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Archive for the ‘Government Waste’ Category

Even if we had a giant budget surplus, federal subsidies for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be misguided and improper. In an environment where excessive federal spending is strangling growth and threatening the nation’s solvency, the argument to defund PBS and NPR is even stronger – particularly when private funding easily could replace the $422 million provided by federal taxpayers.

I suppose the fact that PBS and NPR have a statist bias is another argument for getting rid of taxpayer subsidies, but that’s barely a blip on my radar screen. It wouldn’t matter if government TV and radio was genuinely fair and balanced. Taxpayers should not subsidize broadcasting of any kind, period.

Moreover, as explained by Professor William Shughart of the University of Mississippi, the private market provides high-quality and niche programming, thus debunking the traditional pro-CPB argument for taking tax dollars from middle-class people to support the viewing and listening habits of upper-income people.

…congressional appropriations for CPB, the primary channel through which tax dollars are funneled to PBS television and NPR, amounted to $422 million. …about 15 percent to 20 percent of public broadcasting’s operating expenses are financed by federal taxpayers. Over the last four years, private donations, both in cash and in kind, accounted for about 33 to 39 percent of the public media’s annual revenue. State and local governments, foundations, colleges and universities, both public and private, contributed another 29 percent of the total. Supporters of continued taxpayer support of CPB and its affiliated local stations argue that $400 million is a small price to pay for financing a voice “independent” of the commercial media. Juan Williams, recently fired in response to his expression of unease in boarding aircraft with obviously Muslim passengers, would beg to differ, as many other Americans would. …the History and Discovery channels, Public Radio International, American Public Media, and SIRIUS satellite radio, among others, compete effectively with NPR and PBS—and millions of Americans willingly pay for commercially distributed content. If NPR and public television cannot survive in such an environment without taxpayer subsidies, they should be allowed to go the way of the dodo bird.

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The contest between the United States and Europe for dumb public policy is always hard to judge. The Europeans tend to make more policy mistakes, though Obama certainly is giving them some stiff competition. America, by contrast, is prone to really inane bouts of political correctness. But perhaps the Europeans are catching up in that area.

Here’s something, for example, that sounds like it could have happened in San Francisco. The European Commission (the über bureaucracy of the European Union) sent out 3 million calendars to kids that mentioned significant holidays for the Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu religions, but omitted Christmas. Here’s an excerpt from the U.K.-based Guardian.

Italy has demanded that the European Commission recall millions of diaries that are being distributed to schoolchildren throughout the EU because they do not mention Christmas but they do give the dates of other religions’ festivals, such as Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and Sikh, Hindu and Chinese feast days. …A Commission spokeswoman said it had “realised the absence of some important European religious holidays, in particular Christmas”. …But she gave no indication that Brussels would accede to Frattini’s demand to recall the diaries, which, according to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, was contained in a letter to the commission’s president, Jose Manuel Barroso. …Some 3 million copies of the latest edition of the Europe Diary have been sent to schools. The commission’s spokeswoman said its main purpose was “inform young Europeans as consumers and citizens on issues like rights, choices as consumers [and] climate change”. …The commission…spokeswoman said it had cost €5.5m (£4.6m).

Being a fiscal policy wonk, I don’t worry too much about the War on Christmas. Yes, political correctness is nauseating, but it’s not as if the government is actually using coercion to stamp out Christmas. When I read stories like this, what catches my attention instead are disturbing details such as the hefty price tag of $7.2 million. Why is the European Commission squandering so much money on calendars? And once a decision has been made to waste money, why leave out Christmas? And why did they include extraneous material such as global warming propaganda?

Perhaps the moral of this story is that governments – and international bureaucracies such as the EC – have an amazing ability to squander money. Sometimes they waste money for PC reasons, sometimes for vote-buying reasons, and sometimes for corruption. All we know for sure is that taxpayers get lumps of coal in their stockings.

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When politicians and bureaucrats spend our money, they rarely demonstrate any concern about waste and fraud. Why be conscientious, after all, if you’re spending other people’s money – especially if your real goal is to buy votes and get campaign contributions by providing unearned wealth to well-connected insiders?

I’ve always been more concerned about the negative economic impact of government spending and the failure of Keynesian fiscal policy, but it’s also important to focus on waste and fraud. The average taxpayer may not want to get into the weeds of economic theory, but you don’t need an advanced degree to get upset about $27 light bulbs.

Fortunately, auditors caught this example of waste and fraud, but one can only imagine all the nonsense that’s slipping through the net. Here’s an excerpt from a Bloomberg story:

Contractors billed New Jersey $27 for light bulbs, and ran up tens of thousands of dollars in other “unreasonable costs” on a $119 million weatherization program funded with U.S. stimulus money, the state auditor said. …One contractor sought $27 for light bulbs, while another billed $1.50 for similar items, according to the report and Assistant Auditor Thomas Meseroll. Another vendor charged $75 for carbon-monoxide detectors that it had provided to a different program for $22, the report said. Eells also cited $32,700 in auditing fees when “no services had been performed” and $69,000 in construction costs that couldn’t be verified.

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I saw a story linked on Instapundit, but it really belonged on The Onion.

Apparently, our tax dollars are being used to fund grief counseling for congressional staffers who will lose their jobs in January because of the elections. Can you think of a better example than this of how Washington is screwed up?

This isn’t just a symbol of fiscal excess (though it definitely belongs in that category). It’s also a sign of the wuss-ification (not a technical term, but you know what I mean) of American society. Are we really so pathetically fragile that we need professional hand-holders for something like this? It’s not like people who work on Capitol Hill don’t know ahead of time about elections.

Besides, there’s a what-goes-around-comes-around element to this story. I’m not trying to be callous. Unemployment can be a terrible thing, particularly for people who have kids. But these congressional staffers spent their days figuring out ways to impose costs on the rest of us. They schemed to reduce our freedoms and take our money. These are people who pushed policies that resulted in job losses for millions of people in the productive sector of the economy.

Asking me to feel sorry for these people is like asking me to have pity on burglars who dislike door locks, alarm systems, and armed homeowners.

Here’s an excerpt from the Politico story.

A staffer for a congressional Democrat who came up short on Tuesday reports that a team of about five people stopped by their offices this morning to talk about payroll, benefits, writing a résumé, and so forth, with staffers who are now job hunting. But one of the staffers was described as a “counselor” to help with the emotional aspect of the loss — and a section in the packet each staffer was given dealt with the stages of grief (for instance, Stage One being anger, and so on). “It was like it was about death,” the staffer said. “It was bizarre.”

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I’ve avoided this topic in recent weeks because it’s too depressing, but this story is too outrageous to ignore. The County of Los Angeles has 199 bureaucrats who “earned” more than $250,000 last year. According to Census Bureau data for 2008, the median household income in the county was 55,000, Here’s a blurb from the L.A.Times about incomes of the bureaucratic gilded class.

Nearly 200 Los Angeles County employees earned more than a quarter of a million dollars in 2009, according to a list of the county’s top earners released late Monday in response to a Public Records Act request from The Times.

The highest earners list was dominated by physicians and other medical personnel, but also included county firefighters and a handful of top sheriff’s employees. Some of the best-known names on the list belong to elected officials — although none of the five county supervisors, who make $178,789 a year, qualified.

…The Times requested the base salary, overtime and “other earnings” for county employees whose total annual pay exceeded $250,000. “Other earnings” can include bonuses for special skills or responsibilities or unused benefits cashed out as taxable income, among other things.

…Overtime played a big role, with only 65 people making the list on base salary alone. Thirty workers made more than $80,000 in overtime. Twenty-two of them work for the county Fire Department, four work for public hospitals, two were psychiatrists for the Mental Health Department, and two were physician specialists for the Sheriff’s Department.

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Considering they could have sat on their hands and relied on unhappy voters to give them big gains in November, I’m not too unhappy about the House GOP’s “Pledge to America.” Yes, it’s mostly filled with inoffensive motherhood-and-apple-pie language, but at least there’s some rhetoric about reining in excessive government. After eight years of fiscal profligacy under Bush, maybe this is a small sign that Republicans won’t screw up again if they wind up back in power.

That being said, I was a bit disappointed that the GOP couldn’t even muster the courage to shut down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two corrupt government-created entities that bear so much responsibility for the housing mess and subsequent financial crisis. The best the GOP could do was to say “Since taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage companies that triggered the financial meltdown by giving too many high risk loans to people who couldn’t afford them, taxpayers were billed more than $145 billion to save the two companies. We will reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by ending their government takeover, shrinking their portfolios, and establishing minimum capital standards.” Is it really asking too much for Republicans to simply say “The federal government has no role in housing and Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development should be eliminated.” Heck, the GOP’s Pledge doesn’t even mention a penny’s worth of budget cuts for HUD.

Here’s an excerpt from Peter Wallison’s Bloomberg column, which explains why Fannie and Freddie should be decapitated.

In a year when angry voters are demanding a reduced government role in the economy, it is remarkable that most of the ideas for supplanting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are just imaginative ways of keeping government in the business of housing finance.

…This is pretty astonishing. One would think that something might have been learned from the recent past, when two New Deal ideas for government housing support–the savings and loan industry and the government sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac–failed spectacularly. It cost taxpayers $150 billion to clean up the first and may cost more than $400 billion to resolve the second.

…[G]overnment policy that deliberately degrades loan quality or creates moral hazard will eventually cause devastation in the housing market.

…Government involvement in housing finance is an invitation to disaster. As illustrated by the S&Ls and GSEs, no matter how such a system is structured, government support will hide the real risks.

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I’m working on a serious blog post about European fiscal developments, but my research on that issue has alerted me to a couple of stories about President Jose Manuel Barroso that cry out for immediate mockery and abuse. Mr. Barroso, for those that don’t follow the exciting world of international bureaucracy, is the President of the European Commission. This is not an elected position (perish the thought of letting voters have a say in such matters!). Instead, he’s the chief bureaucrat of the sprawling Brussels-based euro-bureaucracy.

The first story is from the EU Observer, which reports that the European Parliament actually wanted to fine members that didn’t suffer through Barroso’s Castro-esque three-hour speech on the state of the European Union. Amazingly, the MEPs didn’t file a human rights protest against this proposed form of torture, but they did stage an internal revolt and the authorities backed down.

European parliament authorities have bid a hasty retreat from a tentative proposal to fine for non-attendance of today’s State of the Union speech after the idea was met with derision and anger by MEPs.

A meeting yesterday (6 September) evening of parliament president Jerzy Buzek and the 14 vice presidents of the EU assembly abandoned an idea to check up on just who was listening to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso’s speech and the ensuing debate.

…The original proposal agreed by the assembly’s political groups late last week envisioned three electronic checks over the three hour slot and a small fine for MEPs whose absence was registered twice.

A short debate on the issue before the presidential meeting already showed the way the wind was blowing.

UK Liberal MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford called the idea a “massive own goal” adding: “You have damaged the reputation of the European Union and indeed President Barroso.”

Mr. Barroso obviously is not happy about the fact that nobody knows who he is or cares what he has to say, because the next story is from the Telegraph, which reports that Barroso’s staff is being dramatically expanded in an effort to “boost his media and political profile.” But this is not just an example of how international bureaucrats waste taxpayer money. There’s also a very offensive and reprehensible plan to corrupt journalists by paying the expenses of reporters traveling with Europe’s deservedly-invisible chief bureaucrat.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the former Portuguese prime minister, will also have a photographer and television producer available 24 hours a day, as well as the services of a team of four speechwriters to call on at all times, under the new strategy to boost his media and political profile.

The new measures to “personalise” his image were revealed in a leaked letter written by Viviane Reding, the Justice Commissioner, who is in charge of EU communications.

…The EU has already come under fire for spending more than €8 million euros on entertaining, “training” and “informing” individual journalists last year, and devoted particular attention to those from Ireland in the run up to that country’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

…The package of measures include a team of eight staff to update his website, monitoring and rebuttal of blogs criticising the EU, rapid verbatim transcripts of all the Commission president’s public remarks – and, from next month, a plan to pay the costs of reporters travelling with Mr Barroso or other commissioners to “important meetings abroad”.

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