Our Humpty Dumpty Future

Barack Obama as Humpty DumptyHumpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

This children’s fairy tale is well-known to all Americans. But the future of the United States may be a Humpty Dumpty one.

The nation is $18 trillion in debt and climbing. It seems that any attempt to change the arc of our increasing national debt, usually by the Republicans, is met with by the false Democrat demagoguery accusing Republicans of not caring about the elderly, kids, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, minorities, the environment, etc.

Where the Democrats think that the money will come from is anybody’s guess. Maybe they think that the United States will win an intergalactic lottery or that all of the debt will evaporate tomorrow?

The liberal Democrats who have controlled Congress for most of my adult life have never witnessed some cause that could not be fixed by throwing federal dollars at it, and the more the better.

With a national debt of about $18 trillion our current annual interest payment is $231 billion. The Congressional Budget Office projects that our interest payment will rise to $799 billion a year by 2024. This rate of interest growth is simply unsustainable.

We are headed on the express train to bankruptcy. We’ll make Greece’s bankruptcy seem pale by comparison. A U.S bankruptcy would bring down the entire world economy. There would be violent uprisings around the world with millions of deaths.

Now that may sound like the coming apocalypse and it is. The stewards of our Social Security and Medicare programs project that Social Security will go broke in 2037 and Medicare will do so in 2030.

Attempts to cut the budget have been met with cries from the left that this program or that program is absolutely necessary for the Republic to survive. Our politicians have simply never learned the difference between needs and wants.

We have an $18 trillion national debt, Social Security and Medicare heading toward insolvency, Medicaid costs mushrooming within state budgets, Obamacare is going to cost far more than projected. And absorbing millions of illegal aliens many with minimal job skills will add another huge burden to state budgets.

We have become numb to the waste, fraud and abuse numbers: Medicare fraud is $ 6.7 billion, IRS overpayments amount to $21 billion; unemployment fraud is at $33 billion, and the list goes on.

The Inspector General’s Office found that the IRS sent 2,137 refund checks worth $3.3 million to the same residential address in Michigan and 765 refund checks to the same address in Chicago worth $900,000.

So how can we correct this dire situation? The plain truth is that we can’t. We have a declining birth rate with almost 10,000 seniors leaving the work force a day. That means that tax collections are declining.

Obamacare will not only cost more than was anticipated (what government program doesn’t) but its very rules are damaging the U.S. economy. It is forcing an ever-increasing number of American workers from the full-time work force into part-time jobs.

Then we have illegal aliens being given granted rights and benefits not authorized by Congress. With the increasing strangulation of our economy by government rules and regulations and an educational system that failing our students the United States is on a highway to hell.

The Humpty Dumpty fable may soon be coming true for us unless we make some dramatic changes in our spending and governing habits.

 

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NASA is adrift in space

A-3 test standThe National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA for short, has been adrift without any definite missions for at least a decade. The agency that met President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon in ten years did it it in less than seven but today they don’t have a new pathway to greatness.

Instead, they can’t decide if they’re a space agency or a jobs agency. They have become a giant pork barrel for Washington’s political class. If you want to look good for the home folks then tuck a massive construction projection into an important bill.

One example is the giant A-3 test stand in Gulfport, Mississippi. In June NASA completed the project to test new engines at a cost to the taxpayers of $349 million. This was nearly three times the original estimate. Construction had lasted nearly seven years, 3 1/2 years longer than expected.

NASA then closed the tower down. They mothballed it because there was new engine to test in it. It had been cancelled in 2010.

Initially, the cautious bureaucrats at NASA thought that the program might be revived. After all, other programs had been brought back from the dead why not this one?

When it appeared that it wouldn’t happen Congress ordered the agency to complete the tower at the urging of Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss) who never met a pork project that he didn’t like.

NASA says that there are no engines under development that could possibly use the test stand. Instead A-3 will join a long list of NASA’s living dead, projects that NASA for one reason or another can not or will not put to sleep.

There are at least six other test stands in this category. Together, they cost NASA more than $100,000 a year to maintain. Added to this is the $700,000 a year that it will cost to maintain A-3.

NASA no longer has an overriding goal. A return to the moon is out. Mars, once a mission, is no longer on NASA’s radar. Today, there more modest goal is to visit an asteroid.

Without a more glamorous mission like visiting Mars or returning to the moon, the NASA bureaucrats only goal is to stay alive. Projects tend to run over time and budget simply because there is no focus.

Meanwhile, the politicians with only one thing in mind see the agency as a means to deliver pork to their home states. Everything else is secondary.

Once, Americans could brag that only Americans had walked on the moon. Today, we need to hitch rides to our own space station. How low have our dreams of space travel fallen?

 

 

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The growing social costs of welfare and entitlement fraud

Feeding at the public troughIncome inequality seems to be all the rage today. But left unsaid is the growing social costs of welfare and entitlement fraud.

According to the U.S. government’s own estimates, 5.2 percent ($98.7 billion) of its social program payments are “improper”, meaning that the payment went to the wrong person, the payment amount was incorrect, there was no documentation justifying a payment, or the beneficiary used the payment on something for which it wasn’t intended.

Despite the huge amount of money involved there is also the social cost involved. This comes in the form of resentment. The ‘givers’ resent the ‘takers’ which in turn forms a type of class-warfare.

Remember the ‘Obamaphone’ program? It was one of the most abused government programs with recipients registering for two and three phones. Some of them weren’t even qualified for one phone. The average American’s response: “I have to work to have a phone! Why do you get one (or three) for free?” 

The food stamp program is another program that is rife with problems. When recipients pay for items that are clearly not life necessities it draws the ire of all those in the queue and makes for easy headlines that paint the entire program in an unflattering light.

The abuses of the food stamp program are myriad, from lobster tails to ATM withdrawals inside strip clubs. Some beneficiaries have also sold their EBT dollars through online forums in exchange for cash.

Then there are the abuses in the healthcare system. As an example there are people who call a $600 ambulance rather than call a cab or walk to the hospital. And the American taxpayers get to foot the bill.

Or the people who use the emergency room as a doctor’s office rather than it being used for its intended purpose, an emergency.

Each new story about abuses by ‘taker’ brings howls of protest and calls for cuts to programs. This is a simplistic solution that doesn’t solve any problems and quite often hurts those in the most need.

In a December 2013 National Journal poll, a 65 percent majority of Americans indicated that they are in favor of legislation to tighten eligibility, increase work requirements, and shorten the time limit for use of federal food stamp benefits.

In support of such changes were 79 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of independents, and 45 percent of Democrats. In an earlier Huffington Post/YouGov poll, more than half of respondents indicated that they did not believe food stamps should buy “expensive” food items.

Instituting these reforms and others targeted to address abuse, such as requiring photo ID with use of EBT cards (as only a small handful of states do currently) and restricting barcodes of luxury food items at the point of sale, would go a long way to reduce improper payments, close social fault lines, and bring American political discourse down from polemic yelling matches to reasoned dialogue.

Such reforms are simple common sense not because they are low-hanging fruit for deficit reduction, but because they are the right things to do

 

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Tax Extenders: Earmarks by another name

Tax extendersThe Congress has a number of narrow-interest tax breaks that are only authorized for a year or two. They are known as tax extenders and lawmakers use them to give tax breaks to pet products and pet industries. In all there are 55 so-called tax extenders that cost about $81 billion next year.

Some of these tax extenders benefit a large number of taxpayers like the deduction for state and local taxes. But most tax extenders benefit specific industries. Most of these industries benefit because of the lobbyists that they employ to press their cases with members of Congress.

The horse racing industry has a sweet break that allows horse owners to write off up to 50 percent of the cost of their three-year-old horse. This tax extenders costs the American taxpayers about $97 million a year.

NASCAR race track operators benefit with a $15 million a year break for blacktopping their tracks. They can recover the cost in seven years, instead of the standard 39 years for nonresidential property and 15 years for “improvements” (such as grandstands, fences, and roads).

Not only do taxpayers shell out money to see movies but they also shell out money to make movies. Along with tax breaks that states often hand out to Hollywood, certain film, TV and theatrical productions are slated to get federal benefits totaling $424 million.

Purchases of mine safety equipment can be expensed quicker than purchases of safety equipment in other sectors. And folks maintaining railroad tracks, donating excess (expired) food inventory, or blending biodiesel with regular diesel all get special treatment.

If you want an electric bicycle you’re in luck. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) supports a tax extender that bicyclists to get a $2,500 tax break. It should be pointed out the Oregon has two electric bicycle manufacturers.

Another tax extender deals with coal. As the Obama administration and lawmakers call for moving away from using the energy source, there are tax credits for coal mined on American Indian land — two dollars a ton, adding up to $49 million.

Typically, the extenders package is a legislative parasite attaching itself to much bigger, must-pass legislation. In 2008, while lawmakers were scrambling to address dire warnings of economic collapse, the extenders package was slapped onto the bank bailout.

In 2010, they burrowed their way into much bigger legislation extending the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. And then they wound up in the grand bargain to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

About the only thing this Congress deserves credit for is the fact that it’s currently trying to pass the tax extenders as a stand-alone package, with a limited amount of debate.

Last week, the House voted 378 – 46 to “extend” for another year this hodge-podge of “temporary” special interest tax breaks that mostly expired on Dec. 31, 2013. Every indication is that the Senate is likely to adopt it by a similar margin, continuing an ignoble and costly tradition.

 

 

 

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Investigating the Investigators

Danny Kaye as The Inspector GeneralJudicial Watch, a Washington non-governmental, public-interest group that probes and exposes government and political corruption, recently reported that many of the inspector generals in Executive Branch need to be investigated themselves.

“The [supposedly] ‘independent’ watchdogs that are supposed to root out waste, fraud and corruption inside U.S. government agencies often help cover it up,” noted officials from Judicial Watch.

They point to a four-part newspaper exposé that accuses these high-paid inspectors general of sometimes becoming “the lapdogs of the agencies they’re charged with overseeing.”

In the Executive Branch there are 72 inspectors general report to superiors who are appointed by the President. This hardly engenders a sense of the absence of a conflict of interest. According to Judicial Watch in some cases the opposite is the case.

Under this administration, the internal watchdogs “soft-peddle their findings, whitewash reports and bury evidence of wrongdoing, according to congressional investigations and reports by outside groups cited in the news articles.”

While previous administrations have heard complaints about inspectors general being “lapdogs of agency management,” under the Obama administration there are accusations of retaliation by inspectors general against whistleblowers who help to expose corruption and abuse.

According to the Judicial Watch report, within the past two years about six federal agencies have allegedly retaliated against whistleblowers or softening their findings to protect department executives or the White House.

One example was covered by only one major news organization — Fox News Channel. In that story, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Inspector General is accused of downplaying complaints of whistleblowers and removing blame for patient deaths from the Veteran Administration’s healthcare management.

“Even investigators within [the Inspector General’s office] have faced retaliation for reporting internal wrongdoing or attempts to withhold embarrassing findings, according to congressional reports,” the story says.

“With government corruption and waste on the rise, the biggest agencies with the largest budgets ironically have gone years without adequate oversight from inspector generals that are charged with independently investigating them and rooting out fraud,” Judicial Watch noted in a previous report.

 

 

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Congressional Handouts

A bottomless pitCongress enjoys spending our money. They enjoy it so much that in 2015 they will distribute $640.8 billion in federal grants to state and local governments. That figure amounts to almost 16.5% of the entire federal budget.

Much of Congress’ time is spent devising what some would call unconstitutional spending. After all, Congress is supposed to spend taxpayer dollars on core national responsibilities rather than spending that is more properly the business of the states. And they’re just giving us back our own tax money.

But Congress has been aided and abetted in this practice by our courts. They have interpreted the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution’s spending clause allowing Congress to spend on anything.

The actual clause in Article i, Section 8 of the Constitution reads:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

In fact the Supreme Court has interpreted this section to allow the federal government to “induce” states to accept federal preferences about state responsibilities. Hence, we have the federal government mandating speed limits using the threat of loss of highway funds if states don’t agree.

The myth of ‘free money’ is just that a myth. There is no ‘free money’. Everything comes with a price. In the case of federal grants the price is a loss of freedom. Every time a state accepts grants from the federal government it comes with conditions. Do this or follow these rules. If you don’t you’ll lose the money.

Recently, Maine became embroiled in a fight with the USDA over the food stamp program. Maine in an effort to curtail fraud within the program wanted to require a photo ID to collect food stamp vouchers. The USDA threatened to take back the money that they give to Maine. The issue is still simmering.

Many times ‘free money’ doesn’t cover all of the costs of a project. Take the case of the Connecticut busway linking New Britain and Hartford. Washington offer a $455 million inducement for the project if the state came up with $112 million. The two cities were already linked by bus service but the state found the money by diverting it from other crucial needs.

Federal grants are used by the Congress to ‘purchase’ the votes of unsophisticated voters. They see that their representative has provided them with money for this or that project but they don’t understand the cost both in loss of freedom and matching local money.

This practice has grown from a ‘mere’ $24.1 billion in 1970 to its current astronomical figure of $640.8 billion. And unless the states put a stop to it by refusing to take the funds, it will continue indefinitely.

 

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Virginia Farmer Hopes to Get Conservation Group Off Her Back

This is the harrowing story of one Virginia farmer who has gone through hell at the hands of the Piedmont Environmental Council, her county government’s officials and several of her neighbors. This story by Kevin Mooney was first published in The Daily Signal.

Martha Boneta (Photo: Patrick Frank/Patchbay Media)

Virginia farmer Martha Boneta’s desire to have an environmental conservation group replaced as overseer of her property has moved a step closer to reality.

Officials of the Piedmont Environmental Council have agreed to a meeting Friday to talk about ending a bitter standoff with Boneta by handing off enforcement duties for a conservation easement on Boneta’s farm to another environmental organization in Virginia.

Simply persuading the Piedmont Environmental Council to agree to the meeting marks a “major victory for property rights,” says Tom DeWeese, president of the American Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group that champions those rights. DeWeese adds:

Martha Boneta, like most victims in these cases, does not have near the resources of money and political power as the PEC. If such battles can be fought across the nation in the same way, it will have a profound effect on how such groups behave in the future. Perhaps they will be less aggressive and more willing to respect the property owner.

Under the proposed arrangement, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation would take over responsibility for the conservation easement on Boneta’s farm in Paris, Va. Friday’s meeting is set for the foundation’s offices in Richmond.

Conservation easements are legally binding agreements in which property owners promise to withhold land from commercial development in exchange for tax breaks or money. In 2006, Boneta bought 64-acre Liberty Farm with the easement attached, but did not receive either tax breaks or money.

The Piedmont Environmental Council, a conservation group that manages 51 easements on 7,600 acres of land in Virginia’s Hunt Country, has been at odds with Boneta over the easement almost since it sold her the property.

On Nov. 6, the disagreements were aired at a hearing set up the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The organization, chartered by the Virginia General Assembly in 1966 to monitor easements and promote land conservation, is co-holder with the Piedmont Environmental Council of the easement on Boneta’s farm.

After coverage of the dispute by The Daily Signal and other media outlets, appearances by Boneta on national TV shows and expressions of shock by neutral observers about how the environmental council had treated her, Boneta’s attorney, William Hurd, offered a solution during last month’s meeting.

Hurd asked the outdoors group to consider a motion to take over all easement enforcement if Boneta and the environmental council could agree.

Following 20-minute presentations by Boneta and the council and testimony by witnesses, the outdoor foundation’s trustees voted 6-0 to approve a resolution.

Over the next 2½ weeks, the sides sparred. A lawyer for the environmental council sent a letter to the outdoors foundation saying Boneta was conducting a disinformation campaign and hadn’t submitted a single document to back up her claims of harassment, trespassing and other mistreatment.

Her lawyer, Hurd, wrote to another lawyer for the environmental group, Turner Broughton, to say he was “disappointed by what seems to be some question whether your client will be willing to meet with us along with [Virginia Outdoors Foundation] staff…”

On Nov. 25, though, the sides announced they would meet at the foundation’s offices Dec. 5.

Hurd and others said they thought the hearing early last month marked a major turning point.

The dispute was out in the open, and Boneta had  become a champion for land-rights activists nationwide.

More than 100 turned up for the hearing and more than 40 came early to rally and chant, “Hey hey, ho ho, the PEC has got to go.”

The hearing itself did not go well for the Piedmont Environmental Council.  David Johnson, former director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, said the council’s enforcement tactics jeopardized the very notion of easements in Virginia.

“I’ve been a regulator,” Johnson told the trustees of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.  “The hallmarks of a good regulatory program are consistency, predictability and accountability.”

The absence of those elements, Johnson said,  creates “a chilling effect” on the willingness of landowners to put their property into easements.

After the hearing, the environmental council seemed more than willing to reach an agreement.

“We are very open to finding a solution,” Chris Miller, the council’s president, said that day.

Documents and Emails

Although the environmental council said Boneta had produced no evidence to support claims of mistreatment, she did obtain documents from the group as part of her legal action and through Freedom of Information Act requests.

And those documents, which she provided to The Daily Signal, appear to bolster her claims that the environmental council worked closely with Fauquier County officials in a sustained campaign to harass her and interfere with her activities on her farm.

The group’s actions ranged from inspections in which its representatives went through Boneta’s clothing, to zoning enforcement it appeared to coordinate with the county, to apparent knowledge of an IRS audit of Boneta’s finances.

The emails paint a disturbing picture of intimidation by government and quasi-government agencies with the awareness if not the direction of the environmental council and a key elected official on the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors, Peter Schwartz.

(Photos courtesy Martha Boneta)

Private Lobbyist at Public Expense

The Boneta Bill, as it is known, did not sit well with the Piedmont Environmental Council or the Fauquier County government.

The legislation “protects customary activities at agricultural operations from local bans in the absence of substantial impacts on public welfare,” according to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. It also “prohibits localities from requiring a special-use permit for a host of farm-related activities that are specified in the bill.”

In other words, it was legislation designed to benefit small farmers such as Boneta and curb the power of government and those who enforce easements on properties such as hers.

In the runup to the vote in the Virginia General Assembly, the county opposed the bill in Richmond and made its taxpayer-funded lobbyist available to lawyers for the environmental council and others.

Emails show Heather Richards, the environmental organization’s vice president of conservation and rural programs, making direct contact with the county’s lobbyist, Eldon James, and arranging to provide him with information about Boneta’s problems with zoning authorities and to meet with him in Richmond.

“Taxpaying citizens couldn’t have Eldon James do their bidding in this manner,” said Bonner Cohen, senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a free-market organization that focuses on property rights:

He’s representing the county government, but he’s doing the bidding of the [Piedmont Environmental Council] and acting as an agent of the PEC. The average citizen can’t call up the county lobbyist to have him operate this way, so why should the PEC, as a nonprofit land trust, be permitted to do this?

Demanding Animal Inspections

Other emails show the husband-and-wife real estate team of Phillip and Patricia Thomas, longtime members of the environmental council, raising questions about Boneta.

Phillip Thomas is owner of Thomas and Talbot Real Estate in Middleburg, Va. He owned Liberty Farm before selling it to the environmental group, which sold it to Boneta.

In January 2009, Patricia Thomas exchanged a series of emails with Schwartz, the county supervisor, bringing allegations of animal mistreatment. Thomas emailed Fauquier County Animal Control personnel later that month, demanding veterinarians inspect animals at Liberty Farm. In a Feb. 6, 2009, email, a county official informed Thomas the animals were in good condition.

Phillip Thomas also inquired about Boneta’s mortgage.

In a Nov. 26, 2008, letter addressed to Bradley J. Gable, vice president of Southern Trust Mortgage Co., a branch of Sonabank, Thomas wrote:

Since I haven’t heard from you, now you’re hearing from me again, reference the woman Martha Malawar [Boneta], Fauquier County, Gap Run Road, near Paris, who in my opinion, got a hell of a lot of money out of your bank using the property as collateral.

The Thomases later attempted to buy the mortgage on Liberty Farm.

In a Feb. 2, 2009, letter to the bank, the couple asked: “Would Sonabank be interested to sell its note?”

Boneta03

The Right Witnesses’

Another series of emails shows a lawyer for the Piedmont Environmental Council reaching out to Schwartz to make sure “the right witnesses are lined up” for a zoning hearing scheduled that night.

The environmental council has said it conducted a total of nine inspections of Boneta’s property. Numerous emails, however, show Patricia Thomas, Richards, Schwartz and others mentioning driving by or visiting the farm to check for violations.

The emails also show Richards, the environmental group’s vice president, asking the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to join in installing video surveillance cameras to monitor Liberty Farm. The foundation confirmed this to The Daily Signal, saying it declined to participate.

Other correspondence shows the Thomases coordinating with county officials from Schwartz on down about zoning enforcement on Boneta’s property.

In August 2012, the Fauquier County Zoning Board of Appeals voted to uphold a series of $15,000-per-day fines against Boneta based on amendments to the zoning ordinance that Boneta maintains were made specifically to go after her. The zoning citations are the subject of Boneta’s lawsuit against the county.

Among other emails acquired by The Daily Signal:

  • In a May 22, 2012, email from Patricia Thomas to Miller, the environmental council’s president, Thomas discusses the case brought against Boneta by county zoning official Andrew Hushhour. She describes how Hushhour worked with local sheriffs to bring the complaint against Boneta and how PEC sought to use testimony given in the zoning case to further its own ends with the easement.
  • In a March 20, 2012, email to John Richardson, a member of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation board, Patricia Thomas discusses work Georgia Herbert did on the easement as an attorney for the environmental council.  Richardson is the husband of Margaret “Peggy” Richardson, who sits on the environmental council’s board; she previously served as IRS commissioner under President Clinton.  Peggy Richardson denied any involvement with an IRS audit of Boneta for the 2010 and 2011 tax years. Mark Fitzgibbons, a lawyer who is a neighbor of Boneta’s, said he learned of the audit during a meeting in Schwartz’s home on July 21, 2012—several days before Boneta herself was informed.
  • In a May 25, 2012, email to Miller,  Phillip Thomas urges the environmental council to send a representative to the Boneta zoning hearing. Thomas discusses how he intends to be in touch with Schwartz, the county supervisor, to be sure “the proper witnesses [are] lined up” against Boneta.

Schwartz figures in other communications.

In a Sept. 20, 2011, email to Kim Johnson, the zoning official responsible for issuing the citations against Boneta, the county supervisor writes: “I would like to see these zoning infractions to be aggressively enforced.”

In a July 16, 2012, email to Johnson, Hushhour and Richards, the elected official sends an invitation for a meeting of zoning officials and the environmental council on “Liberty Farm and the [zoning] issue.”

martha-flower

Property Rights Victory?

It remains to be seen whether the Piedmont Environmental Council is willing to negotiate the end of its involvement with Boneta’s farm.

Even if the environmental group relinquishes its responsibilities for easement enforcement, Schwartz will remain on the county Board of Supervisors, Hushour will continue to work in county zoning and Richards will still be in the neighborhood.

But, as DeWeese said, the battle finally has been joined between a landowner willing to persevere and a powerful conservation organization that is funded generously by some of the wealthiest people in America. And that green group, the documents indicate, has worked with the local government to achieve its ends.

Now, though, property rights activists across the country are following the case. They stand ready to work for reform legislation in their own states, using this conflict as a model.

As Cohen said to the trustees of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, referring to the actions of the Piedmont Environmental Council:

How many landowners, having seen what the PEC has done to Martha Boneta, would want to risk the same thing happening to them? What is to keep another power-hungry, copycat land trust aggregating to itself the same police-state powers the PEC has used against Martha Boneta?

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Failed Weapons Systems

Future Combat SystemsThe Pentagon is currently crying for more money to build more and better weapons systems. But most Pentagon insiders have short memories when it comes to failed weapons systems.

How can a weapons system fail you might ask? It could be over-budget with cost out of control. It could be too ambitious a project and unable to perform as advertised. Or it simply could become obsolete before its even completed.

The XM2001 Crusader was to be the United States Army’s next-generation self-propelled howitzer (SPH), designed to improve the survivability, lethality, mobility, and effectiveness of the artillery as well as the overall force. It was initially scheduled for fielding by 2008.

In early May 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld cancelled the $11 billion USD program because he considered it neither mobile nor precise enough. The Pentagon had sunk $2 billion into the program before it was cancelled.

Then we had the Future Combat Systems program that was intended to be the United States Army’s principal modernization program from 2003 to early 2009. FCS was envisioned to create new brigades equipped with new manned and unmanned vehicles linked by an unprecedented fast and flexible battlefield network.

In April and May 2009, Pentagon and army officials announced that the FCS vehicle-development effort would be cancelled. By that point some $16 billion had been spent with very little return.

The Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche was an advanced five-blade armed reconnaissance and attack helicopter designed for the United States Army. The RAH-66 program was canceled in 2004, before mass production began, after $8 billion was spent on the program.

The Army determined upgrades would be required for the RAH-66 to survive current anti-aircraft threats and decided to put the funding toward renovating its existing helicopter fleet of attack, utility, and reconnaissance aircraft. In essence, the helicopter was obsolete before a single production unit had been built.

In all, between 2001 and 2011 the Defense Department spent $46 billion on at least a dozen programs, including a new version of the president’s helicopter, that never became operational, according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

But for evidence of a procurement system that’s broken, critics say look no further than the major programs that are moving forward. They’ve grown half a trillion dollars over their initial price tags and have schedule delays of more than two years, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Military leaders tack on all sorts of new requirements to programs that blow budgets and schedules, he said. “If they could have a nuclear-powered tank that could fly itself to the battlefield, they’d want one,” Arnold Punaro said. “They’d have a 38-page requirement to buy a chocolate-chip cookie.” 

Mister Punaro is a retired Marine Corps major general who serves as chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association’s board. Punaro said that even as defense programs fall into trouble, “you won’t find anybody who was either fired or got a letter of reprimand or didn’t get promoted. . . . No one is held accountable.”

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Using the IRS for Political Means

IRS cartoonIt was recently revealed by Cause of Action that they have reason to believe the Obama White House has requested and received tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service.

Hard on the heels of the Lois Lerner targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups means that the nation’s tax collector has become an arm of the Obama administration’s attempt to intimidate their opponents.

Coupled with the lost email scandal, it seems that the IRS has won the trifecta of scandals. And the current one is the most egregious one, reminiscent of the Nixon enemies list.

…Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Commission’s criminal code, which Congress enacted following revelations of President Nixon’s abuse of private tax information during the Watergate scandal. The second article of impeachment against Nixon in the House Judiciary Committee was based on those abuses.

The Washington Times reveals that the IRS may have violated taxpayer privacy by giving confidential taxpayer data to the political operatives in the White House.

The Internal Revenue Service may have given thousands of confidential filings from private taxpayers to the White House to review, a lawsuit against the Treasury Department just revealed. …“[T]he Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration informed Cause of Action that there exist nearly 2,500 potentially confidential documents relating to investigations of improper disclosures of confidential taxpayer information by the IRS to the White House,” Cause of Action told The Daily Caller.

One possible example deals with the Obama Administration’s attack on the Koch brothers. As the Washington Examiner reported, Obama’s top economist at the time was the subject of an investigation.

The investigation by the Treasury Department Inspector-General for Tax Administration was sparked by Goolsbee’s remarks during an Aug. 27, 2010, White House news briefing in which he appeared to possess confidential tax information on Koch Industries, the private conglomerate controlled by the Koch brothers, Charles and David. …It is illegal for government officials to make public confidential tax information. Goolsbee was chief White House economist at the time. …senators requested the IG probe to determine if confidential tax records of individuals viewed by Obama as enemies were being passed around among senior staffers in the White House. …neither the report itself nor a summary of its findings have ever been made public.

This is another example of the ‘most transparent’ administration in history at its most opaque.

Meanwhile the latest developments in the ‘lost’ email scandal are shocking to say the least. The Wall Street Journal opines on the latest development in the IRS targeting scandal.

…the IRS never “lost” emails after all. …Treasury Department Inspector General Russell George recently informed Congress that his forensic investigation has turned up as many as 30,000 emails from the account of former IRS Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner—emails the IRS has insisted were destroyed. The emails cover the crucial period from January 2009 through June 2011 when the IRS was ramping up its targeting… We can only imagine Mr. Koskinen’s shock in September when the Treasury IG said it had found 760 tapes that might hold Lerner emails. Or his further surprise when it took only a few weeks to identify and extract the specific Lerner documents—out of 250 million backup emails. And we can only imagine Mr. Koskinen’s apology for his agency’s email failure—since he hasn’t given one.

Either the IRS didn’t bother to investigate these tapes or, more alarming, it did and chose not to produce the results. The IG is turning over the emails to the IRS, which is supposed to redact sensitive tax information before sending them to Congress. Mr. Koskinen needs to end the IRS stonewalling and turn the records over with dispatch without covering up incriminating evidence.

 

 

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Obama’s Jet-Setting Travel Costs

We all expect our President to spend a reasonable amount of money on travel around the country and the world. After all part of his job is to show up at events, conferences and summits to represent the United States.

But Barack Obama has set a record for travel costs that boggle the mind and drain the pocketbooks of American taxpayers. Judicial Watch has detailed a recent series of travels by Obama and their associated costs. 

President Obama enjoyed several taxpayer-funded junkets over this past Labor Day weekend that appear quite detached from the people’s business. That’s what the travel records we obtained from the U.S. Air Force show. The president ran up over $1.5 million in expenses for his weekend trips. So let’s dig into how he spent his time on the taxpayer dime.

He began his money-raising venture by heading to Westchester, New York, on Friday, August 29. While in New York, Obama attended two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee, one of them a BBQ at the home of former UBS CEO Robert Wolf. Obama later that day took off for Providence, Rhode Island, for a fundraiser at the private residence of former Nortek CEO Richard Bready and Betty Easton, where tickets cost up to $32, 400.The Bready/Easton event was Obama’s ninth fundraiser for the DNC this year.

Although the president was initially scheduled to fly back to Westchester, New York, thatFriday night, and then return to D.C. after attending the wedding of White House chef Sam Kass to MSNBC host Alex Wagner, he made some last minute changes. Obama flew to D.C. for the night on Friday and then flew back to New York on Saturday. Apparently, it was necessary for Obama to “sleep in his own bed, do a little work…, spend time with his family and then travel to New York,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained.

The difference in cost for Obama’s last minute change amounted to $295,227.80 more in taxpayer expenses. And that is nearly six times what the average American makes in a year – an amount which, critics would argue not so coincidentally, has actually fallen 8% since Obama became president.

Here’s an additional breakdown of the travel expenses:

  • Flights for Obama’s 2014 Labor Day weekend fundraising trips to Westchester, New York, and Providence, Rhode Island, cost taxpayers $527,192.50
  • Transportation for Obama’s round-trip flight from D.C. to Westchester, New York, to attend a wedding cost taxpayers $358,490.90
  • The flight for Obama’s trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to give a highly charged political speech at “Laborfest 2014″ cost taxpayers $653,718.70

The documents detailing these expenses came in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed on September 2, 2014 – a very simple request that took nearly three months for the Obama administration to answer.

All told, Obama ran up $1,539,402.10 in expenses.

The abuse of travel privileges within the federal government certainly did not begin with Obama, though he has certainly taken it to record highs. In 2007, the General Accountability Office put out a 50-page report highlighting abusive travel spending by over a dozen federal agencies. The report focused on travels that took place between July 2005 and June 2006. The results were disconcerting, as the report found at least $146 million worth in travel was unauthorized or unjustified. The State Department was among the worst offenders racking up almost $180,000 in unauthorized premium class travel in just six months.

Federal rules say government employees must fly coach unless the flight takes longer than 14 hours or the employee received agency approval based upon a legitimate and documented medical condition. Other exceptions include security concerns or lack of availability of coach seats. Needless to say, these rules have not been tightly observed or enforced in recent years.

Members of Congress have been fully complicit in this abuse. Each year, many of them travel abroad to visit military bases, meet with foreign officials and attend a variety of conferences on what are most commonly known as “political junkets.” In 2008, federal lawmakers spent $13 million on these excursions, according to a newspaper analysis. (Judicial Watch has long monitored this wasteful congressional travel and helped ground Air Pelosi.  Our reporting on then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) travel abuses caused her successor, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) to disavow the use of government planes to get him back and forth to Ohio.)

So from bureaucrats to congressmen to the President of the United States your tax dollars are happily misused.  Certainly, Obama’s Labor Day back-and-forth shows President Obama seems to confuse Air Force One with Uber.  President Obama abuses not only taxpayers with this unnecessary travel – he strains an already overstretched military and a Secret Service that is in crisis and can’t even guard the front door of the White House.  The new Congress could do worse than to reform presidential travel so that taxpayers aren’t gouged by candidates and campaigns benefitting from the political use of Air Force One.

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