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Archive for the ‘Sleaze’ Category

I don’t like former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. But not because of any personal interactions. I don’t think I’ve every even been in the same room as him, much less ever met him.

But I know that he did nothing to restrain the reckless expansion of government when he had power during the Bush years. Indeed, he fought against those who tried to throw sand in the gears.

So I’ll admit a certain Schadenfreude now that he’s in legal trouble. But I’m also irked. He’s being charged with something that shouldn’t be a crime, while getting (at least so far) a free pass for the bad things that he has done.

As is so often the case, Tim Carney has the right perspective. Here’s some of what he wrote for the Washington Examiner.

If the the stories that have leaked in the media are true, the true sin Hastert committed is unspeakable, but possibly unprosecutable. There is one aspect of the Hastert scandal, however, that reflects a problem that is more troubling than “structuring” bank withdrawals… How in the world could a school-teacher-turned lawmaker afford to pay, reportedly, $3.5 million in hush money?

Tim answers his own question, citing the government’s corrupt ban on incandescent light bulbs.

Hastert monetized his public service into a lucrative lobbying career — largely by increasing government. One telling episode begins in May 2007. Hastert at that time was a chief cosponsor of the “light bulb ban,” the law that effectively outlawed the traditional incandescent bulb, forcing consumers to buy more expensive fluorescent bulbs and LEDs. …in March 2008, Hastert joined Polybrite “as a strategic advisor,” according to a company press release. A year later, after he had joined K Street lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro, Hastert officially registered as a lobbyist for Polybrite… Hastert’s first lobbying work for Polybrite…was his job to try to get stimulus money for Polybrite.

Hmmm… I wonder is Polybrite was part of the $27 bulb stimulus scandal?

But nanny-state light bulbs are just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s another example.

Ethanol subsidies were another Hastert special. In the first three months of 2015, the ethanol industry lobby group, Fuels America, paid Dickstein Shapiro $60,000 for ethanol-mandate lobbying by Hastert and another lobbyist. All the House members Hastert had rewarded with committee assignments, earmarks and co-sponsorships were now taking phone calls from their former commander on behalf of green-tinted subsidy sucklers. This is part of how Washington turned a school teacher into a millionaire.

In other words, Hastert is a poster child (along with Harry Reid, Bob Dole, and countless others) for the proposition that Washington is basically a giant scam operated for the benefit of insiders who get rich by taking money from earners and producers and giving it to those with political connections.

Which is my message in this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

But now let’s return to the main topic. Hastert wasn’t charged with being a sleazy insider who used connections to pillage money from taxpayers and steer it to corrupt clients.

Instead, he’s being charged with violating “money laundering” laws that shouldn’t even exist. Here’s some of what Warren Coats (a colleague on the Editorial Board of the Cayman Financial Review) wrote on this topic.

Mr. Hastert is being charged with violating our Anti Money Laundering (AML) laws. These laws allow arresting and convicting people for moving money (as Mr. Hastert was doing) that the government thinks was the proceeds of crime (not the case with Mr. Hastert, his crime was failing to report what he planned to with his money), when they are not able to prove that there was a crime in the first place. As far as I know, paying a blackmailer (which is what Mr. Hastert apparently did) is not a crime, though demanding and receiving such money is. The United States has pushed such legislation and the new bureaucracies needed to enforce it all over the world at the cost of billions and billions of dollars (that could have been used for poverty reduction or other more pressing things) with very little if any benefit to show for it. Charging Dennis Hastert with AML violations is a rare exception. Wow, what a benefit for such intrusions into our private lives. I consider AML laws more than a costly waste of money. They are another expansion of the arbitrary power of governments that can be used for good or ill with limited oversight.

For more information, here’s the video I narrated on why it’s inefficient and intrusive to require banks to spy on their customers.

I suppose the bottom line is that Dennis Hastert is a bad person who did bad things, so he deserves some payback. And that’s exactly what he’s getting.

But I can’t help but wish he was punished for the right reason.

P.S. Like most fans of the New York Yankees, I’m not a big fan of the irrelevant quasi-Major League team on Long Island.

But I confess my allegiances are just an accident of birth, family, and geography.

However, I now have a policy reason to dislike the Mets.

The New York Mets have become the first sports team to join the nationwide anti-gun campaign, aligning with celebrities like Piers Morgan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to back today’s National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Sponsored by the Michael Bloomberg-backed Everytown for Gun Safety, people with some 200 organizations are wearing orange to draw attention to the issue. According to the group, the Mets even dressed in orange to show their support.

It’s both amazing and disappointing that there were no real Americans on the team who refused to participate in this attack on the Constitution.

To offset this bad news, here’s some anti-gun control humor to brighten your day.

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In the past week, I’ve written two columns (here and here) extolling the benefits of federalism.

So I now feel compelled to warn that my support for decentralization is not motivated by some Pollyannish view of sub-national governments.

State and local government officials are perfectly capable of adopting policies that lead to the absurd waste of taxpayer money and grotesque abuse of citizens.

And they also are just as proficient at sleaze as their cousins in Washington.

Politico has a sobering report on pervasive state-level corruption. They start with a rundown of what’s been happening with the criminal class in the Empire State.

Other states have plenty of corruption, but it’s hard to beat New York when it comes to sheer volume. The criminal complaint Monday against Dean Skelos, the state Senate majority leader, and his son Adam came just three months after charges were brought against Sheldon Silver, then the Assembly Speaker. Having the top leaders in both chambers face criminal charges in the same session is an unparalleled achievement, but Skelos is now the fifth straight Senate majority leader in Albany to face them. …Senate Republicans are standing by Skelos, but if they decide to make a change, they probably won’t turn to Thomas Libous, the chamber’s Number Two leader. He faces trial this summer on charges of lying to the FBI… All told, more than two dozen members of the New York state legislature have been indicted or resigned in disgrace over the past five years.

New York seems to breed corruption, probably because it is a profligate state and there is a well-established relationship between the size of government and the opportunities for malfeasance.

But other states are doing their best to show corruption and government go hand in hand.

Silver was one of four state House Speakers to face criminal charges over the past year (Alabama, Rhode Island and South Carolina are home to the others). In Massachusetts, three Speakers prior to current incumbent Robert DeLeo all resigned and pleaded guilty to criminal charges. When Dan Walker died last week, it was hard for obituary writers not to note that he was one of four Illinois governors over the past five decades who ended up in prison. …Give any U.S. attorney a year and 10 FBI agents and he or she can probably come back from the state capital with a passel of indictments.

At some point, even non-libertarians need to recognize that 2+2=4. In other words, the evidence is overwhelming that the public sector is a breeding ground for corruption because it is premised on buying votes with other people’s money.

Which is the basic message of my First Theorem of Government.

By the way, I’m not making a partisan point. It should be obvious from the story cited above, but I’ll reiterate that Republicans are just as capable of venal behavior as their opponents.

And don’t delude yourself into thinking that “principled” Democrats are immune to sleazy behavior.

Here’s the video I narrated explaining how bloated government enables corruption.

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

P.P.S. If you’re a fan of Barack Obama, you may be pleased to know that we’re setting records as a result of his policies.

We already know America has experienced a record drop in labor force participation.

And we also have a new record for weakest recovery since the Great Depression.

As well as a record for declining household income.

Now we have a new record. More Americans than ever before have decided to give up U.S. citizenship. Here are some of the details from a Bloomberg report.

More Americans living outside the U.S. gave up their citizenship in the first quarter of 2015 than ever before, according to data released Thursday by the IRS. The 1,335 expatriations topped the previous record by 18 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Those Americans are driven to turn in their passports in part because of laws that have expanded bank reporting and tax compliance requirements for expatriates. The increase in early 2015 follows an annual record in 2014, when 3,415 Americans gave up their citizenship. An estimated 6 million U.S. citizens are living abroad, and the U.S. is the only country within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that taxes citizens wherever they reside.

Here’s one example from the story.

“The cost of compliance with the complex tax treatment of non-resident U.S. citizens and the potential penalties I face for incorrect filings and for holding non-U.S. securities forces me to consider whether it would be more advantageous to give up my U.S. citizenship,” Stephanos Orestis, a U.S. citizen living in Oslo, wrote in a March 23 letter to the Senate Finance Committee. “The thought of doing so is highly distressing for me since I am a born and bred American with a love for my country.”

There are two lessons from this story.

  • First, it is absurd that our tax laws are so onerous (even worse than France in this regard) that some people feel compelled to give up American citizenship.
  • Second, while there are lots of ordinary Americans who are being pushed to give up their passports (folks married to foreigners, for instance), the average expatriate presumably has above-average income and is an asset to be welcomed rather than a burden to be repelled.

But such considerations don’t matter to politicians who like to demagogue about the supposed pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of overseas Americans. So we get awful laws like FATCA.

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As an economist, my primary objection to excessive government is – or at least should be – based on foregone growth. After all, government spending (whether it is financed by taxes or borrowing) diverts resources from the productive sector of society and results in the misallocation of labor and capital.

Based on my blood pressure, though, I get even more upset about the perverse unfairness of Washington. It galls me that well-connected insiders obtain undeserved wealth by using the coercive power of government.

And I get especially agitated when I think about ordinary Americans, most of modest means, who have less income and lower living standards because of DC’s corrupt profligacy.

So when I write about shutting down the Export-Import Bank, closing the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and reforming the tax code, I make the standard economic arguments for smaller government. But I also explain that reform is a way of dealing with political sleaze.

Heck, insider corruption is so pervasive that it even causes problems in those rare instances when government is doing sensible.

Let’s look at the example of the EB-5 program that was set up to attract wealthy foreigners to America if they create jobs.

This should be a feel-good story. After all, everyone presumably agrees that these are best type of immigrants since there’s no danger that they’ll wind up on the welfare rolls.

In theory, the program is very simple. As explained by Wikipedia, “individuals must invest $1,000,000…, creating or preserving at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers.”

In reality, though, the program is a bureaucratic mess because…well, simply because that’s the way government operates.

And that means plenty of opportunities for corrupt insiders to work the system.

Here are some of the unseemly details of one example. As reported by the Washington Post, it involves an Obama appointee, the Governor of Virginia, and the brother of Hillary Clinton.

The now-No. 2 official at the Department of Homeland Security intervened on behalf of politically connected favor seekers — including Democrat Terry McAuliffe not long before he was elected Virginia governor, a new report from the department’s inspector general has found. The intervention, on behalf of McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive company, “was unprecedented,” according to the report… The long-anticipated report reviewed Mayorkas’s management of the EB-5 program, which allows foreign nationals who create jobs in the United States to obtain green cards. The report concluded that Mayorkas’ actions “created an appearance of favoritism and special access.’’ …McAuliffe’s company was working Gulf Coast Funds Management, a firm that specializes in obtaining EB-5 visas for investors. Gulf Coast was led by Anthony Rodham, brother of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. …In addition to the case involving McAuliffe’s car company, the inspector general focused on actions Mayorkas took on behalf of a film project in Los Angeles and construction of a casino in Las Vegas, the latter supported by Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, who was Senate majority leader at the time.

Speaking of Senator Reid, the Washington Free Beacon exposes his sordid – and extended – efforts to use the power of his office to get special treatment for donors…and to line the  pockets of his son.

The Senate’s top Democrat was more deeply involved than previously known in an effort to secure U.S. visas for Chinese investors in a Las Vegas casino despite the concerns of career federal officials, according to an inspector general report released on Tuesday. …Executives at the casino’s parent company, a client of Reid’s son Rory, donated thousands of dollars to Reid’s campaign after he helped speed consideration of its applications for visas for its Chinese investors. That expedited consideration came despite warnings from career USCIS officials that applicants had forged paperwork, tried to conceal the sources of their investment, and, in one case, had ties to a child pornography business. …new details in the inspector general’s report reveal that his involvement was deeper and more prolonged. Reid requested and received regular updates from then-USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas on the status of SLS’ EB-5 applications, agency employees told the IG. The IG report criticized Mayorkas for creating an “appearance of favoritism” in the EB-5 application process. …the senator also had connections to Stockbridge/SBE Holdings, the company behind the SLS project. His son Rory, then an attorney at Lionel Sawyer & Collins, a Nevada law firm, represented SBE Entertainment, one of its parent companies. …USCIS employees interviewed for the IG report described the process as unfair and overly political.

By the way, notice how both examples feature a relative of a powerful politician. Why is that? Because if you’re related to a DC bigwig, donors and special interest groups figure you have inside access to the favor factory in Washington.

A very odious form of nepotism, I think you’ll agree.

Ugh, I feel like I need to shower after writing about this topic.

But now let’s step back and consider the big picture. In most cases, eliminating an agency or shutting down a program is the simple way to deal with DC corruption.

What’s the right approach, though, when government is actually doing something that’s theoretically useful.

Remember, the underlying theory of the EB-5 program is very admirable. Indeed, many nations have similar “economic citizenship” programs because it makes sense to attract successful investors to your country.

Big nations such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Spain have policies similar to America’s EB-5 program, as do little countries such as Latvia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Cyprus, Dominica, Malta, and Antigua and Barbuda.

So why is America’s system a mess? In part, the answer is that it’s not a simple system. Unlike other nations, where a simple cash payment or property purchase qualifies an investor for residency, the U.S. system requires the creation of 10 jobs. As you can imagine, it’s not necessarily a simple matter to measure job creation, particularly if an investor is putting money into a business that’s already in operation.

And this means the bureaucrats who oversee the program have a reason to drag their feet. Which means an opportunity for well-connected insiders to manipulate the system to the advantage of their friends, cronies, donors, and clients.

Moreover, all nations require some form of background check to weed out criminals. That’s a good thing, of course, but it also gives bureaucrats another excuse to avoid quick approvals. And this creates an opportunity for lobbyists and other members of the political class to use their political pull to get their clients quick and favorable treatment.

All of which means the rule of law is eroded and replaced by discretionary and arbitrary enforcement.

By the way, I spoke at an economic citizenship conference earlier this month in Dubai. My role was to warn that greedy governments would try to hinder the mobility of investors and entrepreneurs, particularly as the welfare state gets closer to collapse.

But it was also very interesting to hear reports from various nations about the operation of their programs. Most of them have shortcomings, to be sure, but it does appear that politicians in America have made our system one of the least effective.

For further background on the seemingly unbreakable link between big government and corruption, here’s a video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

P.S. Government corruption is also a problem at the state level.

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I’ve pointed out that Washington is a cesspool of legal corruption. But if you don’t believe me (and you have a strong stomach), feel free to peruse these posts, all of which highlight odious examples of government sleaze.

But occasionally elected officials cross the blurry line and get in trouble for illegal corruption.

For those of you who follow politics, you may have seen news reports suggesting that Robert Menendez, a Democratic Senator from New Jersey, will soon be indicted for the alleged quid pro quo of trying to line the pockets of a major donor.

Attorney General Eric Holder has signed off on prosecutors’ plans to charge Menendez, CNN reported on Friday. …A federal grand jury has been investigating whether Menendez improperly used his official office to advocate on Melgen’s behalf about the disputed Medicare regulations when he met with the agency’s acting administrator and with the secretary of Health and Human Services, according to a ruling by a federal appeals court that became public last week. The ruling also said the government was looking at efforts by Menendez’s office to assist a company Melgen partly owned that had a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.

I certainly have no interest in defending Senator Menendez, but I can’t help but wonder what’s the difference between his alleged misbehavior and the actions of almost every other politician in Washington.

Here’s what I assume to be the relevant part of the criminal code, which I downloaded from the Office of Government Ethics (yes, that’s a bit of an oxymoron).

Stripped of all the legalese, it basically says that if a politician does something that provides value to another person, and that person as a result also gives something of value to the politician, that quid-pro-quo swap is a criminal offense.

Now keep this language from the criminal code in mind as we look at some very disappointing behavior by Republican presidential candidates at a recent Iowa gathering.

As Wall Street Journal opined, GOPers at the Ag Summit basically competed to promise unearned benefits to the corporate-welfare crowd in exchange for political support (i.e., something of great value to politicians).

Iowa is…a bad place to start is because it’s the heartland of Republican corporate welfare. Witness this weekend’s pander fest known as the Ag Summit, in which the potential 2016 candidates competed to proclaim their devotion to the Renewable Fuel Standard and the 2.3-cent per kilowatt hour wind-production tax credit. The event was hosted by ethanol kingpin Bruce Rastetter… Two of the biggest enthusiasts were Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee… The fuel standard “creates jobs in small town and rural America, which is where people are hurting,” said Mr. Santorum, who must have missed the boom in farm incomes of recent years.

But it’s not just social conservatives who were promising to swap subsidies for political support.

Self-styled conservative reformers may be willing to take on government unions, which is laudable, but they get timid when dealing with moochers in Iowa.

Scott Walker, who in 2006 said he opposed the renewable fuel standard, did a switcheroo and now sounds like St. Augustine. He’s for ethanol chastity, but not yet. The Wisconsin Governor said his long-term goal is to reach a point when “eventually you didn’t need to have a standard,” but for now mandating ethanol is necessary to ensure “market access.”

And establishment candidates also tiptoed around the issue, suggesting at the very least a continuation of the quid pro quo of subsidies in exchange for political support.

Jeb Bush at least called for phasing out the wind credit, which was supposed to be temporary when it became law in 1992. But he danced around the renewable standard, which became law when his brother signed the energy bill passed by the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid Congress.

Geesh, maybe this is why Bush won’t promise to oppose tax hikes.

And there are more weak-kneed GOPers willing to trade our money to boost their careers.

Chris Christie wouldn’t repudiate the wind tax credit, perhaps because in 2010 the New Jersey Governor signed into law $100 million in state tax credits for offshore wind production. He also endorsed the RFS as the law of the land…, but what voters want to know is what Mr. Christie thinks the law should be. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry sounded somewhat contrite for supporting the wind tax credit, which has been a boon for Texas energy companies.

The only Republican who rejected corporate welfare (among those who participated) was Senator Ted Cruz.

The only Ag Summiteer who flat-out opposed the RFS was Texas Senator Ted Cruz , who has also sponsored a bill in Congress to repeal it. In response to Mr. Rastetter’s claim that oil companies were shutting ethanol out of the market, he noted “there are remedies in the antitrust laws to deal with that if you’re having market access blocked.”

Though even Cruz deviated from free-market principles by suggesting that anti-trust bureaucrats should use the coercive power of government to force oil companies to help peddle competing products.

Sigh.

By the way, I don’t mean to single out Republicans. Trading votes for campaign cash is a bipartisan problem in Washington.

But it is rather disappointing that the politicians who claim to support free markets and small government are so quick to reverse field when trolling for votes and money.

At least politicians like Obama don’t pretend to be a friend before stealing my money.

P.S. Normally I try to add an amusing postscript after writing about a depressing topic.

I’m not sure whether this story from the U.K.-based Times is funny, but it definitely has an ironic component.

Judge Juan Augustín Maragall, sitting in Barcelona, ruled that prostitutes should be given a contract by their employers, who should also pay their social security contributions. …In giving his verdict in the civil case, brought over a breach of labour regulations, the judge went further than expected, ruling that the women’s rights had been flouted by the management and forcing the company to pay the social security payments of three prostitutes backdated to 2012. Because of the ruling all brothels will be forced with immediate effect to issue contracts to staff and pay their social security contributions.

Now here’s the ironic part.

The ruling will generate tax revenue even though it’s actually illegal to employ prostitutes!

…it is against the law to make money from pimping, which carries a four-year jail term.

I guess the Judge could have ruled that the customers were the employers, but somehow I suspect it would have been difficult to extract employment taxes from those men.

Just like it would be difficult to extract employment taxes from the women.

Though the hookers won’t mind getting unemployment benefits so long as someone else is paying the taxes.

Conxha Borrell, of the Association of Sex Professionals, welcomed the ruling.

I guess we should add this to our great-moments-in-human-rights series.

Though maybe I should start a great-moments-in-economic-ignorance series since the prostitutes will be the ones who bear the burden of the tax even if the pimps are the ones writing the checks to the government (just as workers bear the burden of the “employer share” of the Social Security payroll tax).

P.P.S. Maybe Spanish hookers should reclassify themselves as porn artists who allow audience participation? That way, they can take advantage of Spain’s preferential tax rate for smut.

P.P.P.S. The Germans at least have figured out an efficient way to tax prostitutes.

P.P.P.P.S. Though maybe prostitutes should become politicians. The business model is quite similar, and I suspect you can “earn” more income selling access to other people’s money rather than selling sex to men who have to use their own money.

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When I write about the “inbred corruption of Washington” or “Washington’s culture of corruption,” I’m not merely taking pot-shots at the political elite.

I’m trying to make a very serious point about the way in which big government enables immoral behavior by both elected officials and various interest groups.

Heck, in many ways, government has morphed into a racket designed to enrich the lobbyists, insiders, contractors, bureaucrats, and politicians.

They play, we pay.

Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard has an entire new book on this topic and he highlights how big government-enabled corruption harms the middle class in a column for National Review.

A comprehensive strategy to boost the middle class has to include an aggressive assault on political corruption. Every year, the government wastes an obscene amount of money through corrupt public policies.

He makes the key point that corruption isn’t just about illegal behavior in Washington.

If we think of corruption merely as illegal activity, we’re defining it too narrowly. …the better way to understand it is as James Madison might have. In Federalist 10, he worried about the “violence of faction,” which he defined as a group “united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” This is all too common in public policy. From farm subsidies to Medicare, regulatory policy to the tax code, and highway spending to corporate welfare, our government does violence to the public interest by rewarding the interest groups that lobby it aggressively.

Cost then explains that this corruption-fueled expansion of government is very damaging for the middle class.

…corruption is a loser for the middle class. Middle-class Americans do not have the money to pay for lobbyists to make sure they are getting a piece of the action. They don’t usually contribute to political candidates, and when they do, it is typically for a presidential candidate whose ideas they think are sound. They do not subsidize the otherwise obscure subcommittee chairman with oversight on a critical policy. And, of course, they cannot offer politicians seven-figure employment opportunities for post-government life. And yet the middle class foots the bill. Average Americans pay higher taxes to subsidize this misbehavior… But beyond  that, corruption distorts the economy and limits the nation’s potential for growth. For instance, any time Congress creates a tax loophole, it shifts the flow of capital from some otherwise productive outlet to the tax-preferred end. And this is true not just of tax policy; any dollar spent by the government corruptly is a dollar better spent somewhere else. There are, in other words, substantial opportunity costs to be paid, mostly by the middle class.

While I definitely agree with the thrust of Cost’s analysis, I might quibble with the last part of this excerpt.

To be sure, I agree that the middle class foots the majority of the overall bill, but I actually wonder whether the poor suffer the most. At least on an individual basis. After all, the people on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder presumably have the most to lose if growth is sluggish or non-existent.

Which also explains why I get so upset about Obama’s class-warfare policies. High tax rates facilitate corruption and it’s the less fortunate who wind up suffering.

But enough nit-picking and digressing.

Cost’s column is right on the mark, particularly his point about properly defining corruption to capture what’s immoral as well as what’s illegal.

That’s one of the main points I made in this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

Now let’s take this analysis, both from Cost’s article and my video, and apply it to Obama’s new budget.

Professor Jeffrey Dorfman, an economist at the University of Georgia, has a column for Real Clear Markets entitled, “Obama’s Budget Is All About Whom You Know.”

He starts by citing some examples of how Obama wants government to manipulate our choices.

President Obama wants to control everyone’s behavior using the federal government as both his carrot and stick. …the President is in favor of both parents working and either strangers or government employees raising children as much as possible. …The President proposed nothing to help people save for college or to make it more affordable in any manner other than a government handout. …All of these higher education policies suggest government is your friend and personal responsibility is a bad idea.

Dorfman doesn’t explicitly state that this micro-management by big government is corrupt, but what he’s describing fits in perfectly with Cost’s analysis about average people suffering as D.C. insiders keep expanding government and getting more power over our lives.

If you put this all together, the President is clearly stating that increasing government dependence is a priority. People are offered more financial assistance through the government so as to build support for larger government. …President Obama is only interested in helping some Americans, in rewarding the Americans who behave the way he thinks they should. He believes that the government, that he, should have the power to pick winners and losers. His vision is not one in which everyone wins, rather it is one where those he favors gain at the expense of those he seeks to punish for either their success or their actions. …government is now taking sides.

Needless to say, when government is taking sides and picking winners and losers, that is a process that inevitably and necessarily favors the politically well-connected insiders.

That’s good news for Washington parasite class (and their children), but it’s not good for America.

P.S. Some folks in Louisiana have a pretty good suggestion for dealing with political corruption.

P.P.S. By the way, you don’t solve the problem of government-facilitated corruption by restricting the 1st Amendment rights of people to petition their government and participate in the political process.

P.P.P.S. While this column focuses mostly on the immoral corruption of Washington rather than the illegal variety, there’s also plenty of the latter form of corruption in programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, job training, food stamps, disability, etc.

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I’ve periodically cited the great 19th-century French economist, Frederic Bastiat, for his very wise words about the importance of looking at both the seen and the unseen when analyzing public policy.

Those that fail to consider secondary or indirect effects of government, such as Paul Krugman, are guilty of the “broken window” fallacy.

There are several examples we can cite.

A sloppy person, for instance, will think a higher minimum wage is good because workers will have more income. But a thoughtful analyst will think of the unintended consequence of lost jobs for low-skilled workers.

An unthinking person will conclude that government spending is good for growth because the recipients of redistribution have money to spend. But a wiser analyst will understand that such outlays divert money from the economy’s productive sector.

A careless person will applaud when government “creates” jobs. Sober-minded analysts, though, will wonder about the private jobs destroyed by such policies.

It’s time, though, to give some attention to another important contribution from Bastiat.

He also deserves credit for the pithy and accurate observation about government basically being a racket or a scam.

And what’s really amazing is that he reached that conclusion in the mid-1800s when the burden of government spending – even in France – was only about 10 percent of economic output. So Bastiat was largely limited to examples of corrupt regulatory arrangements and protectionist trade policy.

One can only imagine what he would think if he could see today’s bloated welfare states and the various ingenious ways politicians and interest groups have concocted to line their pockets with other people’s money!

Which brings us to today’s topic. We’re going to look at venal, corrupt, wasteful, incompetent, and bullying government at the federal, state, and local level in America.

We’ll start with the clowns in Washington, DC.

Remember when the unveiling of the Obamacare turned into a cluster-you-know-what of historic proportions?

Well, the Daily Caller reports that the IRS has just signed an Obamacare-related contract with an insider company that recently became famous for completely botching its previous Obamacare-related contract.

Seven months after federal officials fired CGI Federal for its botched work on Obamacare website Healthcare.gov, the IRS awarded the same company a $4.5 million IT contract for its new Obamacare tax program. …IRS officials signed a new contract with CGI to provide “critical functions” and “management support” for its Obamacare tax program, according to the Federal Procurement Data System, a federal government procurement database. The IRS contract is worth $4.46 million, according to the FPDS data.

Just one more piece of evidence that Washington is a town where failure gets rewarded.

And CGI is an expert on failure.

A joint Senate Finance and Judiciary Committee staff report in June 2014 found that Turning Point Global Solutions, hired by HHS to review CGI’s performance on Healthcare.gov, reported they found 21,000 lines of defective software code inserted by CGI. Scott Amey, the general counsel for the non-profit Project on Government Oversight, which reviews government contracting, examined the IRS contract with CGI. “CGI was the poster child for government failure,” he told The Daily Caller. “I am shocked that the IRS has turned around and is using them for Obamacare IT work.” Washington was not the only city that has been fed up with CGI on healthcare. Last year, CGI was fired by the liberal states of Vermont and Massachusetts for failing to deliver on their Obamacare websites. The Obamacare health website in Massachusetts never worked, despite the state paying $170 million to CGI.

For a company like this to stay in business, you have to wonder how many bribes, pay-offs, and campaign contributions are involved.

Now let’s look at an example of state government in action.

Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal has a column about a blatantly corrupt deal between slip-and-fall lawyers and the second most powerful Democrat in the Empire State.

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was last week arrested and accused by the feds of an elaborate kickback scheme. …Mr. Silver is alleged to have pocketed more than $5 million in a set-up in which he directed state funds to the clinic of an asbestos doctor, who in turn provided him with patients who could be turned into jackpot plaintiffs. Weitz & Luxenberg, a class-action titan, paid Mr. Silver huge referral fees for these names, off which the firm stands to make many millions. …when the Silver headlines broke, Weitz & Luxenberg founder Perry Weitz said he was “shocked”… The firm quickly put the Albany politician on “leave.”

A logical person might ask “on leave” from what? After all, he didn’t do anything.

But he did do something, even if it was corrupt and sleazy.

…here’s the revealing bit. Queried by prosecutors as to what exactly the firm did hire Mr. Silver to do—since he performed no legal work—Weitz & Luxenberg admitted that he was brought on “because of his official position and stature.” In other words, this was transactional. Weitz & Luxenberg gave Mr. Silver a plum job, and Mr. Silver looked out for the firm—namely by blocking any Albany bills that might interfere with its business model.

So workers, consumers, and businesses get screwed by a malfunctioning tort system, while insider lawyers and politicians get rich. Isn’t government wonderful!

Just one example among many of how state governments are a scam. Perhaps now folks will understand why I’m not very sympathetic to the notion of letting them take more of our money.

Last but not least, let’s look at a great moment in local government.

As we see from a report in USA Today, a village in New Jersey is dealing with the scourge of…gasp…unlicensed snow removal!

Matt Molinari and Eric Schnepf, both 18, also learned a valuable lesson about one of the costs of doing business: government regulations. The two friends were canvasing a neighborhood near this borough’s border with Bridgewater early Monday evening, handing out fliers promoting their service, when they were pulled over by police and told to stop. …Bound Brook, like many municipalities in the state and country, has a law against unlicensed solicitors and peddlers. … anyone selling goods and services door to door must apply for a license that can cost as much as $450 for permission that is valid for only 180 days. …Similar bans around the country have put the kibosh on other capitalist rites of passage, such as lemonade stands and selling Girl Scouts cookies.

Though, to be fair, it doesn’t seem like the cops were being complete jerks.

Despite the rule, however, Police Chief Michael Jannone said the two young businessmen were not arrested or issued a ticket, and that the police’s concern was about them being outside during dangerous conditions, not that they were unlicensed. “We don’t make the laws but we have to uphold them,” he said Tuesday after reading some of the online comments about the incident. “This was a state of emergency. Nobody was supposed to be out on the road.”

But the bottom line is that it says something bad about our society that we have rules that hinder teenagers from hustling for some money after a snowstorm.

Just like these other examples of local government in action also don’t reflect well on our nation.

Let’s close with my attempt to re-state Bastiat’s wise words. Here’s my “First Theorem of Government.”

And if you think what I wrote, or what Bastiat wrote, is too cynical, then I invite you to check out how politicians are bureaucrats are squandering money on Medicare, the Veterans Administration, the Agriculture Department, Medicaid, the Patent and Trademark Office, the so-called Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Institutes of Health, Food Stamps, , the Government Services Administration, unemployment insurance, the Pentagon

Well, you get the idea.

Which is why this poster is a painfully accurate summary of government.

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So what should libertarians, Reagan conservatives, and other advocates of smaller government think of the “cromnibus” spending bill?

The answer depends on your benchmark. If you dislike insider deals, pork-barrel spending, and you think the federal government should be limited to the enumerated powers put in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers, then the cromnibus is an abomination.

But if you look at where we are right now and you think victory is achieved whenever we can shrink the burden of government spending and limit Washington’s power over the nation, then the cromnibus is a victory.

So is the glass half full or half empty?

Let’s start by looking at the optimistic case, which is ably summarized in what Peter Roff wrote for U.S. News and World Report.

…the “cromnibus” legislative vehicle to fund most of the federal government through September 30, 2015 is a major victory for the conservatives…the combined continuing resolution and omnibus funding bill [hence the term “cromnibus”] maintains the Ryan-Murray spending caps of $521 billion for defense and $492 billion for non-defense spending. …It blocks funding of the risk corridors that, under the Affordable Care Act, could lead to a government bailout of the insurance companies…while cutting the funds for the Independent Payment Advisory Board (which is the body that would be recommending any rationing of health care) by $10 million. The bill also cuts funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by $60 million, which is the fifth consecutive year the agency’s budget has been cut and may finally convince the bureaucrats who run the place they cannot go beyond what they are legally authorized to do without congressional approval. And it hits the Internal Revenue Service particularly hard, cutting its allocation of federal dollars by $345.6 million, prohibiting it from targeting organizations because of the way they chose to exercise their First Amendment rights or on an ideological basis… There’s more, but the general drift of the thing is toward smaller, leaner, more transparent, more honest government than has been the case over the last six years.

There’s a lot to like in what Peter wrote. I like the spending caps, even if they’re too high. And I unambiguously like imposing some fiscal restraint on the EPA and IRS.

But now let’s shift to a pessimistic assessment. Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner is a leading crusader against corporate welfare and he is appropriately disgusted that the annual spending bill became a vehicle for special-interest favors

Cromnibus was a fruit basket of special-interest provisions that K Street had been requesting for years. If you read to the very end of the bill — page 1,602 of 1,603 — you would find a section titled “Modification of Treatment of Certain Health Organizations.” This provision would provide protection from an Obamacare provision for exactly one entity: Blue Cross Blue Shield.Or look at page 1,153, which reauthorizes a federal agency whose job is to subsidize American-owned foreign businesses and the banks that finance them. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation extends taxpayer-backed loans and guarantees to U.S. companies when they set up shop overseas. OPIC is naked corporate welfare.Bills like Cromnibus, crafted in darkness and presented as must-pass legislation, allow the special interests to get what they want. A free and open debate on these issues is what the country needs.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Tim is completely correct about the cromnibus being business-as-usual sleaze and corruption. There’s no question that a bunch of lobbyists were big winners.

So who’s right about the cromnibus, Peter or Tim?

I hate to sound like a mealy-mouth, finger-in-the-wind politician, but they’re both correct.

The cromnibus fight turned out like the appropriations fight of 2011, the debt limit fight of 2011, and the fiscal cliff fight of 2012, all of which had some disappointing features and some encouraging features.

In other words, we’re dealing with the reality of divided government. Even next year, when Harry Reid no longer controls the Senate, it will be very difficult to win big victories.

Let’s say that Republicans decide to pursue aggressive policies such as fundamental tax reform and genuine entitlement reform.

I’ll definitely applaud, but – at the risk of stating the obvious – does anybody think such legislation would attract enough support to overcome a veto from the White House?

The bottom line is that the cromnibus was a typical kiss-your-sister compromise and people, after weighing the pros and cons, probably like or dislike the outcome depending on the issues that matter most to them.

If you first and foremost don’t like lobbyist deals, then you are going to be unhappy. Likewise, you won’t be happy if your main goal is stopping the President’s executive amnesty.

But if your big issue areas are reining in the EPA or IRS, then you’ll presumably be – on net – cheerful. Similarly, if you care about preserving spending caps, you’ll view cromnibus as a win.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that Republicans did a decent job, but could have achieved much more if they were willing to hold firm on certain issues, even if it meant Obama and/or Reid decided to shut down the government.

But for reasons I still don’t understand, GOP bigwigs think they lost the shutdown fights of 1995 and 2013. And so long as they hold to that view, they’ll be limited in what they can achieve.

P.S. Since I mentioned that the cromnibus contains some long-overdue cuts to the IRS budget, here’s an amusing cartoon from Jerry Holbert that reminds us why they don’t deserve more of our money.

Definitely something to add to our collection of IRS humor.

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