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Posts Tagged ‘Government stupidity’

Every so often, I’ll notice a tweet that has some remarkable characteristic.

Today, we’re going to add to this collection.

The Democratic National Committee sent out a tweet back in April that seems like it should have been issued instead by the Libertarian National Committee.

My answer to the DNC’s question is “never.” That’s why I’m a libertarian.

Even when I grudgingly acknowledge that something is a legitimate function of government, I’m never tempted to say or think that “things seem to be going smoothly.”

That’s true when looking at what happens in Washington, what happens in the states, and what happens at the local level.

Needless to say, the DNC wasn’t trying to recruit libertarians. The goal was to condemn Trump’s governing style, specifically with reference to a story about the administration’s chaotic approach to the coronavirus.

And I certainly agree that Trump gives critics plenty of ammunition.

But there are plenty of similar episodes of malfeasance and incompetence during the Obama years. And the Bush years. And in every preceding White House.

The bottom line (as suggested by my collection of “Government in Cartoons“) is that Washington at best is a clumsy oaf. And quite often is a bloated bully.

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Some people say that California is the worst-governed state (I would probably choose Illinois or New Jersey, but it’s a close race).

And if you wanted to pick the worst-governed place in California, San Francisco might be at the top of the list.

The city manages to combine horrible zoning laws with insufferable red tape (there have been efforts to ban everything from Happy Meals to…umm…foreskins).

Most disturbing of all, San Francisco now has a major problem with public defecation (not that the sewer system is anything to brag about).

In an article for City Journal, Erica Sandberg explores the latest bit of upside-down governance from The City by the Bay.

San Francisco is surreptitiously placing homeless people in luxury hotels by designating them as emergency front-line workers, a term that the broader community understands to mean doctors, nurses, and similar professionals. …the city has evoked emergency-disaster law to keep the information private. Officials refuse to notify the public about what is happening in their community and are blocking the press by withholding the list of hotels and preventing reporters from entering the properties. …obfuscation is ultimately futile. Security guards standing outside hotel entrances, where they had never been before, are clear indicators that something is amiss. An uptick in crime, drug activity, and vagrancy around the hotels is another clue.

This sounds crazy, but it gets even worse.

The Department of Public Health manages the controversial free alcohol, cigarette, and cannabis program for homeless people placed in the hotels. …A public-records investigation into the matter has revealed that, as of June 16, DPH approved $3,795.98 to buy the homeless guests vodka and beer (cigarettes have been scrapped). …concerned inside sources report destroyed rooms and rampant illegal drug use. In one hotel, guests are given needle kits and are advised to call the front desk before shooting up. …The hotels were pressured into accepting the homeless guests, though they were also eager for the chance to recoup some revenue lost to the Covid-19 lockdowns. …The city-sponsored guests also receive personal grooming, sanitary, and cleaning supplies, three delivered meals, and laundry service for clothes and linens.

Free hotel room, along with free food and laundry service? And booze and pot?

Who knew being homeless was such a good racket!

Since I’m a fiscal wonk, this is the part that captured my attention.

Rooms are rented at close to $200 per night, totaling $6,000 a month—nearly double the cost of a private one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.

Though I shouldn’t be surprised by such profligacy. The state government’s “success story” was spending “billions of dollars” to cause homelessness to “dip by 1 percent.”

And San Francisco’s government had a different program for the homeless that cost about $700 per night. So maybe the new approach described in above article is a fiscal bargain.

By the way, it appears that taxpayers across the country are contributing to this insane policy.

Hotel owners consented to the arrangements fully aware of the potential pitfalls, having been assured that FEMA dollars would cover at least some of the damages incurred.

Good ol’ FEMA. Always ready, willing, and able to foolishly spend taxpayer money.

P.S. While San Francisco is a bit of a mess, folks in other cities (such as Seattle, Chicago, New York City, Detroit, etc) can make a legitimate claim that they have the nation’s worst local government.

P.P.S. When he crunched all the numbers, Dean Stansel of Southern Methodist University found that the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metropolitan statistical area in California had the worst policy in the country (San Francisco was #38 out of the 55 MSAs with at least 1 million residents).

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Four years ago, I wrote about how dishwashers don’t work very well because of foolish red tape from Washington.

The clever folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute put together a video on the topic.

I especially like the fake commercial at the start of the video.

But I don’t like the way my dishwasher performs.

And Jeffrey Tucker of the American Institute for Economic Research shares my disdain.

American dishwashers used to work. They were wonderful labor-saving devices. They kept our kitchens cleaner. They sanitized the dishes, helping to stop cross-contamination and generally improving health over the iffy process of handwashing. …Then one day they just stopped doing the work. What happened? …Dishwashers used to wash all the dishes in under one hour. Now they take two hours, three hours, and four hours, and still don’t get the dishes clean. …All of this is directly due to government regulations. …Now everything comes out foggy and spotted. This is true no matter which dishwasher you get. …None of this has really hurt the dishwasher industry. Sales have consistently risen for the last ten years. My theory is that people are buying replacements, thinking (rationally) that they just need a newer model. What consumers don’t know, and what manufacturers don’t want to admit, is that they no longer work. The older the model, the more likely it is to be operational.

Here’s the most astounding factoid.

One in five homes have just stopped using their dishwashers altogether.

And here’s the bottom line.

These regulations have caused an infuriating and devastating degradation of the quality of appliances and the quality of life in our homes.

I agree. In my home, I don’t bother putting items in the dishwasher until I’ve thoroughly rinsed them. Otherwise, I’ll find food residue and have to wash them again.

Here’s a chart from the Competitive Enterprise Institute on the average cycle time of dishwashers. As you can see, modern dishwashers take much longer because they do such a poor job.

Since I generally run my dishwasher before heading to bed, I’m not particularly worried about how long it takes.

I just want clean dishes at the end of the process. But that’s now much more difficult because of government.

If you want more examples of the regulatory state’s war on modern life, there are plenty of examples.

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Technically, my coverage of U.K election week began last Monday with a look at Jeremy Corbyn’s radical statism, and ended yesterday with some analysis of Boris Johnson’s victory.

But since I’m still in England, this is an opportune time for a new edition of Great Moments in British Government.

For those who aren’t regular readers, I should add that “Great Moments” is a sarcastic term for odd stories that illustrate the incompetence and venality of government (state, local, foreign, etc).

We’ll start with a story that shows how insiders use government as a racket to enrich their lifestyles.

Local councils are spending millions on luxury cars for mayors and officials in “ceremonial” roles, an investigation has found. Over the past three years, 207 local authorities have spent more than £4.5million on vehicles including Bentleys, Jaguars and S-class Mercedes, information disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act reveals. The cars were used by mayors, lord mayors or chairmen. The TaxPayers’ Alliance, a campaign group which carried out the investigation, said the money went on officials who “often fulfil ceremonial duties within their local authority and serve as the ‘first citizen’.

Sounds like Washington’s gilded class!

For our next example, bureaucrats in the United Kingdom don’t do a very good job of teaching traditional subjects such as math and reading, so they’ve decided to try sharing their knowledge on a rather unconventional topic.

Children as young as six are being taught about touching or ‘stimulating’ their own genitals as part of classes that will become compulsory in hundreds of primary schools. Some parents believe the lessons – part of a controversial new sex and relationships teaching programme called All About Me – are ‘sexualising’ their young children. …Documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday detail how All About Me classes involve pupils aged between six and ten being told by teachers that there are ‘rules about touching yourself’. An explanation of ‘rules about self-stimulation’ appears in the scheme’s Year Two lesson plan for six and seven-year-olds. Under a section called Touching Myself, teachers are advised to tell children that ‘lots of people like to tickle or stroke themselves as it might feel nice’. …In one, pupils are told that when a girl called Autumn ‘has a bath and is alone she likes to touch herself between her legs. It feels nice’.

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t have wanted my kids being exposed to this kind of topic, but I must admit that bureaucrats probably have some expertise on the matter.

Next, we have a story about a woman getting fined for feeding birds.

Neighbours complained about birds flocking to Maureen Francis’ garden after she began feeding them with bird seed and other food… Wiltshire Council gave Francis the protection notice after receiving complaints and told her she could only put out one ‘small caged bird feeder’. But she refused to comply with their demands, leading to the council taking her to court ‘for the sake of the neighbours’. When Francis failed to attend the hearing last week, magistrates convicted her of failing to comply with a protection notice in her absence. She was fined £250 for over feeding the animals and ordered to pay almost £1,600 in costs. Councillor Jerry Wickham, Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for public protection, said: “Our officers made numerous attempts to engage with Mrs Francis to try and resolve this problem. “We were reluctant to take legal action but for the sake of the neighbours, prosecution was the only option.”

Gives over-criminalization a whole new meaning.

Last but not least, British officials decided it’s okay if a two-second journey is replaced by a one-hour trip.

Motorists in southwest England will need to pay special attention when driving through Dorset County next week, where officials are putting a 41-mile detour around a 65-foot stretch of construction work. …The small section of road A352 in Godmanstone, Dorset, will be closed Monday through Friday while construction crews work on a new sewage system… The detour is estimated to take an hour to complete. The closed portion of the road would take just over two seconds to travel at the 30 mph speed limit. …The council acknowledged that most residents will ignore the lengthy detour and use smaller roads to get around the construction work. Anyone caught using the closed stretch of road will be fined $1,291.

A few years ago, a clever entrepreneur in the United Kingdom dealt with a similar detour by building a private toll road.

I don’t know if such an option exists in this case, but I can state with considerable confidence that this impossibly inconvenient detour wouldn’t be an option if a private road company was making a sewage repair.

Why? Because private companies cater to customers.

Which is a good excuse to re-share this classic scene from Ghostbusters.

Amen.

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I’ve shared examples of brain-dead behavior by bureaucrats at the Transportation Security Agency.

But the folks at the TSA may be paragons of wisdom and judgement compared to administrators at government schools.

Those bureaucrats seem incapable of improving test scores, even when they get showered with tax dollars, but they’re always ready to go overboard when kids…gasp…play with toy guns.

Or even when they pretend a stick is a gun. Or when they pretend their fingers are a gun.

Here’s a crazy example that just happened.

A 12-year-old Overland Park girl formed a gun with her fingers, pointed at four of her Westridge Middle School classmates one at a time, and then turned the pretend weapon toward herself. Police hauled her out of school in handcuffs, arrested her and charged the child with a felony for threatening. …according to Johnson County District Court documents, on Sept. 18, the girl “unlawfully and feloniously communicated a threat to commit violence, with the intent to place another, in fear, or with the intent to cause the evacuation, lock down or disruption in regular, ongoing activities …” or created just the risk of causing such fear. …“I think that this is something that probably could have been handled in the principal’s office and got completely out of hand,” said Jon Cavanaugh, the girl’s grandfather in California, where the girl is now living. He said his granddaughter has no access to a real gun and she had no intent of harming anyone. “She was just mouthing off,” he said.

School bureaucrats also over-react if students like a picture of a toy gun.

Here’s a story from two years ago.

An Edgewood Middle School student was handed a 10-day suspension for “liking” a picture of a gun on Instagram with the caption “ready.” The parents of Zachary Bowlin posted a picture of the intended suspension notice which read, “The reason for the intended suspension is as follows: Liking a post on social media that indicated potential school violence.” “I was livid, I mean, I’m sitting here thinking ‘you just suspended him for ten days for liking a picture of a gun on a social media site,” father Marty Bowlin said. “He never shared, he never commented, he never made a threatening post… anything on the site, just liked it.” The picture in question is of an airsoft gun, and according to the students’ parents, their child didn’t comment on the post but simply liked the picture.

We’ll wrap up with another bizarre case from this year.

School bureaucrats also don’t approve if students engage in legal behavior when they’re not at school.

Two male students at Lacey Township High School in New Jersey posted photos of guns on Snapchat. One of the boys captioned his photo with “hot stuff” and “if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, you know where to go.” The photos were not taken at school. They were not taken during school hours. They did not reference a school. They auto-deleted after 24 hours, which was well before the school became aware of them. And yet, administrators at Lacey Township High School suspended the boys for three days, and also gave them weekend detention. This was a clear violation of the students’ First Amendment rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union has now filed suit. …The two students had visited a gun range owned by an older brother on Saturday, March 10, 2018. They practiced shooting with “legally purchased and properly permitted” guns, according to the lawsuit. They also took a few photos and posted them on Snapchat. None of the snaps were threatening, and none of them referenced a school. Nevertheless, a parent of another student heard about the photos and contacted school authorities. On Monday, the boys were forced to meet with an assistant principal and an anti-bullying specialist, who quickly decided to punish them for clearly constitutionally-protected speech.

Kudos to the ACLU for getting involved on the right side.

I wish it was because they supported the 2nd Amendment as well as the 1st Amendment, but their involvement is a plus regardless.

But that’s a separate issue.

For today, our topic is misbehavior by school bureaucrats. Is there a way of discouraging these ridiculous suspensions?

The good news is that schools often back down when these episodes of political correctness get exposed. And maybe legal action also could help.

But I suspect the only effective answer is busting up a hopelessly bad government school monopoly.

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I get quite agitated when the folks in Washington make dumb choices that waste money and hinder prosperity.

That being said, I take comfort in the fact that governments in other nations also do stupid things.

I guess this is the policy version of “misery loves company.” And it’s also a source of horror and/or amusement.

So let’s update our collection of “great moments in foreign government.”

We’ll start in China, where a local government proved that incentives mattered.

In March, a man in Zhejiang, China…divorced his wife. He then married his sister-in-law. Shortly after, he divorced her too, in order to marry another sister-in-law. Several other members of the Pan family started to do the same with other relatives and eventually, 11 members of the brood married and divorced each other 23 times over a two-week period. Their motivation? To cash in on a compensation scheme… As part of an urban village renovation project, those living in the area are given a minimum compensation of one 40-square meter apartment, even though they didn’t own property. This was provided to any family whose hukou (household registration) was filed by April 10. But the Pan family learned that they could game the process by getting married, registering as residents of the village, and divorcing to do it again… By doing so, each family member would get their own household registration, which means more compensation. …The 11 family members involved have been arrested… Upon interrogation, one suspect said they didn’t think there was anything illegal with what they were doing.

I wonder if the Chinese government will learn anything about incentives from this episode.

Maybe, just maybe, it will then apply those lessons to tax policy (at the very least, by ignoring poisonous advice from the IMF and OECD).

In Spain, we re-confirm that governments are just as capable of wasting money on defense spending as they do on domestic programs.

A new, Spanish-designed submarine has a weighty problem: The vessel is more than 70 tons too heavy, and officials fear if it goes out to sea, it will not be able to surface. And a former Spanish official says the problem can be traced to a miscalculation — someone apparently put a decimal point in the wrong place. “It was a fatal mistake,” said Rafael Bardaji, who until recently was director of the Office of Strategic Assessment at Spain’s Defence Ministry. The Isaac Peral, the first in a new class of diesel-electric submarines, was nearly completed when engineers discovered the problem. …The Isaac Peral, named for a 19th century Spanish submarine designer, is one of four vessels in the class that are in various stages of construction. The country has invested about $2.7 billion in the program. The first was scheduled to be delivered in 2015 but the Spanish state-owned shipbuilder, Navantia, has said the weight problems could cause delays of up to two years.

Last but not least, we travel to Germany, where the government is trying to outdo New York City for the prize of most over-budget infrastructure boondoggle.

As a structure, it looks impressive enough. Until you pause, look around you, and absorb the silence. This is Berlin Brandenburg…, the new, state-of-the-art international airport… It is a bold new structure, costing billions, and was supposed to be completed in 2012. But it has never opened. BER has become for Germany not a new source of pride but a symbol of engineering catastrophe. …a “national trauma” and an ideal way “to learn how not to do things”. No passengers have ever emerged from the railway station, which is currently running only one “ghost train” a day, to keep the air moving. No-one has stayed at the smart airport hotel, which has a skeleton staff forlornly dusting rooms and turning on taps to keep the water supply moving. …Huge luggage carousels are being given their daily rotation to stop them from seizing up. …The company running the airport promises it will finally open next year, which would make it at least eight years late as well as billions over budget. …So what on Earth has happened…? politicians…set up a company to build an ambitious new airport. “The supervisory board was full of politicians who had no idea how to supervise the project,” says Prof Genia Kostka, of the Free University of Berlin. “They were in charge of key decisions.” …the politicians supervising the airport…insisted new departure gates were added to accommodate giant Airbus A380 aircraft, whose production has ended before the airport can open. …the overall cost of the project will be 6bn euros (£5.3bn) – if it opens as planned next year – up from an original projection of about 2bn euros. The final sum will be paid mostly by German taxpayers.

Of course taxpayers will get stuck with the tab. That’s the ongoing scam we call government.

But there is another question to ponder: How can a nation that is so aggressive (not to mention dogmatic and inventive) about collecting taxes be so incompetent at spending money?

The bottom line is that waste seems to be an inevitable part of government, regardless of the nation or the continent.

The moral of these stories, both from America and around the world, it that government is not the answer.

Unless, of course, you’ve asked a really strange question.

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I spend much of my time analyzing the foolish and counterproductive policies imposed by Washington. Often accompanied by some mockery of politicians and their silly laws.

And I also employ the same approach when reviewing the bone-headed policies often pursued by state governments and local governments.

And since this is “International Liberty,” I obviously like to pay attention to what happens in other nations as well. I guess you could call it the global version of misery-loves-company.

So today we’re going to add to our collection of “Great Moments in Foreign Government.”

We’ll start in Egypt, where we got a version of alchemy. Except instead of turning a base metal into gold, a donkey was turned into a zebra.

A zoo in Egypt has denied painting black stripes on a donkey to make it look like a zebra after a photo of the animal appeared online. Student Mahmoud Sarhan put the images on Facebook after visiting Cairo’s International Garden municipal park. Aside from its small size and pointy ears, there were also black smudges on its face. …the enclosure contained two animals and that both had been painted. When contacted by local radio station Nogoum FM, zoo director Mohamed Sultan insisted the animal was not a fake.

The most amusing part of the report, though, was learning that zoos routinely try to mislead customers.

This is not the first time that a zoo has been accused of trying to fool its audience. Unable to find a way around the Israeli blockade, a zoo in Gaza painted two donkeys to look like zebras in 2009. Another Gaza zoo put stuffed animals on display in 2012 because of the shortages of animals. In 2013, a Chinese zoo in Henan province tried to pass off a Tibetan mastiff dog as an African lion, and in 2017 a zoo in Guangxi province disappointed visitors by exhibiting blow-up plastic penguins. Weeks later, another Guangxi zoo drew condemnation for displaying plastic butterflies. …Papua New Guinea is one of the poorest countries in Apec, with 40% of the population living on less than $1 a day according to the UN.

I have to confess, though, that I don’t know if any of these zoos were private. So maybe we have a problem that isn’t just limited to government.

Our next story is from India.

It seems that the military doesn’t understand that submarines are supposed to be watertight.

…it’s a good idea to, like, close the hatches before you dive. Call it a lesson learned for the Indian navy, which managed to put the country’s first nuclear-missile submarine, the $2.9 billion INS Arihant, out of commission in the most boneheaded way possible. The Hindu reported yesterday that the Arihant has been out of commission since suffering “major damage” some 10 months ago, due to what a navy source characterized as a “human error” — to wit: allowing water to flood to sub’s propulsion compartment after failing to secure one of the vessel’s external hatches. …It’s hard to articulate how major a foul-up this is… Indian authorities ordered the pipe replacement because they “likely felt that pipes exposed to corrosive seawater couldn’t be trusted again, particularly pipes that carry pressurized water coolant to and from the ship’s 83 megawatt nuclear reactor.”

Sounds like India’s navy would have been better off if the person in charge of the hatch had been one of the country’s famous no-show bureaucrats.

Now let’s turn our attention to Papau New Guinea, where the roads are so poor that it makes no sense to have fancy, high-speed cars.

Yet that didn’t stop the government from using a summit as an excuse to buy 40 Maseratis

Papua New Guinea’s government is under scrutiny for importing 40 luxury Maserati cars from Italy for the…Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit. The Quattroporte sedans, which cost more than $100,000 each (£75,000), will be used by foreign leaders. Media and activists have questioned if the poor Pacific country has wasted millions. …Apec Minister Justin Tkatchenko said the cars, which can reach speeds of 240 km/h (149 mph), would “provide the level of carriage for leaders that is the standard for vehicles used at Apec summits”. …Some of the Pacific country’s main roads are poorly maintained, with vehicle speeds limited to 80 km/h (50 mph). Other roads wind through mountainous terrain and often require a four-wheel-drive vehicle to navigate.

Incidentally, the government claimed that the Maseratis would be resold to private buyers, meaning no net cost to taxpayers. Highly unlikely, to be sure.

Moreover, if there was a follow-up story, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they magically wound up in the hands of politicians and their family members.

The bottom line is that governments manage to combine malicious venality with staggering incompetence. Quite a feat.

P.S. For what it’s worth, America’s political elite prefers to rely on taxpayer-financed limousines.

P.S.S. I’ve noticed on my trips to Cayman that there are lots of fancy, high-performance cars. In some sense this isn’t surprising. After all, zero-tax Cayman is a wealthy place. Yet I’ve always wondered why people buy such cars on a small island where high-speed travel is both difficult and unnecessary. But at least those are people spending their own money (though the government there certainly is capable of over-spending in other ways).

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I’ve written repeatedly about how anti-money laundering (AML) laws are pointless, expensive, intrusive, discriminatory, and ineffective.

And they especially hurt poor people according to the World Bank.

That’s a miserable track record, even by government standards.

Now it’s time to share two personal stories to illustrate how AML laws work in practice.

Episode 1

Last decade, I wrote an article for a U.K.-based publication that focused on the insurance industry. I didn’t even realize they paid, so I was obviously happy when a check arrived in the mail.

The only catch was that the check was in British pounds and various charges and conversion fees would have consumed almost all the money if I tried to deposit the money in my local bank.

But that wasn’t too much of a problem since I had an upcoming trip to give a speech in England.

I figured I would swing by the British bank where the magazine had an account, show them my passport, and get my cash.

Oh, such youthful naiveté.

Here’s what actually happened. I stopped by a branch and was told that I couldn’t cash the check because anti-money laundering rules required that I have an address in the U.K. (my hotel didn’t count).

Needless to say, I was a bit irritated. Though I didn’t give up. In hopes that my experience was an anomaly (i.e., a particularly silly teller with a bureaucratic mindset), I stopped at another branch of the bank.

But that didn’t work. I got the same excuse about AML requirements.

And I was similarly thwarted at a third branch. By the way, the tellers sympathized with my plight, but they said the government was being very strict.

So I figured the way to get around this regulatory barrier would be to sign the check and have a friend deposit the money in her account and then give me some cash.

But her bank said this was also against the AML rules.

Fortunately, we got lucky when we went to another branch of her bank. A teller basically acknowledged that government’s rules made it impossible for me to get my money and she decided to engage in a much-appreciated act of civil disobedience.

This episode was annoying, but the silver lining is that I was in the U.K. to speak at an international economic crime conference in Cambridge on the topic of money laundering.

So I began my speech a day or two later by pseudo-confessing that I had just violated the nation’s silly and counterproductive laws on money laundering (I said “this may have happened to me” to give me some legal wiggle room since the audience was dominated by government officials, and I didn’t want to take any risks).

Episode 2

Today, I had my second incident with anti-money laundering laws.

I have a friend from the Caribbean who now operates a small Dubai-based business and he asked me if I could use Western Union to wire some money to an employee in the Dominican Republic.

I’ve done this for him a couple of times in the past (it is far cheaper to send money from the U.S.), so I stopped by a branch this morning, filled out the paperwork and sent the money.

Or, to be more accurate, I thought I sent the money.

As I was walking out, I got a text from Western Union saying that they put a hold on the transfer and that I needed to call a 1-800 number to answer some questions.

So I made the call and was told that they blocked the transfer because they were trying to “protect me” from potential consumer fraud.

It’s possible that this was a potential reason, but I immediately suspected that Western Union was actually trying to comply with the various inane and counter-productive AML laws and regulations imposed by Washington.

My suspicions were warranted. Even though I explained that I wasn’t a victim of fraud and answered 10 minutes of pointless questions (how long did I know my friend in Dubai? when did I last see him? what would the employee use the money for?), Western Union ultimately decided to reject the transfer.

Why? I assume because AML laws and regulations require companies to flag “unusual transactions,” and financial institutions would rather turn away business rather than risk getting some bureaucrat upset.

So my unblemished track record of being a successful “money launderer” came to an end.

But here’s the real bottom line.

Other than wasting about 30 minutes, I didn’t lose anything. But a small business owner will now have to pay $150 more for a transaction, and an employee from a poor country will have to wait longer to get money.

In some sense, even Western Union is a victim. The company lost the $20 fee for my transaction. But that’s probably trivial compared to the money that they pay for staffers who have the job of investigating whether various transfers satisfy Uncle Sam’s onerous rules.

Even my “successful” example of money laundering in Episode 1 was costly. I lost about two hours of my day.

And if I wasn’t for the nice teller who decided to break the law, I probably would have lost out on about $100. Perhaps not worst outcome in the world, but now think about how poor people suffer when they suffer similar losses thanks to these policies.

Remember, by the way, all these costs aren’t offset by any benefits. There is zero evidence that AML laws reduce underlying crime rates (which was the rationale for these laws being imposed in the first place!).

P.S. You may not think AML policy lends itself to humor, but here’s an amusing anecdote involving our former President.

P.P.S. Some folks on the left use AML arguments to justify their “war on cash,” and they’re pushing to restrict cash as an interim measure.

P.P.P.S. Leftist politicians frequently accuse so-called tax havens of being sanctuaries for dirty money, but those low-tax jurisdictions have much better track records than onshore nations.

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A couple of days ago, citing bizarre government policies in India, Belgium, Malaysia, Romania, and Spain, I wrote about some “great moments in foreign government.”

Today, we’re going to give special attention to the United Kingdom.

I’m not claiming there’s an above-average level of government stupidity in the United Kingdom (though that’s distinctly possible). Instead, I suspect I simply get exposed to more stories from the U.K.

Whatever the reason, let’s start with this report from the Times.

Plastic stirrers and cotton buds are to be banned alongside straws… The move, expected to come into force as early as next year, is designed to curb “society’s addiction” to throwaway products, the environment secretary writes… The UK uses 13.2 billion cotton buds a year, more than any other member of the EU, as well as 44.1 billion stirrers and 42 billion straws, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. …Mr Gove initiated plans last month to require retailers to impose a deposit on plastic bottles and has extended the 5p tax on plastic bags to smaller shops. Moves for an industry levy aimed at reducing the use of products such as takeaway food cartons are also underway in the Treasury.

Apparently, the supposedly conservative government in the United Kingdom thinks this type of green virtue signalling is a way of wooing the tiny collection of misguided Tories who oppose Brexit.

Mr Gove is said to believe that the issue helps reconnect the Conservatives with former supporters angry over Brexit.

Switching topics, here’s a bizarre story from the BBC.

Chelsea Russell, 19, from Liverpool posted the lyric from Snap Dogg’s I’m Trippin’ to pay tribute to a boy who died in a road crash, a court heard. Russell argued it was not offensive… Prosecutors said her sentence was increased from a fine to a community order “as it was a hate crime.” She was charged after Merseyside Police were anonymously sent a screenshot of her update. …The words Russell used on her account contained a racial label which some people find extremely offensive. …Prosecutor Angela Conlan said Russell’s defence also argued her profile “wasn’t public, but it had been proved in court that anyone could access it and “see the offensive language”. Russell was found guilty… She was given an eight-week community order, place on an eight-week curfew and told to pay costs of £500 and an £85 victim surcharge.

Given my utter lack of cultural awareness, I’ve never heard of Snap Dogg. I’m guessing he’s black, but I could be wrong.

In any event, this absurd story raises a couple of points.

  • First, people should have the right to say offensive things.
  • Second, it appears that there was no offensive intent.
  • Third, this shouldn’t be an issue for government.

I’m sure that there’s still real racism in British society. I hope there is widespread scorn for people who practice that odious version of collectivism. I also support boycotts of private measures to punish unambiguous racists (the ideal goal is to have their minds changed by kindness).

Government should only step in when there’s a threat to life, liberty, or property.

Sadly, the British government is policing speech, perhaps even speech that should be considered totally benign.

Which is a good excuse to post this funny-yet-sad item from Libertarian Reddit.

Speaking of things that are funny and sad, here’s a Reason column on the latest development in the battle to leave Brits totally vulnerable to crime.

It turns out that when you pass laws disarming people in an attempt to prevent violence, criminals who habitually disregard all laws don’t make exceptions for the new rules. In London, crime still thrives despite the U.K.’s tight gun controls and the British political class is now desperately turning its attention to restricting knives. …Firearms are strictly restricted in the U.K., including a near-total ban on handguns. Nevertheless, “[i]n the 12 months to October 2017, there were 2,500 offences involving guns: a 16 per cent increase on the previous year and a 44 per cent increase on 2014,”… Criminals, it seems, are not averse to committing crimes—including the illegal acquisition of tools that help them commit more crimes. Besides illegal guns, British criminals also use edged weapons… Having failed to disarm criminals with gun controls that they defy, British politicians are now turning their attention to implementing something new and different: knife control. Because criminals will be much more respectful of knife laws than of those targeted at firearms, I guess. …Poundland (the British equivalent of a dollar store) announced last week that it will no longer sell kitchen knives in any of its 850 stores. Similar stores are being slapped with fines for selling knives to minors. British politicians propose banning home delivery of knives and police promote street-corner bins for the surrender of knives.

If you outlaw knives, only outlaws will have knives (in America, we apply that lesson to tanks).

And they’ll also have acid, as noted on Libertarian Reddit.

The cops don’t have the time and energy to concentrate on these real crimes.

Instead, they bust a girl for benignly quoting a bad word. Or they bust homeowners for harming robbers. Or harass employers who commit discrimination by advertising for “reliable” workers.

And apparently Brits also are on guard against the scourge of eggs in the hands of kids. And flour.

How embarrassing.

Today’s collection is even worse than the ones I shared in February and April.

P.S. And let’s not forget the U.K.’s creepy statism and ghoulish government-run healthcare.

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Given the routine corruption and reckless spending in Washington, I frequently get asked how I keep my sanity.

It’s possible, as some of my friends argue, that I’m not actually sane. That would explain why I try to put my finger in the dyke of big government as more and more new leaks keep developing. Only a crazy person would fight against big government when politicians and bureaucrats have a “public choice” incentive to do the wrong thing.

Moreover, if “victory” is restoring the kind of limited government envisioned by the Founding Fathers, then there’s a 99.99 percent chance all my efforts will be wasted.

But allow me to offer a reason for optimism. What if we decide that “victory” is simply hindering the growth of government so that the private sector has enough “breathing room” to continue making our lives richer and better?

That’s the basic message of Human Progress, Marian Tupy’s website showing how the world is constantly improving. And we see good long-run developments from Economic Freedom of the World.

In other words, we don’t need to achieve Libertarian Nirvana. We just need to throw sand in the gears of government.

And that’s why I don’t think my life is pointless. To be sure, I haven’t given up on my dream of replacing the odious internal revenue code with a flat tax, but if the only thing I achieve is to protect America from a value-added tax, I’ll nonetheless go to my grave feeling like I did something very valuable for my country.

But there’s something else that keeps me sane. I also enjoy laughing at government. I regularly write about “great moments” in government and point out that incompetence and stupidity is a regular feature of the federal government, of state governments, and of local governments.

And I also enjoy mocking the spectacular screw-ups and bizarre blunders that are a feature of foreign governments as well.

And that’s our topic for today. So let’s start with this story from India about a very unusual example of vote buying.

A south Indian state has become possibly the first in the world to offer publicly-funded breast implants, its health minister arguing, “Why should beauty treatment not be available to the poor?” The Tamil Nadu state health department on Wednesday launched the free service at a clinic in the capital Chennai. …The clinic had already been providing breast reconstruction surgery for cancer patients, but was now extending the service for people who wished to alter the size of their breasts for other health or cosmetic reasons. The head of plastic surgery at the clinic, Dr V Ramadevi, said some of her patients…sought to augment or shrink their breasts for a boost in confidence. “There is a psychological benefit. Many girls who have larger breasts don’t like to go out. There is no reason this surgery should be restricted from the poor.” The procedure would also be available to men, she said. …Tamil Nadu’s government is known for its largesse, particularly under former chief minister Jayalalithaa, who pioneered free food canteens and doled out wedding jewellery and venues to the poor.

I’ve previously reported on crazy examples of government policy in India, so I suppose this story shouldn’t surprise me.

And since taxpayer-financed cosmetic surgery exists in the United Kingdom and the United States, Indian taxpayers can take solace that they’re not alone.

Now let’s go to Belgium, where there’s apparently a problem with rogue royalty.

Prince Laurent of Belgium has had his monthly allowance docked for a year, after a vote by the country’s federal parliament. The sanction was imposed after the prince attended a Chinese embassy reception last year without government permission, in full naval uniform. Lawmakers voted for a 15% cut to his €307,000 (£270,000; $378,000) annual allowance. …Prince Laurent, who is the younger brother of King Philippe, wrote a lengthy emotional letter to parliament before the vote on his endowment, arguing that, as a royal, he is unable to work for a living. He described the vote as “the trial of my life” and said it would “likely cause me serious prejudice” if MPs went against him. …The prince, 54, said the royal family had obstructed his attempts to be financially independent. …Lawmakers ultimately rejected his claim that no citizen of their country had been so exploited, voting to cut his stipend by 93 to 23 votes. …He had previously been criticised for attending meetings in Libya when the late Muammar Gaddafi was still in power, and making an unsanctioned 2011 trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a former Belgian colony.

I suppose this is a feel-good story in that politicians actually voted to cut spending.

Though we should never forget that this is the country where the public sector consumes half of economic output but officials actually complained that it’s hard to fight terrorism because of “the small size of the Belgian government.”

Now it’s time for ar stop in Malaysia, where corrupt politicians spent the country into debt and now they want taxpayers to voluntarily cough up extra money.

When Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad unexpectedly won his bid for office in May, he pledged to…get the country’s $250 billion worth of debt under control. And this week, he announced the government had found a way to at least get started: crowdfunding. Within 24 hours, the “Malaysia Hope Fund” raised almost $2 million, the BBC reported. “The rakyat (people) voluntarily want to share their earnings with the government to help ease the burden,” the finance ministry said in a statement, announcing that it would be accepting donations to a special fund set up to help relieve the country’s debt. …The crowdfunding idea started with a 27-year-old named Nik Shazarina Bakti, who recently launched a private crowdfunding initiative to help relieve Malaysia’s debt.  She raised around $3,500 before the government stepped in. In a sense, the effort is a version of what she said Malaysians did during their struggle for independence from Britain, when they donated jewelry, money and valuables. It’s also similar to what South Korea did as it attempted to pull itself out of economic crisis in the late 1990s, and regular citizens lined up to donate their most prized possessions to the government, including wedding rings and trophies.

Hmmm…, $2 million raised to pay off $250 billion of debt. Methinks they won’t meet their goal.

Though this story reminds me that politicians like Elizabeth Warren want the rest of us to pay more tax, yet she conveniently doesn’t participate in her state’s version of voluntary crowdfunding.

Here’s an amazing story from Romania.

He’s a dead man walking and the court ruling is final. A Romanian court has rejected a man’s claim that he is still very much alive, after he was officially registered as deceased, the Associated Press reports. Constantin Reliu, 63, lost his case in Vasului because he appealed too late on the ruling, a court spokeswoman said Friday. The story goes that Reliu had traveled to Turkey in 1992 for work and lost contact with his family. Since his wife had not heard from her husband in years, she acquired a death certificate for him in 2016, the AP reports. However, since Reliu was discovered by Turkish authorities this year with expired papers, he was deported back to Romania. That’s when he discovered he had been declared dead.

Wow. I thought American courts generated some outlandish decisions, but this belies belief.

Last but not least, here’s a report from Spain that should leave you skeptical about the efficacy of additional NATO spending.

An attempt to deploy a new submarine for Spain’s navy has run aground again, after it emerged it cannot fit in its dock, Spanish media report. The S-80 boat was redesigned at great expense after an earlier mistake meant it had problems floating, and it was lengthened to correct the issue. Spanish newspaper El País now reports that after the changes, the docks at Cartagena can no longer fit the vessel. The cost for each has almost doubled, the newspaper said. …The original problem with the submarine dates back to 2013, when it was discovered that it was about 100 tons heavier than it needed to be. That caused a problem for its buoyancy – so it could submerge, but might not come back up again. A former Spanish official told the Associated Press at the time that someone had put a decimal point in the wrong place, and “nobody paid attention to review the calculations”. …the base at Cartagena will have to be dredged and reshaped to accommodate the now-floating longer vessel, the El País report said. Spain’s Defence Minister Margarita Robles, speaking on Spanish radio, admitted that “there have been deficiencies in the project”.

Call me crazy, but “deficiencies” doesn’t really describe what happened. Almost makes the Pentagon look frugal. Almost makes the German intelligence service look competent.

For previous examples of great moments in foreign government, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

P.S. In other words, my “government in cartoons” collection applies equally no matter where you travel.

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While much of my analysis focuses on the mess created by Washington, I periodically show my ecumenical nature by sharing “Great Moments in State Government” and “Great Moments in Local Government.”

And in keeping with the title of this page, I even occasionally share “Great Moments in Foreign Government.”

Today, though we’re going to get very specific and look at Great Moments in British Government. I did the same thing back in February and there’s so much new material that it’s time for an encore.

We’ll start with this story from the Daily Mail about an elderly man who was arrested for defending his home.

A 78-year-old homeowner has been arrested by murder detectives after a suspected burglar he fought with in his own kitchen died of a stab wound. …The homeowner was initially detained on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm but was later arrested on suspicion of murder. The case has been compared to that of Tony Martin, who was jailed for killing an intruder at his home in 1999. The break-in comes amid a surge in violence in the capital, with 49 people already having died in crimes in London in 2018. …The homeowner suffered bruising to his arms but police said his injuries are not life threatening.  He remains in custody at a south London police station.

Wow, this might be even more outrageous than the story about the woman who got arrested for merely brandishing a knife in her own home.

But Americans shouldn’t laugh too much about these stories since cops on this side of the Atlantic have arrested citizens for injuring burglars.

Next is a story from the Evening Standard about so-called political correctness run amok.

Mansfield College was forced to cancel a “420 themed” bop scheduled for this Friday – April 4 – after students complained. In an email sent to students…, organisers explained that the party would be a celebration of the “internationally recognised day of protest for the legalisation of Marijuana” on April 20. It invited undergraduates to “dress up as their favourite stoner.” …It also warned: “If you’re white, don’t try to go as Snoop Dogg or Bob Marley. Blackface isn’t cool.” …The invite sparked backlash from some students who said they felt the event encouraged “cultural appropriation.” One undergraduate said the college’s elected welfare representatives were worried that the event could be exclusionary. “Anyone who might have negative experiences of drugs or addiction might be affected by it,”… Within hours the entertainment team sent round an email cancelling the event and apologising for anyone they offended. They said: “We understand that this was met with offence and we want to apologise dearly to those who were offended,” they said.

I don’t know what’s more depressing, the fact that people complained or the fact that organizers cravenly apologized.

But maybe I’m not thinking about this the right way. I had a “negative experience” that “affected” me when Alabama beat Georgia for the national championship back in January. Maybe I should demand to remove the Yellowhammer State from all maps so I don’t get “triggered”.

Our final story might belong in a column about “Great Moments in Government-Run Healthcare“, but it seems to fit well with today’s collection.

A humanist will lead a team of priests as the first atheist head chaplain in the history of the NHS. …Lindsay van Dijk is one of the youngest chaplains in the NHS and will lead three priests from the Church of England, Baptist and evangelical denominations… As a humanist, Ms van Dijk believes life is giving meaning by seeking happiness and helping others find happiness too. Humanists do not believe in God or an afterlife. …Ms van Dijk told the Times at Stoke Mandeville Hospital: ‘Anyone within the chaplaincy team goes to patients to lend a listening ear, to provide spiritual and emotional support, and doesn’t specifically say “I’m from this faith” as it’s not important. …She added that in her new role she has experienced ‘mostly curiousity’ rather than objections. …The chief executive of Christian Concern Andrea Williams said: …’Putting a humanist in charge of the chaplaincy team shows how far we have come from the Christian roots of the NHS.’

I never realized that there were “Christian roots” to government-run healthcare (if so, God must like needless death and terrible suffering).

But let’s set that aside and focus on the main story. I assume that NHS chaplains are actually government bureaucrats rather than local volunteers, so part of me is thinking this is a waste of money.

But I also am a bit perplexed by the notion of having an atheist chaplain. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Why not hire the woman as “head grief counselor” or something like that?

Maybe it’s time to resuscitate my “U.S. vs U.K. inane-government-policy contest“.

P.S. The U.K. might have the lead in that contest because it actually has proven that a government can be so incompetent that it can’t even give away money.

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Time for a confession.

I routinely mock bureaucrats, but I don’t really think they are any worse than other people. Indeed, I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who work for various levels of government and they are fundamentally decent people.

The real problem is that bureaucracies create bad incentives. So even people who are generally good will be tempted to exploit rules that reward bad behavior.

And some of these folks, operating in systems with bad incentives, will morph into bad people. Heck, some of them are so awful that I elect them to the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame.

But it’s also important to recognize other bureaucrats – as well as the perverse rules that encourage their bad actions.

Let’s start with a cop in New Jersey who went above and beyond the call of duty, at least if the call of duty involves ripping off taxpayers.

…former Police Chief Philip Zacche…could spend the first decade of his retirement in federal prison after he admitted to stealing $31,713 from an agency that serves the city’s neediest families. Federal prosecutors said Friday that Zacche filled out phony time sheets to get paid for security work that he never performed for the Jersey City Housing Authority. …As a member of the department’s brass, Zacche pulled a six-figure salary before overtime. He earned even more by working an off-duty part-time gig as a security officer for the Authority’s Marion Gardens housing development. When he retired in June, city taxpayers had to cut Zacche a check for $512,620 to compensate him for 450 unused comp and vacation days. The 61-year-old Manalapan resident is now set to collect a pension of at least $11,946 every month for the rest of his life.

That’s a pension of more than $140,000 per year. And he gets it well before age 65. No wonder New Jersey is a fiscal mess.

Let’s also highlight a senior federal bureaucrat who specialized in exploiting immigrants to steal money.

A chief counsel at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has admitted stealing immigrants’ identities to defraud banks. Raphael Sanchez, 44, forged identity documents on his government computer to open bank accounts and credit cards in the names of seven immigrants. He racked up more than $190,000 (£135,000) in personal loans, transferred funds and card-spending during the four-year scam. …He claimed three were dependent relatives on his tax returns for 2014 to 2016. …He resigned from his role at the ICE’s Office of the Principal Legal Advisor after his crimes came to light.

I’m almost impressed by this guy’s depravity. Not only did he steal identities, but he even listed some of the victims as dependents on his tax return. That’s real chutzpah!

And notice that theft and fraud apparently are not enough to get a bureaucrat fired. Instead, he resigned.

And since we’re on the topic of bureaucrats doing bad things and not getting fired, we may as well note that the guy who sent the false alert in Hawaii is still getting checks from the taxpayers he terrified.

The worker who sent a false missile alert to Hawaiian residents on Saturday has reportedly been reassigned. The civil defence employee has been moved to another role, but not fired, according to multiplemedia reports. In a press conference on Saturday, the head of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency, Vern Miyagi, said the worker “feels terrible.” …The Post also confirmed that there are no plans to fire the employee.

Here’s a fourth example, dealing with a former Obama appointee who was unmasked for screwing taxpayers.

Vikrum Aiyer liked to commute to his government job by taxi. On at least 130 occasions over two years — the majority during a four-month stretch in 2016 — the then-chief of staff for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office called a taxi to pick him up near his home in the District. He was chauffeured across the Potomac River 10 miles or so to the agency’s headquarters in downtown Alexandria. And then…Aiyer billed the government for each ride. To escape notice, Aiyer impersonated current and former high-level agency officials, writing their names on cab receipts and vouchers he submitted to the taxi company, which then billed the government, investigators found. …Aiyer…released a statement saying he had a “misunderstanding of agency taxi rules.”

Hmmm…, I think I’ll go to the grocery store later today and slip a couple of steaks into my jacket. If I get caught leaving the store, I’ll say I had a “misunderstanding of store rules.”

The good news, at least if we’re grading on a curve, is that it only took about two years for the government to realize what was happening.

Aiyer’s unauthorized rides apparently went unnoticed for at least two years by budget officials who reviewed the invoices from Alexandria Yellow Cab, which has a contract to provide authorized taxi services for agency officials. The patent office paid the taxi company more than $4,000 for Aiyer’s rides, the report says. …For most of the cab rides, Aiyer was picked up on a street corner a tenth of a mile from his home, according to the report. But he wrote on the invoice that he was leaving from Commerce Department headquarters in downtown Washington. …investigators found…that he “used the Agency’s Cab Company account to facilitate his weekend social activity… Aiyer also racked up $15,000 in expenses on his government-issued credit card, charging for food and drink at local bars, clubs, coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, dry cleaners and at least one liquor store, the report said. …The report says he also misstated his educational credentials on résumés he submitted to the Obama administration, claiming to have a postgraduate degree that he did not receive.

By the way, the article mentioned that Aiyer was a technology adviser for the White House. Did he advise on how to lie on your resume and how to get taxpayers to finance one’s social life?

A common problem in most of these stories is that politicians and bureaucrats conspire together to create rules that enable bad behavior.

Government employee unions, for instance, give lots of money to politicians and then sit down with those lawmakers to “negotiate” pay and benefit packages.

Needless to say, the interests of taxpayers don’t get represented. And that’s why many state and local governments are careening toward bankruptcy.

What’s especially discouraging is how these deals often include loopholes that are designed to be exploited.

For instance, the Los Angeles Times has a very depressing exposé showing how senior bureaucrats in the police and fire departments benefited from a scam allowing them to double dip. But not just double dip. They get extra compensation and oftentimes then don’t do any work.

When Capt. Tia Morris turned 50, after about three decades in the Los Angeles Police Department, she became eligible to retire with nearly 90% of her salary. But like many cops and firefighters in her position, the decision to keep working was a financial no-brainer, thanks to a program that allowed her to nearly double her pay by keeping her salary while also collecting her pension. A month after Morris entered the program, her husband, a detective, joined too. Their combined income for four years in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan was just shy of $2 million, city payroll records show. But the city didn’t benefit much from the Morrises’ experience: They both filed claims for carpal tunnel syndrome and other cumulative ailments about halfway through the program. She spent nearly two years on disability and sick leave; he missed more than two years… The couple spent at least some of their paid time off recovering at their condo in Cabo San Lucas.

Yes, I’m sure they were “recovering” at their luxurious place on the beach.

Just like the other bureaucrats who exploited the system.

The Morrises are far from alone. In fact, they’re among hundreds of Los Angeles police and firefighters who have turned the DROP program — which has doled out more than $1.6 billion in extra pension payments since its inception in 2002 — into an extended leave at nearly twice the pay… Former Police Capt. Daryl Russell, who collected $1.5 million over five years in the program, missed nearly three of those years because of pain from a bad knee, carpal tunnel and multiple injuries he claimed he suffered after falling out of an office chair. …Former firefighter Thomas Futterer, an avid runner who lives in Long Beach, hurt a knee “misstepping off the fire truck,” three weeks after entering DROP, according to city records. The injury kept him off the job for almost a full year.Less than two months after the knee injury, a Tom Futterer from Long Beach crossed the finish line of a half-marathon in Portland, Ore.

Yes, you read correctly. His knee supposedly was so damaged that he couldn’t work, but he nonetheless runs long-distance races.

I’m beginning to think that firefighters in big cities are the most cossetted of all bureaucrats. I now understand the hostility in this video.

Here’s some background on the DROP scam.

The idea of allowing retirement-age public employees to collect their pensions while working and receiving paychecks originated more than three decades ago in tiny East Baton Rouge, La. …the goal was the opposite: to discourage older employees from staying so long that they limited upward mobility for younger workers. And it had a two-year time limit. Since then, versions of the program have been adopted by dozens of states, counties and cities across the country. The details vary — some have short terms to encourage early retirement, others have long terms to retain experience — but the central appeal for employees is constant: two large checks instead of one. …former Mayor Richard Riordan…said: “Oh, yeah, that was a mistake…it’s total fraud.” …in recent years, a growing number of jurisdictions have abandoned or drastically scaled back DROP programs because the math doesn’t work. …Instead of saving money, or remaining “cost-neutral,” the programs lead to ballooning pension costs and accusations that employees are simply double-dipping.

Needless to say, the taxpayers who finance all this aren’t treated nearly as well as government insiders.

When most Los Angeles taxpayers reach the standard retirement age, 65, they face a stark choice: keep working and collecting their paychecks or quit and start collecting Social Security, which replaces only a small fraction of annual wages for most people.When city firefighters or police officers reach their retirement age, 50, the choices are far better. They can keep working for a paycheck, they can retire with up to 90% of their salary in pension and city-subsidized health insurance for life, or they can enter DROP. For many, the choice is easy. …they keep working and collecting their paychecks for up to five years while their pension checks are deposited into a special account. …the city guarantees 5% interest on the money in the account. The city also adds annual cost-of-living raises to the pension checks to make sure they keep pace with inflation.

Disgusting.

Let’s close by speculating whether Trump will do anything to fix this mess, at least the part that occurs on the federal level.

Some pro-Trump readers sent me this story from the Washington Post and suggested it shows that the President is making progress.

…a year into his takeover of Washington, President Trump has made a significant down payment on his campaign pledge to shrink the federal bureaucracy… By the end of September, all Cabinet departments except Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and Interior had fewer permanent staff than when Trump took office in January — with most shedding many hundreds of employees, according to an analysis of federal personnel data… The falloff has been driven by an exodus of civil servants, a diminished corps of political appointees and an effective hiring freeze. …Federal workers fret that their jobs could be zeroed out amid buyouts and early retirement offers that already have prompted hundreds of their colleagues to leave, according to interviews with three dozen employees across the government. Many chafed as supervisors laid down new rules they said are aimed at holding poor performers and problem workers to account. …“Morale has never been lower,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers at more than 30 agencies. “Government is making itself a lot less attractive as an employer.”……Agencies have told employees that they should no longer count on getting glowing reviews in their performance appraisals, according to staff in multiple offices, as has been the case for years. Housing and Urban Development managers, for example, are being evaluated for the first time on how effectively they address poor performers.

If I was planning to die in the next month, I would probably agree with readers that Trump made progress in this area.

But as I wrote last year, the only way to successfully shrink bureaucracy in the long run is to shrink government.

Yet Trump just capitulated to a budget deal that increases spending.

I’m willing to praise this President when he does good things, but his weak record on spending almost surely is going to translate into a bigger bureaucracy over time. Though I hope I’m wrong.

Here are two final additional passages from the story that deserve some attention. Starting with an honest bureaucrat.

…some civil servants said they welcome the focus on rooting out waste and holding federal workers to high standards. “Oftentimes we run on autopilot and continue to fund programs that don’t produce the results that were intended,” said Stephanie Valentine, a program analyst at the Education Department. “You can’t keep blindly spending because that’s what we’ve always done.”

And since I’ve previously contrasted Bill Clinton’s good record and Obama’s bad record, this passage is added confirmation of my findings.

Trump already has begun to reverse the growth of the Obama era, when the government added a total of 188,000 permanent employees, according to Office of Personnel Management data. …The last time federal employment dropped during a president’s first year, President Bill Clinton was in the White House.

It’s also worth noting that the bureaucracy didn’t contract during the big-government Bush years.

I’ll conclude by circling back to my original point. Most bureaucrats are no better or no worse than the rest of us. Given the perverse “public choice” incentives inherent in government, however, the good bureaucrats often are lured into bad behavior and the bad bureaucrats frequently become scam artists and crooks.

P.S. If my conclusion was too grim and pessimistic, you can cheer yourself up with another example of bureaucrat humor.

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One of the great insights of “public choice” is that politicians engage in self-serving behavior just like everyone else.

But there’s a profound difference between them and us. In the private economy, we can only make ourselves better off by providing value to others. In government, by contrast, politicians oftentimes make themselves better off by providing unearned benefits to various interest groups.

This elementary insight is a good starting point for those who want to understand how Washington (mal)functions.

And these behavioral insights don’t change when you cross national borders, which is why I periodically share examples of bizarre boondoggles as part of my series on “Great Moments in Foreign Government”. Here are some examples of prior editions.

Today, we have a special version of this series from the British Isles.

We’ll start with a story, from the U.K.-based Sunday Times, about a voluntary tax scheme in a rich part of London.

Westminster city council said it would be writing to 15,000 of its wealthiest homeowners asking them to make a voluntary donation on top of their council tax. The initiative comes amid warnings that a crisis in local government funding is likely to drive five councils into insolvency within the next 12 months, with 10 running out of money within two years. …The begging letters scheme, dubbed the “Westminster community contribution”, will see letters sent to all 15,000 band H properties, worth about £1m and above. Nickie Aiken, leader of Westminster council, said she had decided to tap the wealthy for donations because “they have asked me, ‘Why can’t we pay more council tax?’ We are giving people the option. It is an opportunity to invest in their neighbourhood.” …A total of 904 people replied.

My immediate reaction is that there are 904 nitwits in Westminster.

But, to be fair, it doesn’t say they responded by sending extra money to the local council. Maybe they scrawled obscenities on the notice and returned it, which would have been my preferred response.

But I’m guessing many of them did cough up some cash, which makes them more foolish than the taxpayers of Norway. And even more foolish than hypocritical leftists in the United States.

It’s also frustrating that there’s no data in the story on why local councils are feeling a budget pinch. I’m guessing that they’re in trouble because spending has climbed much faster than inflation (similar to what happened where I live in Fairfax County, Virginia). So why reward that overspending with additional payments?

Now let’s head across the Irish Sea.

The Irish Times has a story about how a program that supposedly was designed to help homeless people actually is lining the pockets of well-to-do property owners.

The Government’s homeless family hub solution is not only a short-term fix for a long-term crisis, it’s a shocking deal for taxpayers that benefits private operators. …doesn’t “hub” have a cosy ring to it? There will be a total of 18 family accommodation hubs in Dublin, nine of which include hotels and B&Bs already in use being “adapted”. …Let’s take the former Mater Dei site as a prime example. Dublin City Council (DCC) earmarked €4.5 million to refurbish the former college complex to house 50 families… Sources say the project is likely to substantially overrun due to “many extras”… The problem is, after ploughing millions into a magnificent revamp, the council must hand the property back to the archdiocese in less than three years. …This is mirrored in every one of the family hubs, the longest lease being just five years. It starts to look like an incredible deal for the private owners. They get back a terrifically refurbished, furnished and equipped building, paid for by taxpayers, that can be rented out for profit. Everything goes back to the owner… On top of the deal of a lifetime, DCC is paying rent on the site, a figure it described as “nominal” but not nominal enough to make public.

Cronies getting rich(er) thanks to programs that supposedly were designed to help the poor? As Inspector Renault said in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked”!

Probably as shocked as he was to learn that Obamacare cost estimates were wrong and that childcare subsidies led to higher costs in the U.K.

Sadly, insiders always figure out how to line their pockets as government gets bigger. It’s a feature, not a bug.

Last but not least, let’s travel to Scotland.

In the U.K.-based Times, we learn that the government is so incompetent that it has a hard time ripping off European taxpayers for farm subsidies.

Scottish ministers have appealed to Europe for help in heading off a looming crisis in farm subsidy payments for the second year running. Discussions have taken place with the European Commission to set up “contingency plans” in case Scottish farmers once again missed out on their payouts. An extension to the end-of-the-month deadline for processing payments is vital if the Scottish government is to avoid being hit with millions of pounds in fines. …The first minister is likely to be asked what her government is doing to make sure farmers get their payments on time. Scottish ministers came in for extensive criticism last year after an IT failure delayed European agriculture subsidy payments to thousands of farmers.

What makes this story extra depressing is that the supposed Conservative opposition doesn’t question the wisdom of handouts.

…the Scottish government had asked for a deadline extension earlier this week, prompting anger from opposition politicians. Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader,…added: “It’s a disgrace that so many farmers are still waiting for payments, and it looks like, for the second year running, the SNP is going to have to go cap-in-hand to Europe and ask for special treatment.”

And it goes without saying that the welfare recipients…oops, I mean farmers…are anxious to know when their handouts will arrive.

Scott Walker, the chief executive of the National Farmers’ Union in Scotland, said: “Everyone who is due a payment simply wants to know when it will arrive and that is a reasonable demand.”

Sigh.

One of the reasons I was sympathetic to Scottish independence is that the entitlement mindset in the country may have been disrupted if they lost subsidies from the central government in London. Redistribution isn’t as fun when you’re taking money from your own pockets.

However, that wouldn’t have put an end to handouts from the statists in Brussels, assuming that Scotland would have been part of the European Union. So I’ll never be without things to write about. That’s good for me, bad for Europe.

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States such as Illinois, California, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey have very serious structural problems because of high tax burdens and unsustainable spending levels (often associated with excessive pay and benefits for bureaucrats).

I frequently write about those big issues, but I also like to periodically share examples of other bone-headed policies at the state level. These are not the types of policies that threaten bankruptcy, but they illustrate why it’s not a good idea to give power to politicians and bureaucrats.

Here are some new examples.

We have a column in Forbes about the dangerous plague of unlicensed and unregulated (gasp!) cakes in New Jersey.

At first, she sold her baked goods to support her son’s school fundraisers. …Soon Heather started receiving requests from family, friends, sports fundraisers, and even a wedding venue. …With this business, Heather hoped she could pay for her son’s college education and one day open her own brick-and-mortar cake pop shop. Unfortunately, her dreams were dashed thanks to a law that exists only in New Jersey. Unlike 49 other states, selling baked goods made at home is illegal in the Garden State. Baking and selling just one cake, cookie or muffin risks fines as high as $1,000. When Heather learned she had to shut down her cake pop sideline, the news was “crushing,” she said.

As is so often the case when governments are suppressing liberty, “health and safety” is the excuse.

New Jersey’s main justification for the ban is to protect the public’s health and safety—a claim that’s belied by the fact that nearly every other state has a “cottage food” law on the books, which legalizes the sale of homemade cakes, cookies, jams and other food deemed “not potentially hazardous.” …In order to sell cake pops, cookies or other shelf-stable treats in New Jersey, Heather must either build a licensed “retail food establishment” separate from her home kitchen or she can rent a commercial kitchen, which can easily cost $35 an hour.

Fortunately, the Institute for Justice is fighting to overturn the law.

Heather and two other home bakers joined with the Institute for Justice and filed a lawsuit against the state earlier this month. …A similar IJ lawsuit has already defeated a pastry prohibition in Wisconsin. Over the summer, a Wisconsin judge struck down the state’s ban on selling home-baked goods because there was “no real or substantial connection” between the law and public safety. …In his ruling, Lafayette Circuit Court Judge Duane Jorgenson noted that the ban protected established businesses from greater competition, which is why groups like the Wisconsin Bakers Association heavily backed the law. …Those rulings followed a 2015 IJ court victory on behalf of home bakers in Minnesota, which galvanized the state to expand its cottage food laws. Now the state boasts over 3,000 cottage food producers.

Notice, by the way, that protecting an established interest group was the real purpose of the law. In other words, the law was basically similar to schemes for occupational licensing.

This next item is so strange that I wonder whether it is somehow fake. But I also suspect it’s too bizarre to be fake. In any event, I wonder about the reason for this government-mandated notice?!? And if you find a (gasp!) vending machine without the notice, what purpose is served by calling the number? And do the bureaucrats expect people to memorize the number in case they stumble upon a rogue vending machine?!?

Oh, and how long before some people figure out how to remove the notice and then call the government in hopes of getting the “cash reward”?

If anybody knows the answer to any of these questions, feel free to share your thoughts. In the meantime, I’ll simply assume that the notice presumably isn’t as pointless and stupid at this pedestrian sign and definitely not as creepy and malevolent as this “public service” notice.

Next, we have a story from ABC News about taxpayer-funded generosity to pets in Michigan.

A dog in western Michigan has been approved for unemployment benefits — and he’d be bringing in a cool $360 a week. Michael Haddock, of Saugatuck, Michigan, says he received a letter on Saturday from the State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) addressed to Michael Ryder, according to Grand Rapids ABC affiliate WZZM. Michael is his name. Ryder is his dog’s name. …Haddock says the employer listed on the letter was a restaurant chain in Metro Detroit. After receiving the letter, Haddock contacted the restaurant chain and the state unemployment office. …The Michigan UIA announced Tuesday it was creating a special investigative unit to handle the recent increase in fake unemployment claims. The agency attributes many of the claims to recent data breaches. Haddock isn’t sure how scammers got his dog’s name.

I’m clearly behind the times. I have some cats that need to sign up for handouts!

On a more serious note, I confess that I’m not aware of the degree to which unemployment benefits are fraudulent. Hopefully it’s not as bad as the EITC, though I’m confident that problem is bigger than politicians and bureaucrats would ever admit.

And why would folks in the government even care? After all, it’s our money they’re squandering rather than their own. And Milton Friedman educated us on what that means.

From the perspective of good public policy, though, the real problem with such benefits (as personalized here and here) is that they lure people into extended periods of joblessness.

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Considering that America’s Founders created a very small central government that operated for more than 100 years without any income tax (or any other broad-based tax), it’s very disappointing that Washington is now consuming more that 20 percent of our nation’s output.

That’s bad for growth since resources are diverted from the productive sector of the economy.

But let’s also keep in mind that politicians also impose policies that may not have much impact on GDP statistics, but definitely reduce our quality of life.

I’ve written about some of these annoying bits of red tape.

Jeffrey Tucker, in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, shares my disdain for the nanny state.

Soap doesn’t work. Toilets don’t flush. Clothes washers don’t clean. Light bulbs don’t illuminate. Refrigerators break too soon. Paint discolors. Lawnmowers have to be hacked. It’s all caused by idiotic government regulations that are wrecking our lives one consumer product at a time, all in ways we hardly notice.

And he points out another item to add to our list.

We now have gas cans that don’t work nearly as well as they used to because of mindless bureaucracy.

Who would make a can without a vent unless it was done under duress? After all, everyone knows to vent anything that pours. Otherwise, it doesn’t pour right and is likely to spill. …The whole trend began in (wait for it) California. …The notion spread and was picked up by the EPA, which is always looking for new and innovative ways to spread as much human misery as possible. …So…you have not been able to buy gas cans that work properly. They are not permitted to have a separate vent. The top has to close automatically.

Environmental zealots tell us we need these poorly functioning gas cans to save the environment from vapor.

But as Tucker explains, the policy is backfiring.

…don’t tell me about spillage. It is far more likely to spill when the gas is gurgling out in various uneven ways, when one spout has to both pour and suck in air. …There is no possible rationale for these kinds of regulations. It can’t be about emissions really, since the new cans are more likely to result in spills.

Amen.

This is a never-ending nightmare when I mow my lawn. When it’s time to refill the gas tank, I know gas is going to spill regardless of how careful I am.

I can’t imagine that’s good for the environment (I’m sure it releases far more vapor than would seep into the atmosphere with a vent), but I confess that my main concern is that gas dribbles onto a hot lawnmower engine. So I’m always poised to run away from my mower if the thing bursts into flame.

Oh, the joy of red tape!

Writing for Forbes, Clyde Wayne Crews also has commented on this inane and counter-productive regulation.

…when I first tried to use these new gas cans a few months after purchase I was shocked at their new spring-loaded, Mousetrap game style…spouts. …You need three hands to operate today’s gas can spouts. You’ll start each project spilling more gas than you get into the mower, motorcycle, car or whichever. In other words, you will create more vapor emissions than you ever would have otherwise. …No gas cans available for sale anymore have vents on the opposite top-side either, so when trying to pour you get a sloshing, heaving mess, burping gasoline eruptions leaking from the complex yet flimsy spout that easily breaks.

But Wayne very helpfully proposes a solution…assuming one is willing to incur a small risk.

…in order to harm the Earth less with a normal, non-polluting spout, I was wondering about workarounds for the inhumane, vapor-spewing trick spouts the environmentally unfriendly EPA forces you to buy to increase pollution. With a bit of searching, I found so-called EZ Pour “water” jugs. Note: You and I cannot use these alternatives to pour gasoline into vehicles or equipment, since that is an illegal non-EPA bureaucrat-approved hack, but they can be used to pour “liquid,” however.

The EPA can have our EZ Pour jugs when they pry them from our cold, dead, non-polluting fingers!

I had some fun in 2013 by pointing out that when they outlaw tanks, only outlaws will have tanks. Who could have predicted we’d be saying the same thing about well-functioning gas cans?

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I don’t like it when voters support tax increases.

Needless to say, voters rarely if ever vote to raise their own taxes. Instead, they get seduced into robbing their neighbors in exchange for the promise of new goodies from politicians.

Regardless, it’s still very unfortunate when it happens because it shows an erosion in the American spirit (we should be more like Switzerland!).

I raise this issue because the people of Oregon just gave fairly strong support to a tax-hike referendum. Here are some of the details.

…voters approved hundreds of millions of dollars in health care taxes in a special election. Measure 101, which led 62 percent to 38 percent with returns partially tallied, was the only issue on the ballot. It will raise $210 million to $320 million in taxes on Oregon’s largest hospitals and many health insurance policies by 2019.

At first glance, this is just another example of Oregon voters voting for bigger government and more class warfare.

But as you read further in the story, you’ll find something remarkable.

…the tax deal was a victory for…the health care industry, which bankrolled the “yes” campaign. …The largest contributor to the campaign to pass the taxes was the association that represents Oregon hospitals. Other health care companies also spent heavily to pass the measure.

Huh? Why would an industry support and bankroll an initiative to give more of their money to government?!?

It turns out that the industry isn’t filled with masochists (like the neurotic trust fund leftists who posture in favor of higher taxes). Instead, the special interests such as the hospital lobby viewed a couple of hundred million of taxes as an “investment” that will generate about $1 billion of taxpayer-financed loot.

…the health care industry…will benefit from the resulting $1 billion-plus that will be spent on Oregonians’ health care.

And taxpayers in other states will pick up a majority of the tab!

That tax revenue will enable Oregon to qualify for $630 million to $960 million in federal Medicaid matching funds that benefit the state’s health care industry. …state taxes would allow the state to keep federal matching funds.

This scam was exposed last year in a Wall Street Journal column.

…42 states tax hospitals. Why? One answer is the perverse incentives built into the Medicaid law. When a state returns tax money to hospitals through Medicaid “supplemental payments,” it qualifies for matching funds from Washington. …Medicaid supplemental payments, as the term implies, are separate and distinct from the reimbursements that cover the actual cost of services rendered to beneficiaries. But the federal government turns a blind eye to the circular nature of the arrangement: Hospitals and other providers are both the source and the recipient of most of the funds.

Here are more details on this oleaginous ripoff.

…supplemental-payment schemes…“have the effect of shifting costs to the federal government,” according to a 2014 study by the Governmental Accountability Office. The more a state taxes its hospitals and then gives them money back, the more federal funds it can obtain. …The hospital tax is the biggest revenue-raiser, but 44 states also tax nursing homes, and 34 tax at least one other type of health-care provider. The GAO study found that these taxes had almost doubled nationally, from about $9.5 billion in 2008 to $18.5 billion in 2012.

By the way, I have written on this topic before, and even included a handy infographic that explains a version of the scam.

Let’s now return to the column. The author cites an example from Connecticut.

Connecticut hospitals will pay $900 million in taxes, but the state will offset that with $600 million in supplemental Medicaid payments—matched with $450 million of federal funds. The state keeps those matching funds, plus the $300 million from the hospital tax, meaning Hartford comes out ahead in the whole scheme by $750 million. Nice work if you can get it.

I’m not a fan of my home state, but the Nutmeg State is hardly alone is playing this game.

What’s remarkable is that there are 8 states what don’t participate in the ripoff.

Anyhow, I can’t resist making one final point. Here’s a sordid tidbit from the earlier story about what happened in Oregon.

Democrats in the Oregon House helped achieve the deal by agreeing to fund three projects in a Medford Republican’s district, in exchange for that lawmaker providing the lone Republican “yes” vote in the state House.

One more piece of evidence that Republicans often are the most despicable people.

P.S. While today’s column focused on an odious quirk in the Medicaid program, let’s not lose sight of the forest by fixating on this particular tree. The reason we should care is that Medicaid is an initiative-sapping, money-draining program that greatly contributes to the mess in our overall healthcare system.

P.P.S. Which is why I encourage folks to watch the short video I narrated on the program. Pay close attention to the discussion that starts at 1:48. I explain that programs with both federal and state spending create perverse incentives for even more spending (e.g., what I wrote today). This is mostly because politicians in either Washington or state capitals can expand eligibility and take full credit for new handouts while only being responsible for a portion of the costs.

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) must be anxious to get on my list of government bureaucracies that shouldn’t exist.

The bureaucrats have engaged in some really silly and petty behavior (such as confiscating Airsoft toy guns because they might be machine guns), and they’ve engaged in some behavior that is criminally stupid and dangerous (running guns to Mexican drug gangs as part of the “Fast and Furious” fiasco).

Now we have another example. Though it’s so bizarre that I’m not sure how to classify it. Basically, the bureaucrats created an illegal slush fund, and then used the money illegally.

The New York Times has been on top of this story. Here are excerpts from the latest report.

For seven years, agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives followed an unwritten policy: If you needed to buy something for one of your cases, do not bother asking Washington. Talk to agents in Bristol, Va., who controlled a multimillion-dollar account unrestricted by Congress or the bureaucracy. …thousands of pages of newly unsealed records reveal a widespread scheme — a highly unorthodox merger of an undercover law enforcement operation and a legitimate business. What began as a way to catch black-market cigarette dealers quickly transformed into a nearly untraceable A.T.F. slush fund that agents from around the country could tap. …One agent steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in real estate, electronics and money to his church and his children’s sports teams, records show. …At least tens of millions of dollars moved through the account before it was shut down in 2013, but no one can say for sure how much. The government never tracked it.

Oh, by the way, the BATF was breaking the law.

Federal law prohibits mixing government and private money. The A.T.F. now acknowledges it can point to no legal justification for the scheme.

But you won’t be surprised to learn that there have been no consequences.

…no one was ever prosecuted, Congress was only recently notified, and the Justice Department tried for years to keep the records secret.

And it’s also worth noting that this is also a tax issue. As I’ve noted before, high tax rates encourage illegality.

Though cigarettes are available at any corner store, they are extraordinarily profitable to smuggle. That’s because taxes are high and every state sets its own rates. Virginia charges $3 per carton. New York charges $43.50. The simplest scheme — buying cigarettes in Virginia and selling them tax-free in New York — can generate tens of thousands of dollars in illicit cash. By some estimates, more than half of New York’s cigarettes come from the black market.

By the way, I can help but wonder why the federal government is engaging in all sorts of dodgy behavior to help enforce bad state tax laws. Yes, I realize the cigarettes are crossing state lines, but so what? The illegal (but not immoral) behavior occurs when an untaxed cigarette is sold inside the borders of, say, New York. Why should Washington get involved?

In other words, I like the fact that borders limit the power of government. It’s why I don’t like global schemes to undermine tax competition (why should Swiss banks be required to enforce bad U.S. tax law?), and it’s why I don’t like the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act (why should merchants in one state be required to enforce the sales taxes of other states?).

But I’m digressing.

Let’s get back to the Bureau’s misbehavior. Here’s some additional reporting from the U.K.-based Times.

A US government crime-fighting agency ran a secret bank account that its employees used to buy luxury cars, property and trips to casinos. Officers for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), charged with investigating smuggling and gun crimes, built up a slush fund worth tens of millions of dollars through illicit cigarette sales, ostensibly as part of an operation to catch traffickers. The scandal is the latest controversy to hit the agency, which has been criticised in recent years for lack of accountability and allowing the flow of guns and drugs to go unchecked. …Cash from the slush fund generated at an ATF field office in Bristol, Virginia, …funded activities such as a trip to Las Vegas, donations to agents’ children and the booking of a $21,000 suite at a Nascar race.

And what about the overall BATF bureaucracy? Well, it’s getting some unfavorable attention. Keep in mind that this scandal is on top of the “Fast and Furious” scandal of the Obama years.

The ATF has said that it has “implemented substantial enhancements to its policies, and has markedly improved leadership, training, communication, accountability and operational oversight”. Under the previous administration, it was widely derided for a botched weapons operation known as “Fast and Furious”. The agency allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal buyers, hoping to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel kingpins. But out of the 2,000 firearms sold, only a fraction have been traced. The secret account scandal has renewed calls from across the political spectrum for the department of about 2,000 agents to be reformed or shut down.

Last but not least, I think we have a new member of the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame.

Thomas Lesnak, a senior ATF investigator, began the scheme. …Mr Lesnak retired with his pension and was not reprimanded.

Just like Lois Lerner and the IRS, engaging in corrupt and crooked behavior and then escaping any punishment.

Maybe the two of them should hook up? They’d make a great couple. I’m sure they could even figure out a way to make taxpayers finance their wedding and honeymoon.

P.S. The “Fast and Furious” scheme was just one of scandals that occurred during the Obama years, but it may have been the most foolish. Didn’t anybody at the BATF realize that it wasn’t a good idea to funnel weapons to Mexican drug gangs?!?

P.P.S. The silver lining to that dark cloud is that we got a couple of good one-liners about the Obama Administration’s gun-running scandal from Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon.

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Government subsidies have an unfortunate habit of causing widespread economic damage and often result in huge burdens for taxpayers (though sometimes consumers are the ones getting pillaged).

The common thread is that government intervention interferes with the normal operation of the price system and thus leads to distortions since markets are prevented from functioning properly.

Let’s add another example, and it’s very timely because of the flooding in Texas. The federal government subsidizes flood insurance. And it does so in a way that is bad for taxpayers and bad for the environment, while also giving a windfall to rich people and putting lives at risk.

That’s an impressive list, even by government standards.

In a must-read column for USA Today, my old friend Jim Bovard is very critical of the program.

Hurricane Harvey…offers the clearest lesson why Congress should not perpetuate the federal National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)… The ravages in Houston and elsewhere would be far less if the federal government had not offered massively subsidized flood insurance in high risk, environmentally perilous locales. …NFIP embraced a “flood-rebuild-repeat” model that has spawned an almost $25 billion debt.

And when Jim says “flood-rebuild-repeat,” he’s not joking.

NFIP paid to rebuild one Houston home 16 times in 18 years, spending almost a million dollars to perpetually restore a house worth less than $120,000. Harris County, Texas (which includes Houston), has almost 10,000 properties which have filed repetitive flood insurance damage claims. The Washington Post recently reported that a house “outside Baton Rouge, valued at $55,921, has flooded 40 times over the years, amassing $428,379 in claims.

And he points out that the program is reverse class warfare.

Flood insurance subsidies benefit well-off households, and payouts disproportionately go to areas with much higher than average home values. Working stiffs in Idaho and Oklahoma are taxed to underwrite mansions for the elite. …NBC News revealed in 2014 that FEMA revised its flood maps to give 95%+ discounted insurance premiums to “hundreds of oceanfront condo buildings and million-dollar homes,” including properties on its “repetitive loss list.”

My colleague Chris Edwards has a comprehensive study of the federal government’s role in disaster relief. Here’s some of what he wrote about the history of subsidized flood insurance.

In 1968 the National Flood Insurance Act offered federal insurance to properties at risk for flooding. A key justification by supporters of federal flood insurance was that it would alleviate the need to pass special aid legislation after each flood disaster. As it has turned out, however, taxpayers are now both subsidizing flood insurance and paying for special relief bills passed after floods. …NFIP was supposed to save taxpayers money by alleviating the need for Congress to pass emergency aid packages after floods. Taxpayers were also not supposed to be burdened by the program itself because insurance premiums were to cover the system’s costs. Also, the NFIP included floodplain regulations that are imposed on communities adopting the program. These regulations were supposed to mitigate the harm from floods. None of the promises panned out. …Most importantly, rather than reducing the nation’s flooding problems, the NFIP has likely made flood damage worse by encouraging more development in hazardous areas. Since 1970, the estimated number of Americans living in coastal areas designated as Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) by FEMA has increased from 10 million to more than 16 million. Subsidized flood insurance has backfired by helping to draw more people and development into flood zones.

To add insult to injury, the program is poorly run.

The GAO has had the NFIP on its “high-risk” list of troubled programs for years. …In recent years, the program has accumulated more than $24 billion in debt because payouts have far exceeded premiums. Today, the program is in financial crisis and taxpayers will likely bear the burden of its large debt. The NFIP’s financial shortcomings are typical of government-run businesses. Unlike private insurance, the NFIP charges artificially low rates, does not build capital surpluses, and does not purchase reinsurance to cover catastrophic losses. …The GAO says that “by design, NFIP is not an actuarially sound program.” …A 2011 insurance industry study found that overall NFIP premiums are only half the level needed to cover the system’s full costs, and property owners in high-risk areas pay just one-third of full market rates.

But the biggest problem is that the program encourages imprudent – and even dangerous – behavior.

…artificially low rates subsidize people to live in high-risk flood areas. …NFIP is that it has encouraged development in hazardous areas. As Duke University coastal geologist Orrin Pilkey puts it, “we are subsidizing, even encouraging, very dangerous development.” Federal flood insurance has incentivized individuals and developers to build in hazardous areas…more lives and property are put in harm’s way.

And the program has plenty of repeat business.

…some property owners repeatedly rebuild in hazardous locations knowing that the government will bail them out after each flood. Repetitive loss properties account for only about 1 percent of all policies, but are responsible for about one-third of all NFIP claims. …One Mississippi home valued at $69,900 has flooded 34 times since 1978, and the owner has received $663,000 in NFIP payments over the years.

Here’s an image from Reddit’s libertarian page. Very appropriate given today’s topic.

An article for The Week looks specifically at how the program lured the people of Houston into taking excessive risk.

Why would the practical, fiscally conservative people of Texas anchor their financial security in houses that are now literally underwater? …a major culprit is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and specifically its subsidiary, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). …Well-meaning but drenched in perverse incentives, they are complicit in the horrifying destruction now racking the Texas gulf coast. …a normal insurance company would jack up the premium price to cover the high risk of floodplain construction, thus discouraging vulnerable building plans among those who cannot afford to cover the cost of disaster, the NFIP will insure this construction at a discount. …an artificially low premium like the NFIP offers cruelly deludes homeowners into believing their flood-prone houses are far safer than they are. …NFIP has taxpayers subsidizing unrealistically low premiums that incentivize new construction on dangerous land, and its discounts are available even to wealthy homeowners with pricey properties. “About 80 percent of NFIP households are in counties that rank in the top income quintile,” notes a recent report at Politico, and “[w]ealthier households also tend to receive larger subsidies.”

How do we solve this government-created problem?

With the same answer that Chris gave.

Axing the NFIP and transitioning back to private flood insurance, with its accurate risk signaling, is much overdue.

Writing for Reason, Ronald Bailey explains the perverse incentives created by the program.

The main lesson that the public and policymakers ought to learn from Harvey is: Don’t build in flood plains, and especially don’t rebuild in flood plains. Unfortunately, the flood insurance program teaches the exact opposite lesson, selling subsidized insurance whose premiums do not come close to covering the risks home and business owners in flood prone areas face. As a result, the NFIP is currently $25 billion in debt. Federally subsidized flood insurance represents a moral hazard, Kevin Starbuck, Assistant City Manager and former Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of Amarillo, argues, because it encourages people to take on more risk because taxpayers bear the cost of those hazards.

And, in many cases, bear those costs over and over and over again.

Federal Emergency Management Agency data shows that from 1978 through 2015, 3.8 percent of flood insurance policyholders have filed repetitively for losses that account for a disproportionate 35.5 percent of flood loss claims and 30.5 percent of claim payments, Starbuck says.

The solution, once again, is obvious.

…taxpayers should not be required to subsidize people who choose to build and live on flood plains. When Congress reauthorizes the NFIP, it should initiate a phase-in of charging grandfathered properties premiums commensurate with their risks. This will likely lower the market values of affected homes and businesses and thus send a strong signal to others to avoid building and living in such risky areas.

A couple of months ago, before Harvey, the Wall Street Journal presciently opined about the downside of government-provided flood insurance.

A classic example of government dysfunction is a federal insurance program that helps pay to drain basements in millions of America’s second homes. …The 1968 program insures more than $1 trillion in property, with about five million policies in 2016 for those who live in areas prone to flooding. The program is more than $24 billion in debt. One reason for the hole is that about 20% of policies are directly subsidized. More than 75% of such policies are in counties in the top 30% for home values, according to a Government Accountability Office analysis, and many dot the affluent coasts of Florida, California and Texas. In other words, this is a wealth transfer from low and middle-income families to the folks who own real estate on Nantucket. …The best reform would be to convert the program into a private operation, though Members of both parties would pile together like sandbags to block it.

The editorial noted that Representative Jeb Hensarling, Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, has tried to limit the program. Since he’s a Texan, it will be interesting to see if his pro-market principles remain in the aftermath of Harvey (based on his record, I’m guessing yes).

In another Reason column, Katherine Mangu-Ward put together a list of things politicians shouldn’t do once the storm is over.

Here are a few things Trump and his pals absolutely shouldn’t do in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but probably will: …Increase funding for the federal flood insurance program. When it comes time to rebuild, everyone will studiously avoid discussing the fact that maybe we shouldn’t be using a massive federal insurance program to incentivize building in areas that are repeatedly hit by storms. There’s a reason private insurers don’t offer policies to many coastal dwellers, and it ain’t “market failure.”

Needless to say, I’m not optimistic that her advice will be heeded.

Though you would think some Democrats would be on the correct side, if for no other reason than the program is a big fat subsidy for rich people.

One of those fat cats even confessed that the program is a boondoggle that lines his pockets. Here are some excerpts from a 2004 column by John Stossel.

…the biggest welfare queens are the already wealthy. Their lobbyists fawn over politicians, giving them little bits of money — campaign contributions, plane trips, dinners, golf outings — in exchange for huge chunks of taxpayers’ money.

John then confesses that he put his snout if the taxpayer trough.

I got some of your money too. …In 1980 I built a wonderful beach house. Four bedrooms — every room with a view of the Atlantic Ocean. It was an absurd place to build, right on the edge of the ocean. All that stood between my house and ruin was a hundred feet of sand. My father told me: “Don’t do it; it’s too risky. No one should build so close to an ocean.” But I built anyway. Why? As my eager-for-the-business architect said, “Why not? If the ocean destroys your house, the government will pay for a new one.” What? Why would the government do that? Why would it encourage people to build in such risky places? That would be insane. But the architect was right. If the ocean took my house, Uncle Sam would pay to replace it under the National Flood Insurance Program. Since private insurers weren’t dumb enough to sell cheap insurance to people who built on the edges of oceans or rivers, Congress decided the government should step in and do it. …I did have to pay insurance premiums, but they were dirt cheap — mine never exceeded a few hundred dollars a year.

Lots of rich people like this subsidy.

The insurance, of course, has encouraged more people to build on the edges of rivers and oceans. …Subsidized insurance goes to movie stars in Malibu, to rich people in Kennebunkport (where the Bush family has its vacation compound), to rich people in Hyannis (where the Kennedy family has its), and to all sorts of people like me who ought to be paying our own way.

John was even an example of the “flood-rebuild-repeat” syndrome.

…just four years after I built my house, a two-day northeaster swept away my first floor. …After the water receded, the government bought me a new first floor. Federal flood insurance payments are like buying drunken drivers new cars after they wreck theirs. I never invited you taxpayers to my home. You shouldn’t have to pay for my ocean view.

More than once!

On New Year’s Day, 1995, …The ocean had knocked down my government-approved flood-resistant pilings and eaten my house. It was an upsetting loss for me, but financially I made out just fine. You paid for the house — and its contents.

Though now another rich person will get the subsidy.

I could have rebuilt the beach house and possibly ripped you taxpayers off again, but I’d had enough. I sold the land. Now someone’s built an even bigger house on my old property. Bet we’ll soon have to pay for that one, too.

Let’s close with some systematic data on the regressivity of the program.

Two of my other colleagues, Ike Brannon and Ari Blask, authored a study on the flood insurance program. They covered lots of material, but here’s what they wrote about poor-to-rich redistribution.

Wealthier households benefit disproportionately from the reduced average cost of flood insurance brought about by government intervention. Of course, not all NFIP-insured properties are high value, but insured homes are on average more valuable than noninsured homes. …In 2007, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published a report containing statistics on the average and median values of properties in the NFIP. …The median value of properties in the NFIP exceeded the median value of an American home across all four categories, as shown in Table 1. …40 percent of coastal properties receiving subsidies were worth more than $500,000 and 12 percent were worth more than $1 million. …Comparisons of NFIP premiums with potential private premiums show that NFIP policyholders with the most risk exposure tend to receive the largest subsidy, with 80 percent of explicit subsidy recipients living in counties in the top income quintile.

And here’s Table 1 from their study.

My guide to having an ethical bleeding heart is very straightforward.

If taking money from rich people to give to poor people is wrong, then taking money from poor people to line the pockets of rich people is utterly reprehensible.

I’ll write in the near future about why the federal government shouldn’t be involved in disaster relief. But I wanted to specifically highlight the wretched impact of subsidized flood insurance because it is such a perverse example of how government promotes unjust inequality.

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In my writings about “Great Moments in Foreign Government,” I’ve come across amazing examples of bone-headed and incompetent behavior by politicians and bureaucrats in other nations.

Let’s add to this collection with three new stories about failures by foreign governments.

Our first example is from the United Kingdom, where the Times reports that spending on “sex education” actually increased teen pregnancy rates.

Teenage pregnancy rates have been reduced because of government cuts to spending on sex education and birth control for young women, according to a study that challenges conventional wisdom. The state’s efforts to teach adolescents about sex and make access to contraceptives easier may have encouraged risky behaviour rather than curbed it, the research suggests. In 1999, faced with some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe, ministers paid councils tens of millions of pounds a year to tackle the problem. Some local authorities made the morning-after pill freely available through pharmacies, while most hired teenage pregnancy “co-ordinators”, opened sexual health clinics in schools, and funded sex and relationship education (SRE) classes. The number of pregnancies, however, has fallen at a significantly faster rate since the grants were scrapped in 2010, in spite of critics’ dire prophecies to the contrary. David Paton, of the Nottingham University Business School, and Liam Wright, of the University of Sheffield, found that the decline was steepest in areas where councils slashed their teenage pregnancy budgets most aggressively. …Analysis of 149 local authorities from 2009 to 2014 adds to a body of evidence that suggests that when the government involves itself in teenagers’ sex lives it often winds up achieving the opposite of what was intended.

A government policy backfiring? Perish the thought!

Reminds me of the story about students who took driver education classes from the government in Indiana being more likely to have accidents than the students who didn’t take classes.

Our second example is from Sweden, where a local governments wants to create an entitlement for on-the-clock sex breaks.

Workers in Sweden could soon be allowed to take paid “sex breaks” during the day… A councillor in the northern town of Overtornea presented a motion asking that the area’s workers be given an hour during the day to go home and be intimate with their partners. …Muskos admitted there was no way to check whether workers would actually use the hour for its intended purpose. “You can’t guarantee that a worker doesn’t go out for a walk instead,” he said, adding that employers needed to trust their employees. …”This means that childbirth should be encouraged,” his motion states, as reported by Swedish newspaper Kuriren. …He said single people should also be allowed to take the hour to spend time improving their own well-being.

I wonder if the government will hire additional bureaucrats to monitor current bureaucrats to ensure that they are having sex on their breaks.

But what about those without spouses or significant others? Will the government pay to get them a partner? Don’t laugh, that’s something the British government already has done.

Speaking of which, we return to the United Kingdom for our third and final example. It seems lemonade cops don’t just exist in California, Georgia, and Oregon, they also patrol the mean streets of London.

A five-year-old girl selling lemonade to revellers heading to a festival in east London had her stand shut down by council officers who slapped her and her father with a £150 fine. Andre Spicer said his daughter burst into tears and told him “I’ve done a bad thing” after enforcement officers read out a lengthy legal letter before issuing him the notice. The five-year-old and Mr Spicer, a professor at City University, were given the fine for “trading without a permit” after they set up the make-shift stall near their home in Mile End. …Mr Spicer branded the enforcements officers’ decision an “over-zealous way of applying the rules,” after the pair set out to refresh festival goers heading to Lovebox in Victoria Park on Saturday. He said: “It’s not like she was trying to make a massive profit, this is just a five-year-old kid trying to sell lemonade. …Mr Spicer said he tried to tell his distraught daughter they would set up another stand to sell their homemade pop once they had a permit, but she replied: “No. It’s too scary.”

At least Canada tries to be unique. They bust kids who sell worms instead of lemonade.

But perhaps harassing kids is the best we can expect from the British government. After all, this is the place that is sometimes too incompetent to give away money. Though our cousins across the Atlantic are remarkably effective at producing pointless signs and road markings.

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Every so often, I run across a chart, cartoon, or story that captures the essence of an issue. And when that happens, I make it part of my “everything you need to know” series.

I don’t actually think those columns tell us everything we need to know, of course, but they do show something very important. At least I hope.

And now, from our (normally) semi-rational northern neighbor, I have a new example.

This story from Toronto truly is a powerful example of the difference between government action and private action.

A Toronto man who spent $550 building a set of stairs in his community park says he has no regrets, despite the city’s insistence that he should have waited for a $65,000 city project to handle the problem. …Retired mechanic Adi Astl says he took it upon himself to build the stairs after several neighbours fell down the steep path to a community garden in Tom Riley Park, in Etobicoke, Ont. Astl says his neighbours chipped in on the project, which only ended up costing $550 – a far cry from the $65,000-$150,000 price tag the city had estimated for the job. …Astl says he hired a homeless person to help him and built the eight steps in a matter of hours. …Astl says members of his gardening group have been thanking him for taking care of the project, especially after one of them broke her wrist falling down the slope last year.

There are actually two profound lessons to learn from this story.

Since I’m a fiscal wonk, the part that grabbed my attention was the $550 cost of private action compared to $65,000 for government. Or maybe $150,000. Heck, probably more considering government cost overruns.

Though we’re not actually talking about government action. God only knows how long it would have taken the bureaucracy to complete this task. So this is a story of inexpensive private action vs. costly government inaction.

But there’s another part of this story that also caught my eye. The bureaucracy is responding with spite.

The city is now threatening to tear down the stairs because they were not built to regulation standards. …City bylaw officers have taped off the stairs while officials make a decision on what to do with it. …Mayor John Tory…says that still doesn’t justify allowing private citizens to bypass city bylaws to build public structures themselves. …“We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.”

But there is a silver lining. With infinite mercy, the government isn’t going to throw Mr. Astl in jail or make him pay a fine. At least not yet.

Astl has not been charged with any sort of violation.

Gee, how nice and thoughtful.

One woman has drawn the appropriate conclusion from this episode.

Area resident Dana Beamon told CTV Toronto she’s happy to have the stairs there, whether or not they are up to city standards. “We have far too much bureaucracy,” she said. “We don’t have enough self-initiative in our city, so I’m impressed.”

Which is the lesson I think everybody should take away. Private initiative works much faster – and much cheaper – than government.

P.S. Let’s also call this an example of super-federalism, or super-decentralization. Imagine how expensive it would have been for the national government in Ottawa to build the stairs? Or how long it would have taken? Probably millions of dollars and a couple of years.

Now imagine how costly and time-consuming it would have been if the Ontario provincial government was in charge? Perhaps not as bad, but still very expensive and time-consuming.

And we already know the cost (and inaction) of the city government. Reminds me of the $1 million bus stop in Arlington, VA.

But when actual users of the park take responsibility (both in terms of action and money), the stairs were built quickly and efficiently.

In other words, let’s have decentralization. But the most radical federalism is when private action replaces government.

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Several years ago, I would regularly share horror stories about innocent kids being abused by politically correct government school administrators who overreacted to anything remotely resembling a gun.

I even had a U.S. vs. U.K. stupidity contest that featured many examples of anti-gun lunacy, though Canada may actually win the prize for the most absurd case of political correctness.

But I eventually stopped sharing these types of stories because it seemed there were so many and I felt like I was making the same points over and over again.

Time for the hiatus to end. I’ve run across a handful of stories that are so preposterous that I can’t resist revisiting the issue.

Here’s our first example. A local television station in North Carolina reports that a little girl was suspended because she pretended that a stick was a gun while playing with her friends.

A local mother is outraged after her 5-year-old daughter was suspended from school because of a stick that resembled a gun. …It started Friday when her mother got a call from the principal about a playground incident. Caitlin explained that she and her two friends were using their imaginations, playing “King and Queen.” In this case, Caitlin was the guard protecting the royals and picked up the gun to imitate shooting an intruder into the kingdom. Hoke County Schools said Caitlin posed a threat to other students when she made a shooting motion, thus violating policy 4331. …Miller says Caitlin was alienated by her friends and teachers as a result of the suspension. She hopes that the school will issue some sort of apology to her daughter.

I’m not the only one who thinks this is insane.

Now for our second story.

It’s about a very dangerous 11-year old girl who – gasp!! – . A Florida television station has the details.

A South Florida couple is outraged after they said their daughter was suspended from her middle school for using a child butter knife at lunchtime to cut a peach. …Souto’s daughter is an honor roll student at Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines. …Ronald and Andrea Souto told Local 10 News reporter Michael Seiden that their 11-year-old daughter was suspended for six days for bringing the knife to school. “This is a set of a spoon, fork and knife for toddlers — one year old,” Andrea Souto said. “It is made for children to learn how to eat properly. She’s used it since she was baby.” According to the school district, the girl violated the county’s weapon policy when she used her butter knife in the cafeteria to cut the peach. …Ronald said he hopes what happened to his daughter will bring change to the district, specifically new polices when it comes to weapons.

But this rogue child didn’t just get suspended. She may become an actual criminal.

The Soutos said they were shocked about the suspension and are now concerned that their daughter’s act of kindness could lead to criminal charges. …The Pembroke Pines Police Department said it has turned over their investigation to the State Attorney’s Office. It’s unclear whether prosecutors will file charges.

Our third story comes from a St. Louis TV station and it involves a four-year old boy who was suspended for a shell casing.

Hunter, 4, has been suspended from his preschool for bringing a shell casing from a fired bullet to school. He’d been at the preschool for about a year, she said, and now was in tears. Neither she nor Hunter’s dad knew it, but he found something he thought was pretty neat and he took it to school Tuesday to show his friends. …Hunter’s parents got a letter from the school’s director saying Hunter had been suspended for 7 days. …It turns out the casing came from a visit with Hunter’s grandpa who is a Caseyville police officer, Jackson said. …The school’s vice-president e-mailed her that he was notifying the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

The last sentence is particularly chilling since DCFS bureaucrats presumably have the power to take children from their families. So imagine the horrible position of Hunter’s parents, who not only have to deal with their kid being suspended for doing nothing wrong, but also have to worry about the state kidnapping their child if some anti-gun bureaucrat woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

Our fourth and final story is courtesy of the Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama, where a teenager was expelled for a year because of a water gun.

A family is up in arms after their 16-year-old daughter was expelled from Prattville High School for having a water gun on campus. …she was banned from school property and any extra-curricular activities for the same period. …She said a male classmate handed the toy to her daughter “as a joke.” “…the second you picked it up, you know its plastic and a toy,” she said. “So we can understand the initial reaction, not knowing it wasn’t a real gun. But after the principal and school officials knew it was a water gun, things should never have progressed this far.” …The family wants any reference to the expulsion removed from Laney’s academic records, McPhillips’ letters read. …If the expulsion isn’t removed from Laney’s academic record, the family is considering filing legal action

I suppose there are two big-picture lessons to be learned.

First, it’s hard to be optimistic about the education system after reading this type of story.

If bureaucrats at government schools don’t have common sense, how can they teach reading, writing, and arithmetic?

Maybe (especially given the shocking lack of results after record levels of staffing and funding) we should break up the government school monopoly and let parents choose better-quality schools.

Second, keep in mind that anti-gun statists know they can’t win the intellectual argument against private gun ownership, so they’re trying to stigmatize anything remotely connected to guns in hopes of eventually winning the political argument.

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I focus most of my ire on the federal government because bad policy from Washington is the biggest threat to our nation’s freedom and prosperity.

But we also get plenty of bad policy from other levels of government. I periodically focus on the foibles of states such as California, Illinois, and New York.

Today, though, let’s contemplate the inane policies of local government.

I’ve shared plenty of examples in the post, even to the point of putting together two contests (here and here) to pick the craziest action by a local government.

Politicians and bureaucrats in cities and towns do lots of big things that are bad, such as creating massive unfunded liabilities, providing crappy schools, turning law enforcement into back-door tax collectors, and trying to turn children into wusses.

And they do lots of small things that are bad, such as shutting down children’s lemonade stands, arresting people for saving rafters from drowning, fining people for rescuing children from savage dog attacks, leaving a dead body in a pool for two days, requiring permits to be a bum, poisoning water supplies, and paying bureaucrats not to work for 12 years.

Let’s augment these lists.

As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, here’s an example of Chicago cronyism.

A real estate venture created by President Barack Obama’s onetime boss and a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley squandered $68 million it was given to invest on behalf of pension plans for Chicago teachers, cops, city employees and transit workers… The five public pension funds haven’t made a dime on the investments they made nearly a decade ago… In fact, the financially troubled pension plans have lost most of the money they gave DV Urban… Though the pension funds lost out, DV Urban and its affiliated companies got about $9 million of the pension money for management fees.

Not that this should be a surprise. Being a Daley relative has commonly been a route to undeserved riches. And the same can be said about being an Obama crony.

Speaking of government greed, here are some excerpts from a very depressing Forbes column about shakedowns of poor people in Los Angeles.

An unbuckled seat belt caused Gloria Mata Alvarado to lose her driver’s license. When her husband was driving Mata to a doctor’s appointment for her gastritis in August 2012, her stomach began hurting. For relief, Mata adjusted her seat belt. But a police officer saw her take off the belt and cited her. …In court, Mata was ordered to pay $712, almost half the monthly income for her and her husband. (Both are on disability.) After telling the judge that she couldn’t pay the fine because of her limited means, a judge graciously reduced the fine—to $600. Unable to pay, her license was ultimately suspended. …In Los Angeles County alone, nearly 200,000 drivers had their licenses suspended simply because they failed to pay fines or appear in court. Statewide, from 2006 to 2013, the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended more than 4.2 million driver’s licenses for those reasons… Throughout the Golden State, motorists are routinely nickeled-and-dimed in traffic court. Looking to raise revenue, state lawmakers slapped on additional fees and surcharges to the base fines for traffic tickets. For instance, the fine for failing to signal or running a stop sign is $35. But after all the surcharges and fees have been imposed, that fine soars to $238. Likewise, a $20 ticket for using a cell phone while driving balloons to $162, while a $100 traffic ticket for failing to carry proof of car insurance actually costs $490. Even worse, failing to pay can trigger an additional $300 “civil assessment” fee. So for many low-income Angelenos, a $20, $35 or $100 ticket can easily become $462, $538, and $815 respectively. …Notably, the courts themselves receive the collected civil assessment penalties, granting them a strong financial incentive to levy fees.

This sickens me. I hate the thought of poor people having their lives made worse because of venal and greedy government.

Especially when many (probably most) of the infractions are for things that don’t actually promote or protect public safety.

At the very least, the fines (and accompanying fees) should be slashed. Though I recognize this could result in more cities being like Detroit, which actually spends more administering parking tickets than it collects in revenue.

Maybe the answer is to levy fines based on income. If a lot of middle class and rich people suddenly experienced severe financial discomfort like the poor, that might generate enough pressure to shut down these revenue-raising scams.

Let’s now travel up the coast to enjoy a classic case of government incompetence from San Francisco.

last year, SFMTA officials excitedly unveiled the first of sixty brand new electric trolley buses purchased by the city of San Francisco. …these $1.1 million-a-piece vehicles were touted as a crucial investment in a public transit system still running buses 20-plus-years old. There’s just one problem: The 60-foot buses can’t go up San Francisco’s hills. In fact, the buses were never designed to handle our iconic hills — anything over a 10 percent grade wears down motor components. …the New Flyer buses also struggle to meet Muni’s internal acceleration standards on inclines of 5 to 10 percent — sometimes taking double the time during tests to accelerate to required speeds on the slight inclines.

But at least the buses are electric, which means they have zero emissions, so the nitwits in San Francisco can feel virtuous (though it does require them to pretend electricity magically appears from nowhere rather than emissions-producing power plants).

This story reminds me of the streetcar boondoggle in DC.

Now let’s go to another city famous for bad policy.

New York City has been padding its budget by ticketing cars that are parked legally.

As of late 2008, in NYC you can park in front of a sidewalk pedestrian ramp, as long as it’s not connected to a crosswalk. …I’ve got a pedestrian ramp leading to nowhere particular in the middle of my block in Brooklyn, and on occasion I have parked there.  Despite the fact that it is legal, I’ve been ticketed for parking there.  Though I get the tickets dismissed, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. And that got me wondering- How common is it for the police to give tickets to cars legally parked in front of pedestrian ramps?

What the reporter discovered is shocking.

…thanks to NYC’s Open Data portal, I was able to look at the most common parking spots in the City where cars were ticketed for blocking pedestrian ramps. …What I found when I dove into the data surprised me.  To start, I found the top address where this ticket were given: in front of 575 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, where over $48,000 in parking fines were issued in the last 2.5 years. … the spot, (or really spots since there are two ramps), are legal, since they are in the middle of the block, with no crosswalk.  $48,000 in tickets at a legally parked spot, and that is just the last 2.5 years.

The next top spots on the list had the same story to tell.

1705 Canton Avenue in Brooklyn, 273 Tickets, $45,045: Legal. 270-05 76 Avenue in Queens, 256 Tickets ($42,440) Legal. 143-49 Cherry Ave, Queens, 246 Tickets, ($40,590).  Legal. …I started to skip down the list.  This spot in Battery Park, ranked #16 on my list and the top spot in Manhattan, had 116 tickets ($19,140) and turned out to be legal. …I started to skip down the list faster and faster.  Take #1000 in my top list, at 1059 Virginia Avenue, where 8 tickets had been given ($1320).  It is a classic T intersection, meaning it’s legal. …I then selected 30 random spots that had received 5 or more tickets over the time period, and based on Google Maps found that all of them appeared to be legal parking spots!

The good news is that this exposé supposedly is forcing the city to stop this type of illegal ticket, so some stories actually do have a happy ending.

The next step hopefully will deal with extortionate fines for the horrible crime of…gasp…idling for more than three minutes!

But not all stories end well.

Here’s a jaw-dropping report of bureaucratic abuse from Sarasota, Florida.

At 90 years old, Marie Louise Sikorski has lived in her house on Webber Street in Sarasota for most of her life… The city found several code violations at her home. Since then, she’s racked up massive fines, which she says add up to about 150,000 dollars. As a widow receiving only 1,000 dollars a month…, she says there’s little she can do. …That’s when 30-year-old Miles came into her life. …As her neighbor, Miles heard about her situation and began to help with repairs around the home, sometimes putting in 16 hour days, all free of charge.

This sounds like a happy ending, right? A greedy local government hits a senior citizen who is too old to maintain her house with massive fines, but a wonderful neighbor steps in to save the day.

You’re probably thinking the local government then waived the absurd fines.

…the City is still not satisfied, and she says she’s still being charged 500 dollars a day. …Sarasota requires much of the work to be done by a “licensed” contractor, something Miles is not.

In other words, we get a sad end to the story because of a mix of two ugly things, routine government greed and oligopolistic government licensing restrictions. Reminds me of the disgusting actions of the local government in Montgomery, Alabama.

Last but not least, let’s close with a classic story of wasteful spending.

A local politician in Portland, Oregon, squandered tax money taking her staff to a luxury spa in Arizona for supposed diversity training.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz says she will close her office next week to take her six staff members to a retreat in Arizona to learn about diversity at a cost of roughly $40,000. Fritz and her staff, about half of whom are people of color, plan to spend at least 3 1/2 days in Tubac, Arizona, near the Mexican border, participating in a diversity workshop put on by a Portland-based company, White Men as Full Diversity Partners. …The program charges $4,750 per person for tuition, lodging, meals and site fees. Fritz’s office will also have to pay for the staffers’ flights to Arizona.

Though, to be fair, Commissioner Fritz is not the only Portland politician to rip off taxpayers for this type of scam.

Former Mayor Charlie Hales drew criticism for spending $56,000 to send 16 white, male city employees to a resort on Mt. Hood in 2014 for another workshop put on by the same organization. The City of Portland has spent more than $126,000 on programs and consulting from White Men as Full Diversity Partners since August 2014, according to city invoice records.

As you might expect, there are some sketchy connections between the city bureaucracy and the contractor.

Office of Neighborhood Involvement Director Amalia Alarcon Morris worked as a paid associate for the diversity organization more than a decade ago… The diversity company still lists Alarcon Morris as a consultant on its website.

By the way, I fully expect that a search of campaign finance records would reveal that the owners and managers of White Men as Full Diversity Partners have recycled some of the loot they’ve received into the campaigns of Portland politicians.

The politicians win with campaign contributions. The bureaucrats win with a free vacation. The contractor wins by getting a big check.

The only losers are…you guessed it…the taxpayers!

The moral of the story, as explained by Veronique de Rugy in a column for Reason, is that governments at all levels are venal and incompetent.

What do home Bible study classes, transgender bathrooms, lemonade stands, cat litter, and marijuana have in common? To the blind eye, not much—but in fact, they’re all things state and local governments are actively working to regulate. …it turns out local governments are frequently the worst offenders of all when it comes to petty tyranny. …Dozens of places, including Austin, Texas; Sacramento, California; and Thurston County, Washington, have banned supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies from providing customers with free plastic bags. “Many cities restrict the economic freedom of their residents and potential migrants through minimum wage laws, business licensing, rent control, and zoning restrictions,” Mercatus Center state and local policy expert Adam Millsap explains. And many of these regulations, particularly zoning and occupational licensing laws, place a disproportionate burden on poor people and minorities.

And she points out that decentralization, while theoretically very desirable, won’t generate many benefits if misguided federal policies are replaced by bad local policies.

Many on the political right believe that the devolution of power to lower levels of government can help overcome problems created by centralized authority….In a 2014 paper, George Mason University economist Richard Wagner explored whether federalism really supports liberty. He found that devolving power to lower levels can be good for individual freedom under the right conditions—but it’s far from guaranteed.

P.S. Don’t forget to vote for Veronique in the “most influential libertarian” contest. And you don’t even need to make it a write-in vote. She’s been added to the list by popular demand.

P.P.S. I suspect most people won’t care about what’s happening with my local government, but local politicians and bureaucrats are whining about belt-tightening even though spending has climbed much faster than inflation.

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Early last month, in a column on my hopes and fears for 2017, I fretted about fiscal chaos in Italy leading to default and bailouts.

Simply stated, I fear that Italy, along with certain other “Club Med” nations, has passed the point of no return in terms of big government, demographic decline, and societal dependency.

And this means that, sooner or later, the proverbial wheels are going to fall off the bus.

And it might be sooner. I don’t always agree with his policy recommendations, but I regularly read Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute because he is one of the best-informed people in Washington on the fiscal and economic mess in Europe.

And Italy, to be blunt, is in a mess.

Here’s what Desmond just wrote about the country’s economy.

…while the euro could very well survive a Greek exit, it certainly could not survive in anything like its present form were Italy to have a full-blown economic and financial crisis that forced it to default on its public debt mountain. …Among the reasons that there should be greater concern about an Italian, rather than a Greek, economic crisis is that Italy has a very much larger economy than Greece. Being the third-largest economy in the eurozone, Italy’s economy is around 10 times the size of that of Greece. Equally troubling is the fact that Italy has the world’s third-largest sovereign bond market with public debt of more than $2.5 trillion. Much of this debt is held by Europe’s shaky banking system, which heightens the risk that an Italian sovereign debt default could shake the global financial system to its core. …the country’s economic performance since 2008 has been abysmal. Indeed, Italian living standards today are around 10 percent below where they were 10 years ago. Meanwhile, Italy’s banking system has become highly troubled and its public sector debt as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) is now the second highest in the eurozone.

And here’s some of what he wrote late last year.

…today there would seem to be as many reasons for worrying about the Italian economy as there were for worrying about the Greek economy back in 2009. Like Greece then, Italy today checks all too many of the boxes for the making of a full-blown economic and financial crisis within the next year or two. …the Italian economy today is barely above its level in 1999 when the country adopted the Euro as its currency. Worse still, since the Great Global Economic Recession in 2008-2009, the Italian economy has experienced a triple-dip recession that has left its economy today some 7 percent below its pre-2008 crisis peak level and its unemployment rate stuck at over 11 percent. …deficiencies of its ossified labor market that contributes so importantly to the country’s very poor productivity performance. As a result, since adopting the Euro in 1999, Italy’s unit labor costs have increased by around 15 percentage points more than have those in Germany. …Italian banks now have around EUR 360 billion in non-performing loans, which amounts to a staggering 18 percent of their loan portfolio. If that were not bad enough, the Italian banks also hold unhealthily large amounts of Italian government debt, which now total more than 10 percent of their overall assets. …the country’s public debt level has risen from 100 percent of GDP in 2008 to 133 percent of GDP at present.

The numbers shared by Lachman are downright miserable.

And he’s not the only one pointing out that Italy’s economy is in the toilet.

I shared numbers last year showing the pervasive stagnation in the country.

So what’s the Italian government doing to solve these problems? Is it slashing tax rates? Reducing the burden of government? Cutting back on red tape?

Of course not. The politicians are either making things worse or engaging in pointless distractions.

Speaking of which, I’m tempted to laugh at the Italian government’s campaign to boost birthrates. Here’s some of what’s been reported by the New York Times.

…a government effort to promote “Fertility Day” on Sept. 22, a campaign intended to encourage Italians to have more babies. …Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in the world… Italian families have been shrinking for decades. In 2015, 488,000 babies were born in Italy, the fewest since the country first unified in 1861. It has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe, with 1.37 children per woman, compared with a European average of 1.6, according to Eurostat figures.

By the way, I actually commend the government for recognizing that falling birthrates are a problem.

Not because women should feel obliged to have kids if that’s not what they want. But rather because Italy has a massive tax-and-transfer welfare state that is predicated on an ever-expending population of workers (i.e., taxpayers) to finance benefits to retirees.

But old people are living longer and low birthrates mean that there won’t be enough taxpayers to prop up the Ponzi Scheme of big government.

But while the government deserves kudos for acknowledging a problem, it deserves mockery for thinking empty slogans will make a difference.

Moreover, there’s also a problem in that Italian voters have been so conditioned to expect handouts that they think the answer to the problem is even more government!

The problem is not a lack of desire to have children, critics of the campaign say, but rather the lack of meaningful support provided by the government and many employers. …”I still feel very offended,” said Vittoria Iacovella, 37, a journalist and mother of two girls, ages 10 and 8. “The government encourages us to have babies, and then the main welfare system in Italy is still the grandparents.” …Italy’s government has tried to help families with a so-called baby bonus of 80 to 160 euros, or about $90 to $180, for low- and middle-income households, and it has approved labor laws giving more flexibility on parental leave.

Ms. Iacovella is crazy for thinking that more taxes, more spending, more regulation, and more mandates will make things better.

Heck, even leftists are now admitting such laws undermine employment and specifically hurt women by making them less attractive to employers.

Meanwhile, the Italian government is taking lots of other dumb steps. Including, as reported by the Telegraph, creating a new entitlement for teenagers.

Italian school leavers may face the dismal prospect of 40 per cent youth unemployment, but at least they have one thing to look forward to – a €500 “culture bonus”, courtesy of the government. From next month, every 18-year-old will be entitled to claim the money and spend it on culturally enriching pursuits such as going to theatres, concerts and museums, visiting archaeological sites, and buying books. The scheme, which starts on Sept 15, will benefit 575,000 teenagers, at a cost to the government of €290 million (£250 million).

By the way, is anyone shocked to learn that Italian teenagers look forward to these handouts?

…it has been welcomed by 18-year-olds, who face a difficult economic landscape when they leave school – high unemployment, a lack of secure, long-term contracts and an economy that has performed dismally for a decade. “Of course we’re happy…,” said Angelica Magazzino, a teenager from the southern region of Puglia who turns 18 in November.

If you read the entire story, you’ll learn that the government justifies this new entitlement by saying it will fight terrorism. I don’t know if that’s more crazy or less crazy than the American leftists who blame terrorism on climate change or inequality.

Last but not least, CNN is reporting that the government is also enabling other forms of Italian “culture.”

Italy’s highest court has ruled that masturbation in public is not a crime, as long as it is not conducted in the presence of minors.

No, this is not a joke.

The decision came down from the Italian Supreme Court…in the case of a 69-year-old man…The man was convicted in May 2015 after he performed the act in front of students on the University of Catania campus, according to documents filed with Supreme Court. The man was sentenced to three months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of €3,200 (around $3,600). However, the defendant’s lawyer appealed the case to the country’s highest court, which ruled on the side of the accused in June but only just made its decision public. Judges ruled that public masturbation out of the presence of minors is no longer deemed criminal conduct due to a change in the law last year, which decriminalized the act.

Great. I’m looking forward to my next trip to Italy. Though I guess it’s nice to see Italian seniors are staying active in their communities.

More seriously, this is why I’m sympathetic to Italians that are either privately dodging or publicly revolting when you have a government this profligate and senseless.

P.S. Amazingly, some leftists think the United States should have a bigger government and be more like Italy.

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Since I’m always reading and writing about government policies, both in America and around the world, I’m frequently reminded of H.L. Mencken’s famous observation about the shortcomings of “tolerable” government.

If you take a close look at the world’s freest economies, you quickly learn that they are highly ranked mostly because of the even-worse governments elsewhere.

Even places such as Switzerland have some misguided policies.

But there’s a silver lining to this dark cloud. The incompetence, mendacity, and cronyism that exists all over the world means that I’ll never run out of things to write about.

So let’s enjoy a new edition of Great Moments in Foreign Government.

We’ll start with the utterly predictable failure of an entitlement program in the United Kingdom.

The government must stop ‘nannying’ British parents and do away with universal free childcare, a new report has urged. Families most in need of help are not getting it because Government subsidies are poorly targeted, the Institute of Economic Affairs publication said. Many families on average earnings are spending more than a third of their net income on childcare, the report claimed, saying too much regulation in the sector has hiked prices. …One study has estimated that keeping parents in work costs £65,000 per job, the report claimed, describing current policy as ‘costly and inefficient’. …home-based childminders are priced out of the sector, it said. Co-author of the report Len Shackleton, an editorial research fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: ‘Government interventions in the childcare sector have resulted in both British families and taxpayers bearing a heavy burden of expensive provision.

Gee, a sector of the economy gets more expensive and inefficient once government gets involved.

I’m totally shocked, just like Inspector Renault in Casablanca.

Sentient human beings, of course, are not surprised. After all, just look at what government intervention has done for healthcare and higher education.

I’m still waiting for an example of a government “solution” that makes a problem better rather than worse.

Let’s now turn to Germany. I’ve previously referenced the country’s intelligence community because the BND managed to lose the blueprints for its costly new headquarters building.

But apparently the incompetence goes well beyond architecture. Another German intelligence division, the BfV, had an Islamic terrorist on staff. Here are some excerpts from a report in the Washington Post.

German intelligence agents noticed an unusual user in a chat room known as a digital hideout for Islamic militants. The man claimed to be one of them — and said he was a German spy. He was offering to help Islamists infiltrate his agency’s defenses to stage a strike. Agents lured him into a private chat, and he gave away so many details about the spy agency — and his own directives within it to thwart Islamists — that they quickly identified him, arresting the 51-year-old the next day. Only then would the extent of his double life become clear. The German citizen of Spanish descent confessed to secretly converting to Islam in 2014. From there, his story took a stranger turn. Officials ran a check on the online alias he assumed in radical chat rooms.

And they found out that the terrorist had a rather colorful past.

The married father of four had used it before — as recently as 2011 — as his stage name for acting in gay pornographic films. …which could cast a fresh light on the judgment and vetting of the German intelligence agency at a critical time.

These revelations have generated some concern, as one might expect.

News of the case sparked a storm of outrage in Germany, even as critics said it raised serious questions about the country’s bureaucratically named domestic spy agency, known as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). …“It’s not only a rather bizarre, but also a quite scary, story that an agency, whose central role it is to engage in counterespionage, hired an Islamist who potentially had access to classified information, who might have even tried to spread Islamist propaganda and to recruit others to let themselves be hired by and possibly launch an attack” against the domestic intelligence agency, said Hans-Christian Ströbele, a member of the Parliamentary Control Committee that oversees the work of the German intelligence services.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the German government is not alone. The U.K. government also has hired terrorists to work in anti-terrorism divisions.

In the United States, by contrast, we import them and give them welfare. I’m not sure which approach is more insane.

The only saving grace is that terrorists sometimes display similar levels of incompetence, as illustrated in the postscripts of this column.

Let’s close with a trip to Canada. Our friends to the north generally are a sensible bunch, but you can find plenty of senseless policies, particularly in the French-speaking areas.

And I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry about this example of bureaucratic extortion.

A Camrose man is ticked about his ticket — a $465 traffic violation issued by Edmonton police — for having a cracked driver’s licence. Dave Balay admits he’s guilty of having a small crack in his licence. But he doesn’t think the penalty fits the crime. He was returning home from visiting a friend Wednesday evening when he was pulled over on Anthony Henday Drive. …He gave the officer his driver’s licence, registration and insurance card. …”He came back, and the younger policeman said he was going to give me a ticket for my driver’s licence being mutilated,” said Balay. “I said, ‘Mutilated? I didn’t even know there was such a thing.’ Then he gave me a ticket for $465.” The mutilation referred to was a crack in the top left corner of Balay’s licence. “Maybe not even quite an inch long,” said Balay, adding the crack doesn’t obstruct any pertinent information. …”I think I outright laughed, and said, ‘Seriously? Four-hundred-and-sixty-five bucks for this crack?’ [The officer] said, ‘It’s a mutilated licence.’ …”Had I scratched out my eyes or drawn a mustache on my face, or scratched out the licence number or something, then, yeah, give me a ticket for that. That should be an offence.”

But the local government says Mr. Balay should be grateful that he was treated with such kindness.

Edmonton police released a statement Friday suggesting the officer actually gave Balay a break. According to the statement, the officer had grounds to lay a careless driving charge, which carries a fine of $543 and six demerit points. But because Balay was co-operative, the officer issued a lesser fine for a cracked driver’s licence.

Though Mr. Balay doesn’t think he’s been given a break.

Balay said he won’t pay the fine, even if that means serving jail time or community service. “I don’t have $465,” he said. “…I do some part-time substitute teaching, supply teacher. It’s a week’s wage.”

Good for Mr. Balay. Hopefully the publicity that he’s getting will force the revenue-hungry bureaucrats in Edmonton to back down.

Meanwhile, this story adds to my ambivalence about Canada. On the minus side of the ledger, there are absurd policies granting special rights to alcoholics, inane harassment of kids selling worms or lemonade, fines on parents who don’t give their kids carbs at lunchtime, and punishment for kids who protect classmates from knife-wielding bullies.

Then again, Canada is now one of the world’s most economically free nations thanks to relatively sensible policies involving spending restraint, corporate tax reform, bank bailouts, regulatory budgeting, the tax treatment of saving, and privatization of air traffic control. Heck, Canada even has one of the lowest levels of welfare spending among developed nations.

Though things are now heading in the wrong direction, which is unfortunate for our northern neighbors.

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A few years ago, I put together an amusing collection of stories comparing truly bizarre examples of political correctness and bureaucratic idiocy in the United States and United Kingdom.

I was especially impressed (in a you-must-be-joking fashion) that a British job placement office got in trouble for discrimination because they sought “reliable” and “hard-working” applicants. Sounds impossible to believe, but consider the fact that the EEOC bureaucracy in the U.S. went after a trucking company because it didn’t want to employ drunk drivers.

And I’ve shared jaw-dropping reports of anti-gun political correctness in American schools, as well as a proposal to ban skinny models in Britain.

Let’s expand on this collection of horror stories.

Reason reports that some bureaucrats in New York City think that it is sexual harassment for a professor to base grades in part on effort and classroom behavior.

A professor at the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College was ordered to make changes to his syllabus because it amounted to sexual harassment. The professor, David Seidemann has refused to comply, and for good reason. …a university administrator expressed three grievances about the syllabus. First, and most quizzically, the grading portion of the syllabus suggests sexual harassment. It reads, “Class deportment, effort etc……. 10% (applied only to select students when appropriate).” …Seidemann told me in an email that his department chair said “the 10% section could be construed as a prelude to sexual harassment,” and had to be changed at once. This order apparently came from the Director of Diversity Investigations and Title IX Enforcement. In the course of Seidemann’s interactions with the director, he realized something quite stunning: there was no record of anyone actually complaining about the syllabus. The university had apparently launched this investigation on its own. …The professor refused to meet with the Director of Diversity Investigations, preferring to talk via email so that the conversation could be documented. This eventually caused the director to abandon the investigation: the matter is now officially closed, according to Seidemann. The professor is pleased with the result, but little else.

If you read the entire story, it appears that the bureaucrats decided that “effort” could be interpreted as an invitation for female students to trade sex for higher grades. At least I think that’s the implication.

In which case, there must have been rampant sexual harassment when I was young because our report cards in elementary school always included our teachers’ assessment of our “effort.” And all the way through college, I periodically had classes in which grades were based in part on “participation.”

I guess I was so young and naive that I didn’t realize my teachers and professors were inviting me to offer sex for grades (my grades often were low enough that it was probably best I didn’t run the risk of having them go even lower).

More seriously, I’m glad the professor stood up against the absurd accusations put forth by the diversity bureaucrats. I especially like that he insisted on having everything occur via email so he couldn’t be victimized by the selective memory of some pencil pushers who probably try to justify their comfortable sinecures by claiming an occasional scalp.

Bureaucrats in Knoxville, Tennessee, also seem to be amazingly skilled at seeing sexual harassment where it doesn’t exist.

The student, Keaton Wahlbon, had to take a geology quiz featuring the following question: “What is your lab instructor’s name? (if you don’t remember, make something good up).” Wahlbon followed the instructions: he didn’t remember, so wrote down the first generic girl name that came to mind—Sarah Jackson. Unbeknowst to Wahlbon, Sarah Jackson is a real person: a pornographic model. Of course, there are hundreds (thousands?) of other Sarah Jacksons in the world, and Wahlbon had no idea that his lab instructor would interpret his answer in such a specific and malicious manner. His answer was marked “inappropriate” and he received a grade of zero on the quiz. Wahlbon appealed to his professor, Bill Deane, but Deane maintained that Wahlbon had committed sexual harassment. Wahlbon contacted the head of department because, well, that’s nonsense. …no resolution has been reached yet. But according to The Knoxville News Sentinel, the university is now investigating the matter as if a complaint had been filed—even though no one has taken such an action.

Wow, this is surreal. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Wahlbon was thinking of the pornographic model when he wrote “Sarah Jackson” on the quiz. How is this sexual harassment? I don’t claim to be an expert on such matters, but I’m under the impression that harassment occurs when someone with power in a relationship makes some sort of sexual advance (or even tells a dirty joke). So how can a student harass a teacher? Or even a teacher’s lab instructor?

You can say that Wahlbon is guilty of displaying bad taste, but then we get to the issue of whether he actually meant the Sarah Jackson. If it was a more uncommon name (such as Jenna Jameson, the famous Republican-supporting porn star), then you could safely assume (though not legally prove) that he intended to make a boorish joke. But is the Sarah Jackson so famous that it’s safe to think that’s who Wahlbon had in mind? For what it’s worth, I never heard of that Sarah Jackson (though I once dated a girl with that name).

By the way, the British have similarly brainless people in their nation.

Though they express their political correctness in non-sexual ways (what a surprise), such as the principal who has banned running on the playground.

The headmaster of Hillfort Primary School in Liskeard, Dr Tim Cook, introduced the ban to prevent the little blighters injuring themselves. Instead, kids at Hillfort can blow off steam at playtime by playing with Lego, Jenga, and even dancing, as part of the school’s plan to reduce ‘negative behaviours’. Cook has responded by reassuring parents that their children are not completely prohibited from running – they are just not allowed to run across the playground. Have the nippers been given a small area to run around instead? Getting dizzier and dizzier as they charge about in circles? …Arguing that the ban is for safety reasons is pathetic. It’s running, not sword-swallowing. Grazed knees are part of growing up, and do not, or at least should not, result in lawsuits.

Fortunately, British parents seem a bit more sensible than their bureaucratic overlords. They’re petitioning to allow their kids to…gasp…do more than walk on the playground during recess.

There’s also lunacy in Australia. And since I’m a parent, I’m especially horrified about what happened to a father who wanted to protect his stepdaughter from sexting.

A man who found out that his 15-year-old stepdaughter was sexting her boyfriend proceeded to download the evidence to bring it to the school and the police to ask them to intervene. …Intervene they did. Now the dad has been convicted on child pornography charges and placed on the sex offender registry. This, despite the judge understanding exactly why the man, Ashan Ortell, 57, held onto the images. “There is no suggestion of any exploitation of them by anybody,” ruled Judge Jane Patrick, over in Australia, which is becoming as daffy as the United States. “You made no attempt to conceal the images. In fact, you were so concerned that you contacted the authorities about the images.”

If you read the entire story, I’m guessing that the cops went after the dad because he was badgering them for not doing anything about his stepdaughter. And I sympathize with the cops for choosing not to make a big deal out of two teenagers sexting, but did they really have to go after the guy for having the images when nobody thinks he had any unsavory intent or motives?

Keep in mind that this took place in the nation that awarded workers compensation to a woman who injured herself while having sex and also threatened fines against companies that pointed out the downside of a carbon tax.

All that being said, Australia is still my top choice for where to go if (when?) America suffers a Greek-style fiscal and economic collapse.

P.S. I’ve come across lots of crazy government decisions in my time, so I’m not surprised by today’s material. Though since I mentioned Greece, that government deserves some sort of prize for subsidizing pedophiles and demanding stool samples before letting entrepreneurs set up online companies.

And let’s not forget that European courts that have ruled that there’s an entitlement to free soccer broadcasts and a right to satellite TV. About as nutty as the Finnish court that ruled there’s a right to broadband access, and as crazy as the Bolivian decision that there’s a human right to receive stolen property.

P.P.S. In his speech to the 2008 Democratic Convention, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said “Government, as Barney Frank likes to say, is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

If that’s true, then the above examples show that we “choose” to do some really foolish things. In reality, as Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit reminds us, we don’t choose. That’s why this poster contains a much more accurate assessment of what really happens when government gets involved.

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When I was young and innocent, I thought that giving welfare handouts to advocates of terrorism was the most perverse and disgusting way to abuse taxpayers.

Now that I’m old and jaded, I’ve learned that governments are so masochistically stupid that they routinely give taxpayer-financed goodies directly to the people who actually engage in terrorist attacks.

The U.K. government provided lots of handouts to Jihadi John, the ISIS psychopath who likes to sever heads.

The French government generously subsidized Mohammed Merah, the thug who executed a little girl.

The Danish and Austrian governments give welfare payments that get used to finance ISIS fighters going to Syria.

And there are plenty of other examples.

So should any of us be surprised to learn that the human scum who planned and executed the recent terror attacks in France and Belgium were mooching off taxpayers as well?

The Wall Street Journal has a very disturbing story revealing the degree to which Islamo-terrorists in Europe relied on welfare handouts as they plotted and schemed to brutally murder innocent people.

Belgian financial investigators looking into recent terror plots have discovered a disturbing trend: Some of the suspects were collecting welfare benefits until shortly before they carried out their attacks. At least five of the alleged plotters in the Paris and Brussels terror attacks partly financed themselves with payments from Belgium’s generous social-welfare system, authorities have concluded. In total they received more than €50,000, or about $56,000 at today’s rate. The main surviving Paris suspect, Salah Abdeslam, collected unemployment benefits until three weeks before the November attacks—€19,000 in all, according to people familiar with the case. At the time, he was manager and part-owner of a bar, which Belgian officials say should have made him ineligible. Many of the participants in a disrupted Belgian terror plot also had been on the dole, according to the judge who sentenced more than a dozen people in the so-called Verviers cell last month.

Unsurprisingly, government officials seem incapable of drawing the right conclusion.

Instead, we get navel-gazing exercises.

The revelations raise a difficult conundrum for Europe. On one hand, the modern welfare state is a primary tool for combating poverty as well as integrating immigrants. On the other, officials are working hard to find and stop potential sources of revenue for those bent on committing terrorist atrocities.

I’m tempted to respond with a word describing the manure of male bovines.

Instead, I’ll simply note that the welfare state is a system that subsidizes and exacerbates poverty, while also hindering assimilation.

And, as the enemies of modernity have learned, it’s a handy way to finance terrorism.

Islamic State itself suggested welfare benefits as a financing source, in a 2015 manual called “How to Survive in the West: A Mujahid Guide.” In a section headed “Easy Money Ideas,” the manual suggested “if you can claim extra benefits from a government, then do so.”

Here are some more details

In Belgium, people exiting prison often receive social benefits to help reintegrate into society. This was the case with Khalid el-Bakraoui,who served two years in prison before blowing himself up in the Maelbeek subway station in Brussels in March. Bakraoui was given jobless benefits in early 2014, after a stint in prison for armed robbery and carjacking. In total, he collected about €25,000 in unemployment, medical and other benefits, according to one of the people familiar with the case. He wasn’t shut off until last December, when Belgian authorities issued a warrant for him in connection with the Paris attacks.

Sounds like Bakraoui used his handouts to reintegrate into terrorism.

Investor’s Business Daily also weighed in on this issue, pointing out that the welfare state in Europe subsidizes terrorists.

Belgium’s government has been extremely generous toward its Muslim population. Most of its welfare goes to Muslims, and it even subsidizes their mosques and imams. Many of these young Muslim men who supposedly can’t find gainful employment don’t want to work. Why would they, when welfare checks are normally 70% to 80% of their income?

The editorial notes that generous handouts hinder assimilation.

Far from being mistreated, Belgian Muslims are one of the most pampered minorities in Western history. Lest it offend its burgeoning Muslim population, Belgium has “de-Christianized” its Christian holidays. The holiday previously known as All Saints Day is now referred to as Autumn Leave, Christmas Vacation is now Winter Vacation, Lenten Vacation is now Rest and Relaxation Leave and Easter is now Spring Vacation…  .Heavily subsidized by Belgium’s overgenerous welfare system, North African immigrants have little incentive to integrate. Instead they turn inward, creating Islamic no-go zones divorced from and hostile to Western society.

The problem may be especially acute in Belgium, but it’s a problem all across Europe.

…welfare is abused by Muslims across Europe — some 80% of Muslim immigrants to Europe are on the dole, and more than half are “economically inactive.” Muslims claim disability more than any other group. In the EU capital of Belgium, as well as neighboring Netherlands, Muslims are roughly 5% of the population yet consume 40% to 60% of the welfare budget. Belgium spends more on unemployment benefits than any other country outside Denmark. European society isn’t oppressing Muslim immigrants. Far from it. It’s coddling them

If those numbers are anywhere close to accurate, the problem of welfare-subsidized terrorism is going to get worse before it gets better. If it ever gets better.

By the way, this also is a problem in the United States.

The low-life losers who bombed the Boston Marathon got handouts.

And the State Department actually has a program that takes “refugees” from countries with terrorism problems and signs them up for government dependency.

P.S. The U.K. government has decided that giving welfare to jihadists isn’t enough. It now sometimes hires them and makes them part of the law enforcement bureaucracy.

P.P.S. Though that’s not as bad as the Danish government, which persecutes people who fight back against attackers.

P.P.P.S. But officials representing the bloated Belgian government surely deserves some sort of prize for claiming that the nation’s government is too small to fight terrorism. Especially when that government is famously incompetent in thwarting obvious terror suspects.

P.P.P.P.S. Unsurprisingly, folks in Texas are smarter than Europeans about responding to terror attacks.

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It would be impossible to pick the most hare-brained government policy. We have all sorts of bizarre examples from the United States. And we have equally “impressive” examples from other nations.

And today, we’re going to augment our collection of bone-headed policies from elsewhere in the world.

We’ll start with the United Kingdom, which already is a very strong competitor in the government-stupidity contest.

Though they may deserve to win that contest since the government is actually giving welfare benefits to polygamous immigrants.

Immigrants in polygamous marriages drain British taxpayers of millions of dollars each year by taking advantage of loopholes in the welfare system, and future legislation will make it even more profitable. …Married couples in Great Britain can receive need-based income support of up to $162 per week. As of 2013 — when a number of reforms to marriage support came into effect — a man can claim an additional $57 for every subsequent wife. In total, a polygamous household can claim more than $17,000 in welfare over the course of a year.

There apparently is some effort to clamp down on handouts based on future multiple marriages, but there’s a giant loophole.

An even more profitable way for polygamous marriages to bring in welfare money is by getting married in a so-called “Nikah” ceremony, which is recognized by Islam, but not British law. The wives will hence appear as “single” in the system, and can take out additional benefits if they have children. …New legislation expected to go into effect by 2021, will no longer recognize multiple marriages for the same person. But “Nikah” marriages will still receive a huge boost from the new law, since women can receive more money under “single” status than she did as an additional wife. The allowance for the extra “wives” will more than double to $454 each per month.

This may be the “triple crown” of stupidity. The first mistake is providing handouts. The second mistake is giving handouts to immigrants (which creates unseemly yet understandable backlash). And the third mistake is supposedly cutting back on handouts, but doing it in such a foolish fashion that more money will be wasted. Impressive.

Speaking of going above and beyond the call of duty in the battle to squander money, the U.K.-based Telegraph reports that the British government has been flushing away huge amounts of money for a facility to house unsuccessful asylum seekers.

An accommodation centre for failed asylum seekers is more costing than the world’s most exclusive hotels, taking just 14 families last year at a cost of more than £450,000 each. Cedars, a secure centre run by the Home Office, was occupied for approximately 40 nights in the first nine months of 2014/15 – but landed the taxpayer with a bill for millions of pounds. Total running costs for 2014/15 were estimated at £6,398,869 – or more than £457,000 for each family which passed through its doors. If each family stayed at the centre for the full year, the cost would equate to £1,252 a night, or £38,088 per family per month. However, the true cost is far higher – as much as £152,354 a night – because most families spend only 72 hours at Cedars… London’s Savoy hotel charges from £1,150 for a suite with a view of the River Thames, making it cheaper than the minimum nightly cost of Cedars House.

Wow. I’ve never stayed anyplace that nice on my trips to England. Maybe I should ask for asylum on my next trip?

Here’s another story that almost defies belief. Apparently the geniuses in the British bureaucracy thought wars only get fought in cold weather.

The Royal Navy’s fleet of six £1bn destroyers is breaking down because the ships’ engines cannot cope with the warm waters of the Gulf, defence chiefs have admitted. They also told the Commons defence committee on Tuesday that the Type 45 destroyers’ Rolls-Royce WR-21 gas turbines are unable to operate in extreme temperatures and will be fitted with diesel generators. Rolls-Royce executives said engines installed in the Type 45 destroyers had been built as specified – but that the conditions in the Middle East were not “in line with these specs”. Earlier a Whitehall source told Scotland’s Daily Record: “We can’t have warships that cannot operate if the water is warmer than it is in Portsmouth harbour.”

But it’s not just British bureaucrats who make bizarre mistakes.

Consider how the incompetence of Belgian officials paved the way for a terrorist attack.

…ministers and prosecutors…admitted failures that led to the release, last year, of two of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels. Interior minister Jan Jambon and justice minister Koen Geens said that information about one of the three suicide bombers transmitted by Turkey was not properly handled. …a Belgian prosecutor said that a second terrorist had been arrested and released by the Belgian justice system.

Here are the jaw-dropping details on one of the terrorists.

El Bakraoui had been sentenced in 2010 to 10 years in prison for robbery and for shooting at police with a Kalashnikov rifle. He was released in October 2014 but on condition he didn’t leave Belgium for more than 30 days at a time. He was arrested on the border between Turkey and Syria in June. Turkish authorities notified Belgium about it at the end of June, Geens told journalists. …”It was then very dificult to arrest him”, Geens said, as El Bakraoui had landed as “a normal Belgian citizen”, even though he had missed appointments with justice officials as part of his conditional release.

Wow, we have another contestant for the triple crown of government incompetence. First, the dirtbag only served four years in prison after trying to murder some cops. Second, it didn’t set off any red flags when he violated the conditions of his way-too-early release and went to Syria as a jihadist. Third, the Belgian government failed to act when given advance notice and warning by officials in Turkey that he was returning from his jihadist vacation. In this case, the net result wasn’t just wasted money, it was death for innocent civilians.

Let’s not forget, by the way, that a government bureaucrat excused all this incompetence on the theory that the “small size of the Belgian government” precluded an effective approach against terrorism. Yet if you look up the data, government in Belgium is so bloated that it consumes 54 percent of economic output, which is worse than even Italy and Sweden.

And let’s also not forget that American taxpayers subsidize jihadists, so we can’t really laugh too much about the Belgians.

Now let’s move from deadly incompetence to protectionist cruelty. The government in the Bahamas, acting to protect the local dentist cartel, shut down a clinic providing free dentistry for poor people.

Lenny Kravitz learned the hard way about government over-regulation on Monday when police raided a free dental clinic he sponsored in the Bahamas. “The dentists literally had to run out the back door to escape being arrested,” one source told me exclusively. …Kravitz flew several American dentists there for the four-day clinic, but evidently didn’t get all the permits required. On Monday, the last day of the program, as local residents were being fitted for dentures and having root canals, police and immigration officials burst in “and gave the team working 15 minutes to pack up all the equipment and leave,” the Eleutheran newspaper reported.

Heaven forbid that a government permit was missing! No good deed goes unpunished, even if it means poor people lose access to dental care.

Let’s close with a truly inane bit of government from Canada, where bureaucrats stopped a couple of kids from operating an unlicensed – gasp! – lemonade stand (the same thing happens in California, Georgia, and Oregon).

But in a surprising display of humanity, the local paper pushers decided the lemonade stand was okay and they even agreed to waive the $1520 daily fee.

But only with the following conditions.

The NCC has issued a special permit to allow two young girls to sell lemonade…which came with several conditions they must abide by while they operate their lemonade stand…carry a copy of the permit at all times while on NCC property…comply with all federal, provincial and municipal bylaws and regulations…create signs for the lemonade stand in both official languages…only sell lemonade…ensure that customers park their bikes on the grass.

Geesh, I knew the language police were active in Quebec, but I assumed Ontario wasn’t so crazy.

Reading all these stories, the only possible conclusion is that P.J. O’Rourke should apologize to teenage boys.

P.S. For what it’s worth, here are a few of my favorite examples of great moments in foreign government.

Though American readers shouldn’t laugh too hard. After all, we pay for bagpipe police and milk police.

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In America’s sprawling intelligence network, costing tens of billions of dollars, who got fired after the 9-11 terror attacks for failing to connect the dots?

Who in the military got fired after the Fort Hood terrorist attack for failing to connect the dots?

More recently, who in the FBI or Department of Homeland Security got fired after the San Bernardino terrorist attack for failing to connect the dots?

And who in the government will get fired after the Orlando terrorist massacre for failing to connect the dots?

If you answered “nobody” in response to all these questions, don’t expect special congratulations. Failure in government is both pervasive and without consequences, so any other answer would have required a degree of near-malicious naiveté normally found at Bernie Sanders’ rallies.

And there are lots of dots that should have been connected in Orlando.

Jim Geraghty of National Review gathered several examples.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

…on Sept. 11, 2001. As classmates looked on in shock, Mateen celebrated the terrorist attacks that day… At a barbecue in the spring of 2007, Mateen…told the class he ought to kill all of them…

The Daily Beast reports:

Mateen first came to the FBI’s attention in May 2013, after making a series of “boasts” to co-workers about his various ties to terrorist groups

The Miami Herald reports:

The Islamic Center was also attended on occasion by Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who is believed to be the first American suicide bomber in Syria.

And here’s what CNN has reported:

…he was a security guard at the St. Lucie County Courthouse, often manning the metal detectors at the front of the building.Sheriff Ken Mascara said that in 2013 his staff requested Mateen be transferred from the courthouse because he made inflammatory comments. Mateen’s supervisor notified federal agents, after which, the sheriff said, the FBI investigated the guard.

And here is some amazing evidence from a report by Fox2:

A Florida gun store owner says his employees refused to sell to the Orlando nightclub gunman before the attack. The Florida gun store owner noticed several red flags right away — and alerted the FBI. But, there was never an investigation, and Omar Mateen slipped through the cracks.

It may turn out, of course, that some of these reports are wrong. But most of them, if not all of them, are presumably accurate.

Yet the hordes of paper pushers in the federal government decided that this dirtbag didn’t belong on the no-fly list (though somehow the feds decided an eight-year old cub scout shouldn’t be on planes)?!?

And the bureaucrats didn’t think additional investigations of Mateen were warranted given all the above information, which they had before the attack?

I realize I’m venting because of my anger at the senseless slaughter. Yes, I admit that even an efficient government isn’t going to be able to stop all terrorism. And maybe our government quietly thwarts many attacks and actually does a lot better job than we realize.

But in this case and others, mistakes obviously were made. Shouldn’t there be any consequences for that incompetence?

By the way, other governments are equally feckless. If you recall the terrorist bombing of the Brussels Airport, the Belgian government demonstrated unbelievable and near-malignant levels of stupidity.

The Daily Caller has some of the disturbing details.

Turkey detained one of the Brussels suicide bombers, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, in June 2015 on charges of being a foreign fighter. …Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Belgium ignored Turkey’s “warning that this person is a foreign fighter.” …Erdogan said…“We reported the deportation to the Belgian Embassy in Ankara on July 14, 2015, but he was later set free.” …El-Bakraoui, 30, was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2010 for a shootout with police officers. He was released early but subsequently violated his parole and was supposed to be back in prison.

Wow, this is like a perfect storm of government incompetence. First, the Belgian government is told the guy is a foreign fighter in Syria. Second, the Belgian government knew he was a bad guy. Third, they let him out of jail early. And fourth, he violated the conditions of his parole but wasn’t thrown back in jail.

But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is the same nation where an official claimed that it was difficult to fight terrorism because of “the small size of the Belgian government” even though the public sector in that country consumes a greater share of economic output than it does even in Italy and Sweden.

So what’s the moral of the story?

There are three. First, the federal government has become such a sprawling and bloated mess that incompetence seems inevitable.

And it doesn’t matter whether it’s on purpose or by accident. We have a government that does a bad job, even when we want good performance.

Here’s what I wrote back in 2014.

There are some legitimate functions of government and I want those to be handled efficiently. But I worry that effective government is increasingly unlikely because politicians are so busy intervening in areas that should be left to families, civil society, and the private sector.

Mark Steyn made the same point in a much more amusing fashion.

But there’s a second point that needs to be made about the lack of consequences.

If nobody is ever fired for mistakes, it’s obviously much harder to get good performance. The success of any organization depends in part on the carrots and sticks that are employed.

But in the federal government, there are no sticks.

Heck, you can let veterans die by putting them on secret waiting lists and then get awarded bonuses.

From the perspective of bureaucrats, this is a win-win situation. If you do something bad, there are no consequences.

And if you allow something bad, there are no consequences.

For the third and final point, I’m going to partially absolve bureaucrats because some of the problem is the result of politicians misallocating law-enforcement resources.

Think of all the money, time, energy and manpower that is squandered for the War on Drugs. Wouldn’t it be better if the crowd in Washington shifted those resources to stopping people who want to kill us?

And what about the multi-billion cost of anti-money laundering laws. For all intents and purposes, the government is requiring banks to spy on everybody, which results in a haystack of information, thus making it impossible for law enforcement to find any needles. Call me crazy, I’d rather have law enforcement concentrate on actual criminals.

I’m not expecting perfection from Washington. Or even great performance. But it sure would be nice if the government was semi-effective.

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I’m not a fan of the War on Drugs, even though I’m personally very socially conservative on the use of drugs. Regardless of my individual preferences, I recognize that prohibition gives government the power to trample our rights, that it is borderline (if not over-the-line) racist, and that it leads to horrible injustices.

I’d much prefer for law enforcement resources be allocated to fighting crimes that actually have victims.

Though I guess one fringe benefit of the War on Drugs is that it has given us additional evidence that Hillary Clinton is not an economist.

She once justified her support for the War on Drugs by stating “there is just too much money in it.”

Wow, this may be the all-time winner for most economically illiterate statement ever uttered by a politician. At the risk of stating the obvious, the reason the drug trade is so lucrative is because it’s illegal.

Here’s some evidence resulting from the fact that some states have decriminalized marijuana.

The L.A. Times reports on a side effect of these sensible state-based reforms.

“I’ve always liked this business, producing marijuana,” the 50-year-old farmer said wistfully. He had decided that this season’s crop would be his last. The reason: free-market economics. The loosening of marijuana laws across much of the United States has increased competition from growers north of the border, apparently enough to drive down prices paid to Mexican farmers. Small-scale growers here in the state of Sinaloa, one of the country’s biggest production areas, said that over the last four years the amount they receive per kilogram has fallen from $100 to $30. The price decline appears to have led to reduced marijuana production in Mexico and a drop in trafficking to the U.S., according to officials on both sides of the border… “Changes on the other side of the border are making marijuana less profitable for organizations like the Cartel de Sinaloa,” said Antonio Mazzitelli, the representative in Mexico for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

So the unintended consequence of drug liberalization in the United States is to weaken sinister cartels in Mexico.

Sounds like a win-win situation.

Speaking of unintended consequences, let’s contemplate what lessons we can learn about prohibition from this story about some new research on drugs and alcohol in the Washington Post.

In the state of Kentucky, some counties (“dry”) prohibit alcohol sales completely. Others allow it only within certain municipalities (“moist,”) or don’t place restrictions on alcohol sales at all (“wet”). The Louisville researchers noticed that dry counties had higher rates of meth lab busts, as well as higher rates of meth crimes overall. And the effect is significant: “if all counties were to become wet, the total number of meth lab seizures in Kentucky would decline by about 25 percent,” they found. …the researchers found that this is more than just a simple correlation… In other words: people who buy alcohol in places where it’s illegal become accustomed to dealing with the black market. If you’re going to get punished whether you trade in booze or trade in meth, why not give meth a spin?

Here’s an accompanying chart, showing that counties with no alcohol had considerably more problems with meth.

By the way, the evidence presented above is just one piece of a larger puzzle.

This research fits in with other findings showing harmful effects of localized alcohol prohibitions. A 2005 paper in the Journal of Law and Economics found that when Texas counties changed from dry to wet, their incidences of drug-related mortality decreased by 14 percent as people substituted alcohol for other drugs. Records from the Kentucky State Police show that dry counties tend to have higher rates of DUI-related car crashes than wet ones — presumably because when you live in a dry county, you have to drive farther to get your booze. A 2010 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that binge drinking rates were often higher in Alabama’s dry counties than its wet ones.

In other words, drugs and alcohol unambiguously can cause people to make stupid decisions.

But there are more stupid decisions and worse consequences when these products are criminalized.

Let’s close with a very clever Venn Diagram from Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute.

Hopefully my conservative friends will recognize the inconsistency in their views. And at the very least they should be strongly opposed to U.N. efforts to interfere with American sovereignty on the issue.

P.S. Mark also produced a very brave video on gender and test scores.

P.P.S. You may think only “crazy” libertarians favor liberalization, but there’s actually a very broad coalition of people who favor reform. Folks such as John Stossel, Gary Johnson, John McCain, Mona Charen, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, Rick Perry, and Richard Branson.

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I used to think the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was the worst federal bureaucracy. After all, these are the pinheads who are infamous for bone-headed initiatives, such as:

But I’m beginning to think that the Veterans Administration should win the prize. The EEOC crowd is simply a bunch of nutty leftists, but VA bureaucrats are downright evil. They create secret waiting lists that result in dying veterans and then pay themselves big bonuses.

And we now have evidence that they deliberately lie to internal investigators and deliberately scheme to deny care to former military personnel. The Daily Caller has some of the gruesome details. First, here’s information on the attempted coverup.

Management at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers in California selected and coached employees on exactly what to tell investigators about wait time manipulation, according to new inspector general reports. According to two whistleblowers, management handpicked medical support assistants and told them what to tell the Veterans Health Administration Inspection Team, which visited the San Diego medical center in May, 2014, following the wait time manipulation scandal which rocked the Phoenix VA.

And here’s evidence on the effort to delay care while simultaneously hiding evidence of waiting lists.

Investigators interviewed 16 more medical support assistants, and most of them said they were told to “zero out” appointment times by changing veterans’ desired appointment dates to the first actual appointment date available. This practice gives off the appearance the veteran is getting the appointment at the desired time with no wait. …A veteran actually tried to commit suicide out of desperation and frustration as a result of four canceled appointments in a row.

You won’t be surprised to learn, by the way, that the crowd in Washington claims the actual problem is that the VA’s budget is too small.

Now let’s shift from malice to incompetence.

The Washington Post reports that officials from the Central Intelligence Agency left a rather unwelcome present for schoolkids recently.

The CIA left “explosive training material” under the hood of a Loudoun County school bus after a training exercise last week, a bus that was used to ferry elementary and high school students to and from school on Monday and Tuesday with the material still sitting in the engine compartment, according to the CIA and Loudoun County officials. …Loudoun schools spokesman Wayde Byard said the CIA indicated the nature of the material but asked the school system not to disclose it. Byard described it as a “putty-type” material designed for use on the battlefield.

By the way, the explosives weren’t discovered because the CIA has strong inventory controls.

The bus was taken to a school system facility on Wednesday for routine maintenance. Byard said the county’s buses are regularly taken off-line to check their spark plugs, hoses and to rotate tires. It was during a routine inspection that a technician discovered the explosive material.

Gee, how comforting.

Speaking of inventory procedures, the Daily Caller reports on an internal investigation that found grotesque and dangerous sloppiness in the handling of weapons at federal prisons.

Firearms, ammunition and dangerous chemical agents could be missing from federal prison armories without government officials having a clue they are gone…said a Department of Justice Inspector General report made public Thursday. …The IG reported missing ammunition in one armory but redacted multiple examples of equipment that was removed or added without a system update. Inventory tracking inadequacies make it all but impossible to know if equipment is missing. The IG investigation was prompted in 2011 after a BOP employee pleaded guilty to stealing munitions from a federal prison facility, but changes made since 2011 by BOP have not remedied the problem. …Three of the seven federal prisons reviewed also stockpiled “unauthorized chemical agents and ammunition,” but the IG redacted details about those stockpiles.

The good news (fingers crossed) is that there’s no concrete evidence that weapons actually wound up in the hands of thugs or terrorists.

And I guess this isn’t as bad as the Obama Administration’s so-called “fast and furious” scandal, which was based on deliberately letting criminals obtains guns (though it did lead to a good Jay Leno joke).

P.S. Since I don’t want to be accused of discrimination, the episodes discussed above from the VA, CIA and BOP should not be interpreted as a slight to all the other federal departments and agencies that also work hard to waste money and make our lives less pleasant. Rest assured that the bureaucrats at the TSA, IRS, State Department, DHS, and elsewhere are also capable of waste, inefficiency, fraud, and abuse.

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