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July 31, 2013

A Thought on the Media

"The first thing any conservative should tell his friends about the "news" business is this: reporters, editors, and anchormen are not those characters in your civic textbook, merely interested in telling you what happened in the world while you slept or while you were at work. They're not objective, impartial observers of a political system holding all politicians accountable. They are participants in the process."

~ L. Brent Bozell III & Tim Graham, chapter 1, "Collusion: How the Media Stole the 2012 Election"

HT Barnes & Noble

July 30, 2013

Your Federal Tax Dollars: Farm Subsidies for Deceased

At the Washington Times yesterday, Stephen Dinan reports, "The federal government is still paying out millions of dollars a year in subsidies to dead farmers, according to a government audit released Monday that said the Agriculture Department doesn’t do the routine checks required to make sure it is paying benefits to the right people." Dinan continues:

The Government Accountability Office said one agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, made $10.6 million payments from 2008 to 2012 on behalf of more than 1,100 people who had been dead at least a year. Another arm of the department, the Risk Management Agency, paid out $22 million to more than 3,400 policyholders who had been dead at least two years.

Some of the payments may have been legal because they were for work completed before the farmers died, but the GAO said the problem is that the two agencies don’t perform routine checks — such as looking at the Social Security lists — to verify their information.

< . . . >

"The GAO said the Agriculture Department has shown some progress since a previous audit found hundreds of payments to 172,801 dead claimants, totaling some $1.1 billion, between 1999 and 2005."

At the Cato Institute's blog, Cato@Liberty, Tad Dehaven comments on the GAO report (report #GAO-13-5-3, June 2013; single-page highlights; podcast also available), saying:

"Galling as it is, the volume of handouts going to the deceased is trivial compared to the amount (around $20 billion annually) going to the living. So let’s keep in mind that the real outrage continues to be the very existence of these reverse Robin Hood agriculture subsidy programs. Dead or alive, theft is theft."

By the way, has anyone ever heard one of the masterminds who represent Arlington County on Capitol Hill speak out on waste. fraud and abuse? If so, will please notify ACTA's president.

July 29, 2013

A Thought on Global Warming & the Mainstream Media

"Edmund Burke said, "There is no safety for honest men, but by believing all possible evil of evil men." Evil men do not always snarl. Some smile charmingly. Those are the most dangerous. If you don't think the mainstream media slants the news, keep track of how often they tell you that the Arctic ice pack is shrinking and how seldom they tell you that the Antarctic ice pack is expanding. The latter news would not fit the "global warming" scenario that so many in the media are promoting."

~ Thomas Sowell

HT His June 2013 'Random Thoughts' Column at Townhall.com

July 28, 2013

Your Federal Tax Dollars Wasted. On Green Jobs?

At CNS News on Friday, Barbara Hollingsworth reports on a GAO report, which says the Department of Labor's "green jobs efforts highlight challenges of targeted training programs for emerging industries." According to Hollingsworth:

"In his 2008 campaign, presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to create 5 million “green jobs” over the next decade. Since 2009, the Labor Department has spent $501 million of stimulus funds to train workers for jobs within the new energy efficiency and renewable energy industries as part of President Obama’s $90 billion green jobs initiative.

"But despite training “slightly more individuals than they had projected,” and counting “any job that could be linked, directly or indirectly, to a beneficial environmental outcome,” the Labor Department’s job placements “were at 55 percent of the target,” according to a June report by the Government Accountability Office. (See GAO-13-555.pdf)

"Of the 55 percent of trainees who did manage to snag a green job, most found employment in traditional industries, not solar or biofuels, the report noted. “Recovery Act training programs were initiated prior to a full assessment of the demand for green jobs.”

"“Labor’s training data show most participants were trained in construction or marketing…[which] incorporated green elements into existing training programs aimed at traditional skills, such as teaching weatherization as part of a carpentry training program.”

"And even that 55 percent figure is questionable. According to GAO, “the outcomes of Labor’s green jobs training programs remain uncertain, in part because data on final outcomes were not yet available for about 40 percent of grantees, as of the end of 2012” – four years after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed."

The GAO makes an interesting observation in the report's (GAO-13-555 June 2013, or report's single-page highlights), conclusion, saying:

" . . . Uncertainty and debate still surround the question of what constitutes a green job. Under Labor's current framework, almost any job can be considered green if a link between the employee's tasks and environmental benefits can be made. Indeed, most grantee officials we interviewed said that most green jobs they have trained participants for are primarily traditional skilled-trades jobs, such as carpentry or electrical work. Many have been termed "green" because the worker has been trained to be mindful of energy use and reduce waste, or has been placed where the worker's tasks resulted in a product or service that benefited the environment, such as a light-rail construction site."

Sure sounds like government BS?

The Heritage Foundation's David Kreutzer has more background on green jobs at this post at Heritage Foundation's blog, The Foundry (includes links to several other posts).

July 27, 2013

Hey, Arlington County dog park is "in the home stretch."

When we growled on May 25, 2013 about Arlington's dog parks, we complained about the skyrocketing cost, but observed that according to ARLnow, the Clarendon dog park was scheduled to reopen in "late summer."

Now we learn from a story this afternoon at ARLnow the dog park will be "delayed again." A few of the dirty details:

"The park was delayed in the spring because of unforeseen issues with the park site, characterized as difficult soils, grading issues and “buried structures.”

"This time, the specific ADA regulations regarding fencing and railing pushed the opening back. ADA requires dog parks and recreational spaces to have such facilities installed and then approved by compliance officers before the park can open to the public, Kalish said.

“We cannot open the park until the site is ADA compliant and all final inspections are approved,” Kalish wrote in an email.

"The renovated park had an original opening date of summer 2012 before being pushed back to February 2013, then late spring of this year, and, in March, park planners said they expected to be open in July."

There's good news, though. According to ARLnow, "The good news is that despite the timeline extension, the County has remained within the [$1.6 million] park construction budget.”

Repeating what we growled on May 25, 2013, "Sure sounds like Arlington County needs an Inspector General." Looks truer by the day! As reader TK421 commented:

"Meanwhile, a whole office building over here on Garfield where I live will be almost completed in the same time that a dog park will be. Ridiculous.

"Complete incompetence. You could have hired the people from that ABC show Extreme Home Makeover and they would have had this done in 7 days."

July 26, 2013

Another Streetcar Loss, or More Squabbling?

An online story in the Arlington Sun Gazette today reports that a vote by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority "leads to another round of streetcar squabbling." Here's the story's lede:

"Will July 24 go down as a red-letter day for proponents of a Columbia Pike streetcar?

"That was the day the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) ratified a preliminary decision to spend $12 million on “multi-modal” improvements throughout the Pike corridor as part of its fiscal 2014 funding package.

"The funding is not directly tied to the streetcar project, but the improvements are seen as a precursor to moving forward on the controversial transit initiative."

The news report, however, also says:

"Critics of the streetcar plan were quick to say that Arlington residents shouldn’t count on regional funds to pay for the five-mile streetcar line, which is slated to connect Pentagon City to Skyline.

“NVTA will never fund the Columbia Pike streetcar project,” said Peter Rousselot of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, a group that prefers a bus-rapid-transit system in place of the streetcar.

"In a statement, Rousselot said the streetcar plan will never meet the regional authority’s requirement that funded projects reduce congestion compared to lesser-priced alternatives."

An Arlington County spokesman pointed out the county "never applied for this funding," according to the Sun Gazette article. The county issued this press release about their streetcar agreement with Fairfax County

You can read the entire press release published by Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST) for yourself. For more information about the Columbia Pike streetcar, the  AST website has a great deal of information.

As with other vanity projects of the Arlington County Board masterminds, Arlington County taxpayers have among the deepest pockets of any American county. However, as Charles Krauthammer pointed out in his latest column posted yesterday at National Review Online, "there's an iron rule in economics," i.e., Stein's Law, which says, "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."

July 25, 2013

Another Failed Government Program?

On Tuesday, ABC Channel 8 in Idaho Falls reported that "(b)orrowers who received help through the (federal) government's main foreclosure prevention program are re-defaulting on their mortgages at alarming rates, a federal watchdog said in a report released Wednesday." (HT Michael Tasselmyer at the National Taxpayers Union blog, Government Bytes)

Here is the lede from the ABC Channel 8 news story:

"Nearly 1.2 million mortgage modifications have been completed since the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) was first launched four years ago. Yet more than 306,000 borrowers have re-defaulted on their loans and more than 88,000 are at risk of following suit, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) found in its quarterly report to Congress. (emphasis added)

"In addition, the watchdog found that the longer a homeowner stays in the HAMP modification program, the more likely they are to default. Those who have been in the program since 2009, are re-defaulting at a rate of 46%, the inspector general found.

"HAMP, which was launched by the Treasury Department at the height of the foreclosure crisis, aimed to help as many as 4 million borrowers avoid foreclosure by making their payments more affordable through reduced interest rates, extended loan terms or, in some cases, reduced mortgage principals.

"Not only has the program fallen far short of that goal but with each year of the program, a growing number of homeowners have re-defaulted, the inspector general found."

Tasselmyer adds this important information:

"The program has spent $4.4 billion of the $19.1 billion it was allocated, and by SIGTARP’s estimate, has cost taxpayers over $815 million on the 306,000 re-defaults. HAMP has been extended through the end of 2015.

"SIGTARP reported that participating homeowners are re-defaulting at a rate of 46%, and in every year of the program’s existence, there have been more re-defaults than in the prior year. Over 88,000 more borrowers have missed payments and are currently “at risk” of continuing that trend."

Thanks to Tasselmyer, here is the link to the SIGTARP IG report.

At Townhall.com, Mike Shedlock writes, "HAMP is certainly a failure (a)s compared to stated goals. However, as government programs go, it's easy to make a case that HAMP was a tremendous success."

As we growled about private vs. government mistakes, and quoted Thomas Sowell, on February 26, 2013, "One of the key differences between mistakes that we make in our own lives and mistakes made by governments is that bad consequences force us to correct our own mistakes. But government officials cannot admit to making a mistake without jeopardizing their whole careers." So government bureaucrats, and  their political masters, continue making mistake after mistake after mistake.

July 24, 2013

Arlington County's Cash on Hand. Too Much?

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey reported yesterday on the varying views of whether Arlington County has too much cash on hand. Here's the lede from McCaffrey's article:

"There is one point on which everyone involved in this story agrees: The Arlington County government has significantly more cash in its coffers at any one time than it did a decade ago.

"Is that extra cushion a mark of good fiscal stewardship, or of a bureaucracy addicted to squirreling away cash? That’s where the viewpoints divide.

“Year after year, the number of pots [where cash is held] increases, the money in each of the pots increases,” said county Treasurer Frank O’Leary, no fan of the rising cash balances.

“It’s mystifying,” said O’Leary, who fears all that surplus cash does little good for taxpayers or those who rely on county services. And by keeping a huge reserve, he contends, “it’s causing us to pay more taxes than we should.”

"Despite tough economic times, the past decade has seen a huge spike: In April 2004, cash on hand stood at $69.35 million; in April 2013, it was $289.1 million, an increase of nearly 317 percent. Over the past 10 Aprils, the total on hand was higher than a year before nine times.

"(April is a good comparative month, because it is the point in the county government’s fiscal year when the least amount of cash is on hand. October is the high point, due to an influx of real estate and personal-property tax revenues. The total amount on hand in October 2012 was $574.2 million, the highest in history, according to an accounting from the treasurer’s office.)"

McCaffrey goes on to quote the County Manager, Budget director Richard Stephenson, and Treasuer officials as well as your humble scribe and the inimitable Wayne Kubicki, "who may know more about the county’s budget process than anyone outside the government," according to McCaffrey and others familiar with Arlington County's budget. According to Kubicki:

" . . . over the past decade, when the resident population is higher by 8 percent, annual county operating expenses are up 50 percent, total bonded debt is up 61 percent and tax-supported debt service is up 67 percent.

“With this debt and budget growth, you’d expect our cash on hand to be higher – and there are a lot of ‘moving parts’ [that make up the total],” Kubicki said.

McCaffrey then quoted Kubicki further:

"Isolating the individual components of our cash on hand at a single point during the fiscal year would be difficult and possibly misleading, due to the timing of specific tax receipts and disbursements,” Kubicki said. “What I’d like to see from county staff is an analysis by year, from year-end fiscal 2004 to fiscal 2012, showing the components of fiscal year-end cash for each. Such an analysis would serve to better tell us what the treasurer’s chart does – or doesn’t – mean.”

The cash balances in the chart below, which appears in the Sun Gazette article, compute to a 2004 per capita amount of approximately $327 while the 2012 per capita amount is about $1,319.

Yes, there has been a 300% growth in per capita cash on hand, but that still doesn't say whether the county's cash on hand is too much, too little, or about right. Unfortunately, in a scan of the county's FY 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) and the notes to the financial statements, I was unable to find any mention of a policy regarding appropriate cash or fund balances. Such a policy would define the financial resources that should be set aside for contingencies, how much should be allocated to the rainy day, or budget stabilization, fund when such unreserved fund balances should be used, and the appropriate size of such a fund. And it goes without saying, the county inspector general or the independent auditors should comment on the County Manager's compliance with the policy. (More information about establishing a cash or fund balance policy can be found in this September 1990 Research Bulletin published by the Government Finance Officers Association.)

If I subsequently learn that Arlington County does indeed have a cash or fund balance policy, including any analysis in the CAFR, I will update this growls appropriately.

Kudos to Mr. McCaffrey for, in my humble opinion, reporting the most significant local government news story of the past year. If there is a more outstanding example of local government news reporting, I will be happy to consider it.

July 23, 2013

A Thought on Trusting Government with Power

"Free people never trust their government with power, regardless of who’s in power. Free people instinctively reject the idea that just because something’s legal, it’s a good idea for the government to do it. And while free people are willing to make considered, wise tradeoffs for security, they believe that  freedom isn’t risk-free.

"What else are we willing to forfeit because the encroachment is, or may be, lawful and supported by the elites?"

~ Peter Kirsanow

HT His "Losing America" Column, June 10, 2013, at National Review

July 22, 2013

A Thought on Government

“The worst thing in this world, next to anarchy, is government.”

~ Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), Abolitionist and Clergyman

HT Quotes on Power at OnPower.org

July 21, 2013

Liberal vs. Progressive. A 'Liberal Lingo Fandango?'

“Socialists have always spent much of their time seeking new titles for their beliefs, because the old versions so quickly become outdated and discredited.”

~ Margaret Thatcher

HT Deroy Murdock, July 19, 2013 Column, Washington Times

July 20, 2013

And the Real U.S. Debt is . . . .

Earlier this week, Veronique de Rugy took a "comprehensive" look at alternative estimates of America's debt. You can find it here at the Mercatus Center. We growled about one of these estimates, i.e., economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff's, which we growled about on June 30, 2012, August 26, 2012, September 1, 2012, and September 4, 2012.

As Ms. de Rugy points out, most "(f)iscal policy discussions generally focus on the current year’s budget numbers: $1.0 trillion budget deficit and $16.0 trillion national debt." In her short, two-page paper, she quickly identifies two offical estimates and explains how the two alternative estimates were computed. Here is  the chart that accompanies her perspective:

An important document to keep handy the next time a liberal/Progressive politician says America doesn't have a spending problem, or starts spouting about another government program is needed.

July 19, 2013

Arlington County's 'Super Stops' Not So Super

ARLnow.com reported this morning that this week's high temperatures are taking a toll on Arlington County's infamous $1 million Super Stop fiasco on Columbia Pike. We growled about this wasteful expenditure of taxpayers money on March 29, 2013, and included a picture of the glass bus stop that isn't even able to shield occupants from the rain.

Arlington County spent $1 million for a bus stop, but the "bus arrival screen" is out of service?" But hey, there's "a large note apologizing for the problem," reports ARLnow. Here's how ARLnow completed  their reporting:

“Due to the extreme temperatures, our monitor displaying bus arrivals is not operational,” the sign says. “We are working on the problem.”

"Arlington County spokeswoman Laura G. Smith says technicians have ordered a new cooling fan for the display.

“It should be fixed within the next two weeks,” she said. In the meantime, the sign has instructions telling bus riders how to look up bus arrival times on their smartphone."

For some humor, read a few of the reader comments. For example, Pinktulip32 writes, "I wonder what will happen when the first substantial snow falls on it? Will it collapse?"

Still on the subject of the royal, $1 million Super Stops, yesterday, in his weekly opinion piece at ARLnow, Peter Rousselot, writes:

"As the County slow walks the “independent, third-party review” of the infamous $1 million Super Stop, recently released documents under Virginia FOIA reveal an even bigger fiasco than first reported.

< . . . >

"The continuing $1 million Super Stop fiasco is yet another red flag for the $310 million Columbia Pike streetcar proposal. The Federal Transit Administration concluded that the County Board underestimated this proposal’s cost by $60 million, and therefore Arlington and Fairfax counties were not entitled to the $75 million grant for which they had applied under the federal “Small Starts” program. The contractor who developed the cost estimate that was off by $60 million was AECOM, and Arlington paid them millions of dollars for that work.

"The County has promised, but not yet delivered, a truly-independent review of a one million dollar Super Stop.

"There are at least 310 times more reasons for the County to make and deliver on the same promise regarding the proposed streetcar."

By the way, Rousellot helped start Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, which includes a great deal of information to help those opposed to the current Columbia Pike streetcar proposal.

UPDATE (7/20/13): At the Competitive Enterprise Institute's blog, OpenMarket.org, yesterday. Ryan Young concludes that until the 'bus arrival screen' is fixed in about two weeks, "the super stop will be a bus stop like any other, unless it rains, or is windy. Then it will be worse than other stops."

July 18, 2013

What Will It Take for America to Wake Up?

Most everyone is familiar with the experiment that involves placing a frog in a pot of cool water, and slowly raising the water's temperature. In similar fashion, in a column at Townhall.com, columnist and radio talk show host Larry Elder asks:

"At what point does the continuous growth and intrusiveness of government make people wake up? This is not just a matter of theory or philosophy. People are hurting -- as a direct result of President Barack Obama, his party, and the inability of the GOP to make the case for a smaller, less expensive and less intrusive government.

"For five years, we have watched as President Barack Obama successfully pushed the following "redistributionist" agenda for building an economy: Take from the most productive to stimulate the economy by redistributing money, often with political consideration involved or attached; allow bureaucrats to pick winners and losers in the market; issue feel-good, top-down regulations that cost jobs and do little to improve conditions; and dictate the terms of health care with ObamaCare, a monstrosity that places one-seventh of our economy under the control of the federal government.

"The results are in.

"This is the worst economic recovery since World War II . . . ."

Elder goes on to explain that while people "talk about freedom and liberty . . . government dependency is so widespread that we accept the benefits -- unaware that the costs are much higher than we think." Elder summarizes his column, saying:

"In the end, of course, we get the government we vote for. Given that information gets filtered out through the Axis of Indoctrination -- Hollywood, academia, and media -- how much hope is there that people will wake up?

"The smart, the well-connected, and the well-educated will be fine. Their previously depressed stock portfolios have returned, as companies learn to do more with fewer workers. High-end real estate is back, and the top 1 percent has regained the wealth lost during the recession -- and then some.

"The very people whom the left says it cares about are hurting. But rest assured, these elites care about them. They just have a strange way of showing it."

Thanks, Larry, for asking, "what does it take for America to wake up?" and for pointing us to the Founders for a solution.

July 17, 2013

A Thought on Faith in Government

"Belatedly, I’ve come across the review by Jonathan Martin of Politico of the book Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn’t by Robert Kaiser, a 50-year reporter and editor at the Washington Post. What struck me was that both of these very knowledgeable Washington journalists seem very clear-eyed about the deficiencies of the legislative process, and yet their understanding doesn’t cause them to question the idea of having government manage every facet of our lives."

~ David Boaz, Executive Vice President, Cato Institute

Boaz then includes the following quote from Mr. Martin's book review in his post at the Cato Institute's blog, Cato@Liberty, yesterday:

"Congress is dominated by intellectual lightweights who are chiefly consumed by electioneering and largely irrelevant in a body where a handful of members and many more staff do the actual work of legislating. And the business of the institution barely gets done because of a pernicious convergence of big money and consuming partisanship."

So how is it that we allow the Left/liberals/progressives/Congress to run roughshod over our freedoms and our liberty?

July 16, 2013

Jobless Recovery = Phony Recovery

When the jobs report for June came out on Friday, July 5, most in the mainstream media were generally impressed. For example, Howard Scheider of the Washington Post started his report:

"The U.S. economy added 195,000 jobs in June, continuing a trend of steady growth as private hiring across a broad spectrum of industries offset declines in government and manufacturing employment.

"While not enough to push down the 7.6 percent unemployment rate, the number beat analysts’ forecasts and stoked expectations that the Federal Reserve will begin reducing its support for U.S. financial markets this fall.

"The composition of job gains and losses reflected both what appears to be a durable U.S. recovery and weaker demand for U.S. goods in places such as Europe, which is still in the midst of a recession, and China, where growth has begun to slow."

The PBS News Hour noted the June jobs report "exceed expectations." NBC News reported much the same, saying, "Stocks close up after strong June jobs report." The day after Schneider's giddy report, however, the Post's Dan Balz reported the "jobs figures underscore work yet to be done." Balz then wrote:

"On its face, the report offered good news. The economy added 195,000 jobs in June and beat the forecasters’ estimates. The private sector added 202,000 jobs, while governments — state, local and federal — cut back by just 7,000. The government also revised upward the jobs numbers for the two previous months.

< . . . >

"But other numbers from Friday tell a less-positive story. Despite the growth in jobs, the unemployment rate held steady at 7.6 percent, because more people were looking for work than in the previous month. And 332,000 more people said they were working part time because of economic conditions, rather than by choice. At the same time, long-term unemployment remains acute. Of the 11.8 million unemployed workers, more than 4.3 million have been out of work for 27 weeks or more."

Finally, last night, the Wall Street Journal posted an op-ed by Mortimer Zuckerman, who wrote a much more sober analysis of the June jobs report, for example writing:

"The jobless nature of the recovery is particularly unsettling. In June, the government's Household Survey reported that since the start of the year, the number of people with jobs increased by 753,000—but there are jobs and then there are "jobs." No fewer than 557,000 of these positions were only part-time. The survey also reported that in June full-time jobs declined by 240,000, while part-time jobs soared by 360,000 and have now reached an all-time high of 28,059,000—three million more part-time positions than when the recession began at the end of 2007.

"That's just for starters. The survey includes part-time workers who want full-time work but can't get it, as well as those who want to work but have stopped looking. That puts the real unemployment rate for June at 14.3%, up from 13.8% in May.

"The 7.6% unemployment figure so common in headlines these days is utterly misleading. An estimated 22 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed; they are virtually invisible and mostly excluded from unemployment calculations that garner headlines.

"At this stage of an expansion you would expect the number of part-time jobs to be declining, as companies would be doing more full-time hiring. Not this time. In the long misery of this post-recession period, we have an extraordinary situation: Americans by the millions are in part-time work because there are no other employment opportunities as businesses increase their reliance on independent contractors and part-time, temporary and seasonal employees."

Zuckerman later adds this "stunning fact:"

"That brings us to a stunning fact about the jobless recovery: The measure of those adults who can work and have jobs, known as the civilian workforce-participation rate, is currently 63.5%—a drop of 2.2% since the recession ended. Such a decline amid a supposedly expanding economy has never happened after previous recessions. Another statistic that underscores why this is such a dysfunctional labor market is that the number of people leaving the workforce during this economic recovery has actually outpaced the number of people finding a new job by a factor of nearly three."

Other reporting on the June jobs report included:
  • At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey reported "just the facgs."
  • Investor's Business Daily began an editorial they posted July 5, 2013 saying, "From the media to Wall Street, June's jobs report is being spun as a major positive, a sign the economy is getting back on track. Maybe the pundits should look at the actual numbers, which are abysmal."

I may update this Growls with a few more stories and links, but in the meantime, however, until President Obama decides to unleash the nation's fossil-fuel energy resources, until the President reins-in the regulatory state, and until Congress and  the President reform the tax system and do away with ObamaCare, it's unlikely the nation will see an economic recovery that includes a full-employment recovery.

July 15, 2013

Department of Transportation Cancels Audit

In a story posted late this afternoon, the Washington Free Beacon's Lachlan Markay reported, "The top watchdog at the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced on Monday that it had terminated an investigation into oversight over improper stimulus payments to DOT contractors." Markay went on to report:

"According to a memorandum from Louis C. King, DOT’s assistant inspector general for financial and information technology audits, the IG’s office would not continue the investigation “due to other higher priority work demands.”

"The IG opened the investigation on April 30 of this year. It sought to determine “whether [DOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)] has adequate internal controls to prevent and detect improper payments to [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] grant recipients.”

"According to a summary of the investigation posted at the time, “the Department of Transportation has identified FHWA’s Federal-aid Highway Programs as susceptible to significant improper payments.”

"Recent investigations have found that stimulus recipients have misspent millions in FHWA funds.

"One recent audit by the IG’s office faulted poor internal controls for unsupported stimulus expenditures totaling more than $125 million."

In his closing, Markay said, "The IG’s office did not respond to a request for additional information on why its recent audit was canceled."

In as much as the audit has been underway for two months now, the audit's cancellation seems especially curious. Perhaps the Council of the Inspectors General will look into the integrity of the audit's cancellation.

Kudos to the Free Beacon for reporting on the audit's cancellation.

July 14, 2013

Waste in the Federal Government, $107 Billion and Counting

Phillip Swarts of the Washington Times reported last Wednesday (HT Mark Levin Show) that "Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, who runs the Government Accountability Office, said his agency already has uncovered $107.7 billion in inappropriate and excessive payments in 2012, and that total is not yet complete." Swarts added (many of the links were embedded in the quoted text):

"Testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Mr. Dodaro also said only 37 percent of federal managers knew if one or more of their programs had been evaluated in the past five years, and 40 percent were uncertain whether any review had been performed."

Swarts also wrote the following:

"But the GAO’s $107.7 billion waste estimate doesn’t include the Defense Department, Mr. Dodaro said.

"The lack of fiscal transparency from the agency has created critics on both sides of the aisle who wonder whether the government should use its own tracking methods on itself.

"“It bothers me the [National Security Agency] can tell how many times Aunt Margaret called Aunt Matilda, but I can’t get an audit from the Defense Department,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Massachusetts Democrat, referring to recent revelations of the spy agency’s program to collate phone call data from Americans."

You can access the 2-hour video of the hearing, the GAO report, and other hearing documents and other documents of the hearing at this webpage of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Separately, you can also access the GAO report (GAO-13-752T), including a one-page highlights page here.

In his testimony. the head of GAO told the committee:

"For both fiscal years 2012 and 2011, auditors for 11 of the 24 CFO Act agencies reported that the agencies’ financial management systems did not substantially comply with one or more of the three FFMIA requirements. Often, federal entities expend major time, effort, and resources to develop financial information that their systems should be able to provide on a daily or recurring basis. Therefore, it is important for the individual federal entities to remain committed to maintaining the progress that has been achieved in obtaining positive audit results and to build upon that progress to make needed improvements in federal financial management systems."

If the auditors of a major corporation said that to the corporation's board of directors, one has to wonder just how many heads would roll, beginning with the CEO and CFO. Yet the American people don't hold their representatives in Congress accountable. And it's obvious that Congress doesn't hold the bureaucracy accountable. And since Congress has chosen to "cost" their legislation in 10-year windows, let me provide the bad news by saying that waste in the federal government is almost $1.1 trillion, and climbing.

July 13, 2013

Gophers Get Protection, DoD Workers Get Furloughed

On Thursday, Fox News' Dan Springer reported the Defense Department will spend $3.5 million at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in the state of Washington "to purchase land around the base in an effort to protect the Mazama pocket gopher, a species that has not even been listed as endangered or threatened." At the same time, 650,000 civilian workers will be furloughed in response to sequestration. (HT Mark Levin)

A few of the details reported by Mr. Springer:

"Glen Morgan, of the Freedom Foundation based in Olympia, Wash., has represented landowners who have been fighting what he calls the government takeover of private land. He said the Mazama pocket gopher is not distinct from gophers that are thriving throughout the Midwest and indeed survive remarkably well even on the JBLM artillery ranges.

"It shows our government is out of control and our priorities are completely out of whack," Morgan said. "And they're skewed in a strange way that has no benefit for people who live here or even the animals they claim they're trying to protect."

"In addition to the $12 million in federal and state funding to buy 2,600 acres around JBLM, the Department of Defense also issued a $1.75 million REPI grant to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to protect tortoise habitat."

To quote that most clearest of thinkers, Thomas Sowell, "Weighing benefits against costs is the way most people make decisions — and the way most businesses make decisions, if they want to stay in business. Only in government is any benefit, however small, considered to be worth any cost, however large."(HT John Hawkins, Townhall.com, for quote) Obviously, that doesn't include bureaucrats or radical environmentalists.

July 12, 2013

A Thought on Politics

"No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind."

~ Thomas Sowell

HT John Hawkins' List of 25 Best Thomas Sowell Quotes at Townhall.com

July 11, 2013

A Thought about Big Government

"Maybe we have been listening to the wrong experts. Philosophers and pundits aren't going to tell us anything new about government. The one-year rollover of ObamaCare because of its "complexity" suggests it's time to call in the physicists, the people who study black holes and death stars. That's what the federal government looks like after expanding ever outward for the past 224 years.

"Even if you are a liberal and support the goals of the Affordable Care Act, there has to be an emerging sense that maybe the law's theorists missed a signal from life outside the castle walls. While they troweled brick after brick into a 2,000-page law, the rest of the world was reshaping itself into smaller, more nimble units whose defining metaphor is the 140-character Twitter message."

~ Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal Columnist

HT His Column about Affordable Care Act's Failures, Published July 11, 2013

July 10, 2013

Red States + Economic Competitiveness

CNBC is out with their 2013 rankings (7th annual) of "America's top states for business." (HT Daily Caller). Here's how CNBC describes the rankings:

"We scored all 50 states on 51 measures of competitiveness developed with input from business groups including the National Association of Manufacturers and the Council on Competitiveness. States received points based on their rankings in each metric. Then, we separated those metrics into ten broad categories, weighting the categories based on how frequently they are cited in state economic development marketing materials. That way, our study ranks the states based on the criteria they use to sell themselves."

Virginia was ranked 5th, tied with Utah. Although the state received no top rankings for individual components, it was ranked 6th in the workforce and business-friendliness categories.

Here's how the Daily Caller's Gabe Finger began reporting the story:

"Thirteen of the top 14 best states for business and economic competitiveness are led by Republican governors, according to the 2013 edition of an annual study by CNBC.

"Topping the rankings is South Dakota, which received the best score for any state since the study began in 2007. CNBC credits South Dakota’s incredible score to tax cuts enacted after the 2010 Republican sweep of statehouses put Dennis Daugaard in the governor’s residence in Pierre." (emphasis added)

Finger also wrote, "The only state with a Democrat as governor to finish in the top 14 is seventh-place Colorado, which also has a Democratically controlled state legislature." On the other hand, Nevada was the only red state among the bottom six that were "controlled by a Republican." The following map of blue and red states is from The Daily Caller's story:

 The CNBC has other maps of the individual components that make up  the overall rankings. Kudos to CNBC for producing their annual rankings.

July 09, 2013

More of Your Federal Tax Dollars Wasted

Thanks again to Elizabeth Harrington of CNS News for reporting the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA) "spent $2.7 million to fix nonexistent computer virus." The details come from a U.S. Commerce Department Inspector General report released two weeks ago.

Here are a few of the gory details:

“EDA’s management agreed with this risk assessment and EDA initially destroyed more than $170,000 worth of its IT components, including desktops, printers, TVs, cameras, computer mice, and keyboards,” they said.

"Not only did the agency have $170,500 worth of working equipment destroyed, they paid $4,300 to have it done.

"The ordeal ended up costing $2,747,000—which is over half of EDA’s budget for the year—including more than $1 million for “temporary infrastructure.”

"In fact, the EDA wanted to destroy all of its computers and IT equipment, valued at over $3 million, but ran out of funds to do so.

“By August 1, 2012,” the report states, “EDA had exhausted funds for this effort and therefore halted the destruction of its remaining IT components.”

Makes one wonder just how many people in EDA's information technology department were fired over this fiasco.

UPDATE: At National Review Online today (HT to Potemkin), Kevin Williamson manages to find a bit of humor in this sorry example of government waste, writing:

"According to the audit, the main concern among the EDA’s top brass was that the agency was under attack by a nation-state actor. There was no evidence to support that fear, and a good deal of evidence to the contrary, but the EDA basically went to whatever is the Commerce Department’s version of DEFCON 1.

"Which is sort of funny, if you know anything about the organization. The EDA is on the short list for least important agency in the federal government . . . EDA is a corporate-welfare machine of the most familiar Washington variety, one that, to his credit, Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) tried to defund — an effort that was frustrated in part by his fellow Republicans.

"If the Chi-Coms wanted to hurt the U.S. economy, they wouldn’t attack EDA; they’d hire a lobbyist to increase its funding."

After noting the inspector general reported "there was 'no evidence of a widespread malware infection,'" Williamson pointed out:

"The head of the EDA is one Matt Erskine, a Democratic time-server and campaign donor, veteran of the Warner administration in Virginia, and, hilariously enough, formerly “a principal in the Advanced Technology-Telecom and Professional Services practices of the management consulting firm Korn-Ferry International.”

Sounds like another reason for awarding the federal government a Declaration of Incompetence, as suggested by Deroy Murdock in our July 6,2013 Growls.

July 08, 2013

Food Aid Recipients Out-Number Private Sector Workers

During the 2012 GOP primaries, Bloomberg/BusinessWeek reported that "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said attacks on the U.S. food-stamp program, a standby of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s criticisms of President Barack Obama, exploit stereotypes of aid recipients."

But we learn from CNS News today that 101 million Americans, out of a population of 316.2 million people, roughly a third, get some type of "food aid from the federal government," and they "outnumber full-time private sector workers," which numbered just over 97 million in 2012. Here are some of the details as reported by the CNS News' Elizabeth Harrington:

"Of the 101 million receiving food benefits, a record 47 million Americans participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. The USDA describes SNAP as the “largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.”

"The USDA says the number of Americans on food stamps is a “historically high figure that has risen with the economic downturn.”

"SNAP has a monthly average of 46.7 million participants, or 22.5 million households.  Food stamps alone had a budget of $88.6 billion in FY 2012.

"The USDA also offers nutrition assistance for pregnant women, school children and seniors.

"The National School Lunch program provides 32 million students with low-cost or no-cost meals daily; 10.6 million participate in the School Breakfast Program; and 8.9 million receive benefits from the Woman, Infants and Children (WIC) program each month, the latter designed for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, as well as children younger than 5 years old.

"In addition, 3.3 million children at day care centers receive snacks through the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

"There’s also a Special Milk Program for schools and a Summer Food Service Program, through which 2.3 million children received aid in July 2011 during summer vacation.

"At farmer’s markets, 864,000 seniors receive benefits to purchase food and 1.9 million women and children use coupons from the program."

Harrington concludes the CNS News article by saying:

"A “potential for overlap” exists with the many food programs offered by the USDA, allowing participants to have more than their daily food needs subsidized completely by the federal government.

"According to a July 3 audit by the Inspector General, the USDA’s Food Nutrition Service (FNS) “may be duplicating its efforts by providing participants total benefits in excess of 100 percent of daily nutritional needs when households and/or individuals participate in more than one FNS program simultaneously.”

"Food assistance programs are designed to be a “safety net,” the IG said." (some links were in the embedded text)

Kudos to CNS News for reporting on this aspect of the welfare state since a search of Google News found no other member of the mainstream media have reported on the story. So, was Newt Gingrich correct about America being a 'food stamp nation?'

July 07, 2013

Magic, Fairy Dust, Keynesian Economics

At Forbes magazine's website last month, Peter Ferrara writes about Keynesian economics in an article titled, "The Magic, Fairy Dust Naivete That is Progressive Economics." Here's how Peter begins his 5-page essay:

"Let’s proclaim the Good News: Government money is free.  No, not just to the beneficiaries of government programs.  To society as a whole.  Meaning there is no economic cost to government spending whatsoever.  The more the government spends, the richer we will all be.  Let the Good Times roll.

"That is the foundational principle of Keynesian economics, which is heart and soul “Progressivism.”  Every Paul Krugman column can just be replaced by the summary paragraph above.

"Money doesn’t grow on trees, you say?  That outdated notion is where you went wrong.  Today’s paper money IS trees."

I'll quote only one more paragraph from Ferrara, which seems to get to the essence of the problem of Keynesian economics:

"But there is an even more fundamental problem with the logic of Keynesian economics, besides the magic fairy dust problem.  Demand can never be inadequate in a free market economy.  Demand is insatiable in fact.  [Verify that with a talk with your teenage daughter, or son].  If the demand for any particular good or service is inadequate for the supply produced, the price will just fall for that good or service, until demand equals supply.  Consumers can never consume more than is produced, no matter what policies the government follows to increase “aggregate demand,” and they will never consume less, as the market price system will see to that."

Congratulation to Peter for a column that shows the folly of Keynesian economics.

July 06, 2013

The Left Hand and the Far-Left Hand

In an op-ed on the Fourth of July at National Review Online, Deroy Murdock opines that "Washington Deserves a Declaration of Incompetence, adding that "Big Government is so bloated that its left hand doesn’t know what its far-left hand is doing"

Regular readers of Growls will easily recognize some of the examples Murdock cites in the op-ed, e.g., dead people receiving Social Security checks. Murdock's article is helpful because it pulls together examples from across several agencies to show "the abuses and usurpations of bureaucratic ineptitude" that "Americans now suffer."

Murdock's first example is Obamacare, officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:

"Obama’s signature achievement has become a scrawl. Obamacare premieres in six months. But after three years of rehearsal, this morbidly obese program is not ready for prime time. On Tuesday, Team Obama postponed the employer mandate one year — to January 1, 2015,  conveniently past the 2014 midterm elections.

"Obamacare’s health-insurance exchanges are due October 1. Good luck! The Government Accountability Office reported in June that, among the federally facilitated exchanges in 34 states, “on average, about 85 percent of their total key activities” required by October “were not completed.”

“Rate shock” is erupting, as the hilariously named “Affordable Care Act” proves a masterpiece of false advertising.

"Manhattan Institute scholar Avik Roy compared existing health insurance with coverage planned for California. “Obamacare has actually doubled individual-market premiums in the Golden State,” he explained in Forbes. “For the typical 25-year-old non-smoking Californian, Obamacare will drive premiums up by between 100 and 123 percent.” For a male non-smoker in California, “Obamacare will increase individual-market premiums by an average of 116 percent.”

"The Wall Street Journal’s Louise Radnofsky explored Virginia’s exchange. It “offers a fairly typical picture,” she wrote on June 30. A male non-smoker in Richmond, age 40, can buy a modest health plan today for $63 a month. Under Obamacare, his cheapest option will triple — to $193.

"In February, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that “in 2019, an estimated 12 million people who would have had an offer of employment-based coverage under prior law will lose their offer under current law.”

"Oops!" (embedded links in the original)

Take a few minutes to read Deroy Murdock's complete op-ed, and you'll want to sign his Declaration of Incompetence, too.

July 05, 2013

Subsidizing America's Beaches

In their Weekly Wastebasket this week, Taxpayers for Common Sense discusses the subsidies that go to replenish the sand on America's coastal beaches. Here's  their opening paragraph:

"Some people daydream about sleeping on a pile of money. Well, if you take a sun-drenched snooze on the beach for the 4th of July, you’re pretty close. That’s because if you’re somewhere on the East Coast, it’s likely that your tax dollars paid to put that sand on the beach."

That link, by the way, takes you to a February 2005 Weekly Wastebasket, which provides more of the background (some of the links are from the original material):

"As you dream about your summer vacation, imagine stopping at the bank on your way to the beach, taking out all of your money, and dumping it into the ocean. Sound crazy? Well, that's exactly what the Army Corps of Engineers does with millions of tax dollars every year under the federal beach renourishment program.

" . . . America’s beaches have been doing what they always did – eroding and shifting. In an expensive exercise worthy of Sisyphus, these wealthy beach homeowners have convinced Congress that pumping sand on beaches to keep their poorly placed houses from floating away should be a federal responsibility.

"The Army Corps renourishment efforts are both costly and ineffective. Though it continues to seek federal funds for beach restoration year after year, the Corps knows very well that these projects are bound to fail. The agency dredges sand from offshore locations and pumps it onshore to rebuild eroded areas. But, beach erosion is a continual process, and replenishment projects serve only to temporarily keep sand from washing back out to sea."

Wednesday's Weekly Wastebasket then discusses the hit to taxpayers this way:

"But the federal government shells out dough for more than just shoveling sand. To really fuel development and redevelopment you need some cash to rebuild after the inevitable storm. So, in steps the deeply-in-the-red federal flood insurance program, which pays off flood claims after disasters. To put the program in perspective, it takes in about $3.5 billion in premium revenue every year, but by last Fall it owed the Treasury more than $17 billion. After Superstorm Sandy struck, the program’s tab sat at more than $24 billion. While last year there were some federal flood insurance reforms that would move homeowners incrementally toward actual risk-based rates, lawmakers are relentlessly trying to undo them. And by the time it’s all said and done, federally-subsidized flood insurance may be as much as $30 billion in debt.

"In addition to flood insurance payments, Uncle Sam understandably rushes in with post-disaster aid. Less understandably was the unprecedented post-Sandy response to waive cost-sharing rules and force taxpayers to bear the entire expense. In addition, too much disaster aid simply goes to rebuilding in mostly the same way in areas that we know are indisputably at high risk of future damage, and in coastal areas we know are going to be at even higher risk as sea level rise occurs over the next century."

Subsidies for the poor. Subsidies for the rich and middle classes. All courtesy of America's taxpayers. As Taxpayers for Common Sense wrote in 2005:

"Taxpayers need to put a message in a bottle, and cast it down the Potomac to Capitol Hill: draw a line in the sand and stop sending our hard-earned tax dollars out to sea."

Kudos to Taxpayers for Common Sense. Now if only members of Congress had the good sense to act on this common sense.

July 04, 2013

Some Thoughts as we Celebrate the Nation's Independence

As we celebrate the nation's 237th birthday, first consider this quote by Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence:

"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion."

~ Thomas Jefferson, letter to Henry Lee, 1825

HT Founders' Quote Database, The Patriot's Post

Learn more about the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in this series of five lectures by Dr. Larry Arnn, President, Hillsdale College.

Or consider this commentary on liberty by Edwin Fuelner, Founder of the Heritage Foundation. which begins this way:

"In the eyes of the world, America stands for one thing above all: the promise of freedom. Even people who have never laid eyes on an American know of the promise our country represents. They know that promise means a better life, a life of freedom.

"From the moment our Founding Fathers first put ink to the parchment that is the Declaration of Independence and pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to create this nation, that promise has come alive. If the Revolution had failed, and the massive power of the British Empire had prevailed over the colonists, the signers of the Declaration would have been rounded up, tried and executed for treason against the Crown.

"Their properties and private fortunes would have been expropriated. Their families would have been left penniless and disgraced. When the Founders made the commitment to stand together and break free of British rule in the name of liberty and independence, they were truly putting everything on the line."

Finally, thanks to Amy Payne, who blogs at Heritage's blog, The Foundry, for providing the text of the Declaration of Independence as well as links to Heritage experts on First Principles. If you prefer, browse through the vast resources of historic documents and archives of The Patriot Post.

July 03, 2013

Federal Government Employees Hard At Work? NOT!

At Human Events today, John Hayward writes of how employees in the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs wasted $630,000 "buying" Facebook "likes." He begins:

"I’ve long been fascinated by the business of manufacturing popularity, which has become much easier thanks to the Internet.  It’s very easy to cook up favorable reviews for an item, create zillions of phony Twitter followers, and otherwise create the illusion that people, products, and ideas are much more popular than they actually are.

"I’m also keenly interested in tales of crazy government waste, so this story is right up my alley: Hillary Clinton’s scandal-plagued State Department wasted $630,000 of our hard-earned tax money buying ersatz “likes” on Facebook to make itself look popular.  And they did it wrong." (emphasis in the original)

Hayward then proceeds to quote from Foireign Policy, which details the results from a State Department Inspector General reports:

"Between 2011 and March 2013, the department’s Bureau of the International Information Programs, tried to boost the seeming popularity of the department’s Facebook properties by advertising and page improvements. But the results weren’t so good, leaving the Inspector General with no choice but to send a frank message to the bureau’s Facebook gurus: You’re doing it wrong.

“Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as ‘buying fans’ who may have once clicked on an ad or ‘liked’ a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further,” reads the Inspector General report.

"Ultimately, the spending was successful in artificially increasing apparent popularity of the bureau’s English-language Facebook page from 100,000 likes to 2 million. But the IG said the bureau’s target audience is older, more influential individuals; not the kind of people who spend hours online liking government Facebook pages, in other words. “What is the proper balance between engaging young people and marginalized groups versus elites and opinion leaders?” asks the IG report. It also didn’t help that in 2012 Facebook tweaked the mechanics of its News Feed, making static fan pages less prominent in users’ feeds. (emphasis in the original)

Sure makes you wonder what the masterminds on Capitol Hill talk about when they insist there is no fat in the federal budget.

July 02, 2013

A Thought About the Constitution

"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

~ Thomas Jefferson, fair copy of the drafts of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798

HT Founder's Quote Database, The Patriot Post

July 01, 2013

The Dead Receiving Social Security Payments

At CNS News today, Elizabeth Harrington reports, "The Social Security Administration (SSA) has paid at least 1,546 dead people $31 million, with some of the deceased receiving benefits for 20 years."

She continues, explaining:

"According to a June 21 audit by the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, 2,475 beneficiaries had a recorded date of death in Social Security’s own database.  The IG determined that “at least” 1,546 of these individuals were in fact dead and still receiving benefits, totaling $30,956,695 through May 2012. (link embedded in the original)

"Among those 1,546 deceased, some were receiving benefits for up to 20 years."

Read the remainder of Ms. Harrington's article to learn the gory details. Beware, however, further reading may raise your blood pressure, e.g., a so-called "alert system" that is supposed to notify SSA workers of a beneficiary's death that failed 80% of the time.

Imagine the waste, fraud and abuse if there were no Inspectors General.