Category Archives: Government Waste

The Challenge of Creating an Economically Sound, Simpler, and More Just Tax Code (Part 1 of 3)

If there is one positive thing Herman Cain has contributed to the national debate it would be this renewed discussion about tax reform. While I am skeptical of some of the specifics of his 9-9-9 plan, if nothing else, Cain has forced the other candidates to come out with proposals of their own. Gov. Rick Perry in a seemingly desperate move to remain relevant proposed an alternative 20% flat tax – a single rate that’s less than the sum of all of Cain’s 9’s.

Before I was aware of and became a supporter of the Fair Tax (a 23% consumption tax that would replace the income tax, payroll tax and all other federal taxes; Gary Johnson and Herman Cain* both support the Fair Tax) I was a supporter of the Flat Tax as proposed by Steve Forbes in his 2000 presidential bid. If we must be subject to an income tax, it seems only fair that everyone pay the same tax rate. None of these proposed plans are perfect but at least everyone is subject to the same rates.

But apparently my definition of “fair” differs quite a bit from those who think a “progressive” tax (i.e. the more you make, the more the government will take) is fair. Take this article from Politico for example:

Taxing the poor has become a badge of honor among conservatives. When Occupy Wall Street protesters launched their cry of “We are the 99 percent,” the right-wing blogosphere responded, “We are the 53 percent,” meaning the 53 percent of American households that they say pay federal income taxes.

Conservatives have become fixated on the notion that largely because of the Earned Income Tax Credit — passed under Ronald Reagan and expanded under Bill Clinton — almost half of all Americans pay no income taxes.

Perry launched his presidential campaign expressing dismay at the “injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax.” And he was not alone. Every major candidate — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Mitt Romney and Cain — has suggested that too many of the working poor aren’t paying income taxes, a position The Wall Street Journal describes as “GOP doctrine.”

[…]

The argument is disingenuous. Working poor people do pay taxes. They pay a larger portion of their incomes in payroll taxes and sales taxes than the wealthy. And they pay property taxes indirectly in their rental costs. Poor workers pay about one-eighth of their incomes in taxes, on average.

For the sake of argument, I will assume that the author’s assertion is correct that the working poor pay a greater share of their incomes than the wealthy counting both direct and indirect taxes. Indeed there are all sorts of hidden taxes that are embedded in every good or service we all buy.

Regulations on business (which the author of this article undoubtedly supports) that contributes to the overall cost of employing a worker** are potential earnings the worker might otherwise be paid. » Read more

Solyndra: Delusions Of Grandeur, Or Just Colossal Balls?

Wow. It’s one thing to carry the necessary delusion that comes with most people in a startup… That self-delusion, the belief that you can’t fail (despite the high proportions of startups that fail), is what is required to overcome the often monumental odds most startups face. But is it merely delusion to submit THIS* to the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on June 23, 2011? No, I can’t think so. This is balls. Pure, shiny brass ones:

Solyndra does not publicly release quarterly results but is on track for this year. The ability to command a slight pricing premium as a result of substantial differentiation and product benefits continues and our cash production cost per watt is dropping rapidly at pace with the industry. In a highly competitive global marketplace Solyndra continues to win large projects on commercial rooftops around the world and we are confident we are competitive on the merits of our differentiated, lightweight, simple to install cylindrical rooftop and greenhouse products.

Evidence of Strong Momentum

  • 1166 employees and growing, 49 open jobs on website
  • Exporting more >50% of product
  • Over 1000 installations >20 countries
  • Over 100MW shipped
  • 2010 revenue ~$140M
  • 2011 shipments expected to double over 2010
  • Fab ramp to 300MW on target
  • 14th largest shipper from the Port of Oakland, more than 1000 containers this year
  • Doubled U.S. sales and marketing team in past 6 months

I can imagine Solyndra issuing mindless press releases like this — maybe in 2010 or 2009. I can even imagine them issuing such optimistic letters to the US Congress at that time — they still had enough free gov’t money in the coffers to at least try to justify themselves as an ongoing concern. But to do so in the middle of 2011, when you know you’re headed for the skids? That’s just asking for trouble! You have to think they’re going to wonder where all this optimism came from when the excrement hits the air circulation device.

Of course, there is no mention of profitability. Startups, when they have at least a hint of a viable road to profitability, would undoubtedly at least claim such. I have to think that whoever wrote this letter was deliberately focusing on revenue & jobs created, and not on profitability [not altogether unusual for a startup, to be sure] to deflect attention from the entity who had just loaned them $535M regarding when it might get paid back.

I note it’s titled “Exceeding Expectations”. I agree: I had no idea someone with barely money to keep the lights on would be capable of spewing out this much bullshit.

Hat Tip: Reason, who has a lot more of the timeline of the Solyndra saga at this link.
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Government: Shows A Loss While Selling Money

I was passed this story by a relative, and thought it was absolutely genius:

Would you take advantage of a federal loophole that gives you a free first-class flight anywhere on Earth?

That’s what hundreds — possibly thousands — of shrewd travel enthusiasts are doing, in light of a 2005 law that unwittingly created a weird case of supply and demand.

The law intended to push more $1 coins into circulation. Dollar coins are cheaper for the U.S. Mint to maintain because coins don’t need to be replaced as often as the $1 bill.

The U.S. Mint sells the coins at face value, using taxpayer money to cover shipping and handling costs. If you want to buy $1,000 in coins, you simply pay $1,000 on your credit card and wait for the shipment to arrive in the mail.

Credit card rewards enthusiasts leapt at the program. They use a simple strategy: Purchase coins. Wait for coins to arrive in mail. Deposit. Use deposit to pay credit card. Repeat.

Brilliant! It’s a bit of a hassle, but no more of a hassle than dealing with the TSA. At least if you’re in the middle of a government groping, you can bask in the solace that your flight is free.

Now, some may suggest that taxpayers paying the shipping & handling is worth it if the coins are making it into circulation, given that the coins themselves are a better deal for the US Mint. So what happens to those coins?

A spokesman for the U.S. Mint calls this an “abuse.” Depositing the coins directly in a bank doesn’t put the coins in circulation. The banks simply send that money back to the Federal Reserve — often still clad in its original U.S. Mint packaging.

Yep. The government doesn’t have the balls to discontinue the dollar bill, so they set up a “voluntary” (& subsidized through packing/shipping costs) circular trade that does nothing but increase costs on all aspects of our system and doesn’t even manage to put the coins in circulation.

Well done, Washington!

Too big to fail: Washington edition

From Megan McArdle, a list of reasons why the Federal Government is too big to fail (or even pause):

  • The nation’s nuclear arsenal is no longer being watched or maintained
  • The doors of federal prisons have been thrown open, because none of the guards will work without being paid, and the vendors will not deliver food, medical supplies, electricity,etc.
  • The border control stations are entirely unmanned, so anyone who can buy a plane ticket, or stroll across the Mexican border, is entering the country. All the illegal immigrants currently in detention are released, since we don’t have the money to put them on a plane, and we cannot actually simply leave them in a cell without electricity, sanitation, or food to see what happens.
  • All of our troops stationed abroad quickly run out of electricity or fuel. Many of them are sitting in a desert with billions worth of equipment, and no way to get themselves or their equipment back to the US.
  • Our embassies are no longer operating, which will make things difficult for foreign travellers
  • No federal emergency assistance, or help fighting things like wildfires or floods. Sorry, tornado people! Sorry, wildfire victims! Try to live in the northeast next time!
  • Housing projects shut down, and Section 8 vouchers are not paid. Families hit the streets.
  • The money your local school district was expecting at the October 1 commencement of the 2012 fiscal year does not materialize, making it unclear who’s going to be teaching your kids without a special property tax assessment.
  • The market for guaranteed student loans plunges into chaos. Hope your kid wasn’t going to college this year!
  • The mortgage market evaporates. Hope you didn’t need to buy or sell a house!
  • The FDIC and the PBGC suddenly don’t have a government backstop for their funds, which has all sorts of interesting implications for your bank account.
  • The TSA shuts down. Yay! But don’t worry about terrorist attacks, you TSA-lovers, because air traffic control shut down too. Hope you don’t have a vacation planned in August, much less any work travel.
  • Unemployment money is no longer going to the states, which means that pretty so, it won’t be going to the unemployed people.

Now, how many of the companies that leftists were screaming were “too big to fail” could have had one one-hundredth the impact of a Federal Government failure? Yet these same leftists who recognize too big to fail as a bad thing want to endow the Federal Government with ever more power. Amazing.

Ron Paul’s First 2012 Political Ad Warns Republicans to Avoid Repeating the Mistake of Trusting Democrats on Taxes and Spending

Can the Republicans trust Democrats and compromise by raising taxes in exchange for spending cuts in this debt ceiling debate? Ron Paul says “no” in his first 2012 political ad.

Why not trust Democrats? Ask former President George H.W. Bush what happened to him when he broke his infamous “Read my lips” promise that he wouldn’t raise taxes.

Hopefully, Republican’s will listen to Dr. No for a change, if only on this critical issue.

Wrangling Long-Term Costs

Ezra Klein, on education & health care costs:

I’m not going to end this post with some wan paragraph explaining how to transform these two industries into something closer to their potential. My ideas on health-care reform are available elsewhere on the blog and I don’t know enough about education to say anything worthwhile. But if you asked me to paint an optimistic picture of the American economy over the next three or four decades, the story I’d tell you would mainly be about how we finally figured out how to drag health care and education into the 21st century. And if you asked me to paint you a pessimistic story of the next three or four decades, it’d be about how we failed to do that, and the two sectors continued eating up more and more of our money while delivering less and less value.

Well, good news, Ezra! Those two sectors are increasingly coming under bureaucratic government control, so I’m just sure we’ll figure out the answers to these hard problems! It’s not like Washington has any history of eating up more and more of our money while delivering less and less value

Auto Bailout; Can’t Prove A Counterfactual, But You Can Infer

So the big debate is whether the gov’t should sell their post-IPO shares in GM. At current prices, they’d [unsurprisingly] be losing money on the sale, compared to the amount put up in the bailout.

So we have to ask — was it worth it? To determine that, we can’t base our entire calculation on the return of the bailout. A bailout is offered with the expectation that you might not get *any* return — you bail to prevent the craft from sinking; anything else is gravy. So to determine the worth of the bailout, we have to ask what would have happened in the absence of a bailout. Thankfully, the Center for Automotive Research released their prediction back in 2008:

Researchers at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, estimate the impact on the U.S. economy would be substantial were all—or even half—of the three Detroit-based automotive manufacturers’ U.S. facilities to cease operations. The immediate shock to the economy would be felt well beyond the Detroit Three companies, negatively impacting the U.S. operations of international manufacturers and suppliers as well. Nearly 3 million jobs would be lost in the first year if there is a 100 percent reduction in Detroit Three U.S. operations.

“Our model estimates that a complete shutdown of Detroit Three U.S. production would have a major impact on the U.S. economy in terms of lost wages, reductions in social security receipts, personal income taxes paid, and an increase in transfer payments,” said Sean McAlinden, CAR chief economist and the study’s leader. “The government stands to lose on the level of $60 billion in the first year alone, and the three year total is well over $156 billion.”

Yikes! Sounds bad!

But would the automakers “cease operations”? Would they disappear into an economic black hole, never to be seen again, with only confused and unemployed UAW workers left behind like the un-Raptured masses?

Or would they, as Warren of Coyote Blog suggested way back when, be freed from working for an unproductive corporate environment and re-deployed in ways that their contributions will actually generate value?

So what if GM dies? Letting the GM’s of the world die is one of the best possible things we can do for our economy and the wealth of our nation. Assuming GM’s DNA has a less than one multiplier, then releasing GM’s assets from GM’s control actually increases value. Talented engineers, after some admittedly painful personal dislocation, find jobs designing things people want and value. Their output has more value, which in the long run helps everyone, including themselves.

I can’t find the specific post, but he has another where he suggests that if GM were even to face liquidation, it would not entail the loss of GM’s assets, much of its workforce, or its supply chain. The failure of GM [or Chrysler] would be painful, but fundamentally going through a serious bankruptcy [and/or liquidation] would free GM from its worst corporate problems, possibly returning them to a point where they actually generated value from their operations rather than losses.

Liquidation, of course, is the worst-case scenario. And there were plenty of folks suggesting that liquidation was impossible in the 2008-2010 era, because credit markets had seized and there was NO way anyone in the world would have the capital to buy up assets. But is it true?

Nope. Not at all. You need look no farther than Nortel. Nortel was a MAJOR telecommunications company, existing in one form or another since the late 1800’s, back in the days of the first telephone. It was built into an absolutely enormous conglomerate during the technology boom of the 1990’s, but like many companies in that sector, fell on hard times after the tech crash. They fought through bailouts in 2003 and 2009, but ultimately they declared bankruptcy right in the heart of the credit crunch, hoped to escape intact, but eventually had to go through liquidation. Between then and today, Nortel has basically ceased to exist. A look at the Wikipedia page for the liquidation results suggests that seized credit markets didn’t exactly stop them from finding buyers for their assets.

As an engineer who has dealt with what used to be Nortel and is now a collection of disparate companies that have purchased their assets, I can attest that Nortel has not “ceased operations”. That’s not to say that the changes over the last few years have been pain-free. There has been dislocation, there have been layoffs, and from my discussions with former Nortel employees as well as being a supplier, many things have changed. Fundamentally, though, Nortel’s business units are still in operations under different names. Many Nortel engineers are still employed within the same organization, only with a different letterhead on their business card. And as a supplier, I can say that the disruptions at Nortel have not put all of their suppliers out of business. Being a supplier has become more difficult in many ways — largely because the companies that bought Nortel units are run more efficiently than Nortel was, and this means that supplier competition is tougher — but that is fundamentally a good thing.

Would the experience of Nortel be the same as a potential GM or Chrysler bankruptcy? Obviously, it’s impossible to prove a counterfactual. But that also doesn’t mean that we should accept the claim that bailouts “saved the US auto industry” at face value. Had GM or Chrysler gone bankrupt, it’s likely that their various brands would have been picked up on the open market at various discount rates. Some might have been purchased for their own brand value, others might be purchased to use their factories and design engineers to produce vehicles under different nameplates.

One thinks, then, that the fear was not that the American auto industry would evaporate. The fear, instead, was that the psychological pride of having the “Big Three” would disappear. They didn’t care about jobs, they cared that Americans might be employed working for Toyota rather than for GM. It was nationalism, not economics, that drove decisions. As a result, the US taxpayer is going to prop up a manufacturer with a history of failure and little incentive to change (since one bailout can easily become two or three) solely in order to be able to say that GM still exists. You didn’t save an industry, America. You saved your ego.
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Use “YouCut” to Encourage Fiscal Sanity and Restore Liberty

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has set up a website called YouCut to solicit ideas from regular people for suggestions on specific programs and policies that should be cut or eliminated.

From the website:

YouCut – a first-of-its-kind project – is designed to defeat the permissive culture of runaway spending in Congress. It allows you to vote, both online and on your cell phone, on spending cuts that you want to see the House enact. Each week that the House is in session, we will take the winning item and offer it to the full House for an up-or-down vote, so that you can see where your representative stands on your priorities. Vote on this page today for your priorities and together we can begin to change Washington’s culture of spending into a culture of savings.

YouCut appears to be similar to President Obama’s Change.org site – hardly “first-of-its-kind” as boasted in the paragraph above. And like Change.org I doubt any suggestions like “legalize marijuana” (which was the top suggestion at Change.org but I’m not sure if this is still the case) will be taken all that seriously by House Republicans. Even if more “libertarian” suggestions are discarded, however; the way I see it, if they ask for our input we should give it to them rather than simply bitching and moaning on blogs about how nothing ever changes.

I haven’t taken the opportunity to offer any suggestions so far but I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with a few ideas. Any policy or program that takes liberty away from the individual would be an ideal place to start. Even such “pipe dreams” as ending the war on (some) drugs, ending the TSA, DEA, ATF, and various other alphabet agencies that do essentially the same redundant things*, bringing all the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan (and most of the rest of the world for that matter), phasing out Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, cut defense spending, selling federal land to private entities, and other policies that the Republicans may or may not be in favor of should be at least suggested. All these actions would result in significant savings for the taxpayer as well as restore lost liberties.

There have already been some interesting suggestions on the site. If you do make any suggestions to YouCut, be sure to post them here as well.

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Reason.tv Presents: Great Moments in Unintended Consequences

One point that I often try to make when debating policy with friends and family is that virtually all policies have unintended consequences. How could anyone be opposed to such idealistic acts of legislation such as the War on Poverty, Social Security, Medicare, hate crimes legislation, affirmative action, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Civil Rights Act (CRA), or No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ? Those who supported these acts of government (and many continue to do so) had the best of intentions. I think it’s also fair to say, however; that each have resulted in negative consequences unforeseen by the proponents of these measures. Those who opposed (and continue to do so) these acts, for the most part did not oppose these acts because they like poverty, hate old people, are racist, against people with disabilities, want to see species go extinct or want to “leave children behind” but understand that government action more often than not makes these problems worse.

The video below features three examples of the unintended consequences of Osborne Reef, Corn Ethanol Subsidies, and one section of ObamaCare that requires health insurers to cover children with preexisting conditions. These are all fine examples but the producers of this video could have picked just about any three acts of government complete with similar absurd, destructive results.

Correcting the so called “Corrections” system

As of today, it should be clear to everyone in this country, that our system for dealing with criminals (I won’t call it a “criminal justice” system since justice has so little to do with it), is utterly broken, beyond any conventional concept of repair.

At this point, again I say, it should be clear we can’t just “fix it”, we need to start over again, with a different concept.

I have a radical idea…. how about this time we start with an HONEST concept… because right now we are anything but honest about what the real function of the “criminal justice” system is; and that dishonesty is what has made all our efforts to date fail miserably.

Today, although we will never admit this to ourselves publicly, there are three things keeping the “Corrections” system going:

1. It’s a jobs program for law enforcement and “corrections” officers, and administrators

2. Non-offending people ARE actually safer when offenders are imprisoned (the problem is, what happens when they get out).

3. We like lots of cops (or at least the IDEA of lots of cops), we want to be “safe”, and we feel that people who do bad should be PUNISHED.

That’s really what it comes down to though, is punishment.

Punishment isn’t SUPPOSED to “help” them. Punishment isn’t supposed to “rehabilitate” them.

The very term “department of corrections” is a hypocritical misnomer.

Americans (and to a large extent most other cultures), put people in prison to punish them, not to “fix” them.

“Correctional system”, “penitentiary”… All high minded hypocritical myths.

The reason “Sheriff Joe” “Americas Toughest Sherrif” is so popular (despite being the worst sort of self aggrandizing, corrupt, civil rights abusing scum) is because he reassures people that he is “punishing the bad guys”; and THAT is honestly what people want.

Eastern State Penitentiary, the first “modern” penitentiary style prison, was deliberately fashioned to resemble monks cells (which is where we got the name for inmate housing units), in the belief that isolation, contemplation, prayer, and penitence (thus the name), would reform criminals into decent men. It was held up as the new “humane” model. In reality it drove prisoners mad and they killed themselves, and each other, in droves.

So long as we refuse to acknowledge the true purpose behind “custodial sentencing” and pretend it has anything to do with the offender coming out better on the other side, we are stuck with what we’ve got (And rapidly getting worse).

We have to stop pretending that punishment does anything but feed our base emotions.

We have to stop pretending that the negative prospect of prison is sufficient to deter criminals from committing crimes. Most criminals by nature have a poor appreciation for consequences, poor impulse control, and an inability to make valid risk/reward calculations.

When you put a criminal away, all you are doing is warehousing him where he can’t commit that crime anymore. That does serve a valid purpose, but it costs a huge amount of money, and doesn’t fix the problem.

The so called “criminal justice” system can no longer serve as a jobs program for law enforcement, lawyers, administrators, and corrections personnel; nor can it simply be warehousing of offenders until we release them to commit their next offense.

So, here it is, really simple; my pie in the sky ideal for how to deal with crime and punishment.

Step 1: drug addiction, possession, use, and sale, must be decriminalized

This has to happen for ANYTHING to have any hope of working. That would eliminate something like 80% of the offenses in higher criminal courts, and drastically reduce prison populations (at least 40%, most likely something more like 80%).

Step 2: We must not only stop, but revert the proliferation of felonies

Right now, you can be convicted of a felony in some states, for as little as selling the wrong kind of fish at the wrong time. We have established a ridiculous number of offenses as “high crimes” (what felonies are intended to be); without any real justification or social purpose, except to inflate those whom the state can claim as convictions, claim higher punitive penalties from, or incarcerate for longer periods of time.

Accordingly, all crimes currently classified as felonies must be reclassified as misdemeanors unless they meet one or more of the following conditions:

1. Physical violence sufficient to cause grievous bodily harm, grievous trauma (such as rape and molestation), or substantial risk of loss of life (or more).

2. Physical or monetary damages equal to or greater than two years income at minimum wage, presuming a 1940 hour work year.

3. Crimes against basic human rights, including terrorism, tampering with courts, deprivation of rights etc…

4. Grave harm to the national security of the united states, including espionage and treason.

5. Criminal negligence, gross indifference, coercion, conspiracy, or fraud sufficient to cause the above.

Step 3: We must completely overhaul our punishment and societal protection model

We must eliminate custodial sentences for non-violent crimes, including felonies, unless those crimes involve:

1. Gross negligence or indifference leading to violent consequences or the loss of life (anything from drunk driving to greater liability issues)

2. Coercion, force or fraud causing damages in excess of five years of minimum wage (because this is effectively slavery for the victim)

3. Special circumstances which are considered “heinous” (more on that later).

We must restore the element of criminal intent into how crimes are charged and sentenced. If there is no intent, then there can be no intentional crime; only crimes of negligence or indifference, which are generally considered far less severe.

In this regard, any action taken while intoxicated or impaired should be considered qualifying, HOWEVER only if criminal damage or injury to others results.

I believe that people should be allowed to drink, swallow or smoke whatever they want, but if their choices cause impairment which then causes damage or injury to others, they should be punished SEVERELY; and crimes involving impairment should be considered intentional for purposes of determining severity.

Also for purposes of determining the severity of an offense, coercion or fraud shall be considered equivalent to force (force being defined as violence, or the threat of violence).

All other criminal offenses should be punished by restitution and compensatory and punitive damages to the victim, compensatory and punitive fines to the state, labor for public benefit, public humiliation, and two years of convict status (which can be reduced by order of a judge only after discharge of all obligations).

Further, on discharge of all other obligations, convicts shall be given a term, of “probation” equal to the length of their existing sentence.

The crimes, sentences, and photographs of all those convicted of criminal offenses should be published in all local newspapers, as well as on local and national web sites; and announced on local television.

All convicts should be required to wear a distinctive article (bracelet, necklace, ankle bracelet etc…) which lists their crime and sentence, and which cannot be covered up while in public.

Convicts must wear this article, until such time as their sentence and obligations have been discharged. At any time, the convict should be legally required to disclose their crime and sentence to anyone who asks; unless doing so would cause danger or disruption.

If a convict is able to earn more than a state mandated minimum wage in their private pursuits, they may continue performing them, and pay restitution and fines directly. If not, then they are directed to work for the state, at a competitive wage for such jobs as they perform, while meeting prevailing employment standards for such a position (i.e. if the only job they qualify for is ditch digger, it’s the only job they can get; and they still have to compete for it with non-convicts).

If the convict is unable to meet basic standards of work, or is unwilling to work, then they will be reduced to menial forced labor at minimum wage. If they refuse this, they will be incarcerated, as a regular inmate, for the term of their sentence.

Restitution, damages, and fines should of course be directly garnished from the convicts wages; but should be considered pre-tax income deductions for tax purposes.

All custodial sentences shall have terms of two, five, ten, twenty five years, or life (or death in states that allow it).

Different charged offenses can be combined consecutively to “stack” sentences; but only if those offenses make up separate criminal acts (if one crime involved 8 different chargeable elements with a 2 year sentence for each, then the convict would receive 8 two year sentences to run concurrently. If he committed the same crime on 8 different occasions, he could receive consecutive sentences, for a total of 16 years incarceration)

There is no parole, however sentences can be reduced (more on that later).

Forcible rape, aggravated sexual assault, sexual molestation, aggravated kidnapping, intentional premeditated or depraved homicide (what would be first degree murder in most jurisdictions), felony murder if the homicide is heinous by itself, any intentional negligent or depraved indifference crime resulting in mass death or mass grievous injury (mass being defined as multiple victims who were not individually targeted, or multiple victims who were unknown to the criminal and whom they had no individual an personal motive to harm), any crime involving tampering with a court or an election, any crime involving the intentional deprivation of an individuals basic human and civil rights (as enumerated in the declaration of independence, and the constitution), torture, espionage, treason; or any attempt to commit those crimes, or conspiracy to commit those crimes; shall all be considered “heinous crimes”.

Heinous crimes should all carry the maximum length of incarceration, and should be eligible for the death penalty in jurisdictions that allow it.

It is important however, that all state and federal laws about the definitions of these crimes must be clarified and harmonized to meet the highest standard of criminal act, and criminal intent (for example, a potentially but not explicitly sexual element to a simple assault – such as public nudity or forced nudity -, would not make it sexual assault. The intent and act must be sexual in nature, and involve sexual contact or acts, or attempted sexual contact or acts. Forcible rape must be limited to actual acts of physical violence, or coercion by threat of violence, resulting in a sexual act).

Oh and yes, I really do believe that voter fraud and election fraud should be punishable by life in prison. So should criminally preventing someone from voting who has the lawful franchise. Any criminal deprivation of rights should be considered as serious as rape or murder.

In addition to their custodial sentence, of course, all penalties that apply to non-custodial sentences would also apply. Restitution, damages, fines and fees, as well as all other conditions of convicts.

Sentences can be reduced, by a judge, on review of the case, and circumstances. A review will be automatically initiated at the time the convict discharges their restitution, damages, and fines, should they do so before the term of their incarceration is completed. Criminals convicted of heinous crimes however, would not be eligible for early release except for humanitarian reasons.

While serving a custodial sentence and incarcerated, unless disabled and unable to do so, the convict will be required to perform productive labor for at least 8 hours a day, five days a week; for which they will be paid at minimum, a base sum equal to the cost of their incarceration (for which they will be charged). They will also accumulate sick leave benefit, and paid vacation days, equivalent to a government employee of the same grade as whatever productive labor they perform.

If the convict is disabled and unable to perform any work, they will be given the same disability status as any disabled individual; and will receive the equivalent of all federal and state disability payments and benefits, to offset the cost of their incarceration.

The convict is to be given the opportunity to voluntarily learn useful job skills, and perform at a useful job at market rates, which can earn them money to pay their fines and restitution.

If the convict has useful skills which can be applied to work that can be performed within the terms of their incarceration without undue risk, this is to be allowed.

The convict is also to be offered the opportunity to work overtime, and earn more money; to be used to pay the cost of their incarceration, their fines and restitution; the balance of which should be the inmates to control as they see fit.

This should not imply the inmate has a right to any job other than basic labor paid at a rate sufficient to cover the cost of their incarceration. Only that the opportunity to seek and perform other employment must be allowed.

If a convict refuses to work, or does not meet minimum standards of work, they are to be restricted to solitary confinement without public exercise, visitation, or communication privileges (excepting legal and spiritual council), and reduced to subsistence ration. Additionally, any work day the convict refuses to work, the cost of their incarceration for that day will be added to their obligations.

Some of this may seem ridiculous (vacation days for convicts?) but it serves an important purpose. The convict should understand, they are performing a job, for pay. They benefit from their own labor, and they have to pay for their own upkeep. If they work harder or more or at a better job, they get ahead; just like everyone else.

This kind of normalization is really the only way to produce people who won’t reoffend when they get out. Get them useful job and life skills they can transfer to the outside world; and get them in the habit of meeting standards of behavior; you’ll see a huge difference.

Any convict caught committing any felony while incarcerated will be subject to immediate extension of their sentence to life in the case of non-violent felonies, or death in the case of violent felonies. Self defense (against ANY crime or attempted crime against them, not just murder) is considered a valid defense against such charges however.

On their release from custody, convicts will be liable to the same penalties and strictures as those who have received non-custodial sentences.

Any further felony committed by any felony convict, whether incarcerated or not, prior to the discharge of any and all obligations (fines, restitution, service or labor), or in the convicts “probation” period will result in an automatic custodial sentence of at least five years; even for offenses that would not normally carry a custodial penalty.

Any violent felony committed prior to the discharge of any and all obligations shall result in an automatic custodial sentence of life in prison, or death.

On the discharge of their fines and restitution, and completion of any service or labor requirements, and any probation period; all convicts shall have all their civil rights restored, including the right to vote, and the right to keep and bear arms.

Private employers may discriminate against convicts, even after their obligations have been discharged, should they choose to do so. The federal, state, and local governments however may NOT discriminate against convicts whose sentences have been discharged however, except for those convicted of Heinous crimes (who should, in general, not be released anyway) or in the case of employment in law enforcement, criminal justice, corrections, national security, or the military.

Any repeat offense of the same felony, or any violent felony by a convicted felon who has discharged their sentence, shall cause a convict to be considered an incorrigible offender, and subject to an automatic sentence of 25 years, life, or death at a judges discretion (25 years for any crime that would normally rate a sentence less than 25 years. Life for any crime that would normally rate 25 years. Death for any heinous crime, or crime that would normally rate life). As always, this is subject to review and reduction by a judge after the convict has discharged their obligations (excepting heinous crimes).

I call this the “one chance, don’t blow it” rule. I believe it is fully justified, because the nature and scope of felonies is being dramatically reduced; the standards for offense are much higher, and the ability of someone to reintegrate into society without re-offending should be much better under this regime.

That’s it. Not exactly simple, but a lot less complicated than our current system… and if anything can work, it ought to be this.

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

“More Expensive” Offers Alternatives to Incarceration to Break the Recidivism Cycle

Title: It’s More Expensive to do Nothing

Producer: Humane Exposures Films

Directed by: Alan Swyer

Non-violent offender is arrested, convicted, does his time, re-enters society and the cycle repeats. This is the typical cycle of recidivism in the American criminal justice system thanks largely to the “tough on crime” approach of state and federal policy. If the goal of policy makers is to put more individuals in prison, they are surely succeeding as the U.S. has 2.38 million prisoners; the highest number of reported prisoners in the world. If the goal of policy makers is to aid individuals in rehabilitation the policy makers have surely failed.

If incarceration is not the answer, does anyone have a better alternative?

Humane Exposures, the producers of the up and coming documentary It’s More Expensive to do Nothing believe they do. Their answer to this growing problem is a less costly alternative to incarceration; they say remediation is a better way. More Expensive, focusing primarily on California’s criminal justice system, interviews some 25 experts in the fields of psychiatry, law, law enforcement, corrections, policy, and healthcare as well as several individuals who themselves broke their personal cycles of recidivism and successfully turned their lives around with the aid of the very policies and programs the film advocates.

The most obvious question to answering the problem of recidivism is simply “why do 75% of California’s offenders re-offend?” Several very good answers are offered in the film but perhaps the best answer comes from Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, and Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy of Houston, Texas:

I would challenge anybody who is watching this [documentary] to be able to take 200 bucks, with no place to live really…except for a flophouse and not have a job or even job skills…

I mean, you may be a lawyer with no job. How long are you going to last?

[…]

Why do we expect somebody who has fewer skills than a professional to be able to somehow get out into the community and be successful?

We libertarians talk a lot about how individuals should be held responsible for their own actions as a consequence of living in a free society. Generally speaking, libertarians dislike government programs that are intended to help people avoid the consequences of their poor decisions. Be that as it may, I believe that Dr. Perry makes a very good point here. It’s very difficult to expect individuals to make better decisions in the future when there are few options available. With little or no social skills, little or no job skills, little or no support from family, friends, or the community, its very difficult for most individuals to resist re-offending. For those who are addicted to illicit drugs, trying to stay out of trouble is all that much more difficult.

As difficult as it may be for most of us to imagine, several of the ex-cons featured in the film did not find the prospect of returning to prison as much of a deterrent to making bad choices. Karen Miller, Drug and Alcohol Counselor for Community Resources And Self Help (CRASH) who herself is 11 years sober and broke the recidivism cycle said that if nothing else, she saw going back to jail as “Three hots and a cot.” Another said he felt safer behind bars than on the street. The truth of the matter is that the prison system is a government program as well complete with housing, healthcare, and 3 square meals for each inmate each day.

The government program championed by the experts in the film which was a result of California Senate Bill 618 provides non-violent offenders a multi-agency approach with the goal of helping them acquire job training, treatment, and most importantly, hope for their futures. Proponents argue that this isn’t a hand out but a hand up. Each person who goes through these programs are held accountable by their councilors, their peers, and themselves. Each has to take initiative and earn their completion certificates before they reenter society.

The premise of the film is in its title: “It’s More Expensive to do Nothing.” Obviously, doing “something” also has a cost associated with it, so what does their alternative program cost and has the program shown measurable results? According to the film, the program costs California taxpayers about $5,000 per inmate per year with a 20% failure rate. Considering the size of California’s prison population, this seems like a great deal of money. But compared with the costs associated with the more traditional incarceration approach costing $75,000 per inmate, per year with a 75% failure rate, the alternative program seems like quite a bargain.

Despite the program’s success, these programs are in danger of losing funding. My question is why? While I know that California is financially a hot mess, it seems to me that if these programs are as successful as those in the film claims, even the law and order types in positions of power would do everything possible to keep this program going.

This leads me to my first of two criticisms of the film. Where are the people who represent the counterpoint? Though I am very sympathetic to the case More Expensive makes, hearing the other side’s arguments could further illuminate the debate. Even Michael Moore interviews individuals who disagree with him in his crockumentaries!

My second criticism is the failure to deal directly with the elephant in the room: the war on (some) drugs. While those interviewed in the film acknowledge that drug policy has lead to increased incarceration, has proven futile, and has contributed mightily to the recidivism problem they are trying to address, I don’t recall any mention from anyone raising the prospect of decriminalization or legalization of drugs. Portugal is a real life case study in how decriminalization there has led to less crime and fewer people suffering from drug addiction. Those who opposed decriminalization in Portugal warned of all the same dooms day consequences that drug warriors say would happen here but so far has not materialized. Bringing Portugal into the discussion may have given the film another interesting dimension.

My guess is that, provided that the producers of the film agree with the idea of decriminalization or legalization, perhaps raising this argument would turn off people who might otherwise on board with their approach. Or maybe ending the war on (some) drugs in America anytime soon is so unlikely in their minds that they want to work within the political reality we currently find ourselves. Convincing policy makers to consider remediation over punishment is quite a challenge in itself in a culture that affectionately refers to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio “the toughest sheriff in America” despite a long history of misconduct and civil rights abuses.

All criticisms aside, It’s More Expensive is a very important and very informative film that brings attention to an issue that doesn’t usually receive very much play in the media. The voices of a more common sense corrections policy deserve to be heard and It’s More Expensive to do Nothing amplifies these voices. It’s now up to us to listen and avoid the costly mistake of doing nothing to stop this vicious cycle.

Medicare ‘Waste, Fraud, and Abuse’

Obama on Saturday:

“We’ve made Medicare more solvent by going after waste, fraud, and abuse – not by changing seniors’ guaranteed benefits”

Really? And how aggressively have you been “going after” them?

It took private sleuths hired by Medicare an average of six months last year to refer fraud cases to law enforcement.

According to congressional investigators, the exact average was 178 days. By that time, many cases go cold, making it difficult to catch perpetrators, much less recover money for taxpayers.

A recent inspector general report also raised questions about the contractors, who play an important role in Medicare’s overall effort to combat fraud.

Out of $835 million in questionable Medicare payments identified by private contractors in 2007, the government was only able to recover some $55 million, or about 7 percent, the report found.

Medicare overpayments – they can be anything from a billing error to a flagrant scam – totaled more than $36 billion in 2009, according to the Obama administration.

7%, huh? That’s about the percentage of people in the Obama administration who’ve actually held a real private-sector job!

PS – Numbers are tricky, but the article states that in 2007, $55M was recovered. The article also states that in 2005, the contractors were paid over $100M. Even when they’re looking for waste they appear to be creating more waste!

State Debt A Problem Well In Advance Of Great Recession

I saw a chart today that took me aback. At the Cato @ Liberty blog, a look at aggregate state debt over the last decade:

I had well expected that state governments were growing their budget in accordance with the boom economies of the past decade (especially rising property tax collections through the boom), but hadn’t realized that they were piling on loads of debt ON TOP OF that new spending.

Of course, I don’t labor under the false belief that state governments are fiscally responsible, but one would have thought that they might have been happy to spend merely the new windfalls they were reaping in revenues, not far outstrip those windfalls with added debt-fueled spending.

Napoleon said “Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.” I certainly think there’s incompetence involved, but I’m not sure the explanation is adequate.

Voting For Smaller Gov’t In November? Good Luck

As Chris pointed out last week, Republicans might be able to get us to at least a divided Congress in November. One expects that if they do, they’ll stand athwart the tracks as the big-government train approaches, yelling STOP!

But their bark is worse than their bite:

Yeah! Go Red team! Go Democracy!

via TJIC, who as always gives it the extra flourish that a graph like this really needs.

This Is Your Government

As our readers can no doubt see, things have moved to a snail’s pace here. I’m not sure I expect that to change soon [at least for me].

However, I came across this post at TJIC, referencing a post at Coyote Blog, that is an absolute must read.

This is a government that is arbitrary, capricious, and exists not to protect the rights of the governed, but to aggregate power unto itself.

When you ask me why I don’t trust government to do anything, that post is a pretty good example of my answer.

The Government Paid Me $10 To Tell Them How Awesome My Job Is

So the receptionist at the office started* walking around handing out envelopes — envelopes larger than a paycheck — which is sometimes not a good sign. But lo and behold, opening the envelope revealed a nice crisp, clean $10 bill courtesy of [a proxy for] the government!

This is an employment survey designed to assess “worker attributes and job characteristics”. It’s funded by the DoL and the ETA [Employment & Training Administration]. And they expect to become “the nation’s primary source of occupational information”.

But my normal railing against government — wondering why they need this source of information, wondering if they’ll be any more “primary” of a source than monster.com, or to point out how the bland questions in their little booklet doesn’t come close to explaining my job — is a whole different discussion. My wheels got spinning when I saw the $10 bill paper-clipped to the front of the paper. After all, they explain quite clearly that it’s a voluntary survey. Yet there’s a $10 bill on the front.

Now, I’ve seen “free” money before. At least once a week I get a check in the mail from some scamming company, and all I need to do to sign up for their service is to cash it. But this is cash. And the survey is voluntary. The worst threat they can make is that if I don’t fill out the survey, they’ll inflate away the value of that $10 note. But they were going to do that anyway, and anyway I spent it before it was worth less than $9, I’m sure.

Immediately it’s clear that they’re getting a lot more from DoL/ETA to run this survey. It makes me wonder what kind of model their funding is based on. Is it a pay-per-completed-survey model? If so, one would think the gov’t is paying a much higher price for each completed survey. Is it a simple grant? One wouldn’t think so, because the company (RTI) running the survey could probably get higher compliance by sending out higher numbers of surveys overall.

Part of me wonders why they sent out cash rather than something that was contingent on completing the survey — but I know why they didn’t do that. If I’d received something like that, I’d have pitched it. If I’d received something traceable (like a check), I’d have pitched it. Frankly, if they hadn’t had a web-enabled response form [and I’d been forced to “write” a response], I’d have pitched it. Heck, if they’d told me that compliance is mandatory, that’d probably make me more likely to pitch it — assuming, of course, that doing so wouldn’t get me in trouble with the nice folks who sign my paychecks.

So I understand why they send out the cash. After all, even I — as someone who cares little about government intelligence-gathering — ended up filling it out due the implicit guilt of taking the “free” $10.

But what I don’t understand is why this data is so worthwhile that the federal government would spend so much money collecting it? Actually, I understand that too. It’s not their money.
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Porkulus III Passes Senate With Republican Help

The Senate passed Porkulus III by a vote of 70-28 with 13 Republicans demonstrating their party’s new found fiscal conservatism by crossing over to vote with every Democrat present for the bill. Like the first Porkulus signed by George W. Bush in 2008 and the Porkulus II passed last year, Porkulus III forks over billions of borrowed dollars to fund various special interest projects and tax gimmicks in the name of “creating jobs”.

The gimmicks funded in this lastest round of Porkulus include a tax holiday for the remainder of the year on Social Security payroll taxes, but only if the company hires someone out of work for more than 60 days. In addition, Porkulus commits to billions in in more mass transit spending and more highway projects (ie. more pork barrel spending).

The Senate’s version of Porkulus must be sent over to the House where it must be reconciled with the House’s much more expansive $154 billion Porkulus bill. However, the Senate plans to pass more items in the House’s bill one at a time so that Senate Majority Harry Reid and other Democrat leaders can find out how much the prices of the votes of “fiscally conservative” Republicans are.

Included are proposed Senate bills giving away corporate welfare to ethanol producers, which is expected to be supported by farm state Republicans. In addition, there is another planned Senate bill to keep Americans out of work longer by extending unemployment benefits and COBRA.

The RINOs who supported Porkulus III today are:

Alexander (TN)

Bond (MO)

Brown (MA)

Burr (NC)

Cochran (MS)

Collins (ME)

Hatch (UT)

Inhofe (OK)

LeMieux (FL)

Murkowski (AK)

Snowe (ME)

Voinovich (OH)

Wicker (MS)

Kay Bailey Hutchinson (TX) deserves special recognition for not even bothering to show up to do her job and vote either way. While the other choices in the upcoming GOP primary for governor are not that great either with ex-Democrat and Bush acolyte Rick Perry and birther/truther Debra Medina, Hutchinson deserves some um…recognition for not doing her job today.

In addition, Richard Burr and Lisa Murkowski are also up for reelection this year and both of those politicians deserve recognition for their vote to add to our national debt and for more wasteful spending. Finally George LeMieux was recently appointed by Florida Governor Charlie Crist to the Senate seat. Crist is looking to join the Senate himself. Florida voters should keep this in mind when they vote on Crist’s promotion.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

LP’s Wes Benedict on ‘Limited Government’ Conservatives

Those of us who truly believe in limited government* tend to be simultaneously amused and irritated hearing the folks at CPAC speak of limited government as though it’s a principle they truly support. Yesterday, the Libertarian Party’s Executive Director Wes Benedict, monitoring the CPAC festivities from afar, said some of the things that many of us have been thinking:

Unlike libertarians, most conservatives simply don’t want small government. They want their own version of big government. Of course, they have done a pretty good job of fooling American voters for decades by repeating the phrases “limited government” and “small government” like a hypnotic chant.

It’s interesting that conservatives only notice “big government” when it’s something their political enemies want. When conservatives want it, apparently it doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants a trillion-dollar foreign war, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants a 700-billion-dollar bank bailout, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to spend billions fighting a needless and destructive War on Drugs, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to spend billions building border fences, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to “protect” the huge, unjust, and terribly inefficient Social Security and Medicare programs, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants billions in farm subsidies, that doesn’t count.

It’s truly amazing how many things “don’t count.”

Benedict went on to point out the lack of concern these same people had with the government expansion of President Bush and the health care mandates of another CPAC favorite – Mitt Romney.

While I’m by no means a supporter of the Obama Administration, the idea that many Conservatives seem to have that all the problems we are faced with started on January 20, 2009 is completely ludicrous**.

These are the same people who would gladly support Sarah ‘the Quitter’ Palin, ‘Mandate’ Mitt Romney, or ‘Tax Hike Mike’ Huckabee – none are what I would call ‘limited government’ by any stretch of the imagination.

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