and inefficiency of government.

Washington is missing the bigger picture of what the rollout glitches represent. That’s the much deeper problem of government intervention in general. …government-program incentives tend to favor interest groups instead of rewarding success or punishing failure in the same way as the market. …In sum, the problem with the Obamacare rollout is…that government institutions themselves are inherently prone to bad decision-making, often choosing the interest of politically favored groups. …In fact, we can expect these types of negative consequences when the government intervenes in any market — not just health care. For proof, look no further than the flawed government policies that distorted the health care system and prompted the push for Obamacare in the first place.

The final sentence is spot on. Our healthcare system was dysfunctional when Obama took office. But it was screwed up because of government intervention. So Obama’s plan to add another layer of government was a very painful example of Mitchell’s Law.

In reality, you don’t solve government-caused problems with more government.

But this brings us to the big issue of what happens next. The statists will argue that the failure of Obamacare means we need single payer healthcare, which means the government has full control of everything, like in the United Kingdom.

Needless to say, that would be a disaster. More spending and more taxes would be one obvious consequence, but it would also mean that politicians and bureaucrats would decide who lives and who dies. Stalin UK HealthIf you think that’s an exaggeration, check out this horror story (as well as the other examples linked in the third paragraph).

For those of us who care about both taxpayers and good healthcare, we need to use the Obamacare meltdown as a springboard to push for policies that will actually make the system work better.

I actually wrote back in April that Obamacare wouldn’t work and that this would create precisely this opportunity. But making a prediction is the easy part (especially since I never remind people of the times when I make inaccurate predictions). The hard part is pushing the right policies and convincing the American people that we have the right ideas.

I’m a think tank wonk, so I’ll simply list the good policies.

As part of fundamental tax reform, we need to phase out the healthcare exclusion in the tax code – a perverse policy that encourages grotesque waste, inefficiency, and featherbedding in most parts of the medical industry.

We also should reform Medicaid and Medicare to help address the part of the third-party payer crisis caused by the direct government intervention.

If you want to get an idea of how a genuine market-based system would operate, watch this superb video from Reason TV. If you want more examples, here’s a report from North Carolina on free-market healthcare in action and here’s a similar story about capitalist healthcare in Maine.

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You know things are going poorly for the Obama White House when even the New York Times is writing about the “third world experience” of Obamacare.

Heck, it’s almost gotten to the point where I feel sorry for the President.

But I guess I must be a mean-spirited anti-government ideologue, because I can’t stop myself from mocking the President’s ill-fated healthcare scheme. Whether I’m sharing funny cartoons or sarcastic videos, I can’t resist the temptation to kick Obamacare while it’s down.

In this spirit of love and togetherness, let’s take a look at some recent news about the law.

McClatchy News has a big expose that reveals the magnitude of the President’s if-you-like-your-insurance-you-can-keep-it prevarication. Let’s review a couple of excerpts from the story, beginning with a comparison of the President’s promise and the staggering revelation that as many as 52 million Americans may have the rug pulled out from under them.

Even as President Barack Obama sold a new health care law in part by assuring Americans they would be able to keep their insurance plans, his administration knew that tens of millions of people actually could lose those their policies. …report in 2010 said that as many as 69 percent of certain employer-based insurance plans would lose that protection, meaning as many as 41 million people could lose their plans even if they wanted to keep them and would be forced into other plans. Another 11 million who bought their own insurance also could lose their plans. Combined, as many as 52 million Americans could lose or have lost old insurance plans.

Amazingly, the President continues to be truth-challenged.

Obama insisted anew Thursday that the problem is limited to people who buy their own insurance. “We’re talking about 5 percent of the population who are in what’s called the individual market. They’re out there buying health insurance on their own,” he told NBC. But a closer examination finds that the number of people who have plans changing, or have already changed, could be between 34 million to 52 million. That’s because many employer-provided insurance plans also could change, not just individually purchased insurance plans.

Now let’s examine an example of what this means. The Weekly Standard reports on what has happened to some citizens from flyover country.

McDonald's Obamacare CartoonIn North Dakota, only 30 people have so far signed up for Obamacare. Meanwhile, 35,000 people have already or will be losing their existing health insurance plans in that state alone.

But that’s not the only bad news for the President’s statist healthcare scheme.

It seems that Obamacare is a gold mine for crooks and con artists. Let’s look at parts of a New York Times story.

To the list of problems plaguing President Obama’s health care law, add one more — fraud. …State and federal authorities report a rising number of consumer complaints, ranging from deceptive sales practices to identity theft, linked to the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare Identity Theft Cartoon…Some level of fraud or abuse is predictable with any big government program… But now, the technical failures troubling the HealthCare.gov website, as well as the law’s complexity, threaten to make matters worse. …Authorities warn that in some cases the come-ons are merely a ruse to get people to divulge sensitive Medicare and banking information. …Medicare has also long been a magnet for swindlers, thanks to its sheer scale and complexity. The troubled rollout of the new health care law has amplified the problem.

By the way, this story doesn’t even mention the possibility and risk of hackers and identity thieves breaking into the massive government databases that will be created as a result of Obamacare.

And if you’ll allow me to briefly digress, the same danger exists if politicians create the huge tracking-and-monitoring database that would be necessary if state politicians get the authority to tax out-of-state Internet sales.

Returning to the topic of Obamacare, it’s also worth noting that the growing burden of taxes and spending isn’t part of the aforementioned stories. Yet can there be any doubt that the program’s failures will lead to even more spending?

Not that any of us should be surprised. That’s almost always been the case when politicians create new entitlement programs. Indeed, I would pat myself on the back for making exactly this predication about Obamacare, but anybody with a room-temperature IQ knew this would happen, so I can’t claim any special insight.

But this does give me a reason to share this new Lisa Benson cartoon.

Obamacare Cost Cartoon

Needless to say, I’m enjoying the ongoing Obamacare disaster. But not just for reasons of Schadenfreude. The cluster-you-know-what of Obamacare is good news because it increases our chances of repealing the law in a few years (just as I predicted back in April).

But not just our chance to repeal Obamacare. We may actually have a chance to deal with the larger government-caused problems in our healthcare system, all of which lead to third-party payer and undermine the efficiency and low costs that exist when there is a genuine free market.

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It seems there’s a cottage industry of people in America devoted to making parody videos about one of the world’s most evil statists. And some of them make very strong points about public policy.

Here’s Hitler learning about Europe being downgraded.

And here’s the Fuehrer finding out that Scott Walker prevailed in his fight against government bureaucrats in Wisconsin.

Well, the clever folks at the Powerline Blog have added to this stellar collection. Watch as the leader of the National Socialist Workers Party learns about the failure of Obamacare.

I give this two thumbs up, five stars, and whatever else signifies a good job.

The parts about Bidencare and Hillarycare are delightfully vicious. And DC insiders will be amused by the jab at the Heritage Foundation for concocting the mandate in the first place (to be fair, Heritage has atoned for that sin by becoming one of the leading critics of Obamacare).

To augment the Hitler video, let’s share some great new Obamacare cartoons, starting with one from Henry Payne.

Obamacare Cartoon Oct 2013 3

And here’s the always clever Michael Ramirez.

Obamacare Cartoon Oct 2013 2

Last but not least, Lisa Benson weighs in with a good depiction of Obamacare’s launch.

Obamacare Cartoon Oct 2013 1

The bad news, if we can be momentarily serious, is that Obamacare’s failure is the predictable result of bad policy based on bad economics. But failure doesn’t mean the law blows up and disappears. Legislation will be required to undo the damage, which is why it’s good that some lawmakers continue to fight.

In the meantime, it’s our healthcare system – which was already messed up by government to begin with – that’s incurring the damage. Which makes this bit of humor that arrived in my inbox funny…but in a very dark way.

Obamacare Explanation

P.S. If you want to enjoy some more Obamacare humor, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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The politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists and interest groups in Washington are hyperventilating that the federal gravy train may get sidetracked for a day or two by a shutdown fight between Republicans and Democrats.

I’m not sure why they’re so agitated. After all, the shutdown is really just a slowdown since only non-essential bureaucrats are sent home. And everyone winds up getting paid for those unplanned vacations, which is why the bureaucrats I know are crossing their fingers for a lengthy confrontation.

But that describes what may happen when the new fiscal year begins tomorrow. What’s been happening in recent days, culminating today, is a feeding frenzy of end-of-the-fiscal-year wasteful spending.

Here are some details from a Washington Post expose.

This past week, the Department of Veterans Affairs bought $562,000 worth of artwork. In a single day, the Agriculture Department spent $144,000 on toner cartridges. And, in a single purchase, the Coast Guard spent $178,000 on “Cubicle Furniture Rehab.” …All week, while Congress fought over next year’s budget, federal workers were immersed in a separate frantic drama. They were trying to spend the rest of this year’s budget before it is too late. …If they don’t, the money becomes worthless to them on Oct. 1. And — even worse — if they fail to spend the money now, Congress could dock their funding in future years. The incentive, as always, is to spend. So they spent.

If you’re a taxpayer, you’ll be especially delighted to know that the “use it or lose it” spending orgy is so intense that federal contractors have to cater lunches for their sales staff. Can’t have them away from their desks, after all!

It was the return of one of Washington’s oldest bad habits: a blitz of expensive decisions, made by agencies with little incentive to save. Private contractors — worried that sequestration would result in a smaller spending rush this year — brought in food to keep salespeople at their desks. Federal workers quizzed harried colleagues in the hallways, asking if they had spent it all yet. …“Use it or lose it” season is not marked on any official government calendars. But in Washington, it is as real as Christmas. And as lucrative. …In 2012, for instance, the government spent $45 billion on contracts in the last week of September, according to calculations by the fiscal-conservative group Public Notice. That was more than any other week — 9 percent of the year’s contract spending money, spent in 2 percent of the year.

The IRS may win the prize for the most egregious example of last-minute waste.

In 2010, for instance, the Internal Revenue Service had millions left over in an account to hire new personnel. The money would expire at year’s end. Its solution was not a smart one. The IRS spent the money on a lavish conference. Which included a “Star Trek” parody video starring IRS managers. Which was filmed on a “Star Trek” set that the IRS paid to build. (Sample dialogue: “We’ve received a distress call from the planet NoTax.”)

But it’s not just tax collectors who flush our money down the toilet in creative ways.

One recent study, for instance, found that information technology contracts signed at year’s end often produced noticeably worse results than those signed in calmer times. …they listed dumb things they had seen bought: three years’ worth of staples. Portable generators that never got used. One said the National Guard bought so much ammunition that firing it all became a chore. “When you get BORED from shooting MACHINE GUNS, there is a problem,” an anonymous employee wrote.

Impressive examples of waste, though I confess I’m curious about the part about ammo and the National Guard. Does this mean bullets are like milk and have to be fired before an expiration date?

Beats me, but at least someone in the government acknowledged that (at least up to a point) it’s cool to fire a machine gun. Maybe that person should hook up with the Texas cop who likes tanks.

Oh, and you’ll be happy to know that spendaholic bureaucrats and crafty interest groups keep track of time zones so they can squander money until the very last second.

On Monday, Richer’s people will sell until midnight. Then they will keep selling. “Money rolls across the continent,” the feds say. Cash not spent in Washington might be spent by federal offices in California in the three hours before it is midnight there. When it is midnight in California — 3 a.m. in Washington — they will keep on. There are federal offices in Hawaii, after all. And it will still be three hours until midnight there.

Makes me think that we may need a slogan for the bureaucracy. Perhaps this modification of the Postal Service’s unofficial motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night – nor even different time zones – stays these bureaucrats from spending every possible penny of other people’s money.”

But let’s close on an upbeat note. Whether you give credit to the Tea Party, to Republicans, to gridlock, or to Obama, the good news is that the federal government in the past two years has been wasting money at a slower rate.

So taxpayers can smile…or at least not frown as much. The bureaucracy and contractors may be throwing a party today, but not with the same reckless abandon they displayed between 2001 and 2010.

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Maybe it’s because I have a bit of a old-fashioned moralistic streak to me, but I viscerally object to the notion that good people should pay bad people not to do bad things.

That’s why, a few years ago, I didn’t react favorably when the former dictator of Libya asked for several billion dollars per year to stop illegals from crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.

And this also explains why I don’t think American taxpayers should cough up $1 billion to bribe Syria’s dictator into giving up his chemical weapons.

In this interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News, I make the basic libertarian argument that we shouldn’t be involved in Syria’s civil war, but I also make a practical argument that – if you accept that American tax dollars should be spent – it would be much cheaper to bribe a few high-level people in Assad’s government.

Since I’m not a foreign policy expert, I don’t think I said anything particularly memorable in the above segment.

But one line apparently did resonate. Here’s Senator Rand Paul, speaking later that day.

I have to admit that made my day. Sort of like when Chairman Brady mentioned Mitchell’s Golden Rule in his opening statement when I testified last week to the Joint Economic Committee.

Of course, I’d like it even better if some of the ideas I support (like the flat tax or smaller government) actually wound up being implemented, but at least it’s nice to be noticed.

Fighting for freedom is often a thankless task in DC

Being a libertarian in Washington, after all, is not the easiest job. To quote former Senator Phil Gramm, it’s like trying to do the Lord’s work in the Devil’s city.

P.S. Any time I begin to get cocky and think I’m some sort of hot shot, something happens to pull me back down to earth. In my Syria interview, you may have noticed that my mouth looked a bit red. That’s because I made the mistake of eating some red candies that were in the car that took me to the interview.

As the old saying goes, you can dress me up, but you can’t take me out. That’s why I’m glad Senator Paul picked up on my line (which I stole from somebody, so I can’t really take credit) about threatening Syria with Obamacare. Otherwise, I probably would have been reluctant to even post the interview.

P.P.S. As I intimated in the interview, the best way to learn more about foreign policy is to read the scholarly writings of my colleagues from the Cato Institute. You also can’t go wrong by perusing these columns by Mark Steyn, George Will, and Steve Chapman.

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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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As I explained back in April, I’m cautiously optimistic that Obamacare will fall apart for the simple reason that it’s impossible to have a workable government-run healthcare system without the type of brutal rationing and sub-standard care found in places like the United Kingdom.

So part of me is happy that the White House has bumped into reality and now admits that it hasn’t been able to come up with a workable plan for the employer mandate.

But another part of me is unhappy.

One of the defining characteristics of a civilized government is adherence to the rule of law. Clearly written laws, applied equally and enforced fairly, are a big reason why nations such as Denmark can endure a big welfare state while countries like Argentina suffer from long-term relative decline even though it appears they have a smaller burden of government.

With this in mind, I’m rather troubled that the Obama Administration thinks it has carte blanche to arbitrarily disregard a legal requirement to implement the employer mandate beginning January 1, 2014. Even though it’s a bad law that should be completely repealed!

(This quandary reminds me of the old joke that the definition of mixed emotions is when your mother-in-law drives off a cliff…in your new car.)

My Cato colleague Michael Tanner is an expert on Obamacare, and here’s some of his analysis from The Daily Caller.

The dominoes are falling. The administration’s decision to postpone implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate until after the 2014 midterm elections is just the first to fall. More will be falling soon thanks to the administration’s belated recognition that the health care law will be a job-killing burden on business. In fact, this is actually the second major part of Obamacare to be postponed in the past few months. This spring, the administration announced that the ACA Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) would be postponed until at least 2015. …Or perhaps we should call this the third major part of the law to fall apart. In 2011, the administration was forced to permanently postpone implementation of the CLASS Act, Obamacare’s long-term care program.

So far, so good. Obamacare is imploding, just as many of us predicted.

Oh, it’s worth noting that there’s another shoe ready to drop.

The administration is also struggling to implement Obamacare’s federally run insurance exchanges. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has insisted that the federal government will be able to set up and run exchanges in some 33 states where state governments have chosen not to, but Sebelius has been unable to provide Congress or the public with a credible plan for doing so. A new report from the Government Accountability Office questions whether the exchanges will really be operational by their October 1 deadline.

Gee, I’m totally shocked to learn that government is incompetent. Knock me over with a feather!

But let’s focus on the part of the law that the White House just decided to ignore. Mike explains the meaning of the delayed employer mandate.

…the administration’s decision to postpone the employer mandate may make a bad situation worse, at least for workers. The postponement affects only the mandate that employers (with 50 or more workers) provide insurance. The individual mandate remains in place, requiring nearly all Americans to have insurance or pay a fine. Individuals who would otherwise have gotten insurance through their employers may now be forced to purchase their own insurance. It increasingly looks as though that insurance will be very expensive, especially for the young and healthy. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, some consumers “could see insurance rates double or even triple when they look for individual coverage under the federal health law later this year.”

However, the White House has concocted a “solution” for the problem of providing subsidies to individuals in the absence of information from employers.

They’re going to offer people big piles of free money and rely on the honor system.

I’m not joking. Here’s how the editors at the Wall Street Journal describe the new system.

HHS now says it will no longer attempt to verify individual eligibility for insurance subsidies and instead will rely on self-reporting, with minimal efforts to verify if the information consumers provide is accurate. …People are supposed to receive subsidies only if their employer does not provide federally approved health benefits. Since HHS now won’t require business to report those benefits or enforce the standards until 2015, it says it can’t ask ObamaCare’s “exchange” bureaucracies to certify who qualifies either. …In other words, anyone can receive subsidies tied to income without judging the income they declare against the income data the Internal Revenue Service collects.

Needless to say, this will mean far higher costs for taxpayers, just as many of us warned even before the law was approved.

…that is the system Democrats installed when they passed the law, which is not supposed to be optional due to administrative incompetence. HHS promises to develop “a more robust verification process,” some day, but the result starting in October may be millions of people getting subsidies who don’t legally qualify. This would mean huge increases in ObamaCare spending. Some of these folks could be fraudsters, much as 21% to 25% of Earned Income Tax Credits flow to people who aren’t eligible, according to the Treasury inspector general. The same error rate for ObamaCare would amount to as much as $250 billion in improper payments in its first decade.

Here’s the bottom line.

HHS’s logistical challenges are real. But our bet is that the Administration is also using them as a pretense in a deliberate bid to make it much easier to join the exchanges. That’s because the health planners are terrified that enough healthy, low-cost people won’t sign up and therefore the Affordable Care Act’s strict regulations on underwriting and risk-pooling will blow up insurance markets. As more and more of ObamaCare tumbles, the Administration is resorting to anything that can salvage the goal of permanently expanding the U.S. entitlement state.

In other words, the White House is willing to sacrifice the rule of law (not to mention quality health care) in order to achieve a political goal of expanded dependency.

Let’s close on a humorous note with some great cartoons, starting with this gem from Gary Varvel.

Obamacare Cartoon July 2013 2

If you like the “train wreck” theme, you can see a great Steven Kelley cartoon by clicking here.

Next we have a Nate Beeler cartoon that makes the very obvious connection between the latest White House decision and the 2014 midterm elections.

Obamacare Cartoon July 2013 3

The Democrats lost 25 House seats in 2010 because of Obamacare according to one academic study, so maybe Obama is being clever by postponing part of the law.

Here’s a Lisa Benson cartoon that captures the haphazard and sloppy way the law was put together.

Obamacare Cartoon July 2013 4

I guess Nancy Pelosi was right when she said that the law had to pass before we discovered what was in it (though as Gary Varvel illustrates here, all the surprises are bad).

Let’s conclude with two cartoons that take a big-picture look at Obamacare, beginning with one from Chip Bok that was very appropriate on July 4.

Obamacare Cartoon July 2013 1

Last but not least, we have a great cartoon from Rick McKee.

Obamacare Cartoon July 2013 5

If I haven’t exhausted your interest in Obamacare cartoons, you can enjoy some more by clicking here, here, here, here, and here.

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Notwithstanding the title of this post, I’m not writing about how the government wastes foreign aid money in an attempt to bribe foreign governments into supporting the United States.

Instead, this is a story about how politicians and bureaucrats throw our money down the toilet.

Let’s start by looking at some aggravating and nauseating example of government boondoggles.

Every one of these stories is a disgusting example of how the political class in Washington squanders our money in a frivolous manner, generally in ways that line the pockets of well-connected insiders.

And as you might imagine, every day brings new revelations of waste. The latest boondoggle to catch my eye is from the State Department, which has been pissing away money in an attempt to “buy friends.”

Here’s some of what Foreign Policy reported on this scandal.

…web-savvy State Department employees spent $630,000 to earn more Facebook “likes,” in an effort that struggled to reach its target audience, according to a searing Inspector General’s report… Between 2011 and March 2013, the department’s Bureau of the International Information Programs, tried to boost the seeming popularity of the department’s Facebook properties by advertising and page improvements. But the results weren’t so good… “Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as ‘buying fans’ who may have once clicked on an ad or ‘liked’ a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further,” reads the Inspector General report.

Gee, isn’t this just great. My tax dollars are being flushed down a toilet so some geeks at the State Department could create the illusion that more people liked some propaganda pages.

But we’re talking about government, so let’s not forget mindless duplication.

The IG report stings — especially because the Bureau of International Information and Programs is supposed to be Foggy Bottom’s epicenter of online savvy. …overlap and coordination issues trouble the various bureau’s 150 social media accounts. The report also mentions a “pervasive perception of cronyism” exacerbating its already “serious morale problem.” …Some of the issues are rather tedious, like whether embassy staffers should go to the Office of Web Engagement or the Office of Innovative Engagement for advice on social media.

Perhaps I’m just old fashioned, but why on earth am I paying for an “Office of Web Engagement” and an “Office of Innovative Engagement.” Not only that, but I’m paying for them to squabble over who gets to hold more meetings and produce more memos?!?

Since I’m a peacemaker, I have a very simply solution to that controversy. Let’s abolish both of those worthless parts of the federal behemoth.

Let’s close by looking at the big picture. My leftist friends, when confronted by this boondoggle, or other examples of government waste, have a formulaic response: “You’re fixating on a trivial issue that equals only an infinitesimally small share of the budget,” they say, “entitlements account for the lion’s share of federal spending.”

That’s true, but since they oppose genuine entitlement reform, I’m not sure that point they’re trying to make.

But even if entitlements somehow didn’t exist and the overall fiscal outlook was positive rather than negative, would that justify waste in government?

It’s never a good idea to give more money to the crowd in Washington. They have no incentive to behave in a prudent fashion. Reminds me of these wise words of advice from Milton Friedman.

There are four ways to spend money.

1. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why you really watch out for what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money.

2. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well then, I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost.

3. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m going to have a good lunch!

4. Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it costs, and I’m not concerned about what I get.

And that’s government. And that’s close to 40 percent of our national income.

P.S. But don’t forget that the bloated government Friedman warns us about also is the major source and cause of corruption in Washington.

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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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A couple of years ago, I shared a chart that powerfully demonstrated why Greece was in fiscal crisis.

The chart, which showed the explosive growth of the government bureaucracy, also provided some indication of why reform would be so difficult.

Once a majority of a country’s voting-age population is riding in the wagon of government dependency, it is very difficult to build political support for reform.

Now I have another story that perfectly symbolizes Greece’s dysfunctional situation.

It involves the Greek equivalent of a mooching Big Bird-style state-run media. Let’s start with an excerpt from the UK-based Independent.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras faces a political revolt after pulling the plug on the country’s state broadcaster in the middle of the night. News presenters were cut off mid-sentence when Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT), the 75-year-old state television station, was dragged off-air just hours after the decision was announced, in what the government described as a temporary measure to stem the flow of wasted taxpayers’ money into a channel plagued by “excesses”. …In announcing the reasons for the move, Mr Kedikoglou listed a catalogue of ERT’s excesses, which include three orchestras paid as civil servants and 19 provincial radio stations which broadcast only four hours of original programmes each day.

What’s remarkable is that the government isn’t even proposing to get rid of handouts. They just want to reduce the amount of money spent on government media, which is financed by money involuntarily extracted from consumers via their electricity bills.

Here’s what a local English-language news source reported.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou argued that ERT had become bloated and needed to be overhauled but PASOK and Democratic Left said they had not given their consent for it to be shut down. Kedikoglou said the new broadcaster would have an annual budget of 100 million euros, rather than the 300 million ERT currently gets from license fees levied via electricity bills.

 

But maybe there is hope for Greece. Some people (perhaps like the long-suffering tax slaves I wrote about two years ago) are fed up with overpaid government officials.

Here’s an excerpt from the BBC about the private sector’s non-response to a strike called by a “communist-backed labour group”.

City streets have been as full as usual with commuters and car traffic. Supermarkets have been open for business and cafes serving customers as usual. “The lowest ERT employee is making in a day what I’m making in a week, so why should I strike for them?” vegetable-seller Yannis Papailias told Reuters news agency in Athens. “Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. Who protested for them?” asked waitress Maria Skylakou. Unions representing about 2.5 million workers have repeatedly gone on strike in Greece since Europe’s debt crisis erupted in late 2009, although action has been less frequent and more muted lately than last year when marches frequently turned violent. Corruption and mismanagement are widely known to exist within ERT, a public company symptomatic of Greece’s past mistakes.

Wow, the bureaucrats make in a day what someone in the private sector makes in a week. Even if that number is exaggerated by 50 percent, that’s still a remarkable indication of how government in Greece has become a racket for entrenched bureaucrats and interest groups.

And we thought it was bad that federal bureaucrats in the United States got twice as much compensation as people in the economy’s productive sector!

P.S. Don’t let anyone tell you Greece has made “too many” budget cuts. The government in Athens is infamous for being insanely wasteful, even to the point of subsidizing pedophiles and requiring stool samples from folks applying to set up online companies.

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Here’s another entry for our UK vs US Government Stupidity Contest. Or perhaps it belongs in the great-moments-in-government-waste category.

The spendaholics in Washington have squandered $400,000 on underwear that detects cigarette smoke.

I’m not joking. Here are some details from CNS.

Coming Soon to Victoria's Secret: Trendy and Sexy Government-Funded Underwear

Coming Soon to Victoria’s Secret: Trendy and Sexy Government-Funded Underwear

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded more than $400,000 to a research project involving underwear that can detect when a person smokes cigarettes. …the project…so far has produced a “very early prototype” of the monitoring system, which — in its current state — fits like a vest. …“The modern methods of monitoring smoking, primarily you rely on self-report,” said Dr. Edward Sazonov, an associate professor at the University of Alabama… The PACT Sazonov created is a “very early prototype,” that fits like a vest with multiple straps and wires, far from the “non-invasive, wearable” underwear the project developers had in mind. “It’s not very user friendly,” Sazonov said.

And it’s definitely not taxpayer friendly either.

Why is Uncle Sam wasting $400,000-plus on ugly and clunky underwear? The excuse for this boondoggle is that it will help monitor whether people smoke.

I fail to see how this would promote smoking cessation. I assume 99.99 percent of smokers are aware that they smoke.

Or are we going to have some sort of nanny-state program with the government forcing people to wear the underwear so the snoops in DC can monitor our private lives.

But even if that type of intrusive system would work, why is smoking any business of the federal government? It’s certainly not one of the enumerated powers in Article I, Section VIII.

This is yet another reason why there shouldn’t be any discussion of tax increases. Any government that has $400,000 to spend on a cigarette vest obviously has far too much money on its hands.

P.S. An odious and ridiculous subset of the UK-US Stupidity Contest is anti-gun political correctness. You can read absurd examples here.

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National defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government, but that doesn’t mean the military should get a blank check to spend unlimited amounts of money.

To make sure taxpayers get the best bang for the buck (no pun intended), there should be a sober assessment of threats to national security and a plan to defend against those threats without adding superfluous expenditures.

That being said, America already accounts for close to 50 percent of world military spending, with another 25 percent of the global total coming from nations that are allied to the United States, so I’m fairly confident that we’re not under-spending on the Pentagon.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t worry that much about the sequester, particularly since military spending actually climbs by about $100 billion over the next 10 years.

But I would like the Defense Department to have some flexibility to reallocate funds so that we spend money on national security rather than boondoggles.

And there are some absurd examples of waste at the Pentagon, including “green” jet fuel that costs 15 times as much as regular fuel. Here are some of the mind-boggling details from the Washington Examiner.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently warned that sequestration would cause “suspension of important activities, curtailed training, and could result in furloughs of civilian personnel” but the spending cuts haven’t killed the green fuels program, as the Pentagon has continued purchasing renewable fuel at $59 per gallon. “In March, Gevo entered into a contract with the Defense Logistics Agency to supply the U.S. Army with 3,650 gallons of renewable jet fuel to be delivered by the second quarter of 2013,” Gevo announced this week in its first quarter financial report. “This initial order may be increased by 12,500 gallons.

This is even worse than the bizarre $600,000 frog statue than the Defense Department selected to adorn a new $700 million office building.

Military Frog SculptureI realize that the $700 million office building should be the bigger issue, but I can’t help but be irked by the thought that taxpayers are being raped and pillaged for the frog.

In any event, the $700 million for the office building is pocket change compared to the amount of money we misallocate to subsidize Western Europe to protect against a Warsaw Pact military alliance that no longer exists!

Yes, it’s true that America’s main fiscal problem is entitlement spending. And, yes, domestic discretionary spending is a bigger problem than the defense budget.

But wasting money in those areas is not a reason to also have waste at the Pentagon.

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Remember the Spending Quiz from 2010, which asked people to guess whether absurd examples of government waste were true or false?

Well, we have a new video on government waste, though bureaucrats and politicians have become so profligate it doesn’t even bother to trick people with fake examples.

While very well done, I do have two small complaints about the video.

First, it asks whether we should cut spending or raise taxes to deal with the national debt. I think that’s too narrow. We shouldn’t be wasting money even if the budget was balanced and there wasn’t a penny of debt.

In other words, the problem isn’t deficits. Red ink is just a symptom. The real problem is that government is too big.

Second, the video sort of acquiesces to the dishonest Washington terminology by asking whether we should cut spending or raise taxes, implying those are the only two options. I favor genuine spending cuts, of course, but the most accurate way of phrasing the question is to ask whether we should cut spending, restrain spending, or let government grow on auto-pilot.

As I explained earlier this year, we can balance the budget in just 10 years if spending grows “only” 3.4 percent per year. When people understand that detail, there’s almost no support for higher taxes.

But I’m nitpicking. Overall, a very good video.

P.S. If the examples of pork-barrel spending in the video get you angry, you’ll probably have a stroke if you also watch the waste video from the folks at Government Gone Wild.

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I’ve posted some horrifying examples about what happens when you put politicians and bureaucrats in charge of health care.

The story that makes every guy wince comes from Sweden, where a man wound up having his penis amputated because of government incompetence.

And I’ve shared numerous examples of substandard care from the United Kingdom, in part because I can’t resist mocking Paul Krugman.

Speaking of the U.K., here’s a story that may lure some young men into supporting government-run healthcare.

Did taxpayers get good value for their money?

…22-year-old Josie Cunningham recently was approved for breast enhancement surgery that cost more than $7,000, and paid for entirely by taxpayers, reports Opposing Views. Why? Because she told her General Practitioner that being flat-chested was causing her emotional distress. “My GP referred me for the operation because I wasn’t just flat-chested — I didn’t have any boobs whatsoever,” Cunningham said. “I could never go on holiday as I lived in terror of ever being seen in a bikini and could never set foot outside without a padded bra.” Her doctor’s prescription to counter the “emotional distress” was to enhance her breast size from a 32A to 36DD.

I’ve never heard of the website that contains this story, and I’ve never heard of Opposing Views, where it supposedly originated, so I confess to being a bit skeptical of this story.

Then again, who would have guessed that the government in the United Kingdom would provide taxpayer-financed sex trips to Amsterdam? Or that the bureaucrats at the European Commission would be able to get penile implants at public expense?

Closer to home, let’s not forget that Obamacare allows taxpayer-subsidized viagra for sex offenders! And Medicare pays for penis pumps, which creates frightening visual images.

So even if this specific story isn’t true, I have no doubt that the British government has squandered money in similar ways.

P.S. Speaking of breast augmentation, one of the few well-functioning parts of the American healthcare system is cosmetic surgery. Why? Because consumers largely pay out of pocket and, as a result, costs are restrained.

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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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Most of my work on government stimulus focuses on economic theory and evidence.

But every so often it’s a good idea to remind ourselves of the ridiculous ways that government wastes money.

Here are some details from a boondoggle in West Virginia.

Nobody told Hurricane librarian Rebecca Elliot that the $22,600 Internet router in the branch library’s storage closet was powerful enough to serve an entire college campus. Nobody told Elliot how much the router cost or who paid for it. Workers just showed up and installed the device. They left behind no instructions, no user manual. The high-end router serves four public computer terminals at the small library in Putnam County. …The state of West Virginia is using $24 million in federal economic stimulus money to put high-powered Internet computer routers in small libraries, elementary schools and health clinics, even though the pricey equipment is designed to serve major research universities, medical centers and large corporations, a Gazette-Mail investigation has found. …The Cisco 3945 series routers, which cost $22,600 each, are built to serve “tens of thousands” of users or device connections, according to a Cisco sales agent. The routers are designed to serve a minimum of 500 users. Yet state broadband project officials directed the installation of the stimulus-funded Cisco routers in West Virginia schools with fewer than a dozen computers and libraries that have only a single terminal for patrons.

Sounds like the government could have bought every user a laptop and squandered less money.

It’s important to realize that this type of boondoggle is the rule, not the exception. Every so often, we see stories about absurd waste, such as the $423,000 study to find out that men don’t like to wear condoms, the Pentagon spending $900 on a $7 control switch, or a $100,000 library grant to a city without a library.

We should get upset about these examples. But remember that the second cartoon in this post is exactly right. The waste, fraud, and pork that we find out about is dwarfed by what remains hidden.

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I’ve explained before that “high-speed rail” is a boondoggle, and I’ve also posted a thorough presentation on the topic from the folks at Reason about this issue.

But some politicians can’t resist throwing good money after bad on these money-losing schemes. The latest example is from the People’s Republic of California, where Governor Jerry Brown is acting as if he wants the state to become a basket case.

Here are some passages from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial on the topic.

The good news in this debacle is that the state’s fiscal woes will make it nearly impossible to complete Governor Jerry Brown’s runaway high-speed rail train. The bad news is that the Governor is going to try anyway. Transportation experts warn that the 500-mile bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles could cost more than $100 billion, though the Governor pegs the price at a mere $68 billion. The state has $12.3 billion in pocket, $9 billion from the state and $3.3 billion from the feds, but Mr. Brown hasn’t a clue where he’ll get the rest. …In 2008 voters approved $9 billion in bonds for construction under the pretense that the train would cost only $33 billion and be financed primarily by the federal government and private enterprise. Investors, however, won’t put up any money because the rail authority’s business plans are too risky. Rail companies have refused to operate the train without a revenue guarantee, which the ballot initiative prohibits. Even contractors are declining to bid on the project because they’re worried they won’t get paid. Mr. Brown is hoping that Washington will pony up more than $50 billion, but the feds have committed only $3.3 billion so far—and Republicans intend to claw it back if they take the Senate and White House this fall. If that happens, the state won’t have enough money to complete its first 130-mile segment in the lightly populated Central Valley, which in any event wouldn’t be operable since the state can’t afford to electrify the tracks. …Mr. Brown and the White House are betting that the state will be in far too deep when the money runs out to abandon this mission on Camino Unreal. The Governor also figures that the $100 billion bill will seem smaller spread out over 30 years. What’s an extra $3 billion a year when the state’s already $16 billion in the hole?

The uncharitable part of me is thinking “Good, these morons are getting exactly what they deserve since voters were foolish enough to approve the 2008 referendum.”

But even though I think there is a value in having bad examples (whether cities or countries), it is tragic to see a beautiful state destroyed by reckless politicians and their big-government schemes.

I wrote that year that the last job creator to leave California should make sure to turn off the lights. I doubt that will be necessary since the electrical system probably will have failed by that time.

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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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Republicans are telling voters that they’ve learned the hard lessons from the 2006 and 2008 elections and that they are back on the side of taxpayers. I’m not convinced, which is why I’ve outlined some key tests that will demonstrate whether the GOP genuinely supports limited government.

o No tax increases, since more money for Washington will encourage a bigger burden of government and undermine prosperity.

o To stop bailouts for Europe’s decrepit welfare states, no more money for the International Monetary Fund.

o Reform the biased number-crunching methodology at the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation.

o No more money from American taxpayers to subsidize the left-wing bureaucrats at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I have another item to add to this list, and it’s one that may actually go the right way.

It appears that there’s a chance to end a major source of corporate welfare known as the Export-Import Bank. As the irreplaceable Tim Carney notes, a handful of Republicans are standing up for free markets over corrupt cronyism.

Ex-Im reauthorization typically passes easily. But after the Wall Street bailouts, Fannie Mae’s bailout, Solyndra’s collapse, and the rise of the Tea Party, many conservatives in Washington have grown hostile to corporate welfare. The free-enterprise Club for Growth, which was central in 2010 in helping conservatives and hurting moderate Republicans, blasted Ex-Im as “nothing more than a corporate welfare slush fund for companies with the best lobbyists.”

You won’t be surprised to learn that the President wants to expand this honeypot of corporate welfare. Here’s some of what George Will wrote about Obama’s plan to divert more capital to subsidize the well-connected.

This looks like a promise to compound market distortions by further politicizing credit markets, while enunciating no limiting principle. Obama is directing the bank to offer United Airlines a subsidy to match any subsidy Canada offers to persuade United to choose the Montreal-made Bombardier as United chooses between it, Boeing and Airbus. So American taxpayers will subsidize United to subsidize Boeing, which is already being subsidized in ways injurious to Delta and others.

Other than self-interested companies with their snouts in the trough – and the politicians and lobbyists they finance, it is very difficult to find any legitimate argument for this cesspool of cronyism.

One of the few self-professed conservatives to support the program is Hugh Hewitt, though I’m befuddled how anybody who supports corporate welfare (and Mitt Romney) can call himself a conservative.

But let’s set that aside. Hewitt’s main argument is that exports are good and that the federal government should subsidize good things. If that argument sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard Barack Obama say that health insurance is good and that the federal government should subsidize good things.

If you think I’m being unfair, I invite you to read the column. You’ll be especially amused by this passage.

Hamilton argued for a trading empire, a robust union deploying its combined power and resources to advance the nation’s interests abroad to the benefit of its merchants and thus its people at home.

Sounds reasonable, but Hewitt fails to mention that Hamilton’s view of “a robust union” did not include subsidized exports. Heck, Hewitt notes earlier in his column didn’t exist until it was created during the New Deal – about 130 years after Hamilton’s death!

Besides, the Export-Import Bank doesn’t even have an impact on trade balances, as explained by my colleague Sallie James, so mercantilists are barking up the wrong tree.

The Ex-Im Bank at best recreates, and at worst misallocates, private financial behavior. And to what end? The U.S. General Accounting Office (now the Government Accounting Office) has pointed out that“export promotion programs cannot produce a substantial change in the U.S. trade balance.” A country’s trade balance is driven largely by underlying macroeconomic factors, such as the ratio of savings to investment.  …rather than authorizing an increase in the Ex-Im Bank’s operating bud-get, or expanding its role in the U.S. economy,Congress should recognize that the alleged justifications for the Ex-Im Bank’s existence are hollow and abolish the agency completely.

Let’s also address the argument of Frank Gaffney, who normally is sensible about public policy. He makes the claim that the Export-Import bank is a profitable activity for the Treasury.

the Export-Import Bank is a money-making activity for the U.S. government.  According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, since 2005, Ex-Im loans, guarantees and insurance programs have returned $3.4 billion over and above its costs and loss reserves, with a default rate of less than 2%.  That includes $400 million in 2011 alone.

Since defenders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac made the same claims up until the eve of the financial crisis, this is not exactly a compelling claim. And deposit insurance premiums were a money-maker for the federal government prior to the Savings & Loan crisis about 20 years ago.

It’s possible, of course, that the Ex-Im Bank avoids losses in the future, but that’s not the key point. The real issue is whether the allocation of capital should be distorted by government subsidies. I imagine the government could “profit” by giving sweetheart loans to selected big companies, which would allow those firms to undercut their competitors. Such a scheme might generate some revenue, but it would still undermine prosperity and foment corruption.

Last but not least, don’t forget the moral component. This is a debate about whether ordinary Americans should directly and indirectly pay for a program that enriches some of the biggest companies and richest shareholders in America.

This galls me so much that I’m motivated to create another narcissistic poster (adding to Mitchell’s Law and Mitchell’s Golden Rule), which I’ll call Mitchell’s Guide to an Ethical Bleeding Heart.

This is a formalized version of something I wrote when writing last year about a disgraceful welfare queen.

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I’ve written about the government’s war on consumer-friendly light bulbs (and also similar attacks on working toilets and washing machines that actually clean), so I’m generally not surprised by bureaucratic nonsense.

But even I’m shocked the federal government gave an affordability award for a light bulb that costs $50. I’m not making this up. Here’s a blurb from ABC News.

The U.S. government has awarded appliance-maker Philips $10 million for devising an “affordable” alternative to today’s standard 60-watt incandescent bulb. That standard bulb sells for around $1. The Philips alternative sells for $50. Of course, the award-winner is no ordinary bulb. It uses only one-sixth the energy of an incandescent. And it lasts 30,000 hours–about 30 times as long. In fact, if you don’t drop it, it may last 10 years or more. But only the U.S. Government (in this case, the Department of Energy) could view a $50 bulb as cheap.

Isn’t that wonderful? My tax dollars were used to reward a company that produced a light bulb I can’t afford.

Lisa Benson has a very good cartoon about this light bulb, as well as the less-than-shocking news that Obamacare will be more costly than originally forecast.

If you like Lisa’s work, there are some other good examples here and here.

Last but not least, I’m up in New York City for an investment funds conference about the Cayman Islands. Not a bad view from my window, though you need to click on the image to get a good idea of what I woke up to.

Too bad the state and the city are high-tax hell holes.

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