October 4, 2013
The Anchorage, Alaska branch of the National Weather Service has a hidden message for the public.
For another great episode in hidden government messages, see Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2009 veto letter to the California Legislature. 

The Anchorage, Alaska branch of the National Weather Service has a hidden message for the public.

For another great episode in hidden government messages, see Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2009 veto letter to the California Legislature. 

September 19, 2013
"[One member of Congress] was given $127.41 a day for food on his trip to Argentina. He probably had a fair amount of steak, …Another member was given $3,588 for food and lodging during a six-day trip to Russia. He probably drank a fair amount of vodka and probably even had some caviar. That particular member has 21,000 food stamp recipients in his district. One of those people who is on food stamps could live a year on what this congressman spent on food and lodging for six days."

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, discussing cuts to food stamps in the recent agriculture bill.

To be fair, the latter comparison with the trip to Russia is somewhat inapposite: food stamps pay for food only, and lodging is a bit more expensive, particularly in hotels.  Combining the two into one figure and comparing the total figure to the food stamp benefit is a bit of rhetorical prestidigitation.

The per diem food allotment, however, is on point.  The average monthly benefit for food stamp recipients in 2012 was $133.41.  Meaning that the first Congressperson was given an amount roughly equal a month’s worth of food stamp benefits to eat one day’s worth of meals.

This doesn’t end debate of course.  21,000 people at $133.41/month is equivalent to much more money out of the public coffers than one person at $127.41/day for a week or two.  But it does suggest that maybe Congress should reconsider how much money its members need to conduct the “People’s” business.

April 27, 2013
Why Government Spending Is So Hard To Cut

One of the reasons why Government spending is so hard to cut is because people do actually rely on it for one reason or another.  Whether it occurs through transfer payments (i.e. benefits) or funding someone’s job, Government spending does actually make a difference in people’s lives.  

One can see this in the implementation of the sequester.  I recently had the honor and privilege of working in a federal public defender’s office.  Those offices are getting hosed right now under the sequester.  In fact, many Federal Defender offices are getting hit up to six times harder than their prosecution counterparts.  The head of one Ohio Federal Defender’s Office fired himself to save his staff.  This is happening in Federal Defender’s offices around the country, including the Boston office that will be representing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  

These cuts are raising Sixth Amendment Gideon issues, as federal public defense attorneys now have even less time to work on their client’s cases.  While case loads in the federal system are not as bad as they are in the state system, these cuts nonetheless damage the quality of representation that federal criminal defendants receive.  In other words, calls go unanswered, less motions get filed, and the motions that are filed contain less legal arguments,  Such omissions may make the difference between winning or losing a client’s case.  In federal court, that usually means they end up in prison for a long time, as Congress still loves their mandatory minimums, United States v. Booker notwithstanding.

Elsewhere, there’s controversy over the Chained CPI proposal for Social Security.  According to Robert G. Romasco, President of the AARP, it would result in substantial cuts for beneficiaries:

Under a chained CPI, older veterans would be hurt twice, as both Social Security and veterans’ benefits would be cut. So much for the administration’s claim to protect the vulnerable. Permanently disabled veterans who started receiving disability benefits from the Veterans Administration at age 30 would see their benefits cut by more than $1,400 a year at age 45, $2,300 at age 55, and $3,200 a year at age 65.

Of course, these cuts are kind of the point when you’re cutting Government spending.  The largest parts of the federal budget are military spending, social security, and healthcare spending.  There’s no magic button we can press to cut spending in these places without hurting someone.  Cutting defense spending, even by only a few million dollars, means a decent number of people are out of a job.  Cutting Social Security benefits means people on fixed incomes have to make do with less.

This isn’t to say there isn’t genuine “waste” in Government.  A recent example is the Federal Government spending $890,000 in bank fees for empty bank accounts.  Years back, the Pentagon spent $100 million on unused airline tickets for which it never sought refunds.  The Pentagon in particular is notorious for wasteful spending projects, such as $436 hammers, $600 toilet seats, and $7,622 coffee brewers.   Or how about spending $100,000 for a 2011 workshop on interstellar space travel that included a session entitled “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?"  According to the link, "the session probed how Christian theology would apply in the event of the discovery of aliens."  I feel safer already.

Nonetheless, even if we got rid of much of this waste, we’d still have to make substantive cuts to make a dent in the federal budget.  Even if we had a balanced approach of 50/50 spending and tax increases on a 10-year plan to reduce to the deficit back to healthy levels, it would still involve cutting a lot of people’s livelihoods.  No matter where you cut from, somebody’s either losing their benefits or losing their job.  and that’s why it’s so hard to cut Government spending, even if doing so is the overall right thing to do.

December 13, 2012
Can You Guess The Number Of Golf Courses Run By The Pentagon?

If you guessed 234, you’d be right:

[G]enerals and admirals aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy some of perks of being in the U.S. armed forces. Although lower-ranking service members don’t get private jets and personal chefs, U.S. taxpayers still spend billions of dollars a year to pay for luxuries that are out of reach for the ordinary American.

The Pentagon, for example, runs a staggering 234 golf courses around the world, at a cost that is undisclosed.

Laura Gottesdiener notes that assessing the total cost of these golf courses is difficult because some of them are left uncounted, since courses in controversial areas like Guantanamo Bay and Baghdad are often left off the list.  There is some data, however:

According to journalist Nick Turse, “The U.S. Army paid $71,614 [in 2004] to the Arizona Golf Resort — located in sunny Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,… The resort actually boasts an entire entertainment complex, complete with a water-slide-enhanced megapool, gym, bowling alley, horse stables, roller hockey rink, arcade, amphitheater, restaurant, and even a cappuccino bar — not to mention the golf course and a driving range.”

And then there’s our golf course in Korea:

DoD’s Sungnam golf course in the Republic of Korea, meanwhile, is reportedly valued at $26 million.

This all comes on the heels of a report issued by Senator Tom Coburn’s office detailing the wasteful spending in DHS’s Urban Area Security Initiative.  One of my favorites:

Keene, New Hampshire, with a population just over 23,000 and a police force of 40, set aside UASI funds to buy a BearCat armored vehicle. Despite reporting only a single homicide in the prior two years, the City of Keene told DHS the vehicle was needed to patrol events like its annual pumpkin festival. 

This is a Bearcat armored vehicle (Photo via David Icke):

This is the Keene pumpkin festival (photo via Meghan Pierce):

Clearly, this is an event that requires paramilitary vehicles to achieve adequate security.  Perhaps if they’re lucky, they’ll be able to play golf on a Pentagon-sponsored golf course once they’re done.  One can dream, anyway.

November 23, 2011
"[I]t would behoove Obama to press the reset button. To say that he made a mistake. At the very least, a process based off Bowles-Simpson would have forced both sides to recognize what a reasonable, centrist proposal looked like. That alone is better than what we’ve had thus far. The failure of the congressional negotiations presents an opportunity to undo that mistake. Obama should ask Congress to begin drafting legislation based on Bowles-Simpson, including some fixes (few Republicans will resist the White House’s entreaties to lower the defense cuts) and additions (no deficit proposal should be signed if it doesn’t extend unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut)."

Ezra Klein.  Sullivan seconds Klein.  I second(third?) them both.  This “supercommittee” nonsense is just a dog and pony show for the masses.  Simpson-Bowles raised taxes, simplified the tax code, and made cuts in both entitlement and defense spending.  It is virtually the only time in the past 15 years that we’ve had a budget deal that looked like an honest compromise between both parties.  It spreads the pain around so no one group feels it too keenly.  That’s what a good compromise looks like.  More importantly, that’s what a politically possible compromise looks like.

September 19, 2011
"[T]he economic justification for Pentagon spending is even more fallacious when one considers that the $700 billion annual DOD budget creates comparatively few jobs. The days of Rosie the Riveter are long gone; most weapons projects now require very little touch labor. Instead, a disproportionate share is siphoned off into high-cost research and development (from which the civilian economy benefits little); exorbitant management expenditures, overhead and out-and-out padding; and, of course, the money that flows back into the coffers of political campaigns. A million dollars appropriated for highway construction would create two to three times as many jobs as a million dollars appropriated for Pentagon weapons procurement, so the jobs argument is ultimately specious."

Mike Lofgren, former GOP staffer.

September 19, 2011
Every major poll in America, save one, shows overwhelming majorities for solving our deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.
The GOP is going to get slaughtered in 2012 if they don’t play ball with the White House on this one.
Of course, it will be interesting to see how Congressional Democrats manage to screw up a clear, unequivocable mandate (which I’m sure they will).  The American people are virtually handing them the debate.
Source: Bruce Bartlett
h/t thenoobyorker

Every major poll in America, save one, shows overwhelming majorities for solving our deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

The GOP is going to get slaughtered in 2012 if they don’t play ball with the White House on this one.

Of course, it will be interesting to see how Congressional Democrats manage to screw up a clear, unequivocable mandate (which I’m sure they will).  The American people are virtually handing them the debate.

Source: Bruce Bartlett

h/t thenoobyorker

September 19, 2011
"“By the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 left over,” - Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), in an interview on MSNBC, on why as a small business owner he can’t afford a tax increase."

Quote For The Day/Andrew Sullivan (via nickbaumann)

(via motherjones)

September 7, 2011
Martin Wolf: Bond Markets Are Telling Us To Borrow And Spend.

What is to be done? To find an answer, listen to the markets. They are saying: borrow and spend, please. Yet those who profess faith in the magic of the markets are most determined to ignore the cry …

Contrary to conventional wisdom, fiscal policy is not exhausted. This is what Christine Lagarde, new managing director of the International Monetary Fund, argued at the Jackson Hole monetary conference last month. The need is to combine borrowing of  cheap funds now with credible curbs on spending in the longer term. The need is no less for surplus countries with the ability to expand demand to do so.

It is becoming ever clearer that the developed world is making Japan’s mistake of premature retrenchment during a balance-sheet depression, but on a more dangerous – far more global – scale. Conventional wisdom is that fiscal retrenchment will lead to resurgent investment and growth. An alternative wisdom is that suffering is good. The former is foolish. The latter is immoral.

August 24, 2011
"

According to the Internal Revenue Service, in 2008, those in the top 1 percent of the income distribution, with incomes over $380,000, had an effective tax rate of 23.3 percent. In 1986, a year when the real gross domestic product grew a healthy 3.5 percent, their effective tax rate was 33.1 percent. It has been much lower every year since.


If this group were still paying 33.1 percent, federal revenue would have been more than $166 billion higher in 2008 alone. That would be enough to reduce the budget deficit by about 10 percent this year. If the top 1 percent of taxpayers had continued to pay the same effective tax rate they paid in 1986 every year from 1987 to 2008, the federal debt today would be $1.7 trillion lower.

"

— Bruce Bartlett, The Rich Can Afford To Pay More Taxes

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