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December 31, 2011

When You Coddle the “Occupy Wall Street” Protesters

"Porker of the Month is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers."

As most people know, "Occupy Wall Street" is the “protest movement” that started in New York City, but has sparked similar protests in other cities, including here in Washington, D.C. Their “complaints” include “ social and economic inequality, high unemployment, greed, as well as corruption, and the undue influence of corporations—particularly from the financial services sector—on government,” according to Wikipedia.

The protests in Washington, D.C. have also resulted in awarding the dubious honor of Porker of the Month for December to Jonathan Jarvis, National Park Service Director, by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW). Here’s the short explanation why CAGW named Jarvis it’s December Porker of the Month:

“For turning public parks in Washington, D.C. into magnets for occupiers from all over the country, flouting long-standing rules regarding overnight camping, putting all taxpayers at risk for costly lawsuits and millions of dollars in cleanup costs, while repeatedly complaining about the $10 million backlog of unmet NPS maintenance needs, CAGW names NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis its December, 2011 Porker of the Month.”

The “long version” of CAGW’s justification is here. The National Park Service website is here. Mr. Jarvis’s phone number in Washington, D.C. is (202) 208-3818.

December 30, 2011

America the Generous

In a “federation feature” at the Wall Street Journal on Christmas Eve, Paul Wilson of the Media Research Center writes “the United States is the most generous country in the world,” according to (a) report from the Charities Aid Foundation America, the World Giving Index 2011.” According to Wilson:

“The World Giving Index 2011 measures generosity on three levels: giving money as a percentage of income, giving time, and helping strangers. Only the United States ranked in the top 10 nations of the world in each category. Charities Aid Foundation director Richard Harrison praised American charitable giving: "This research confirms that when we look at giving in a rounded way, including the extent to which we volunteer and help strangers, America is the most generous country in the world. America is the only country that ranks in the top ten globally on each of these three perspectives, and this first place ranking should be seen as source of real pride for people across America."

Unfortunately, you may not read very often about American generosity in the mainstream media. Rather, Wilson writes, “America is usually attacked by the media as not being generous enough, and American donations of time, money, and effort to countries are ignored or even scorned by liberal journalists.” He concludes by writing:

“Apparently, the "forced charity" of government social programs, fueled by higher taxes, is the only worthwhile form of charity, according to liberals. This is one explanation for the consistent media gripe that Americans are not generous, despite the mountain of evidence that suggests otherwise.”

Here’s hoping that everyone enjoyed their Christmas, and the New Year brings health, peace and national prosperity.

December 29, 2011

Today's Quote

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

~ Friedrich Hayek, "The Fatal Conceit"

HT Powerline

December 28, 2011

Today's Thought

"Nothing illustrates the superficiality of our times better than the enthusiasm for electric cars, because they are supposed to greatly reduce air pollution. But the electricity that ultimately powers these cars has to be generated somewhere — and nearly half the electricity generated in this country is generated by burning coal."

~ Thomas Sowell

HT December 27, 2011 Random Thoughts Column

December 27, 2011

Today's Thought

"Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the world envisioned by today's liberals is that it is a world where other people just passively accept whatever "change" liberals impose. In the world of Liberal Land, you can just take for granted all the benefits of the existing society, and then simply tack on your new, wonderful ideas that will make things better.

"For example, if the economy is going along well and you happen to take a notion that there ought to be more home ownership, especially among the poor and minorities, then you simply have the government decree that lenders have to lend to more low-income people and minorities who want mortgages, ending finicky mortgage standards about down payments, income and credit histories."

~ Thomas Sowell

HT Column at Townhall.com

December 21, 2011

Pancakes for Yuppies

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-Oklahoma) released his newest report on government waste yesterday, according to the press release from his office. Wastebook 2011 “highlights over $6.5 billion in examples of some of the most egregious ways your taxpayer dollars were wasted. Wastebook 2011 “details 100 of the countless unnecessary, duplicative and low-priority projects spread throughout the federal government.”

The press release goes on to say:

“Video games, robot dragons, Christmas trees, and magic museums. This is not a Christmas wish list, these are just some of the ways the federal government spent your tax dollars. Over the past 12 months, politicians argued, debated and lamented about how to reign in the federal government’s out of control spending. All the while, Washington was on a shopping binge, spending money we do not have on things we do not absolutely need. Instead of cutting wasteful spending, nearly $2.5 billion was added each day in 2011 to our national debt, which now exceeds $15 trillion,” Dr. Coburn said.

“Congress cannot even agree on a plan to pay for the costs of extending jobless benefits to the millions of Americans who are still out of work. Yet, thousands of millionaires are receiving unemployment benefits and billions of dollars of improper payments of unemployment insurance are being made to individuals with jobs and others who do not qualify. And remember those infamous bridges to nowhere in Alaska that became symbols of government waste years ago? The bridges were never built, yet the federal government still spent more than a million dollars just this year to pay for staff to promote one of the bridges.”

My favorite was “paying for pancakes” in which “(a)lmost $800,000 of federal taxpayer funds went to subsidize ‘“pancakes for yuppies’” in the Columbia Heights section of the nation‘s capital. The report, Wastebook 2011: A Guide to Some of the Most Wasteful and Low-Priority Government Spending of 2011 (requires Adobe) further explains ‘pancakes for yuppies’ this way:

“An International House of Pancakes (IHOP) franchise was built with financial assistance courtesy of Uncle Sam. It was intended to help an ‘underserved community.’  The federal funding went to the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation.  According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), ―$500,000 of the $765,000 grant was used as an equity injection in DC Pancakes LLC for a 19% ownership interest.‖ 29 The remaining funds went to training costs for new employees, and other consultants.

“The new IHOP is not located in an ―underserved community‖ but a popular Washington D.C. neighborhood.30  The neighborhood is Columbia Heights, which has become a local shopping hot spot for some and “one of Washington‘s more desirable neighborhoods.” Other businesses in the area include Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, and Starbucks.

“The restaurant chain is best known for its “world famous” buttermilk pancake flavors.  Options on the menu include chocolate chip, CINN-A-STACK, and New York Cheesecake pancakes. Observers noticed that “in this day of anti-obesity crusades, the secretary of Health and Human Services used her own discretionary grant money to subsidize a restaurant that serves two of Men's Health magazine‘s 20 most unhealthy restaurant dishes.”

HT to Rick Moran at American Thinker yesterday for introducing Sen. Coburn’s 2011 Wastebook, adding the following comments about the 2011 Wastebook:

“Don't let the small amounts fool you. There are many thousands of such line item expenditues in the budget that need to be examined by asking the question; "Is this really something the national government should be spending tax dollars on?"

“Some might pass that test. Many more would not. The problem is that there are so many, it is almost beyond the capacity of the human mind to comprehend. The thousands and thousands of pages that make up the national budget cannot be seen in its totality so that the impact of the waste is diminished by the sheer, overwhelming amount of information one has to absorb to make rational choices.

“The budget is out of control because there are thousands of these kinds of questionable expenditures that nobody wants to bother taking out because the process is so cumbersome.

“This is where a line item veto for the president would come in handy -- something the Supreme Court has struck down time and again. It is time to revisit the issue and try to devise a line item veto that would not only do the job, but pass muster with the courts."

CBS reported on Sen. Coburn’s waste report, including the following quip: “To be sure, getting rid of these projects would barely put a dent in the $1 trillion-plus budget deficit. But it might give taxpayers a bit more faith that our money wasn't being thrown away.”

Even the Huffington Post weighed-in today on the IHOP pancake house being government waste, but identified it as just one of many examples in Sen. Coburn’s waste report. Fox New channel 5 in Washington, D.C. also commented on the report yesterday.

December 20, 2011

More Crony Capitalism? It’s OK Because It’s Green.

An editorial in today’s Washington Times says, “Government digs deeper into debt so pricey biofuel can power warcraft.” The editorial begins by saying:

“The $1 trillion budget bill before Congress includes a provision that would resurrect the Keystone XL pipeline, but don’t expect its passage to open a flood of black gold and wash away Uncle Sam’s infatuation with all things green. Even as the scientific validation of global-warming theory crumbles, adherents in Washington have dragooned the U.S. military into leading the charge toward renewable energy.

The Navy made headlines last week with the revelation that it has been ordered to purchase 450,000 gallons of biofuel to power its jet fighters. Conventional jet fuel costs about $4 a gallon, but the biofuel made from fermented algae will set back the service about $16 a gallon. The pricey green gas, says the Navy, will be used next summer to power planes participating in exercises near Hawaii under the politically correct title of “the Great Green Fleet Carrier Strike Force.” The purchase is part of a larger deal in which the Navy is partnering with the Agriculture and Energy departments to buy $510 million worth of biofuels over three years. (emphasis added)

“One supplier is California-based Solazyme, which received $22 million in federal stimulus funds to construct a biofuel plant in Louisiana. A company adviser, according to Hot Air, is T.J. Glauthier, who was a member of President Obama’s transition team. So in essence, overspending feds borrowed stimulus money, handed it over to an Obama buddy who helps build a factory for algae fuel that the feds buy back at quadruple the going rate. Meanwhile, the defense budget is slashed by $500 billion and faces additional cuts of $1.2 trillion as a result of the congressional debt panel’s failure to approve a deficit reduction plan - all in the name of “sustainability.”

Last week, Investor's Business Daily put the story in the category of "ecofanaticism," editorializing that "SolyndraGate was no isolated case of corrupt government misspending."

Yesterday, Andrew Stiles wrote at National Review Online that President Obama is forcing “the Navy to purchase expensive and dubiously green biofuel,” adding:

“One might assume, or at least hope, that the fallout over the $535 million Solyndra loan scandal would make the Obama administration think twice before lavishing more taxpayer dollars on politically connected “green energy” firms. Not in the slightest.”

Meanwhile, a San Francisco Chronicle blog points out: “Those of you obsessed with the Solyndra scandal, take note: Range’s government loans and grants were issued by the Bush administration, via the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy.” And Fox News points out:

“The purchase is being authorized by an executive order under the Obama administration's "we can't wait" campaign.

“Administration officials gave no indication why they're not going through Congress, instead using a program that was established to promote rapid job growth by bypassing congressional debate.”

All the while the Navy Secretary is cheerleading the buy because it was "the biggest government purchase of advanced biofuels, as reported by Bloomberg.

But remember, the grandees don't understand it’s taxpayers who are being plundered. Besides, if it’s green, it must be good. Wrong!

December 19, 2011

Quote of the Day

"I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible."

~ Milton Friedman

HT John Hawkins at Townhall.com

December 18, 2011

CBO Raises the Cost of TARP

On Friday, the Congressional Budget Office released the latest of its required reports on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The TARP was “established in October 2008, during the financial crisis, to enable the Department of the Treasury to promote stability in financial markets through the purchase and guarantee of ‘troubled assets,’” according to the CBO director’s blog.

Here is how the CBO director describes the “CBO’s current estimate” and the it differs from the CBO’s March 2011 estimate:

What is CBO’s current estimate?

“CBO estimates that the net cost to the federal government of the TARP’s transactions, including the cost of grants for mortgage programs that have not been made yet, will amount to $34 billion. CBO’s analysis reflects transactions completed, outstanding, and anticipated as of November 15, 2011.

“That cost stems largely from assistance to American International Group (AIG), aid to the automotive industry, and grant programs aimed at avoiding home foreclosures: CBO estimates a cost of $59 billion for providing those three types of assistance.

“But not all of the TARP’s transactions will end up costing the government money. The program’s other transactions with financial institutions will, taken together, yield a net gain to the federal government of about $25 billion, in CBO’s estimation.

How does the estimate differ from our March 2011 estimate?

“CBO’s current estimate of the cost of the TARP’s transactions is $15 billion higher than the $19 billion estimate shown in the agency’s previous report. That increase in the estimated cost stems primarily from a reduction in the market value of the government’s investments in AIG and General Motors.” (emphasis in the original)

The CBO also explained that their estimate “is less than OMB’s estimate, largely because CBO projects less spending for the Treasury’s housing programs under the TARP; that difference is partially offset by CBO’s higher estimate of the cost of assistance to AIG.”

In reporting on this latest news about TARP Reuters points out that “only $428 billion of the originally authorized $700 billion will be disbursed under TARP.”

Here’s a little more news that it seems neither Reuters or the CBO director bothers pointing out. Rick Moran points it out at the American Thinker:

“What's rarely mentioned is the actual amount given to GM and Chrysler to bail them out. Nearly $65 billion was paid out to buy stock and bailout GMAC, the finance company. The stock has decreased in value and the government won't sell it until the price is right.

“Any way you look at this boondoggle, it cost taxpayers far more than it was worth."

So once again, the grandees stick it to the taxpayers. Sheesh!

It's also worth noting the e21 blog (HT Rick Moran at AT) wrote on October 28, 2010, "Earlier this month, the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Stability released a 100 page “Two Year Retrospective” on TARP, which defended various aspects of the program and updated some of their costs and repayments."

December 17, 2011

Country Less Divided Into ‘Haves’ and ‘Have Nots’

A new survey by the Gallup organization, published Thursday, says “fewer Americans see (the) U.S. divided into “haves” and “have nots” while “(t)he majority would put themselves in the "haves" category if they had to choose.” In the report, Lymari Morales writes:

“Americans are now less likely to see U.S. society as divided into the "haves" and "have nots" than they were in 2008, returning to their views prior to that point. A clear majority, 58%, say they do not think of America in this way, after Americans were divided 49% to 49% in the summer of 2008.

“The shift, documented by a Gallup poll conducted Nov. 28-Dec. 1, is noteworthy in that it came after 3 ½ years of economic turmoil in which more Americans have become unemployed and more have become negative about their personal finances. The current poll was also conducted as the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to focus on the disparities between the wealthiest 1% of Americans and everyone else.”

Here is the Gallup chart:

In an essay published by the American Spectator, Ross Kaminsky writes about this Gallup poll, and suggests that “class warfare is becoming a big loser for the left.” He adds:

“To be clear, while the poll shows that "Americans' views of their own position as 'haves' or 'have nots' have been remarkably stable," the percentage of Americans who believe that the nation is divided along those lines has plunged since the last similar poll, done just prior to President Obama's election in 2008.

"[ . . . ]

“As if to reemphasize the point, another Gallup poll released Friday shows that "More Americans say it is important that the federal government enact policies that grow the economy and increase equality of opportunity than say the same about reducing the income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor." Only 46 percent of poll respondents thought that government efforts to reduce income or wealth gaps between rich and poor were "extremely important" or "very important." However, when it comes to increasing equality of opportunity, the number is 70 percent, and for "grow and expand the economy" the number jumps to 82 percent. Somewhere Thomas Jefferson is smiling; Karl Marx and Saul Alinsky not so much.”

Things may not be as good as they seem, however. In commenting on the Gallup survey, Alana Goodman notes at Commentary's blog, Contentions:

“The one area to be concerned about is the growing number of people who categorize themselves as “have nots.” In 1989, just 17 percent of Americans put themselves in that group. That’s steadily increased during the years, and now hovers around 34 percent. This is in spite of the explosion of federal spending on entitlement programs, and if the trend continues, it will become more and more difficult to make reductions in these areas.”

Canada's Globe and Mail reports the poll results "have not received widespread attention, but they have been noticed by conservative bloggers who say the numbers are evidence that “Americans are rejecting class warfare,” as Rick Moran of American Thinker said."

Finally, Charles Blow, New York Times columnist, thinks that income inequality is “becoming the new global warming.” He writes about the Gallup poll this way:

“This happened even as the percentage of Americans who grouped themselves under either label stayed relatively constant. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans still see themselves as the haves, while only about a third see themselves as the have-nots. The numbers have been in that range for a decade.

“This is the new American delusion. The facts point to a very different reality.”

An American delusion? Seems the left, not to mention one New York Times columnist, are the ones under a delusion.

December 16, 2011

Yesterday was Bill of Rights Day

At their website yesterday, the Cato Institute told us, “December 15 was Bill of Rights Day — a highly appropriate time to consider the state of our constitutional safeguards. In major newspaper ads running in the Wall Street Journal, Politico, Roll Call, The Hill, and the Washington Examiner, the Cato Institute details the vulnerabilities our safeguards face and the government's intrusion into what our Founders and Framers of the Constitution intended to be some of our most precious individual rights. Cato is proud, on this day, to help revive and energize the idea that the Constitution authorizes a government of delegated, enumerated and thus limited powers.

The Cato Institute that ran in the newspapers mentioned above is available here (requires Adobe) and at the blog post by Cato scholar Tim Lynch at Cato@Liberty (there's a short video on the Bill of Rights), saying that it’s “an appropriate time to consider the state of our Constitutional safeguards.” In addition, Cato senior fellow Nat Henthoff wrote the essay, “Bill of Rights Day: What’s Left of Them.” The essay begins with this insight:

“John Jay, the co-writer of the Federalist Papers and the first chief justice of the United States (1789-95), wrote in a 1786 letter to Thomas Jefferson that he was worried that under our evolving founding document that became the Constitution, Congress would have exorbitant power.

“These three great departments of sovereignty,” he told Jefferson, “should be forever separated and so distributed to serve as checks on each other.”

“The separation of powers was indeed embodied in the Constitution, but especially in the Bush and Obama administrations, the executive branch has been so disproportionately and unilaterally strengthened that I urge the Cato Institute to actively redistribute, with a short epilogue, its 2008 book by Gene Healy, The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power. It can make for more crucially discerning voters in 2012.”

For other resources, visit the Bill of Rights Institute. The Cato Institute has other resources, including such books as "The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom" and "How Progressives Rewrote the Constitution."

December 15, 2011

The Price Of Your Next Car Is About To Skyrocket

According to a “webmemo” (No. 3421, November 28, 2011) by Diane Katz, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, writes:

“Automakers would be required to double current fleet-wide fuel economy by 2025 under regulations proposed last week by the Obama Administration. Advocates contend that this crackdown on the internal combustion engine would reduce Americans’ “dependence on oil” and cut emissions of so-called greenhouse gases.”

“Whether the standard is achievable remains to be seen, but the effort would cost tens of billions of dollars, untold numbers of manufacturing jobs, and—most inexcusable—the loss of lives."

The new proposal, she writes would bump the “fleet-wide fuel economy standard to 54.5 mpg by 2025 from the current 27.3 mpg. According to Ms. Katz, the government says the cost of compliance would be about $8.5 billion annually, saying it “translates into a spike in sticker prices of at least $2,000–$2,800, according to official projections, which typically run lower than industry estimates.”

At Hot Air on December 1, Tina Korbe wonders if “the new regulation on CAFE standards delay publication of the Federal Register," writing:"

“Ordinarily, the Federal Register — the daily record of rules, proposed rules and notices of the federal government — publishes at 8 a.m. But, as late as 2:45 p.m. ET today, the Register’s website displayed a little red bar across the top of the homepage that read, “Today’s issue is currently unavailable; we apologize for any inconvenience.”Why the delay? It could be holiday fever. It could be just plain ol’ bureaucratic ineptitude. Or it could be that today’s issue of the Federal Register took longer to prepare because it was to include (and ultimately did include) one of the most massive regulations yet proposed under the Obama administration . . . ."

All may not be well, though. While the San Francisco Chronicle was pleased to write on December 9 that “new 54.5 mpg fuel economy standard (was) moving toward reality,” an article in Popular Mechanic on December 8 points out: “The Obama administration’s aggressive new fuel-economy standards—54.5 mpg average across the fleet by 2025—would seem to suggest cars are going to get much smaller, and hybrids more prevalent. But a catch in the rules—along with consumer demand for big cars—means the opposite might become true,” adding:

“According to a new paper from the University of Michigan College of Engineering, however, CAFE will likely have the opposite effect: It will lead to an increase in size for most vehicles, and more SUVs and light trucks on the road.

“The researchers, whose results will be published in the January issue of the journal Energy Policy, put themselves in the shoes of carmakers designing for the 2014 model year. By weighing what they know about what cars customers want—taken from existing surveys and recent market data—against the projected costs of efficiency-boosting features and technologies, they concluded that practically every type of vehicle would get a size bump. Overall, the footprint of the entire U.S. fleet could get between 2 to 32 percent bigger, resulting in a 1 to 4 mpg drop in efficiency. In terms of emissions, that’s the equivalent of running three to 10 extra 10,000-megawatt-class coal-fired plants for a single year.”

If that loophole proves true, it should set-off the ecofanatics at the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to fix that “error.” But why do the political elitists think they know better than ordinary American citizens about which cars citizens want? Sheesh!

December 14, 2011

County Board Approve Purchase of Courthouse Building

At its recessed meeting last night (agenda item 35, December 13, 2011 meeting), the Arlington County Board “authorized the county manager to purchase a Courthouse office building . . ., the first step to the creation of a new, year-round homeless shelter,” according to ARLnow.com.

The Arlington Sun Gazette today made another point in their headline, saying, “County Officials Aim to Mollify Angry Courthouse Residents.” The need to mollify residents was described by ARLnow.com:

“Arlington first publicly proposed the purchase of 2020 14th Street N. last month, saying that the building would help the county consolidate overflow office space, would facilitate the redevelopment of the Courthouse area, and would serve as the site of a long-desired comprehensive homeless service center. The homeless shelter would take up two floors of the seven-story building, which the county has valued at $25.5 million, and would replace the current emergency winter homeless shelter, located two blocks away.”

Although the county may value the property at $25.5 million, now, the property was assessed for $14.4 million by the county assessor on January 1, 2011, only 11 months ago.

We will have more to say about this county transaction, but as ACTA’s president pointed out last night, the question isn’t a matter of homelessness or relocating the current emergency homeless shelter. Rather, it’s a matter of process, including how government treats its citizens, and whether the acquisition will adequately fit the budget promises made only a few days earlier by the Arlington County Board.

For more information, here’s the press release on the acquisition of 2020 14th Street North. It includes an embedded link to a prior press release containing more detailed information. We'll update this Growls with other news stories as we learn of them.

UPDATE (12/15/11): The Washington Post reported today on the County Board's approval of the purchase of 2020 14th Street North, including the following:

“We do support a [new] homeless shelter, but this property is seriously flawed,” said Patricia Yeh, who lives in the Woodbury Heights condominium complex and, like her neighbors, objected to how county staff planned the purchase and how it communicated the idea. “If you choose to adopt this, you’ll be sending the message that ‘the Arlington Way’ is synonymous with government arrogance, government overreach and government incompetence.”

The Post story includes a definitive picture of the property.

December 13, 2011

An Infographic of the Federal Budget

According to the Congressional Budget Office Director’s Blog yesterday:

“The federal government's finances are pretty complicated and not always easy to understand, and most of CBO's reports about the budget outlook are fairly lengthy and detailed. In fact, one of the questions we're most frequently asked is how much the government spends and takes in each year. For those who are not very familiar with the budget, finding the answer is sometimes harder than it should be.

“CBO's newest infographic—that is, information presented in a graphic form—describes some key elements of the federal budget, including a breakdown of its major components and a visual history of the budget and federal debt over the past 40 years. This graphical budget primer is more accessible than some of our longer reports, and we're hopeful that it will make the federal budget easier to understand.”

You can access the infographic here (requires Adobe). Just wondering: do the three elected eminences (Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner and Representative Jim Moran) who represent Arlington County taxpayers know even 70% (a "C") of the budget information on the infographic?

For more information, see these CBO publications: 1) The Budget and Economic Outlook: An Update; 2) CBO's 2011 Long-Term Budget Outlook; 3) Reducing the Deficit: Spending and Revenue Options; and, 4) An Analysis of the President’s Budgetary Proposals for Fiscal Year 2012.

December 12, 2011

Fear of Big Government at Near-Record Level

A report from the Gallup polling organization today says, “Americans' concerns about the threat of big government continue to dwarf those about big business and big labor, and by an even larger margin now than in March 2009. The 64% of Americans who say big government will be the biggest threat to the country is just one percentage point shy of the record high, while the 26% who say big business is down from the 32% recorded during the recession. Relatively few name big labor as the greatest threat.” The “bottom line,” according to Gallup, is the following:

“Americans' concerns about the threat of big government are near record-high levels. The Occupy Wall Street movement, focused on "fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations," has drawn much attention and a large following. Still, the majority of Americans do not view big business as the greatest threat to the country when asked to choose among big business, big government, and big labor. In fact, Americans' concerns about big business have declined significantly since 2009.

“Additionally, while Occupy Wall Street isn't necessarily affiliated with a particular party, its anti-big business message may not be resonating with majorities in any party. Republicans, independents, and now close to half of Democrats are more concerned about the threat of big government than that coming from big business.”

Perhaps most interesting about the Gallup report was the following paragraph in the reporting from today's Politico:

"Republicans are most wary of the threat of big government than are Democrats or independents – 82 percent of GOPers said big government was the biggest threat to the nation, compared to 64 percent of independents and 48 percent of Democrats who said the same.

"The percentage of Democrats who said big government was the most significant threat to the U.S., 48 percent, has seen a notable climb since 2009, when 32 percent of the political party said big government was the most dangerous to the country’s well-being.

"GOPers have become increasingly concerned about big government since 2006 when President George W. Bush was in office – 68 percent of Republicans said 5 years ago that big government was the biggest threat to the nation – in 2009 and 2011, this percentage crept up into the 80’s."
The chart below is from the Gallup report:

"Related items" from Gallup include: 1) setting 'rich' threshold at $150,000; 2) '1%' is more Republican, but not more conservative; 3) Americans tilt toward repealing Healthcare Law; and, 4) Americans most confident in military, least in Congress. HT to Breitbart's Big Government.

December 11, 2011

Earth to Congress: Pay for it with the “Forgotten Cash”

According to a post today at one of The Hill blogs, On the Money: “The Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham on Sunday said they expect a payroll tax cut bill to pass before year's end but they differ widely over how to pay for it.”

It need not be so difficult, however. In his column in the Washington Times on Friday, Deroy Murdock says there’s almost $700 billion in unused cash literally laying around in various federal agency’s accounting records. Murdock begins to explain it this way:

“Only in Washington could nearly $700 billion fester as Congress scrambles for cash.

"Earth to the congressional leadership: Precisely $687 billion fills federal coffers, officially “unobligated” and, thus, available. Nonetheless, Democrats and Republicans are clobbering each other over how to finance a $185 billion, one-year extension of the payroll-tax holiday, to help Americans survive today’s economic unpleasantness.

“Predictably, Democrats hope to use this occasion to slap a 10-year, 1.9 percent surtax on those who earn at least $1 million. This would amplify their new battle cry: “Class war!”

"Republicans surprisingly have proposed to raise Medicare premiums for prosperous seniors. Affluence testing of entitlements is long overdue. But without preparing the public, especially seniors, for this wise move, the GOP will bare itself to a brand-new round of left-wing lies, e.g., “Nothing gives Republicans more intense pleasure than starving Granny and shoving Gramps down the nearest storm drain.”

The secret, says Murdock, lies in the “unobligated balances,” which are “the amounts of budget authority that have not yet been committed by contract or other legally binding action by the government,” according to the report, “Balances of Budget Authority, Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2012” produced by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (Adobe required). Some of it has been unobligated for several years, in fact.

Murdock does say that a bill in Congress could pay for the payroll tax among other uses. He writes:

“Freshman Rep. David Schweikert’s Forgotten Funds Act would accomplish some of these things. His legislation notwithstanding, Mr. Schweikert has watched nearly $700 billion languish, like a pile of gold bars in the Capitol Rotunda that garners hardly a glance.

“Common-sense offsets need to play a key part in this discussion, to avoid a continued raid on Social Security,” the Arizona Republican told me. “With nearly $700 billion locked up and out of use, releasing these forgotten funds would be a key step to protecting taxpayers.”

Hey Congress, wake-up! Or, are you “collectively incapable of crossing the street,” as Murdock wonders in closing his column? When we growled yesterday, we included the phone numbers and links to e-mail the members of Congress who represent us. Tell them to use the "forgotten cash" to pay for the payroll tax as well as to reduce the deficit.

December 10, 2011

Why Federal Spending Must Be Reformed

You often hear El Growler Grande repeating the slogan, “It’s the spending!” The following chart from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation confirms that it is indeed the spending that needs reforming, not the need for more taxes. The source of the data for the chart is “the Congressional Budget Office, The Long‐Term Budget Outlook: June 2010, alternative. Compiled by PGPF.”Arlington County taxpayers concerned about the need to reform federal spending may want to take a few minutes to voice those concerns to their elected eminences on Capitol Hill. Better yet, write to them using the links below:

  • Senator Jim Webb (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -  write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Representative Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376.

December 09, 2011

Arlington County Officials “Muted” Over Financial Concerns

On Wednesday, December 7, Moody’s Investor’s Services commented on several selected assessments of selected municipal ratings, including Arlington County’s, beginning it this way:

“Moody's Investors Service has completed its assessments of the rating outlooks of five Aaa-rated states and 161 Aaa local governments previously identified as indirectly linked to the U.S. government, affecting a combined $69 billion of debt. As a result of these assessments, Moody's has revised the outlook to stable from negative for two states and 119 local governments while the outlook remains negative for three states and 36 local governments.”

Yesterday’s online Arlington Sun Gazette reported that: Arlington County officials “had a relatively muted response to the news Dec. 7 that one of the nation’s three major bond-rating agencies still has concerns about the fiscal future of localities in Northern Virginia.” The Sun Gazette report also said:

“The rating agency also kept its negative outlook for nine jurisdictions in the Northern Virginia area, noting that Virginia localities are at particular risk of cutbacks in federal spending, which so far has kept Northern Virginia relatively immune from the economic free-fall affecting much of the nation.”

The online ARLnow.com began their reporting this way:

“Arlington County says its finances are strong, despite a decision by Moody’s Investors Service to continue assigning a “negative” outlook to the county’s debt.

“Arlington maintained its prime Aaa investment rating from Moody’s, but the firm argued that the county’s close connection with the federal government makes the future of its finances a bit uncertain.”

The Sun Gazette also noted that Fairfax County officials “took the offensive against Moody’s. In addition, ARLnow.com reported that Arlington County’s operating reserves have been increased to a “sizable” 5%.

Are the rating agencies catching up on the financial crisis they missed in 2007-2008? Just wondering!

Here is Arlington County’s “financial fundamentals still strong” press release.

December 08, 2011

A Quick Look at Public Schools Spending in Virginia

During a Virginia Municipal League finance forum presentation on December 1, Sarah Herzog discussed the funding of Virginia’s public schools. According to Ms. Herzog, there was a slight decrease on a per pupil basis from $11,037 (FY 2008) to $11,020 (FY 2010)."

Ms. Herzog also noted that “in FY 2010 federal stimulus dollars cushioned the impact of state and local reductions.” Here are the details on school expenditures (slide 20 of her PPT presentation):

  • Local: $6,591.3 million (FY 2008) to $6,547.8 million (FY 2010)
  • State: $4,607.5 million to $4,236.0 millions (FY 2010)
  • State Sales Tax: $1,150.7 million to $1,074.6 million (FY 2010)
  • Federal: $857.3 million (FY 2008) to $1,445.8 million (FY 2010)
  • Total: $13,206.8 million (FY 2008) to $13,304.3 million (FY 2010)

Some numbers to keep in mind as the Arlington Public Schools begin developing their FY 2013 budget next month. As noted when we growled on November 9, Arlington's per-student spending for FY 2013 was $18,047.

December 07, 2011

Does Arlington County Really Need a "Weather Portal"?

ARLnow reports today that Arlington County "debuts new winter weather web portal." According to ARLnow:

"With talk of some snowflakes in the forecast tonight, Arlington County picked a good day to debut a new web portal called “Arlington Snow and Ice Central.”

"The website offers one-stop shopping for residents seeking more information on winter weather preparations, winter weather safety tips, road condition and snow plowing updates, and answers to snow removal ordinance questions. The site also links to the county’s snow issue reporting page."

And the county's system will have four phases with Phase 4 being the Clean Up phase when "Snow crews are in clean up mode, removing ice and slush from roads and/or the sun is helping to melt ice."Sheesh! Anyone with a modicum of common sense doesn't need county eminences telling us that. Or to stay off the roads until emergency and snow crews remove and/or plow primary and secondary roads (a function performed in Phase 2). Is this why Arlington County has the highest taxes in Northern Virginia? What would county officials do if they lived in Maine or Minnesota? Guess county officials aren't aware of the special efforts undertaken by the news media before and during snowstorms, or of such websites as Weather.com. And what did it cost Arlington taxpayers to put up the portal?

Reources: 1) Here is the county's "snow & ice central" webpage. 2) Here is the county's "winter weather" press release. Below is the ARLnow graphic of the "snow & ice central" page:"

December 06, 2011

Your Tax Dollars at Work? Not!

At the Heartland Institute today, this news item: “Quarter-Billion Taxpayer Dollars Spent on Penis Pumps.”  According to Benjamin Domenech of the Heartlander:

“According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare has spent more than $240 million of taxpayer money on penis pumps for elderly men over the past decade, and will surpass a quarter of a billion dollars this year for costs since 2001.

“The cost to taxpayers for the pumps more than quadrupled during that period, from a low of $11 million in 2001 to a high of more than $47 million in 2010. And these represent only the costs for external devices, technically classified as “Male Vacuum Erection Systems,” not implantable devices or oral drugs such as Viagra.”

In addition to questionable medical needs, Domenech adds a concern about fraud:

“One area of concern for CMS is the rise in fraud in relation to the pump devices. Earlier this year an Illinois man pled guilty to collecting more than $2 million from Medicare in a fraudulent operation where he repackaged $26 items from adult websites and sold them to seniors as medical devices, charging Medicare $284 apiece.

“Device fraud has become an increasingly common way for criminals bilk the taxpayers. Durable medical equipment (DME) is widely perceived as a “high risk” area for fraud, according to a spokesman for the HHS Office of the Inspector General.  And a report released last month by CMS found the error and improper payment rate for DME was above 60 percent, whereas no other area even entered double digits.”

Just another way the public sector devours the tax dollars of the productive private sector?

December 05, 2011

Another ‘Blueprint’ for Virginia’s Public Schools?

The November 15, 2011 newsletter (requires Adobe) of the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo), which costs Arlington County taxpayers over $45,000 annually, broke  the news the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) presented a new ‘blueprint” for PK-12 to the Virginia Board of Education on October 27, 2011. Here is how VACo summarized the report from the school superintendents:

“According to the report, Virginia should develop and implement standards that all school divisions can adhere to. These standards should include an accountability system and teacher development programs.

“The report also contends that schools measure student progress throughout the school year by using a range of assessments instead of one standardized test in the form of the current Standards of Learning (SOL) exam.

“Improvement in core subjects, such as math and reading, should be improved by identifying and addressing students’ weaknesses early on in order to correct them. School divisions should also examine a reconfiguration of the traditional school calendar and school day, the report states.

“A significant part of the report contends that teachers should be paid more so schools are able to retain and recruit quality teaching staff. To make the blueprint work, it all starts in the classroom with the teachers. Superintendents want to see educators in the top 10 percent of the pay scale with more professional development opportunities.

“Superintendents, however, oppose “state promotion and funding of pay for performance models that are not supported by research, are unfair and inequitable, and whose performance evaluations are based on irrelevant and invalid student growth models . . . .”

Here are the five major goals, or focus areas, put forward by Virginia’s school superintendents in the report's executive summary:

  1. Prepare all students to be college and career ready (Curriculum/Readiness)
  2. Measure student progress and achievement through a variety of assessments not limited to standardized, multiple choice tests (Assessment)
  3. Use evidence-based teaching and learning models that meet individual needs of diverse students (Instructional Delivery)
  4. Recruit, develop, and maintain effective and technically-proficient teachers, administrators, and classified staff (Human Capital)
  5. Ensure the Commonwealth meets its financial responsibility in providing public education and promoting economic development (State’s Role in Funding Public Education)

Unfortunately, the 'blueprint' doesn't say what is wrong with the existing system of public school in Virginia nor do we know the future of the VASS 'blueprint.' However, if we were cynical, we would say it appears the effort was undertaken as an effort to squeeze more money out of Virginia's overburdened taxpayers.

You can read VASS’s summary of their ‘blueprint' in their Fall2011 newsletter. The complete blueprint/report is available from the embedded link on page 4 of the November 15 VACo newsletter.

December 04, 2011

Kudos for Washington Examiner’s Weekend Editorial

Two weeks ago, we growled after reading that local jurisdictions are concerned about Virginia’s proposed constitutional amendment which would strengthen Virginia’s eminent domain legislation. In that Growls, we embedded links to a “must-read” essay on the future of eminent domain in Virginia published by the Virginia Institute for Public Policy.

In a “local editorial” this weekend, the Washington Examiner writes:

“The Virginia League of Municipalities is lobbying heavily against the amendment, which requires governments to pay the true value of any land seized and to reimburse landowners for their financial losses. Continuing abuse of eminent domain in Arlington and Alexandria demonstrate why this amendment is sorely needed.”

The Virginia Municipal League (VML) and the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) are the two major lobbying organizations employed by Arlington County. The two cost Arlington taxpayers about $90,000 annually, and that was the cost when we last checked three years ago.

So what else did the Examiner write in their local editorial? It cites abuses in both Arlington County and the city of Alexandria. In Arlington, the editorial notes the county’s threat to use eminent domain to acquire the property at 2020 14th Street North for a homeless shelter while one of Alexandria’s uses of eminent domain will result in a case before the Virginia Supreme County next year. Here’s how the editorial concludes:

“The Fifth Amendment expressly forbids taking private property for public use "without just compensation," but that is exactly what Arlington and Alexandria officials have been trying to do. The proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution merely reaffirms what the Bill of Rights already guarantees: If the government takes your land for any reason, you will receive a fair price in return. It's not too much to ask.”

Believe it or not, the newspaper writes that “(e)ven Del. David Englin, D-Alexandria, who voted against the constitutional amendment the first time, said that he may vote for it this time around to send a "foot-stomping" message to City Hall to back off.”

Again, kudos to the Washington Examiner.

December 03, 2011

Arlington County’s “Friday News Dump”

According to reason #52 at StuffJournalistsLike.com, “Whenever the government or a business is backed into a corner and is forced to release less than flattery news, they have made the habit of dumping the bad news late on Friday afternoon and thus ruining journalists’ weekends. This is especially true for long and holiday weekends." They add:

“The theory behind the Friday Dump? According to West Wing’s Josh Lyman, “Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.” (How is that different from the other six days?)

“And dumping bad news late on Fridays gives journalists little to
no time to go through the accompanying stack of legal paperwork to actually
find the real dirt behind the bad news.”

So what news did Arlington County’s elected eminences dump yesterday? Let the folks at ARLnow.com provide the answer; they begin by saying:

“Late this afternoon, Arlington County revealed that the estimated cost for the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar line has increased by as much as $100 million over a 2007 cost projection.

“The five-mile Columbia Pike streetcar line will run from Pentagon City to the Skyline area of Fairfax, and cost between $242 million and $261 million, according to “a new, more detailed analysis.” In 2007, officials pegged the cost at about $161 million.

“Inflation, an increase in the scope of the proposed project, additional engineering requirements, and federal requirements for higher contingency funding and escalation accounted for the increase in projected costs,” the county said in a press release. “The $50 million per-mile cost now estimated for the proposed streetcar project is comparable to the costs of similar projects across the nation.”

Washington Post reporter Patricia Sullivan starts off slightly differently, saying:

"The cost of a five-mile Columbia Pike streetcar line has jumped as much as $100 million since 2007, officials for the initiative said Friday, pushing the cost of the transit system to as high as $261 million.

“Inflation accounted for about $20 million of the increase, said Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman (D). Federal requirements for higher-contingency funding added $34 million to the cost, and an increase in the number of vehicles and higher engineering costs boosted the price another $20 million. Zimmerman said the jump in cost was not surprising or unexpected because the last estimate was done four years ago.”

Not to worry says current Arlington County Board chairman, Chris Zimmerman, who “said the staff analysis made a convincing case for building a modern streetcar line on the Pike” in the county’s press release. In the Post, Sullivan included the following paragraph:

“The increase is “actually fairly slight,” Zimmerman said. “These numbers are always a moving target in transportation projects. . . . We build high schools that cost $150 million.”

Move over Artisphere and Long Bridge Park for the Streetcar and homeless shelter. Just another example of underestimated costs and overestimated demand? Or even better, vast projects based on half-vast ideas? I never cease to be amazed at how the elected eminences always seem to be living in an alternative reality when it comes to spending taxpayers money.

For more information, the county’s Friday press release contains a number of embedded links. Additional information is available the the Department of Environmental Service’s webpage for the streetcar transit project, or search the Arlington County website for “Columbia Pike Streetcar.”

December 02, 2011

Arlington County, the United Nations and Agenda 21

The Arlington County Board spends taxpayer money in large chunks (e.g., the Artisphere, Long Bridge Park, affordable housing projects, etc.) and in small ones (i.e., nickle-and-diming taxpayers, by paying dues to such organizations as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI)). Such a caring county? Here's how Wikipedia defines Agenda 21:

“Agenda 21 is an action plan of the United Nations (UN) related to sustainable development and was an outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. It is a comprehensive blueprint of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the UN, governments, and major groups in every area in which humans directly affect the environment.

Although a new Backgrounder (No. 2628, December 1, 2011) from the Heritage Foundation warns that any focus on Agenda 21 “should not divert attention from homegrown anti-growth policies," the essay pretty-well sums up the 300+-page Agenda 21 publication, "which sets forth hundreds of specific goals and strategies that  local governments are encouraged to adopt."  It was written by Wendell Cox, Ronald Utt and Brett Schaeffer, Here’s their abstract:

“Agenda 21, a voluntary plan adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, unabashedly calls on governments to intervene and regulate nearly every potential impact that human activity could have on the environment. However, Agenda 21 is non-binding; it depends on governments for implementation. If opponents focus excessively on Agenda 21, it is much more likely that homegrown smart-growth policies that undermine the quality of life, personal choice, and property rights in American communities will be implemented by local, state, and federal authorities at the behest of environmental groups and other vested interests. Preventing American implementation of Agenda 21 should therefore be viewed as only one part of a broader effort to convince U.S. government officials to repeal destructive smart-growth programs and prevent the enactment of new ones.”

In closing the paper, the authors say:

“If implemented, the types of policies encouraged in Agenda 21 would be detrimental to economic growth and prosperity. Thus, preventing American implementation of Agenda 21 at the national level and membership by U.S. counties, cities, and municipalities in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), now called Local Governments for Sustainability, is worthwhile. But this effort should be viewed as only one part of a broader effort to convince U.S. government officials to repeal destructive smart-growth programs and prevent the enactment of new ones.”

If you’re wondering if there is a connection between Arlington County and the United Nations, there is. It's the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), and Arlington County taxpayers are paying for ICLEI -- $1,750 in Fiscal Year 2009 and $2,250 in FY 2010, and presumably $2,250 annually since then. Just another expense funded by the FreshAire initiative, begun in 2007 when Paul Ferguson chaired the Arlington County Board.

For additional resources about Agenda 21, see this United Nations webpage for the “core publication” Agenda 21. For ICLEI-USA, click here. For ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, and its 14 worldwide offices, click here. Arlington County’s membership in ICLEI is listed under Federal activities on the County Manager’s website. In addition, the Virginia Campaign for Liberty has published the informative The History of Sustainable Development: Connecting the Dots. Finally, the National Association of Scholars publishes essays on sustainability and periodically collects sustainability news; or use the search function at the National Association of Scholars website.

December 01, 2011

Today's Thought

"[My opponent] tells us that first we’ve got to reduce spending before we can reduce taxes. Well, if you’ve got a kid that’s extravagant, you can lecture him all you want to about his extravagance. Or you can cut his allowance and achieve the same end much quicker."

~ Ronald Reagan (1980)

HT Cato Journal article by Andrew Young.