The Shutdown: Finding Out What We’re Paying For

Hey, we're closedThe Shutdown has began but based on media reports it’s more like a slimdown. Our troops will be paid. Our retirees will be paid. Social Security recipients will be paid. About 800,000 non-essential workers will be temporarily furloughed.

The major impact will be felt in the affluent capital region. Keep in mind that while much of the rest of the country has languished in the doldrums of the Obama economy, the capital region has grown fat from government largesse.

Like bees to honey, bureaucrats, lobbyists and contractors have flocked to the federal government’s honey hole. Ten of the fifteen most affluent counties in the United States are clustered around Washington.

So let’s take all of the sob stories emanating from the Washington media with a bit of skepticism. We’ll be hearing about people not being able to pay their mortgages or feed their children. If the shutdown/slimdown lasts for any appreciable length of time, the crescendo of pain will become louder.

But let’s look at some salient facts about government pay. As of February 2010, the average Federal worker earned $76,231. Federal salaries have been frozen since then, so the current average salary is in that range.

Republicans like to point out that federal compensation is actually higher if you include the generous federal retirement and health benefits program that includes paid vacations.

According to Townhall.com, the difference in total compensation between is $114,436 for federal workers to $87,804 for private sector workers. Once you understand the level of compensation for federal workers, you have very little sympathy for their supposed plight.

More importantly, the American people may get a partial answer on the question: where does all of the money go? And what are we paying for?

Understand that the first thing that the government will do is to put into place their Washington Monument strategy. Quite simply this involves closing the biggest, most noticeable government sites.

Sites like the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the U.S. Capital and the White House tours (oh, they already closed those blaming the sequester).

As you can see, some of the things that the taxpayers pay for are purely Washington-centric. Those of us that don’t live in or around the Washington area get absolutely zero benefit from these tax expenditures.

Let’s face it, in a nation of about 314 million about 16 million Americans visited the nation’s capital, that’s around 5% of the population. The other 95% of us don’t get any benefit from all of the money spent by the federal government in the Washington area.

Let’s start with the Smithsonian Institution. Here’s the message that we received when we tried to navigate to their web site. “Due to the federal government shutdown, all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed. For the status of Smithsonian Associates events, please check smithsonianassociates.org.”

The funding for the Smithsonian covers the Natural History Museum, the Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo, three huge attractions in the Washington area. Why do the taxpayers foot the bill for attractions that 99% of the American people will never go to? Isn’t it time to put the Smithsonian on a self-supporting basis?

Along with the closing of the National Zoo (don’t worry the animals will still get their three squares) the Panda Cam has been shut down. Just think of all the hours of family drama you’ll be missing out on as Mei Xiang cares for her cub.

At the same time the other four animal cams will be turned off: The Africam, the National Aquarium’s shark cam, the Washington Animal Rescue League’s kitten cam, and Seaworld’s penguin cam.

We all know that all national parks are closed. But did you know that all of the web sites for national park sites are not operating? This is just another attempt to stick it to the American people.

Web sites can operate without human assistance but the park service is just trying to increase the pressure on the American people. To illustrate this, if you navigate to a national park site you’re taken to the fully-functioning, main site for the Department of the Interior.

At the Interior Department’s site you will get this message: Due to the lapse in appropriated funds, all public lands managed by the Interior Department (National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management facilities, etc.) will be closed. For more information, FAQs, and updates, please visit www.doi.gov/shutdown.

In line with the Washington Monument strategy, the Federal government is spending money to station security guards where in the normal course of events there are no guards. A case in point is the World War II monument which is an open air monument on the National Mall.

Yesterday, security guards attempted to close off the monument from visitors. With the intervention of Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., a group of WWII vets were able to make their planned visit to the open-air monument. Palazzo, a former Marine, had earlier vowed not to let the National Park Police keep the group from their visit to the monument to they and their comrades from the ‘Greatest Generation’.

Using the excuse that they’re only trying to prevent vandalism, the National Park Police and the U.S. Capital Police have barricaded every national monument in the Washington area.

Of course, you could always visit Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. He was a private-sector man all the way.

 

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Maryland’s Legal Reign of Terror

Maryland, My MarylandMaryland’s legal reign of terror perpetrated on its citizenry by the most liberal state government in the United States continues unabated. The once ‘Free State’ is now known as the ‘Tax and Fee State’.

During the course of 2013 the Maryland State Government has passed 692 new ‘entries’ to the Maryland Code. Many are so intrusive that sane people would compare them to a dictatorship.

The Maryland legislature passed one of the most restrictive gun control laws in the country and Governor Martin O’Malley (the man who would be the next Democrat President) signed it into law. It restricts the possession of a wide range of semi-automatic weapons and limits ammunition magazines to ten rounds.

Maryland increased the number of vaccines that a pharmacist may administer. Sounds fairly innocuous, right? But at the same time all vaccinations must be reported to the state’s ImmuNet program, a vaccine registry. Big Brother is always watching.

A law was passed adding more government employees to the protected class. Like the Federal government this makes it more of a crime to threaten or harass Maryland government employees. The gulf between them and us has become wider in Maryland.

The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill allowing Charles County to not only enforce the building code but also permitted them to arrange for the violations to be fixed. Let’s face it, would you hire a company to inspect your house and give them carte blanche to fix any issue they find?  Of course not.

How about the law that allows local governments to issue debt to finance the costs of infrastructure improvements located in or which support “sustainable communities”? They can also condemn property for the same purpose in order to relocate businesses or residents, install utilities, construct parks and playgrounds, etc.

If members of your local government violate the Open Meetings Laws guess who pays any fines? Well, they don’t, you the taxpayer does.

Perhaps the most overreaching law is the one that deals with returnable containers. Here’s the actual wording of the law:

Misdemeanor penalties are increased for:

  • the improper use, damage, and improper transfer of a registered returnable container as well as defacing the identifying marks on a registered container;
  • the failure to return a registered returnable container promptly upon request; and
  • the violation of plastic secondary packaging [milk crate] provisions.

A first offense is punishable with imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of up to $1,000; subsequent violations may be punished with imprisonment for up to three years and/or a fine of up to $2,500.  Failure to promptly clean the inside of a registered returnable container that has come into contact with a dairy product is a misdemeanor and is subject to a $500 fine.

Maryland like many states under the thumb of liberals has become copycat version of the Obama administration’s overwhelming regulatory regime. This is an ominous sign for those of us who cherish liberty.

 

 

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Obama’s War Against Coal-Fired Plants

We have known since the 2008 Presidential campaign that Barack Obama was in the clutches of extremist environmentalists. Even some members of his own party from coal states are opposing him on this issue.

The key takeaway here is, “Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” If anyone doubts Obama’s aim to destroy the coal industry in America and by association coal-fired utility plants, all they need to do is hear it from his mouth.

With the destruction of the system of coal-fired utility plants will come the corresponding rise in electricity rates. Barack Obama wasn’t kidding. In 2011 coal accounted for 42% of the country’s electricity production. By far it is the biggest component of America’s electricity generation, more than double the #2 and #3 components, natural gas and nuclear.

Now, the Obama administration has opened the next front of the war on coal. The Environmental Protection Agency has recently announced the first ever carbon emissions limits for new power power plants.

This is just an initial step that only covers plants not yet built: Later on, the EPA will separately tackle emissions from the thousands of existing power plants that are already operating.

The environmentalists at the EPA see this as the first step to combating global warming and protecting future generations.

“Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. By taking commonsense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

However, officials admit will have little to no impact on global warming. “The EPA does not anticipate that this proposed rule will result in notable CO2 emission change … by 2022,” the agency writes in its proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

So what’s behind the EPA’s announcement and explanation? Why ban coal power if it won’t even put a dent in global warming? Critics say this is because the EPA is trying to mask the high costs of compliance by not claiming that the proposal would create any benefits.

“They don’t want to quantify the damages,” Dan Simmons, director of regulatory and state affairs at the Institute for Energy Research said. “They know the rule will create large harms, but they don’t want to be held liable.”

By claiming monetized benefits from cutting carbon emissions from power plants, the EPA would also have to calculate the costs. That means how the rule would impact the coal industry, employment and the economy.

Utilities are in the habit of switching back-and-forth between coal and natural gas. That way they can get the best prices for their customers. However, this new rule will force utilities to permanently use natural gas.

Currently, natural gas is cheap and the United States has plenty of it but that could change rapidly with natural disasters, world crises or other unforeseen events.

What happens to prices if Iran builds a bomb and forces a confrontation with the West? Or Russia decides to cut of natural gas to Europe? Even seemingly minor events can cause spikes in energy prices.

Barack Obama and his acolytes at the EPA think that they can destroy the coal industry and force all coal-fired plants to be shutdown.

At the hearing, both EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz answered “Yes” when asked whether they thought coal had a future in the U.S. energy mix. Even though their lips told us “Yes” it was hard to see how new coal plants could actually fit into the picture.

 

 

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ObamaCare is a Prescription for Fraud

The Obamacare TrainwreckWhile Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and their allies are waging what appears to be a hopeless fight in their attempt to defund ObamaCare, many of their Republican colleagues are stabbing them in the back in the anonymity of leaks and character assassination in the cloakrooms of the Senate.

All of these attempts to allow ObamaCare to be funded, if successful, will unleash a program on the American people that will be rife with waste, fraud and corruption.

Let’s start with the navigators. The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced a reduction from 30 to 20 hours in their training.

Let’s remember several things that these people will do. Their job is to assist Americans to sign up for the health care law. Many of the Americans who will be signing up have absolutely no experience with government forms and procedures. Yet, we have barely-trained navigators assisting them. It will be a case of the near-blind leading the blind.

In order to sign up for Obamacare the enrollees need a checking account to receive and pay for their benefits. Yet, many of them have no banking privileges. Therefore, the navigators will need to help them with this task that requires revealing sensitive information, such as their social security numbers.

It’s a golden opportunity for crooked navigators to perpetrate mass identity fraud and theft. Remember that the vetting of the navigators has been cursory at best. The training program prescribed by the government does not require anti-fraud training for navigators. It also does not require “minimum eligibility criteria and background checks” for those participating in the program.

The lack of background checks means scam artists could easily use the navigator program to prey on vulnerable individuals. Even California’s insurance commissioner — a strong supporter of the law — said, “We can have a real disaster on our hands” when it comes to navigators.

Let’s move on to the many requirements and procedures that were jettisoned by the administration in order to get the exchanges up and running by the October 1st deadline.

The administration decided to put Americans who use the exchanges on the “honor system” when it comes to qualifying for exchange subsidies next year.  The original plan called for HHS and the IRS to verify enrollees income in order to prove that they qualified for a government subsidy.

So sorry, no time or technology for that. For the first year people will be on their honor with regards to their income. As the Associated Press noted, “a scofflaw could lie, and there’s no easy way to check”. This is an invitation for fraud on a breathtaking scale.

The administration will conduct limited checks of applicants’ income, giving individuals a strong incentive to under-report their earnings on their application, to receive the maximum possible insurance subsidy.

Individuals can lowball their income numbers on the application and receive thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars in taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies. Those who receive subsidies improperly will have to pay some of the subsidies back. But in many cases individuals can receive much more in improper subsidies than Obamacare ever requires them to repay. We’ve written about this before here.

Incredibly, the vendor that just was awarded a contract worth at least $1 billion to verify enrollees’ claims was just was just placed under investigation in Britain for over-billing the British government to the tune of tens of millions of pounds. Only under ObamaCare is this possible.

Finally, we have the all-knowing Federal Data Services Hub. This database is supposed to have been ready by October 1st. If you thought that the National Security Agency was Big Brother, this monstrosity will knock your socks off.

It combines data on income and employment from IRS records, health and entitlements from HHS records, identity from Social Security, citizenship from Department of Homeland Security records, criminality from Department of Justice records, and residency from state records. Also involved will be the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Personnel Management, the Peace Corps, and state Medicaid administrations.

In a word, the Federal Data Services Hub is the most intrusive government creation yet. When they’re done, the Federal government will have every iota of your personal information that is available. And here’s the kicker: much of your personal information will be put it at serious risk of being compromised if the system and all of its many parts are not secure. We’ve written about this before here.

The potential for hackers to penetrate the security of the Federal Data Services Hub is astronomical. exchanges in all 50 states and the District of Columbia will connect to the hub.

But both the state exchanges and the Federal Data Hub also connect to state Medicaid programs and a host of private entities, including insurance carriers, Web brokers, navigators and traditional agents and brokers. Technology and service vendors are supporting these operations at every level. That’s a whole lot of points of entry for potential hackers.

Even though all of these entities have robust cybersecurity programs they have never faced a threat that is not typical for their current day-to-day operations. They will become a target for hackers seeking to tap a vast quantity of sensitive personal data or to cripple the Obamacare initiative.

This program is not ready for prime time, in fact it may never be ready. It’s a program that a majority of the American people do not want. And finally, its unintended consequences are wrecking the American economy and draining jobs from Americans in need of them.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Veterans Administration Paper Chase

A VA claims centerBeing a veteran who interacts with the Veterans Administration could be hazardous to your health. During the current administration, the backlog of veteran’s claims has swelled In 2011 by 155 percent.

During the previous administration operations at the VA became a political football. The media delighted in criticizing the VA during the Bush Administration, especially reporting on conditions at Walter Reed Hospital. The Democrats saw this as a political opportunity to garner more veteran’s votes.

It embarrassed Bush. It provided a means of appealing for the votes of both veterans and current members of the military, normally sources of support for Republicans. Finally, it purported to convert veterans into another victim group loved by the Democrats.

The VA paid $44.3 billion in disability benefits and $5.5 billion to survivors of veterans with a service-connected disability, according to its annual benefits report for fiscal 2012. A veteran who is rated 10 percent disabled receives a standard $129 per month.

Recently, some mainstream media outlets are beginning to spotlight problems that veterans face with the VA Paper Chase. Even though there is a paper blockade stopping veterans from receiving assistance on their just claims, VA administrators shared $5.5 million in bonus money in 2011.

VA administrators are experts at manipulating their own system in order to earn that bonus money. According to The Washington Post, the more complex claims were often set aside by workers so they could keep their jobs, meet performance standards or, in some cases, collect extra pay, said VA claims processors and union representatives.

“At the beginning of the month . . . I’d try to work my really easy stuff so I could get my numbers up,” said Renee Cotter, a union steward for the Reno, Nev., local of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

Beth McCoy, the assistant deputy undersecretary for field operations for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), said bonuses for claims processors were justified because, even though the number of backlogged claims was rising, workers were processing more claims than ever.

Despite these statements to the contrary, documents show that a board of appeals found in 2012 that almost three out of four appealed claims were wrong or based on incomplete information. Approximately 14,000 veterans had appeals pending for more than two years as of November 2012.

Meanwhile, the Obama administrations has touted their progress in reducing the enormous backlog of disability claims. However, The commander of the nation’s largest veterans organization warned lawmakers that the progress in reducing the size of the disability claims backlog is threatened by the number of mistakes the VA makes on those claims.

There is a rarely mentioned second backlog ominously growing. More than a quarter-million veterans are appealing disability-claim decisions they say are wrong, and in some cases they can wait four years or more for a ruling, figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs show.

Since Barack Obama took office there has been a 50% increase in veterans who are appealing decisions on disability claims. The number is now 256,061 and increasing. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals, which makes the final administrative decisions on appeals, expects its number of pending cases to double over the next four years.

The appeals backlog has grown partly because VA has directed resources away from appeals and toward the high-profile disability backlog, according to interviews with VA workers and veterans’ advocates. The VA Secretary Erik Shinseki admits that appeals take a back seat to disability claims.

A veteran who takes an appeal through all available administrative steps faces an average wait of 1,598 days, according to VA figures for 2012. If the veteran pursues the case outside VA to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, it takes an additional 321 days on average, according to court documents.

The board was able on average to make a decision in 251 days in 2012. But nearly half the time, cases are sent back for further consideration to the regional office, where it can take well over a year — on average, 445 days — to process.

As American veterans age, especially the World War II and Korean War vets, the need for speed becomes more acute. For World War II veteran Joseph Groner, 89, the help may not come soon enough. About 20 years ago, x-ray technician Groner developed lesions and lymphoma was eventually diagnosed.

He filed a claim with VA in 2007. When VA denied his claim, Groner appealed in 2008. On Aug. 8, after five years, the Board of Veteran Appeals overturned the denial, based on a medical expert’s opinion that Groner had been exposed to radiation levels sufficient to trigger the development of lymphoma.

But it will probably take VA months more to process the case and make any payments. “If they don’t come through pretty soon, I don’t think I’ll be here,” Groner said.

 

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The Federal Budget: Where the Money Goes

Cut up the Government Credit Card

As the House and the Senate warm up for another knockdown brawl over the Federal budget, it’s time for all of us to understand where our tax dollars actually go.

If you’re interested in seeing where the money goes, then here’s a link to the Cato Institute’s Spending Charts age: http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/charts.php

Part of the problem with finding out where the money goes is that the Federal budget is like a street corner shell game. As an example the real cost for national defense is not $526 billion as advertised but more like $745.2 billion. Here are the actual budget requests for fiscal 2014:

  • Department of Defense Base Budget: $526.6 billion
  • Overseas Contingency: $92.3 billion
  • Other Agency’s Defense-related Spending – $25.4 billion (Energy, FBI, Homeland Security)
  • Veterans Administration: $63.5 billion
  • Homeland Security: $37.4 billion

No amount of budgetary smoke and mirrors can camouflage the fact that national defense costs are second to Social Security.

Everything coming out of Washington with regards to spending has to be looked at with a jaundiced eye. There is contingency spending that is not in the budget. During the Bush administration funding for both the Iraq and Afghan wars were off-budget.

I never could understand the logic of paying for a war and not counting it in the budget. Like most of Washington’s budget hocus-pocus, it makes no sense. I sometimes wonder if even our elected representatives know what we’re spending.

It stands to reason that they don’t know. After all, do any of them understand the U.S. Tax Code? I really don’t think so. Think of the complexity as job security for bureaucrats. By keeping us all in the dark, we have to keep them around to interpret the financial details for us.

Of course, very few of the American voters have the education to understand the Federal budget. Our public school systems have made sure that they are producing low information voters so that the educated elites can continue to rule the masses.

Our Founders designed America to be a country of informed voters. As the ideas of the progressives like John Dewey and Woodrow Wilson took hold in the early 20th century, the dumbing down of America took hold.

Today, we indeed have two Americas: the educated voters and the low information voters. The vast majority of the potential American electorate are low information voters.

For one reason or another they have checked out the system. They’re more concerned about surviving day to day or are simply no longer interested in the direction of the country. Their standard answer seems to be “Whatever” or “It doesn’t affect me.”

That leaves the educated, elite or otherwise, to fight for the soul of America. At this point in time, we’re at an impasse. If we don’t win America will be changed forever from a democratic republic to and oligarchy of the elites. You decide.

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The Beltway Bandits

Beltway BanditsThe term, “Beltway Bandits”, has come to epitomize everything that is wrong with modern Washington and our bloated government. They include all of the companies, consultants and lobbyists whose aim is to profit by doing business with the Federal government.

This group has grown as the size of government has grown. With a budget of $3.8 trillion, it’s easy to suck on the government teat without being noticed. My late father, a self-made business, used to describe it as feeding at the public trough. The only time that he received government checks were for his Navy service during World War II and Social Security.

Today, we have what appears to be an imperial capital of Washington surrounded 10 of the richest 15 counties in the country. It has all of the earmarks of the Capital region from The Hunger Games. Real-life Washington has everything but the annual fights-to-the-death although some would characterize the budget battles as a close approximation.

The Beltway Bandits spent $3.47 billion lobbying the Federal government in 2009. Today, the number is surely higher. With more competition for the Federal largesse it behooves companies to fight all of the harder and spend more in lobbying costs.

In 1974 3% of retiring policymakers became lobbyists. Now 50% of senators and 42% of congressmen do. No one ever leaves Washington, or so it seems.

Former legislators, aides and Executive Branch staffers simply move into lucrative jobs as lobbyists, bankers or talking heads. Where would the media be without the continual flow of talent who become news analysts? Here’s a depressing statistic. Washington now has a higher income per person than Silicon Valley.

What makes this all possible? Well, let’s start with a bloated budget that is about $3.8 trillion. With Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, the Democrats saw an opportunity to turn all of their fondest dreams into reality.

With a hammerlock control of both houses of Congress they passed the job-killing Washington region mapObamacare on a purely partisan vote in both houses. At the time they thought of it as the next best thing. Today, we know that it is turning America into a part-time nation.

They then moved on to the stimulus bill that should be characterized as the Porkulus bill. Rush Limbaugh coined the term and commented, “This ‘porkulus’ bill is designed to repair the Democratic Party’s power losses from the 1990s forward, and to cement the party’s majority power for decades.” 

Fortunately, it hasn’t. All that it’s done is plunge the Federal government into semi-annual debt ceiling battles. It raised the budget by almost a trillion dollars in the peculiar way that Washington budgets. It seems that a one-time burst of spending needs to become an annual orgy.

Despite losing over 60 seats in the House and with them control, the Democrats still don’t get it. They have continued to push for increased spending. They now claim that due to the sequestration our military is defenseless even though they have a $550 billion budget. Of course, the voracious military-industrial complex is hungry for more.

Our tax code has grown to a staggering 70,000+ pages. Within the tax code are endless loopholes, carve-outs and shelters for favored special interests. The Beltway Bandits make sure that they and their clients are well-protected by the tax code.

The IRS has grown exponentially as the size of the tax code has grown. Forget the fact that the IRS has been used by the current administration in ways that would even make Richard Nixon blush. Nixon was indicted by the House for doing exactly the same thing.

Finally, Barack Obama has used government regulations and executive orders to move his agenda forward when he was unable to pass it in the Congress. His Democrat allies in the Congress have stood mute while the Executive Branch has stripped them of the Constitutional authority.

Here’s something to consider: just when did America stop being a nation of laws and become a nation of one man. Remember that the Constitution is not a suicide pact.

 

 

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What the Democrats Mean By “Comprehensive”

Capital BuildingWhat do members of Congress (primarily Democrats) actually mean when they describe a bill as “comprehensive”?  Based on recent experience it means a wasteful and compromised law. Some recent examples are Obamacare (how’s that working for the American people?) and the Stimulus Bill (better known as the Porkulus Bill).

Then we have Comprehensive Gun Control (failed), the Senate Farm Bill (rejected by the House) and Comprehensive Immigration Reform (spurned by the House).

Recently, the House killed a similar comprehensive version of the Farm Bill and passed a somewhat stripped-down version of their own.

The House bill split off the food stamp portion of the bill. The Senate version is of course “comprehensive” with farm subsidies and other goodies lumped together with food stamp appropriations. In fact the Senate Farm Bill is really a Food Stamp Bill with the vast majority of the appropriations going to fund this ever-expanding program. To call it a “Farm” Bill violates every tenet of telling the truth to the American taxpayers.

The Senate wrote and passed a “comprehensive” bill for one reason only: political expediency. They knew that neither part of the bill could stand on its own but together it would unite two powerful constituencies: farm state and urban representatives. It worked and the bill passed the Senate after everyone larded it with their goodies. We’ve written about the Farm Bill hereherehere and here.

“Comprehensive” equals waste. In order to collect votes in our hyper-partisan Congress bills need to appeal to a broad swath of representatives. The more giveaways in a bill the greater appeal to members of Congress. There’s something for “me” in every bill. They can go home and crow about bringing home the bacon to their constituents. How wonderful for them but not so wonderful for the taxpayers.

The comprehensive versus streamlined approach between the Senate and the House has come into full flower with the Senate’s comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill. Their version is a complete disaster filled with sleight-of-hand amendments that attempt to convince the American people that border security is their major concern.

Who do they think that they’re kidding? The Republicans who voted for this should turn in their credentials. I expect that those up for reelection in 2014 will be primaried by candidates to their right. They stand for nothing.

It also seems that legal Hispanic immigrants, the folks who waited in line, agree with conservative Republicans on this issue. The inside-the-Beltway pundits pontificate that the GOP needs to pass a reform that includes citizenship in order to stand even a slim chance of attracting future Hispanic voters.

Actual reality is far different when you look at recent polling. It seems that a majority of Hispanics, six in ten, 60%, support granting legal status to those already here only when the 90% goal of border security is reached; 32% oppose. The “90% goal” is the target of ending 90 percent of current illegal immigration through border security and interior enforcement. By comparison the Congressional Budget Office said that the Senate bill would only have a 33% to 50% effectiveness at the border.

The Senate’s comprehensive bill was a product of extreme compromising by the Republican’s half of the Gang of Eight. This was due to their belief that without the Hispanic vote their party would be consigned to a minority role forever. This bit of wisdom came from no less an authority than the Democrat Party. How naive. This fiasco has probably destroyed any chance of Marco Rubio becoming the Republican’s nominee in 2016.

Meanwhile, the House has become leery of comprehensive bills after Obamacare (2,700 pages) and the Stimulus Bill ($831 billion plus interest). They will vote on a series of targeted bills that address each issue separately. That way each issue will stand or fall on its own. Of course, Chuck Schumer and John McCain are insisting that the House vote on their bill simply because it’s “comprehensive”.

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The Cost of an Attack on Syria

A shot across the bowVery often, lost in all of the fervor for war, the cost of war is overlooked until its too late. If Barack Obama had let loose the dogs of war or in his case our cruise missiles, the cost of an attack on Syria would have been a day late and a dollar short. Or in this case a lot of dollars.

Politicians in favor of a strike and the Pentagon have avoided specific costs by saying that in the big picture it would be in the millions in a budget of over $550 billion. Meanwhile, those who are opposed, like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) complained that “Our military has no money left.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel offered some clues on Wednesday in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The options being considered, he said, “would be in the tens of millions of dollars — that kind of range.”

However, a U.S. official, discussing Hagel’s remarks on the condition of not being identified, offered this clarification: “Tens of millions is conceivable, but it could be a bit higher based on current estimates.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert listed the costs of several potential elements of a strike on Syria.  The admiral said a single Tomahawk missile, reported to be President Barack Obama’s weapon of choice, costs about $1.5 million.

The cost of operating a carrier strike group and its aircraft during extended operations was about $40 million a week, while normal operations would cost about $25 million a week. Already, the USS Nimitz has been sent to the Red Sea almost certainly because of Syria.

The cost of operating a guided missile destroyer is about $2 million a week. There are now six U.S. destroyers operating in the Eastern Mediterranean, but, as Greenert noted, most of the surface vessels currently in the Middle East were scheduled to be there regardless of the situation in Syria.

So let’s tally up the costs. A 100 cruise missile attack would cost $125 million. A 200 missile attack would be $250 million. You get the idea, pretty soon we’re talking about real money. Couple that with naval costs and the entire operation could cost upwards of $300 million.

Of course, if we do attack and the fighting escalates and spreads into a regional war, we would be left holding the bag on a cost in the billions.

Fortunately, it appears that the Congress, particularly the House, doesn’t appear to favor any type of attack but all should be aware that even a “shot across the bow” could cost big bucks.

 

 

 

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Crazy Government Law Enforcement

Food NaziHave you noticed that since 9/11 law enforcement at all levels has become more militarized and more militant? You can’t make up some of stories that have come to public notices. Stories that show police in their worst light.

Recently, a local Texas police department staged a massive police action that included aerial surveillance, a SWAT team and a 10-hour search. All of this heavy artillery was for-wait for it-a raid on an organic farm.

That’s right the police staged a raid on an organic farm, ostensibly to search for marijuana plants. But farm owners and residents told a local TV station that the overwhelming force was for code enforcement.

The police seized “17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants … native grasses and sunflowers,” after holding residents inside at gunpoint for at least a half-hour, property owner Shellie Smith said in a statement.

Local authorities had cited the Garden of Eden in recent weeks for code violations, including “grass that was too tall, bushes growing too close to the street, a couch and piano in the yard, chopped wood that was not properly stacked, a piece of siding that was missing from the side of the house, and generally unclean premises,” Smith’s statement said.

You wonder what would have happened if their house had peeling paint. What you really would like to know is how much this unnecessary operation cost the local police department.

Another example of crazy law enforcement is the story about the year-long sting operation staged by FDA against an Amish farm in Pennsylvania for the heinous crime of selling unpasteurized milk. The operation came complete with aliases, a 5 a.m. surprise inspection and surreptitious purchases.

According to the ‘Federal Milk Police’ “It is the FDA’s position that raw milk should never be consumed.” Last week the FDA filed a 10-page complaint in federal court in Pennsylvania seeking an order to stop the farm from shipping across state lines any more raw milk or dairy products made from it.

This is what happens when the government grows too big. In an effort to justify their existence they look for things to do. Of course, unkempt homes and yards and raw unpasteurized milk are issues that will bring down Western Civilization. Not!

Finally, we have the case of one Robert Norlander, IRS agent or more descriptively ‘Thug-of-the year’. Mr Norlander targeted one Charlie Engle for mortgage fraud, ultimately carrying out a series of questionable methods in an attempt to find Mr. Engle guilty . This is a story straight out of Franz Kafka.

The entire episode started when Norlander saw a film of Charlie Engle training for a marathon. Without even a reasonable suspicion of any crime, Norlander opened up a formal investigation simply because he could.

Norlander set up undercover surveillance even though his tax returns were above reproach. Norlander even engaged in “dumpster dives” to look for evidence of wrongdoing in Mr. Engle’s garbage. Keep in mind that there is no probable cause and no reasonable suspicion.

He then sent an attractive female IRS agent to flirt with Engle in the hopes that he would admit wrongdoing as if he would tell every pretty girl that he was a tax cheat. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Norlander failed to find any evidence of a tax crime. He couldn’t even hit Engle with a money-laundering offense. But the undercover agent who was part of the “honey trap” was wearing a wire and supposedly got Engle to admit to mortgage fraud and Norlander used that extremely flimsy evidence to justify a Justice Department case against Mr. Engle.

No tax charges were ever brought, even though that was Mr. Nordlander’s original rationale. Money laundering, the suspicion of which was needed to justify the undercover sting, was a nonissue as well. As for that “confession” to Ms. Burrows, take a closer look. It really isn’t a confession at all. Mr. Engle is confessing to his mortgage broker’s sins, not his own.

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