Category Archives: Government Waste

Ethanol not only isn’t Green… It’s Blacker than Coal

Mother Jones Ethanol Problem Breakdown

Image credit: Mother Jones (oh… and that was 7 years ago. it’s worse now)

 

A new total environmental impact metastudy has been published, rating the environmental impact of electric cars, with results for each type of electric car and the types of power generation used to fuel them; comparing them against conventional gasoline, and ethanol fueled vehicles.

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/your-all-electric-vehicle-may-not-be-so-green-study-n268961

Their basic conclusion, is that electric cars are in fact no better, and are often worse for the environment, than conventional cars (because of their manufacturing inputs, waste outputs, and the impact of electricity generation).

Of course, anyone who has been paying attention to the actual technologies and manufacture of electric cars has known this for years… They’re essential philosophical symbols, rather than any real benefit to the environment.

… but that’s a different argument for another day…

What I find most interesting though, is the conclusions and comparisons they drew between different energy sources… particularly ethanol:

“The study finds that overall, all-electric vehicles cause 86 percent more deaths from air pollution than do cars powered by regular gasoline. But if natural gas produces the electricity? Half as many deaths as gasoline cars. Wind, water or wave energy? One-quarter. Hybrids and diesel engines are also cleaner than gas. But ethanol isn’t, with 80 percent more deaths.”

… 80 percent more damage (expressed here as deaths) than regular gasoline, just direct damage, not second order effects and the like. Nearly as much as straight coal.

When you add the damage ethanol causes from starvation, increased food costs, food insecurity, and additional transportation costs, as well as damage to vehicles and distribution infrastructure… it’s FAR worse than coal.

Resource Media - Ethanol, Food or Fuel

Image Credit: Resource Media

Then there’s the subsidies it soaks up and therefore the additional tax burden it creates… Ethanol is far FAR worse than coal.

Oh and then there’s the fact that ethanol is actively preventing better greener technologies from being developed; both by consuming resources which would otherwise be more productively used, as well as directly, because the ethanol industry lobbies against competing technologies, and for mandatory ethanol use.

… And of course, that’s ignoring the damage it does to our political process, dominating the early primary process, in effect acting as a filter for presidential candidate selection.

Ethanol is quite possibly the worst fuel in common use.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Community Conservatism – Government Accountability and Service

thedmvhell

Restoring Faith in Public Institutions

One effect of the Obama administration that many conservatives think is, somehow, positive, has been the massive deterioration in public trust in government. Liberty-minded folks have variously argued that the millennial generation has no faith at all in government and that this makes them budding allies against liberalism. We would argue that millennial voters now attempting to enter the middle class all seem to want badly to believe that government can work and that Democrats are better at garnering their votes by promising that the latest wave will be the ones to restore that trust. We believe that being conservative is not the same as being anti-government, and that we need to seize upon this opportunity to convince a frustrated generation of Americans that conservatives can govern, that government can be a positive force if properly restrained, and that we can make the system work. Accountability and an end to cronyism are the keys.

A) Abolish Federal Employee Unions

Franklin D. Roosevelt – the granddaddy of all classical US progressives – believed that it was wrong to allow federal employees to unionize, because it represented a fundamental conflict of interest when they bargain with the same people for their benefits that they use union funds to elect. One of the major sources of “good-pole-boys” cronyism in Washington is the persistent political power of federal employee unions. Many of the same people lobbying Congress to enact the Affordable Care Act, for example, were members of the union for IRS employees. Federal employees should not be shielded from the realities of the policies enacted by Washington, and they should not have collective power to exert over policies that they must enforce, by which they themselves do not live.

B) Pass the ARM Act

Don’t go looking for that acronym – I invented it (sounds strong and impressive, right?). The Annual Reporting Mandate law would require all federal agencies granted budgetary allowances to report precisely how those funds were spent to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and would task Congress with affirming that those funds were properly disbursed in the service of the mandate of the agencies, issuing refund requirements when agency spending is not deemed appropriate. Simple, albeit time consuming, this annual review of the unelected fourth branch of government would force transparency and keep federal agencies leaner and less prone to fraud and abuse (this should include the Federal Reserve).

C) Pass ‘Unrevolve’ Legislation

No one is surprised, anymore, when someone from a government agency is fired for malfeasance of incompetence, latches on with a lobby firm, and returns a few years later, under a new administration. No one is alarmed when members of Congress lose political races and are immediately absorbed by lobbies, PACs and Wall Street, only to return to politics shortly thereafter in a new state. This phenomenon was given the term of ‘revolving door’ and ensures that no one is ever truly held accountable when they behave as political operatives within the system, breaking rules to achieve political ends, even if they are caught. Congress should act to bar people who have been by PACs, lobbying firms or other specifically politically organizations from serving as elected officials or as appointees in government agencies. The same bill should provide for the enactment of new, harsher penalties, the revocation of pensions and the lifetime barring of any government employee implicated in wrongdoing or incompetence while in service. It’s not clear that we can ever completely stop the crony wheels from spinning, but we can make it much more difficult for political operatives to avoid accountability.

D) Codify The Ryan Plan for Better Service

We’ll talk much more about containing the cost of our unfunded entitlement liabilities and securing those benefits for future generations in a later installment, but while we’re on the subject of government accountability, one of the main reasons that even the poor who are being theoretically most served by the safety net have lost faith in government is that customer service and accountability in government flat out sucks. As someone who is legally blind, I have had the misfortune to require access to the Social Security Goliath, and let me tell you – the way in which the government disseminates benefits, administers mistakes, keeps tabs on benefit recipients, and attempts to improve their standards of living is hopefully out of date, painfully bureaucratic, inaccessible and, frequently, just plain dehumanizing.

But you don’t have to be receiving SSI or retirement assistance or Medicare or veteran’s benefits to know how appallingly depressing government services are. Just take a look around your local DMV office the next time you’re updating your state ID or driver’s license. What you’ll see in any government office from the IRS to the DMV to the SSA is a collection of overworked, miserable employees using hilariously out of date computer systems, handling citizens as though they were cattle, and generally taking their frustrations out on people who need their help. It’s a bleak landscape filled with despair and dependency and no one enjoys it – not even those who claim to be perfectly happy to stay on welfare (and yes, they do exist). If conservatives would like to shed the unfair label of uncaring toward the poor, they should take steps to improve customer service while reducing the cost of that service and saving the taxpayers money. Fortunately, Paul Ryan has devoted considerable ink to discussing how he would accomplish this. The basic tenets of his plan go as follows:

• Nuke the federal workers unions (as already discussed) and allow federal and state agencies to fire employees who do not work with compassion and manners toward their charges.
• Instead of funding (at last count) 86 separate federal anti-poverty programs, many of which overlap in their missions, creating enormous redundancy and waste, while confusing the heck out of the public, block grant federal budget dollars to the states and establish achievement-based standards in the provision of such programs (in other words, judge the merit of state-run anti-poverty, affordable housing, healthcare, preventive care, and nutrition programs by how well they work, rather than by the appeal of their stated mandates), to be run by the states and scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Let the states have considerable latitude to experiment on needs-based programs, but revoke programs that fail to improve outcomes or that get horrible customer service ratings. This review is to be conducted annually.
• Rather than sending each citizen to many different offices to manage his or her benefits, establish a personal management system in which all people seeking any type of benefit consult by appointment with one social worker who oversees all of their needs – in this way, re-humanize the process and establish a relationship between the citizen in need and the resources at his or her disposal, while making interacting with the state more efficient and more frictionless for the customer. Each social worker can probably handle hundreds of recipients at a time without an overworked schedule, and without life-sucking endless waits in lines to be seen by a stressed-out bureaucrat who doesn’t know anything about your needs. This managed model has proven to be more cost-effective in private sector human resource management as well.
• Give civic non-profits and religious organizations access – don’t limit petitions for participation in new state anti-poverty programs to government bureaucrats. In this way, empower (through the provision of federal grants) the mediating “civic society” to do good works that can be tracked by the government and good ideas duplicated when they prove effective. Turn the generosity and goodwill of the people into a giant engine of creativity that stands a better chance of rescuing the poor.

This basic template should be honed into policy that can stand as a strong platform for Republicans running for office in 2016 and unite social conservatives with the poor and disaffected that they wish to help, broadening the potential voter base for the Republican Party through improved dialogue.

Final Note: I considered discussing the possibility of pushing a Constitutional amendment that would enact term limits for Congressmen, Senators and Federal Judges, since this is an idea that is growing increasingly popular as anti-incumbent sentiments rise nationally, but I believe that is a concept that has strong plusses AND strong minuses and should be more carefully considered at the state level before any action is taken.

11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month

 

poppy2

 

It is now the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, at Compiegne…

In the United States, today is Veterans Day

In America, Memorial Day is for the dead, and Veterans Day is for the living. As such, first I wish to give thanks.

I thank all of you, still serving to defend our country, those of our friends and allies, and those who, wherever they serve, are fighting to preserve freedom, liberty, justice, and humanity.

May god bless you and keep you.

I thank all of my brothers and sisters who have served in the past; for the risks you have taken, and the sacrifices you have made.

To the rest of the world, today is Remembrance Day, sometimes known as Armistice day, or poppy day; commemorating the moment that the first great war of the last century was ended; in the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of the year of our lord nineteen hundred and eighteen.

96 years gone, and still every year we mark this day.

Why is it called poppy day?

Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Russia… and on the other side Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary (and the remains of the holy roman empire), Turkey (and the other ottomans)… an entire generation of young men in Europe were lost to the most futile, worst run war, in modern history.

In four years, 18 million men died (or went missing, which is mostly the same thing), and 22 million men were wounded.

In fact, Europe has never recovered from this greatest of historical mistakes. It was the direct aftermath of world war one that lead to world war two; the combination of which largely created the postmodern European culture that is slowly being destroyed from without and within by self hatred, depression, defeatism, socialism, islamist theofascism, and reactionary nationalism.

But I digress… I was talking about why it is called poppy day.

Flanders is a region of Belgium, where (along with Wallonia and northern France) the fighting in the great war was at it’s bloodiest. The worst battles of the war were at Ypres, the Marne, the Somme, and Verdun.

At the Somme alone, the British lost 20,000 dead in one single day; and the allied forces (mostly British) lost 120,000 dead, and over 375,000 wounded total; with 100,000 dead and 350,000 wounded on the German side.

The battle lasted from July 1st , til November 18th, 1916. Almost five solid months of the most brutal trench warfare ever seen; and nothing to show for it but blood, and mud.

Perhaps 200,000 total dead at the Marne (1st and 2nd), perhaps 50,000 at Ypres, Perhaps 300,000 total dead at Verdun… (10 months, and the bloodiest battle of the war, though the Somme had the bloodiest day); and nothing to show for it but blood and mud.

There was an amazing thing though… That blood, and that mud… it became magnificently fertile soil; and soon after the fighting ended, all over these horrific battlefields, poppies began to bloom.

In the first great war, as had been tradition for most of western history, those killed in battle were buried in the fields where they fell. Their memorials were raised on or close by those battlefields; a tribute to those who fought and died, and a reminder to those who did not.

In 1918, there, in Flanders, and Wallonia, and France; there lay an entire generation of men. Millions upon millions of white crosses, millions upon millions of unmarked graves in farmers fields; surrounded by millions upon millions of poppies.

A symbol of life, of blood, of the fight for liberty and freedom. The poppies among the dead were taken up; first by the French and the Belgians, then the Canadians and British and Americans.

Today, the poppy is a symbol of remembrance, expressed best perhaps by this poem:

 

In Flanders Fields
–Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D. RCA (1872-1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

57,000 Federal Workers On Paid Leave For Months: WaPo

The Washington Post has written about a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that makes the claim that over 57,000 federal workers are on paid administrative leave for over a month.

Tens of thousands of federal workers are being kept on paid leave for at least a month — and often for longer stretches that can reach a year or more — while they wait to be punished for misbehavior or cleared and allowed to return to work, government records show.

During a three-year period that ended last fall, more than 57,000 employees were sent home for a month or longer. The tab for these workers exceeded $775 million in salary alone.

(…)

But a forthcoming report by the Government Accountability Office found that 53,000 civilian employees were kept home for one to three months during the three fiscal years that ended in September 2013. About 4,000 more were kept off the job for three months to a year and several hundred for one to three years. The study represents the first time auditors have calculated the scope and cost of administrative leave.

All of this is despite clear government regulations stating that paid time off should never go beyond a few days; the Justice Department, in one example, limits the time to ten days unless the assistant attorney general approves a longer period. However, one particular case – of someone who was put on leave, and wanted a resolution – indicates a clear problem with the left hand not talking to the right:

“Six months went by and we didn’t hear anything,” said Scott Balovich, who was put on administrative leave from his computer job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Alaska. “You’re so anxious. You don’t know if you’ve got a job. You’re getting paid, but it’s no vacation.”

Balovich was kept out of work while investigators examined how pornographic images had gotten onto his computer hard drive. He ultimately was cleared of any personal involvement and returned to his job last week. His attorney, Debra D’Agostino, a founder of the Federal Practice Group, said he “got stuck in the inertia of bureaucracy.”

Linked in the piece is another WaPo report from December 30, 2012, going over the minutia of the federal workers themselves when they get stuck in legal pergatory.

Paul Brachfeld, the inspector general for the National Archives, planned to ring in the new year with his wife with a relaxed visit to their vacation home near Bethany Beach, Del. In October, the couple took a cruise to Puerto Rico. Brachfeld runs every morning in Silver Spring, hikes with Spree, his Jack Russell terrier, in the woods most afternoons and catches up with his adult daughters in the evening. All while collecting his $186,000 government salary.

These days, his life seems like one long vacation. The veteran watchdog for the historical records agency is entering his fourth month on paid time off, one of an unspecified number of federal employees who are collecting paychecks and benefits to do .?.?. nothing. At least nothing to advance the immediate interests of the government.

(…)

In a system that rarely fires people, no one can say how many are on paid administrative leave. It’s one number the government apparently doesn’t track.

There are many reasons for this, and most of them involve a desire to not be sued by workers. Between union contracts, interpersonal squabbles and outright sour grapes, workers are a threat to sue their employer, and when it’s the federal government, there’s additional layers of oversight, obfuscation and confusion worked in. This leads to many people having an interest to prevent that from happening, and those people tend to work slow.

As far as direct supervisors – middle managers – are concerned, putting someone on administrative leave is a win-win situation: they get rid of a problem for whatever reason, and they don’t have to pay the person so they could care less. What’s another $50,000? But it adds up, to the tune of $775m, plus benefits, and asking the government to oversee itself in this case is like asking a wolf to guard the flock.

The answer, however, isn’t necessarily to just make government work right-to-work. Between existing workers unions (which have brought good things to American workers all around, whether they’re union or not), the continued skittishness of the existing job market, and the potential for abuse due to personal or political connections – imagine a Democratic takeover of an office resulting in any Republicans in that office being thrown out onto the streets – going completely right-to-work would be a tremendous shock to the system that would damage workers and cause tremendous instability in public sector work. The only justification for that is that the resulting inefficiency that comes from such high turnover could potentially lead to a reduction in government because the existing one isn’t working, but breaking ones toys to get new ones is never a solid answer.

The answer here is simply stronger enforcement: five working days of leave, with back pay due if no issues are found or if termination cannot be adequately justified. If an HR department cannot build a case for termination within that amount of time, then the worker can go back to work, even if they’re a “threat”. It will force people to think long and hard before going that route. Government bureaucrats who need a fainting couch reading that can simply look at the other side of the argument – full right-to-work, which I’m sure many of my colleagues would argue for – and pick which side they prefer.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Cost is NOT Price, and Neither Cost, nor Price, are Value

Prices Provide a Misleading Measure of Dollar Devaluation
Forbes Magazine Online – Keith Weiner

There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t know the dollar is falling. Everyone over 25 has stories of what prices were like, way back when (and younger people have heard them). I remember when gasoline was 60 cents a gallon, and my mom remembers when it was 20 cents.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledges the official objective to push the dollar down by 2 percent per year. This intention is behind the Fed’s ill-conceived loose money policy.

It’s important to measure each drop. This is not just to keep a scorecard on the Fed, but because a change in the dollar skews historical comparisons and distorts business decisions, like giving increases to workers and pensioners….

Read the whole piece, and then come back…

The thesis statement of the piece is correct, in that prices provide a misleading indicator of currency valuation (and that our weak dollar policy, as pursued by every administration since Bush 1 to some degree or another, is fundamentally wrong and destructive for that matter).

Unfortunately the author suggests that simply using a different price denomination and comparison (to gold) is a less misleading indicator… In this, he’s absolutely incorrect.

What you really want to compare is purchasing power parity (PPP) as measured by equivalent standard of living, expressed as a dollar cost in constant dollars normalized to average labor hour wage or compensation.

i.e. this item costs 5 minutes of average labor, this costs 8 hours, this costs 20 years; the cost to maintain this equivalent normalized standard of living across an aggregate population is 1940 hours of median labor wage etc… etc…

Note, this is NOT an expression of the fallacious labor theory of value, it is an explicit measure of purchasing power parity as actual cost, INCLUDING opportunity cost (in terms of time), not currency denomination.

The critical function isn’t price, and it isn’t wage… it’s cost, in this case expressed as a cost to value ratio as a normalized dollar (to make it easy to relate to wages and prices).

Cost is not price; it’s a totalized measure of inputs including resources, time, and opportunity.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

LAPD Officers Fire Shots at Innocent People; Taxpayers Punished

Remember the LAPD shooting incident that occurred during their manhunt for Christopher Dorner just over one year ago? The one in which eight LAPD officers fired 103 shots into a vehicle that kinda sorta looked like the one Dorner was believed to be driving but turned out to be two women delivering newspapers without making any threatening moves to justify using deadly force whatsoever?

Though fortunately, both women survived, these eight cops would surely be charged criminally or at the very least never be allowed to work for law enforcement ever again…right? Maybe, maybe not (I have read conflicting reports). Some may be terminated while others may be retrained.

But the very idea that these cops should ever be allowed to have a concealed carry weapons permit (CCW) let alone patrol the streets as police officers is absurd and irresponsible. As outrageous as this determination is, there was actually an effort to clear the officers of any wrongdoing (These cops were dealing with a very stressful situation, after all). Thankfully, Chief Charlie Beck told the Police Commission that the officers should be found in violation of LAPD policy (I should hope this would violate LAPD policy!) at the very least.

The victims of this shooting/attempted murder will be compensated at the tune of $4.2 million plus an additional $40,000 to replace the vehicle at taxpayer expense. Certainly this is the very least the City of Los Angeles could do.

Any time one of these events happen, I can’t help but wonder, what would happen to a normal person who behaved this way? What would be the reaction if eight individuals sans the government issued costumes fired shots into a vehicle because they were feeling threatened by someone and resulted in the exact same outcome?

I think it is very safe to say that all eight would be doing hard time at San Quentin and would be paying damages to the women with their own money. It’s also safe to say that none of the 8 would ever be allowed to own a firearm in the future or allowed to vote if they lived long enough to get out of prison.

And rightfully so.

The government issued costumes should not protect individuals from an irresponsible, criminal act such as this. But unless and until we hold local governments and local law enforcement accountable, these criminal acts will continue and we will continue to foot the bill.

Don’t you wish YOUR job had raises like this?

This whole government “shutdown” thing has brought out a lot of talk about federal pay.

A liberal of my acquaintance posted something on facebook a couple days ago:

“A Republican I know said, ‘If you got furloughed because of the shut down, maybe you should get a real job.’
Yeah… about that…”

‘pon which he linked to a story about the cops, border patrol agents, etc… who were not being paid while protecting congress, and our country.

It’s a good point. There are plenty of people doing real, important jobs, who are not being paid… Some of them have gone home, but a LOT of them… actually about 2/3 of the federal non-military workforce, hasn’t. They’re still doing their jobs, they just aren’t getting paid for them.

I don’t have a problem with good people doing as best they can at their job…

The problem I have is… there’s too damn many of them… And they are doing too many things, that they don’t need to be, or shouldn’t be doing.

So, I said something which I think is fairly well known in libertarian circles:

“A good friend of mine is a border guard with ICE… yeah, he’s got a real job.

That said, there IS a point when the most liberal liberal in America has to think ‘why in the hell do we have 50% more federal government payroll than 1998… we’re not getting more than we got then… at least not more good useful stuff….’ That’s just non-military federal staff payroll by the by, not any other spending…”

His commenters didn’t believe me, or just said inflation or homeland security etc…

I clarified, no, federal non-military payroll; meaning the total compensation (wages/ salaries, non-cash compensation and benefits) of full time permanent non-military federal workers, has increased, by at least 50%, in constant dollar terms, from 1998 to today.

Oh and homeland security is only a fairly small portion of that increase (Only 9% of the federal workforce, though it is the single largest federal agency – excluding the civilian employees of the military and veterans affairs – in terms of manpower).

To which he said, quite reasonably Would you care to source that?.

Gladly sir….

Congressional Reporting Service report on trends in the federal workforce:

http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL34685_20110419.pdf

Congressional Reporting Service report on average wages etc… in the federal workforce:

http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1702&context=key_workplace

Several other primary sources in the footnotes of this article, notably from the Bureau of Economic Analysis:

http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/overpaid-federal-workers

So… let’s break it down shall we?

The CRS reports there was a 17%… actually 16.7% increase in the federal workforce between 2000 and 2010.

I don’t have the numbers from 1998, 1999, 2011, 2012, or 2013, but other sources indicate that it’s probably not much, because there were hiring freezes and reductions that make it pretty much a wash. 17% is probably good for 1998 to 2013.

So, a 17% increase in non-military federal staff from appx. 1.8 million to appx. 2.1 million (excluding the civilian employees of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Veterans Affairs; currently about 900,000).

Oh and it’s important to note that these numbers do not include contractors. Contractors compensation does not count against federal payroll, and they are not counted as federal workers… which is one of the major reasons there are so many of them…

How many?

In 1998 there were approximately 1.8 million federal workers, and only 6.5 million contractors.

Well, as of 2013, there are appx 2.1 or million federal non-military workers… and appx 17 million contractors.

Contractor compensation DWARFS the federal payroll. It’s well over 20 times federal payroll in fact… though we really have no exact idea how much, because it’s buried in hundreds… or possibly thousands… of different budgets, and literally millions of line items (many of which are gray, or black).

So, let’s talk money…

First, let’s talk about total compensation.

Total compensation includes both wages and other cash compensation, and non-cash compensation such as benefits.

Bureau of Economic Analysis reported average total compensation for federal employees went from appx. $67k in 2000 to appx. $115k in 2012.

In constant dollar (that is, adjusted for inflation) terms that is a 29% raise.

Oh but that’s just from 2000-2012 I don’t have the exact numbers here from BEA for ’98,’99, and 2013…

Purely from a trendline analysis, you see a 2.15% annual average constant dollar compensation increase. Extend the trendline from 1998 to 2013, and instead of 29% it’s about 38%.

A 17% workforce increase and a 38% raise, is a 60% increase in total payroll…

Now… even if you just take cash compensation, BEA reports an increase from $56k to $82k; a constant dollar increase of 16%.

That’s much lower than the increase in total compensation, but still quite respectable… And remember, this is in constant dollar terms, so that’s over and above inflation and cost of living increases.

Again, thats 2000-2012. Extending the trendline from 1998 to 2013 and you get 21%.

21% raise times a 17% workforce increase, is a 41% total increase in constant dollar terms; for just cash compensation.

Now… those are BEA numbers, what about CRS numbers?

Hmm… I don’t have the exact numbers on total comp increases from those years… But I do have their percentages… in fact I have every percentage increase, and the inflation percentage, for every year since 1969…

Federal Average salary and wage increases year over year, 1999-2013 (1998 would reflect increases from 1997):

1999: 3.4% over inflation
2000: 2% over inflation
2001: 0.3% under inflation
2002: 0.4% under inflation
2003: 0.2% over inflation
2004: 2.0% over inflation
2005: 0.2% over inflation
2006: 1.4% over inflation
2007: 1.6% over inflation
2008: 1.8% under inflation
2009: 1.6% over inflation
2010: 1.9% over inflation
2011: 1.8% over inflation
2012: 1.8% over inflation
2013: 1.8% over inflation

Official numbers have not been released for 2011, 2012, and 2013; the 1.8% is from news reports and other websites stating that though federal salaries have been in a base rate freeze, the average salary has increased 1.8% over inflation in each of the last 3 years. This is consistent with previous increases.

So, from purely federal internal sources, we have an average wage/salary only, increase of 24.8%. Times a workforce increase of 16.7% (also from the CRS), we have a 45.6% increase.

So… there’s the CRS’s own estimate, of average wage and salary alone.

Unfortunately, the CRS doesn’t estimate total compensation, but if we assume the BEA numbers are reliable, non-cash compensation has increased from appx 22% of cash compensation in 1998 to approximately 40% of cash compensation in 2012.

This estimate is not out of line with other trends and percentages well known in HR (noncash compensation, particularly benefit costs, have doubled or more in the last 15 years)… so I think it’s a good and reasonable approximation.

Oh… might be useful to summarize here.

I’ve got two different sets of numbers, which are different enough to be noticeable, but not enough to completely contradict each other.

Note: The difference between the BEA and CRS may include slight differences in the way they calculate compensation; and they definitely include differences in the way inflation is calculated. The BEA numbers used BLS inflation adjustment. CRS uses CPI based inflation adjustment (CPI is a component of the BLS inflation adjustment, but there are other elements included as well).

Workforce increase 16.7%

BEA: cash compensation increase 21% total comp increase 38%
CRS: cash compensation increase 24.8% total comp increase 42.8%

Total payroll increase cash/comp

BEA: 41%/61%
CRS: 46%/66%

So… no matter which numbers you believe, total comp increase is WELL over 50% in 15 years, and according to the CRS cash comp is up nearly 50%; and the lowest estimate is 41%…

Over and above inflation…

Yeah… don’t you wish your job had raises like that?

Oh and one more thing…

From the late 1960s, through the 80s and into the early 90s, federal workers as a whole were actually paid quite poorly, as compared to comparable private sector jobs. Their wage scales were originally set at bottom of market to begin with (generally though of as a tradeoff for their better job security and benefits), and the unusually high inflation from 1968 to 1984 had private sector wages rapidly increasing, while federal cost of living adjustments were significantly under the rate of inflation.

This left a population of workers who were dramatically underpaid in comparison to the private sector, all the way through the early 1990s.

Many still are. Those in the bottom 2/3 of the federal pay scale are generally still significantly UNDERPAID, not overpaid as compared to private sector; sometimes dramatically so (permanent non-contractor federal IT staff make less than half industry comparable salary for example).

Those in the top 1/3 though make quite a lot more than comparable private sector jobs.

…Well, that is, until you get to the “senior executive” level, where, once again, they make 1/2 or less what they would in the private sector ($190k a year is the top out. Private sector workers at those levels of education, experience, responsibility etc… typically make anywhere from $200k to over a million, with $400k+ not uncommon).

It is only from the mid 90s that the federal payroll, and specifically average pay (skewed by the top 1/3), began to dramatically outpace private sector pay.

The bottom 2/3 of the federal workforce didn’t get very much of that increase.

The top 1/3 of the federal workforce got much larger increases.

Also, there are far more workers in the top 1/3 of the pay scale than there were in 1998. Far more making more than $100k a year, and far more making more than $150k a year.

The middle 1/3 shrank significantly.

So there’s more low end, more high end, and less middle…

Not exactly shocking…

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

The Best Defense Against Terrorism

Terrorism

The specter of terrorism, especially on the American homeland is very frightening. These fears are especially acute in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack such as the bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

More recently and prior to this latest attack, however; according to a recent Gallup poll, terrorism received 0% when asked about America’s greatest problem. Sen. Mitch McConnell said in response to the mathon bombing: “I think it’s safe to say that, for many, the complacency that prevailed prior to September 11th has returned. And so we are newly reminded that serious threats to our way of life remain.

Is Sen. McConnell right? Have Americans become complacent to these “serious threats”? Are Americans to blame for failing to be vigilant? Should we demand the federal government “do something” more to protect us?

Since 9/11, Americans have surrendered liberty for the appearance of security. The USA PATRIOT Act and the Department of Homeland Security have been in place for more than a decade. The former has given government agents the ability to write their own search warrants (i.e. National Security Letters), the ability to monitor bank accounts and library records of unsuspecting individuals among other privacy invasions. The latter created the TSA which gave airline passengers the choice between a thorough groping or a virtual strip search among other indignities. There was also the “no fly list” which contained the names of individuals who could not fly under any circumstances. President Bush launched two undeclared wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (two battlefronts in the “war on terror” we were told) projected to cost somewhere between $4-6 trillion when all is said and done.

President Obama, far from being “weak” on terrorism as many of his critics suggest, broke his promise of closing Guantanamo Bay, renewed the Patriot Act, expanded the use of drones with a “kill list” which includes American citizens, and signed the NDAA which gives government agents the ability to kidnap American citizens and take them to Guantanamo Bay and detain them indefinitely. Osama bin Laden was also killed on Obama’s watch.

Yet with all of these policies being used to wage war on a common noun, somehow, two individuals managed to plant a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon which killed three people and injured many more. What other liberties are we, the people supposed to surrender to make sure this “never happens again.”?

The truth of the matter is we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that any government policy can deliver such a promise no matter how many of our liberties we surrender. The government could take away all the guns, place all of our names in a database, implant RFID chips into our foreheads, track our every movement, go to war with three more countries, and certain individuals would still find a way to defeat these measures and commit acts of terrorism.

As discouraging as this may seem, there is one thing each and every one of us can do to defend ourselves against terrorism without sacrificing any liberty whatsoever (actually, re-claiming more of our lost liberties is part of the solution). But before this one thing can be revealed, we must first have a clear understanding of why some people resort to terrorism and how terrorism is supposed to work.

The “why” is simply that some people use the tactic in hopes of achieving (usually) a political end. These are usually people who do not believe they can accomplish their political aims peacefully through the normal political processes. The “how” is by engendering fear in carrying out attacks on unsuspecting people. The terrorists main goal is not necessarily to kill as many people as possible as it is to create so much fear that their enemies react emotionally as opposed to rationally.

Because the terrorist’s main goal is for each of us to live in fear that any moment we might be next, the answer is simply to not be afraid, stop acting out of fear, and stop allowing our leaders to legislate out of fear. This is the strategy Downsize D.C. has adopted and once I properly understood their reasoning, I have adopted this approach:

Here’s what it means to not be afraid, here’s what it means to fight a real war on terror, and here’s what it means to win that war, instantly . . .

  • It means that you do not participate in the public hysteria when terrorists attack, but instead react proportionally, placing the terrorist act in its proper place in the vast scheme of crimes, accidents, disease, natural disaster, and generic tragedy that is man’s lot on earth.

  • It means that you do not permit the politicians to feel terror on your behalf. It means that you discourage them from fomenting and exploiting hysteria to expand their own power at the expense of traditional American principles.

  • It means that you view terrorism as a matter for international police work, under the rule of law, and not a justification for bloated government programs, reckless wars, or the shredding of the Bill of Rights.

  • It means that you recruit others to adopt your war winning strategy of not being afraid.

Downsize D.C. also encourages Americans to write their legislators and include the following statement:

“I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I accept that. I am not afraid.”

I think I would also add that we should stop treating these terrorists as if they are some larger than life super villain (Was it really necessary to shut down the entire town of Watertown, cancel sporting events, and stop trains from running for one person?). If and when the perpetrator is captured, he shouldn’t be treated any different than any other person accused of murder. If our government does anything well it’s putting people in cages.

For those who read this and are still afraid of being a victim of terrorism, let me offer a little bit of perspective. You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease and 12,571 times more likely to die of cancer than a terrorist attack (so rather than worry about terrorism, pay attention to your health). You are also 1,048 times more likely to die in an auto accident than a terrorist attack (so pay attention to your driving and hang up that cell phone!). You are 8 times more likely to be killed by a cop or be electrocuted than be killed in a terrorist attack (so don’t fly your kite near power lines near a police station).

When was the last time you heard a politician point these things out?

The reason you haven’t is because politicians also benefit from fear. Think about it: what chance would the Patriot Act, NDAA, FISA, CISPA, gun control legislation, war, and laws named after dead children have of passing without the ability to scare the bejesus out of the general public? Fear is truly the health of the state.

Maybe the fact that most Americans have become “complacent” is a good thing!

“Common Sense” Legislation to Curb Gun Violence?

Like most people who value individual liberty, I listened to President Obama’s speech about reducing gun violence with a great deal of trepidation. He presented several ideas such as limiting the size of magazines to 10 rounds, banning “military-style assault weapons” (i.e. any gun that looks scary to progressives who know almost nothing about firearms), and “universal” background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun just to name a few “common sense” reforms. In so many words he basically said that anyone who doesn’t favor these proposals is getting in the way of preventing future gun violence (Why even St. Ronald Reagan was even in favor of some of these proposals!)

One point of particular irritation for me is this notion being promoted by the Left that AK-47’s and other “weapons of war” should not be made available to “civilians.” President Obama rightly pointed out that these weapons with these magazines “ha[ve] one purpose: to pump out as many bullets as possible, to do as much damage using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage.”

Well if we civilians do not “need” these weapons, why should the police have them? Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the local police also considered “civilian”? (i.e. civilian law enforcement). Why do the police “need” these awful “weapons of war” which “inflict maximum damage” to serve a warrant for a late night drug bust?* If everyone else should be limited to certain weapons with magazines containing 10 rounds or less, they too should be limited to what weapons are permissible (or at the very least, what situations these weapons should be used). To suggest otherwise would be to suggest that the police are “at war” with the “civilians” since war is all these weapons are good for.

As some who are critical of the president’s approach have correctly pointed out, these reforms would not have prevented the killing at Sandy Hook Elementary. Obama and his allies like to say “if these proposals save only one life…” but they fail to recognize that these reforms might save one life in one situation but might cost a life in another situation (such as a home invasion; the homeowner runs out of rounds due to smaller magazine capacity etc.). Most, if not all of these reforms are meaningless measures to prevent guns from falling into “the wrong hands” (at best) so that the president can say he’s “doing something” to prevent mass shootings.

Some of these proposals do seem reasonable based only on the broad outlines (as always, the devil is in the details). I don’t have a problem with person-to-person background checks** in the abstract. Why shouldn’t an individual be subjected to the same background check as when buying from a gun dealer when s/he is buying from someone who posted his firearm on Craig’s List? I would think that the seller would want to have the peace of mind and/or limit any exposure to liability for any misuse of the firearm.

There are many proposals that are being floated that need to be thought through rather than rushed through to score cheap political points. These proposals go well beyond the 2nd Amendment into areas such as free speech (i.e. censorship), doctor/client privilege (privacy), state’s rights, and more. I do think that we supporters of the right to bear arms need to try to offer up some “common sense” solutions of our own to reduce illegitimate force that either enhance liberty or at the very least, do not tread on the liberties of others.***

» Read more

Fiscally Conservative Republicans To Spend $3M In Tax Dollars To Defend DOMA

Ugh.

House Republican leaders have signed on to spend up to $3 million to keep defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court, according to a copy of their newly revised legal contract obtained by The Huffington Post.

House Republican leaders took over the legal defense of DOMA in the spring of 2011, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Obama administration would no longer defend it on the grounds that they found it unconstitutional. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders hired attorneys at the law firm Bancroft LLC to represent the House in court cases involving the federal ban on gay marriage — all with taxpayer dollars.

I’m outraged by their spending more of my money on this crap…

But let’s be honest on one point (why I added the emphasis above). The Executive is not exactly a fair and impartial arbiter of what is and is not Constitutional. I’d have to think that President Kill List and Secretary of Defense Dronestrike might need to re-read that old parchment — perhaps the 4th, 6th, and 14th Amendments would be good places to start?

Atlas Shrugged Part II in Theaters This Weekend

Atlas Shrugged Part II is opening this weekend. Want to check it out? Follow this link to find a theater near you.

And now, the official Atlas Shrugged Part II trailer:

Quote of the Day: Small Things Edition

[I]f you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.

And you know what? It’s worked before, because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping and settle for what you already know.

That was then Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. This (below) is President Obama’s campaign in 2012:

If ending the federal subsidy to PBS doesn’t qualify as a “small thing” being used to distract from a failing president’s record, I don’t know what does.

Hat Tip: Jason Pye at United Liberty

Why The Big, Dumb Spending Cuts Nobody Wants Are A Good Idea

Ezra Klein’s believes that it’s a horrible thing that the big, dumb spending cuts that nobody wants might actually happen:

The initial idea was that if the supercommittee failed, there would be automatic spending cuts and automatic tax increases. This way, both parties would have an incentive to reach a deal. But Republicans refused the tax increases side. So instead, the two sides settled on automatic spending cuts to domestic programs to hurt Democrats and automatic spending cuts to defense to hurt Republicans. And thus the big, dumb spending cuts that no one wants came into being.

…snip…

You might wonder why Republicans and Democrats, both of whom agree we should cut spending, are so dead-set against these particular spending cuts. The answer is that they are very, very dumb. A certain number of programs — Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare beneficiaries and nearly all spending directly benefiting low-income Americans — are exempt, but beyond that, everything gets pretty much the same size cut.

As a senior administration official said on a conference call today: ”The administration has no discretion in deciding the cuts identified in this report. The exempt versus non-exempt determinations are based on the requirements in the law. The administration can’t choose which programs to exempt or what percentage cuts to apply.” You can see exactly where those cuts would fall here.

In other words: Spending we consider essential gets the same size cut as spending we consider wasteful. There’s no ability to make the cuts to farm subsidies a bit bigger and the cuts to, say, the FBI a bit smaller. It’s $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction in which we pretty much don’t make a single choice about what is and isn’t worth funding.

I think that Ezra is right: these cuts are dumb. After all, that was the point. The point was to ensure that we’re going to get $1.2T of spending cuts, come hell or high water. And the fact that they’re dumb is a great incentive to find better ones.

So the options are:

  1. Get $1.2T in spending cuts that we don’t really want, but which are better than not cutting spending at all.
  2. Get $1.2T in nice, targeted spending cuts that make a lot of sense.

Contrast this to what would have happened if the sequester didn’t get put in place:

  1. Don’t get $1.2T in bad spending cuts.
  2. Don’t get $1.2T in good spending cuts, because Congress has no incentive to do anything.

I personally believe that cutting spending by $1.2T over 9 years is a good thing. I would prefer that Congress actually try to figure out where cutting that spending is most effective, slashing unnecessary and outmoded programs and departments while leaving the necessary stuff (assuming it exists!) untouched. But I’d still prefer $1.2T in “bad” cuts over not cutting spending at all.

Failure to make a deal on finding $1.2T in “good” cuts only serves as more evidence that Congress is a bunch of morons and that their collective approval rating should dip from the low teens to single digits. Frankly, that should bother them, but it doesn’t bother me.

Either way, the American taxpayer wins.

Farming in an Equilibrium Trap

JayG wrote something today about how this summers drought is hitting farmers very hard; which is absolutely true. And it’s already having an impact on food prices, and that impact is just going to grow.

The crop that’s being impacted worst is dent corn, which makes up the majority of livestock feed in this country; particularly beef feed. This is exacerbated by the governments ethanol mandates, which take even more of the feed corn crop out of the feed market.

Over the next couple months, we’re going to see beef prices crash, as ranchers and feedlots come to the end of their stored feedstocks and slaughter more steer than normal (so they don’t have to keep feeding them), and then SOAR to highs we haven’t seen in years over the fall and winter.

Jay points out that some are “blaming subisidies” for the state of things… which I think is silly, you can’t blame subsidies for weather (well… usually… Microclimate and regional climate adjustments due to overplanting can sometimes be blamed on subsidies… but that’s not what we’re talking about here).

But honestly, there’s something that no-one wants to admit, no-one wants to say, and no-one wants to hear in this country….

We have too many damn farmers.

By far.

Probably by more than half, at least for some crops.

In particular we have too many grain farmers. In even greater particular, we have far too many corn and wheat farmers.

We have a natural market for corn and wheat that would support… something like half… of the farmers that we have now.

All of those people who are only making money because of subsidies; we really don’t need them growing corn or wheat.

Either they need to grow something else, or they need to sell their land and stop being farmers.

Even the argument that it “keeps our food prices low” is false; because it actually keeps them higher most years. If there were no subsidies, the market would find its natural level of supply, demand, and price; and the resources inefficiently allocated to subsidized crops would simply be allocated elsewhere (and I’m not even going to get into the second order effects of this regime like obesity, HFCS vs. sugar pricing, ethanol etc…).

But we don’t want to hear it.

We are constantly being presented with images of the “struggling family farmer”… And have been for over 100 years.

Shouldn’t that tell you something?

There are plenty of very profitable and prosperous farmers in this country, and plenty of large farming corporations that do quite well…

And who are they?

They’re farmers that grow crops which don’t get subsidies, who have found ways to be economically efficient; or they are farm corporations who have found ways to extract the maximum amount of government benefits.

Again… shouldn’t that tell you something?

When a business is failing, that doesn’t tell you “we need to subsidize it”, it tells you we need to reduce its regulatory and tax burdens and operational restrictions (stop artificially reducing its competitiveness); or we need to let that business die.

Farming is no different from any other business. If it’s not competitive, we shouldn’t be encouraging people to do it (unless it’s of importance to national security, and thus can’t be outsourced or offshored; and even then that’s an iffy one, and we should still be encouraging competitiveness internally ) and we shouldn’t be rescuing or subsidizing it.

Why on earth have we been subsidizing these non-viable crops for 80 years?

Oh wait… I know… it’s because to get elected president, you need to win the majority of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio; and to be elected to congress (outside of a major urban constituency anyway) or win those states in the general election, you have to support subsidies for grain farming.

Right now, these farmers are in an equilibrium trap, where because of government subsidies they can just barely get by; but because of inefficiency, actual market conditions etc… they can’t get ahead

The way to deal with equilibrium traps, is to break out of them completely. You can’t do that by keeping on doing what put you in the trap to begin with; and they’ve been doing that for 80 years.

If we stopped subsidizing these crops, people would take huge losses in the first few years; particularly as their land prices fell dramatically. It would hurt. A few hundred thousand people would take a big hit…

An aside about numbers: there are about 2.3 million “farms” in the united states. 65% of all crops are produced by 9% of all farms (which farm 59% of the agricultural land), and 85% of all crops are produced by 15% of all farms.

Of the appx. 2.3 million “farms”, about 2.1 million are considered “family farms”. About 1.9 million of those farms are considered “small family farms”, which have gross revenues of less than $250,000 per year, and produce less than 15% of all crops. Of those, about 35%, produce about 9% of the total crops in this country and are generally considered viable. 40% are essentially “hobby” or “part time” farms that produce less than 3% of all crops per year. It’s the 25% or so of those 2 million farms, which only produce 3-4% of all crops, and which are basically non-viable, that are the biggest issue.

Oh and 10% of all farms receive 75% of all subsidies, for producing about 25% of all crops. Corn, wheat, cotton, rice, soybeans, dairy, peanuts, and sugar, make up 97% of subsidies. Corn and wheat alone make up 52%, cotton about 14%, rice and soybeans another 23%). The VAST majority of those subsidies go to large corporate feed grain farms in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, and Ohio, and to Cotton farms in Texas (Texas produces 30% of all cotton in the U.S., with Arkansas, California, Mississippi, and Georgia accounting for another 40%); NOT to small family farmers

And then, we would be better off as a nation; and THEY would be better off as individuals. They, and their children, would no longer be trapped into a just barely livable, just barely getting by, dependent on the government economic condition for decades. They would move to more productive more useful employment. They would be better off eventually, as would the country as a whole.

The problem? Many of them don’t want to. They WANT to be farmers, even though they KNOW it’s a bad business. They love being farmers. They’ve been farmers for generations in their family. It’s all they know, it’s what they’re passionate about, it’s part of their culture and they can’t see ever doing anything else.

Well… I want to be an Aerospace Engineer, and design and build airplanes; or even boats (many boat designers are also aerospace engineers. It’s a very similar field of study). It’s what I trained for, and I love it and am very passionate about it.

But it’s not viable for me.

There are more than enough airplane designers out there for the market as it exists today; so I can’t find employment as an airplane designer. The fact is, very few new airplanes are being designed.

Now, I’m the first to say that we should get the excessive regulatory burden out of the way of the aircraft industry, and if we did that it’s likely that more aircraft would be designed and more aerospace engineers could find jobs…

But would you say that just because I can’t find a job in the field I was educated in, that we should subsidize that field just so I could?

…Well… Sadly, some would… Or at least they would, if the field I was in was politically or socially favored… But anyone with any sense or integrity knows better.

We have romanticized the idea of the “family farmer” in this country for far too long.

The fact is, it is no longer economically viable, nor is it necessary, for many of these people to be farmers, and we should stop enabling the equilibrium trap constantly keep them locked into farming, but always on the edge of failing.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Gov. Deval Patrick Vetoes Bipartisan Bill that Would Prohibit EBT Card Fraud and Abuse

In Massachusetts people can purchase guns, porn, jewelry, get a manicure, or get a tattoo with an EBT card (i.e. food stamps). Understandably, this upsets some Massachusetts residents and the state legislature passed a bipartisan bill which would prohibit use of EBT cards for these non-food related items. You would think that such a common sense reform embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike would easily be signed into law regardless of the party affiliation of the governor but you would be wrong.

Chris Cassidy for The Boston Globe reports:

In a veto statement yesterday, [Gov. Deval] Patrick slammed his reform-intent rivals for “political grandstanding” with their efforts to ban EBT buys of guns, porn, tattoos, jewelry and manicures, insisting reforms were already on track without the Legislature’s meddling. That drew return fire from irate lawmakers.

“A lot of people in the Legislature, and a lot of taxpayers for that matter, believe there are a lot of problems with our EBT system,” said state Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth). “Some of us have worked hard to try to address those problems. Some of us actually take our jobs seriously, and to be accused of political grandstanding, I think it’s irresponsible and immature of the governor to speak that way.”

[…]

Patrick denied he’s opposed to EBT reforms.

“Nobody is more concerned about fraud than we are,” Patrick said at a press conference yesterday.

His veto rejected bans on the use of EBT cards for tattoos, guns, porn, body piercings, jewelry, fines and bail. However, he left standing bans of the use of EBT cards in tattoo parlors, gun shops, casinos, cruise ships, strip clubs and adult entertainment centers, saying the independent EBT Card Commission had ruled out the idea of banning specific products “for reasons of feasibility, enforceability (and) cost.”

For the purpose of this discussion, let’s put aside whether or not government at any level should give food stamps to those who would otherwise have difficulty feeding their families. Can we not all agree, whether your Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Communist, Nihilist, or whatever, that if the state has determined that taxpayers will help the needy via food stamps or EBT cards that at the very least the recipients of these cards buy FOOD with them rather than guns, porn, jewelry, body piercings, manicures, or tattoos?

Gov. Patrick, this shouldn’t be a difficult issue. You say that banning specific products from being purchased with food stamps is problematic but let me suggest one simple answer: limit the purchases to food only.

Really, how hard was that?

Doug Stanhope – Liberty (Re) Defined

Brad has posted a version of this comedy routine by Doug Stanhope before. This version has been edited to include images and video by Fr33 Agent Beau Davis with a more honest than the traditional “pledge of allegiance” at the close.

I thought that since today happens to be Flag Day, this video would be an important reminder about the true meaning of liberty albeit with an (at times) crude, comedic delivery. True liberty has nothing to do with a flag*, much less worship for the government for which it stands.

WARNING: some of the material in the video will be offensive as hell to some of you. Enjoy!

Related: The Un-American Pledge of Allegiance

*Of course the flag can mean different things to different people. I think it’s one thing to show appreciation for the flag with its original intended meaning by the founders and quite another to “pledge allegiance” to its government regardless of how hostile to freedom the government becomes. I seriously doubt that Thomas Jefferson (who advocated separating political bonds with any government that becomes hostile to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence BTW) or other founders would have ever pledged allegiance to the flag of the federal government.

We’re Here! We’re Gluttons! Get Used To It!

Over at Megan McArdle’s place, she’s on a leave of absence for some as-yet-unnamed project. In her stead, Katherine Mangu-Ward picks up one of Megan’s common refrains about Americans and obesity:

Fat people know they’re fat. They know why they’re fat. And they know that being fat kinda sucks.

This may seem obvious, but think about how many anti-obesity initiatives — federal, state, and local–are aimed at promoting the message that being obese or overweight has terrible consequences and/or warning grazers and gorgers off specific food choices.

Two new papers from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo economist Michael L. Marlow take on this weird gap between the problem government anti-obesity efforts seem to be trying to solve and problems that actually exist. Obesity is an expensive, sticky problem, no doubt about that. But Americans themselves aren’t deluded on that point. The fat=bad message has been sent and received, thank you very much. Yet government interventions like menu labeling requirements, public awareness campaigns about the dangers of sugary soda, zoning regulations to limit the prevalence of fast food restaurants, programs to eliminate “food deserts” and bring supermarkets to poor neighborhoods are multiplying. They fail, writes Marlow in a Mercatus Center working paper out this month, because they are little more than taxpayer-funded sermons to the chubby, chubby choir.

One of Megan’s constant points is that for most people, weight is almost destined by genetics to stay within a certain range. Try to stay outside that range very long, and you have to rely on near-superhuman willpower. And it’s an argument that probably holds a certain amount of weight in an evolutionary biology world. If food is constantly scarce, there’s really no genetic basis to select for overeating or not, as everyone is forced by scarcity and constant activity to remain slim. But in the abundance of modern America, that external scarcity doesn’t exist. Calories are cheap and plentiful, to the point that obesity is a major problem for America’s poor — not something you see in most countries.

I’ve had to fight this battle personally for the last decade, as my weight has risen and fallen. Now, I’m unlucky in the sense that I think my “natural” weight puts me in the overweight category of BMI, but perhaps lucky in the fact that even when I’ve been in the obese category, I don’t look gargantuan. At 6’5″, my body can hide a lot of weight.

Since high school, my weight has fluctuated anywhere from 210 to 275 pounds. I don’t put much stock in BMI, because the best shape I’ve been in my life — exiting high school after 7 years of regular martial arts training — I was 225 lbs. That’s a BMI of 26.7, squarely “overweight”… And I was nothing of the sort. I dropped through college as I shed muscle mass to about 210 leaving college (still at the BMI number of 25), and then got a job where I made enough money to afford a lot more food & beer. Since then, I’ve been up to 260+, down to 230, up to 275, and now down to 240 (and dropping).

How have I reached those weights? Well, it’s not because I didn’t know what I was ingesting. It’s because I didn’t care. I know some people (like my sister-in-law) for whom food isn’t really a driver of life. I don’t understand those people. I love food. I really love beer. And when I say food & beer, I’m not talking about mixed field green salads and Michelob Ultra… I’m talking about deep dish pizza and double IPA. I want to eat, and I want to eat a lot. My name is Brad, and I am a glutton.

Right now, I’m trying to take that weight off. And I’m doing so by the simplest method — counting calories. A few weeks back, I had out-of-town coworkers over for pizza & beer, and overindulged a bit. The next day, when getting into a political debate with one of my coworkers over the drug war, he mentioned that overeating was like an addiction, and how it must carry so much guilt along with it. I interrupted — the previous day I had basically skipped breakfast & lunch to prepare for the evening, and that pizza & beer (& wings & garlic knots… MMMMM!!!!) evening was 3400 calories, one meal being itself 1200 over my new daily allotment. And I had to tell him that there was no guilt involved. I can eat that much and feel normal, not guilty. In fact, it’s the calorie restriction that feels unnatural — every day I’m hungry and dreaming of food. It’s not a fun way to live!

I know I’ve been at unhealthy weights. When I’ve been at the upper end of the range, I haven’t needed government to tell me that I was trending towards unhealthy & disgusting; I have a wife. Government hasn’t done much to make me thinner, either. While I appreciate the fact that so many restaurants here in CA now have to post calorie counts on menus, it’s not like this information was hard to find before. And the calorie counts wouldn’t make any difference to my behavior _unless I already wanted to lose weight_. It’s purely convenience. My brother-in-law is roughly the size I was when I was at my heaviest, and has no desire to change right now — the fact that California mandates restaurants post this information doesn’t change his behavior at all (as it doesn’t change most peoples’ behavior).

Why are so many Americans fat? Because we like to eat — and we can afford to do so. Willpower is hard — we haven’t needed it for most of human history, when food was scarce. And food is delicious. I like salad, but few things are as satisfying as an italian beef sandwich and some nice salty french fries. On the “Right”, we often suggest that everything would be great about socialism except for the fact that it runs absolutely contrary to human nature. As a result, every government that’s tried socialism has failed in spectacular fashion. Well, everything’s great about dieting except that it runs absolutely contrary to human nature. Is it any wonder that government attempts to make us thin have failed?

1 2 3 14