Feds Claim They Need Years To List All Government Programs

From the Daily Caller:

It will take the government two years just to list all federal programs and that’s “not a way to run a government,” the Comptroller of the United States told Congress Wednesday.

A hint of why compiling such a list will be so time-consuming is seen in two of the seemingly unrelated subjects that came up during the hearing – voodoo dolls and federal data.

Office of Management and Budget officials were required by a law passed five years ago – the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act – but they opted instead to wait until Congress approved the Data Act. Congress did so in 2014. The Data Act requires the federal government to standardize and publish spending-related reports.

But there is still no standard definition or list of federal programs. That’s a problem, said Comptroller Gene Dodaro during the joint meeting of the information technology and government operations subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the Data Act.

“This is not a way to run a government,” Dodaro said. “You need to have that information.”

David Mader, the man President Obama appointed as OMB’s controller, told the committee that his office won’t even start defining federal programs until they’ve first defined all underlying federal activities, so his “sense is that that won’t be finished until after May of 2017.” Obama will no longer be president then.

[—]

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N. Car., said the federal government’s study of hungry and angry spouses stabbing voodoo dolls, mentioned in former Sen. Tom Coburn’s ‘Wastebook’ last year, illustrates why Congress needs to know exactly how federal agencies are spending money.

“To spend $331,000 to stick pens in a voodoo doll may be important to someone, but when we have so many unbelievable needs out there, to make an informed decision, we need data,” said Meadows, who is chairman of the oversight subcommittee.

Voodoo Dolls? Anyway, being that the Justice department has tried and failed several times to count the number of federal criminal laws, we have serious doubts that the federal government can ever list all its programs.

How to Spot a Financial Bubble

We don’t agree with everything former OMB director David Stockman has to say, but he is a very entertaining writer.

The meme of the day—–that China doesn’t have so many gamblers—-is hilarious. From stem to stern, China’s version of red capitalism has evolved into the greatest gambling den in history. The whole thing is a giant punt—from 60 million empty high rise apartments, to ghost cities and malls, to endless bridges, highways and airports to nowhere, to laying down more cement in three years than the US did during the entire 20th century.

But today’s Wall Street admonition to move along because there is nothing to see in the plunging red bourses really takes the cake. In fact, yesterday’s 8.5% plunge on the Shanghai market—–mostly in the last hour and in the face of $1 trillion of state buying power and several thousand paddy wagons thrown at sellers, malicious or otherwise—-is merely a foreshock; it’s a fateful warning about the global-scale financial temblors heading at the incorrigible army of dip buyers in New York, London and their farm teams elsewhere.

In the first place, upwards of 90 million households are in the Chinese stock market, most of them buried under margin debt. Among them, they hold exactly 258 million trading accounts and a significant fraction of these were opened in just the past year by Chinese pig farmers, bus drivers and banana vendors, among millions of quasi-literate others.

The country went nuts speculating in stocks just like it has in empty apartments, coal mines, expensive watches, Macau slot machines, fine wines, copper stockpiles, and almost anything else that can be bought and sold. So when the Beijing overlords go into full panic mode about the stock market plunge, they actually have a reason: There are more trading accounts in their red casinos than there are people in Japan, Korea, Thailand and Malaysia, combined!

This reminds us of Joseph Kennedy, father of JFK, who claimed he knew the 1929 stock market was a bubble ready to burst when he overheard some hotel bellhops discussing their stock purchases. Recall also that the dot-com bubble that burst in 2000 was accompanied by the advent and proliferation of at-home day trading, and that the housing bubble of the following decade gave us ‘flip this house’ TV shows. When the hoi polloi start actively engaging in speculation, run away!

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Fairfax County police: Raid first, ask questions later

Back during our days in grad school, we lived for a few years in Fairfax County, Virginia. Thank goodness during those years we never had an experience like Alex Horton did with the Fairfax County Police.

I got home from the bar and fell into bed soon after Saturday night bled into Sunday morning. I didn’t wake up until three police officers barged into my apartment, barking their presence at my door. They sped down the hallway to my bedroom, their service pistols drawn and leveled at me.

It was just past 9 a.m., and I was still under the covers. The only visible target was my head.

[…]

My situation was terrifying. Lying facedown in bed, I knew that any move I made could be viewed as a threat…

In a panic, I asked the officers what was going on but got no immediate answer. Their tactics were similar to the ones I used to clear rooms during the height of guerilla warfare in Iraq. I could almost admire it — their fluid sweep from the bedroom doorway to the distant corner. They stayed clear of one another’s lines of fire in case they needed to empty their Sig Sauer .40-caliber pistols into me.

They were well-trained, their supervisor later told me. But I knew that means little when adrenaline governs an imminent-danger scenario, real or imagined. Triggers are pulled. Mistakes are made.

I spread my arms out to either side. An officer jumped onto my bed and locked handcuffs onto my wrists. The officers rolled me from side to side, searching my boxers for weapons, then yanked me up to sit on the edge of the bed.

At first, I was stunned. I searched my memory for any incident that would justify a police raid. Then it clicked.

Earlier in the week, the managers of my apartment complex moved me to a model unit while a crew repaired a leak in my dishwasher. But they hadn’t informed my temporary neighbors. So when one resident noticed the door slightly cracked open to what he presumed was an unoccupied apartment, he looked in, saw me sleeping and called the police to report a squatter.

Don’t miss the part of the story where the shift commander at the police station, when questioned, defends the officers’ actions.

Is this what passes for professional police work in 21st century America? Because a dangerous situation might easily have been avoided by talking with the guard at the gate or contacting the property manager or even…wait for it…knocking peaceably at the apartment door. Why does it seem like cops nowadays want to escalate every routine call into some sort of hostage crisis?

This situation also might have been averted if the silly neighbor had first contacted the security guard or the property manager instead of immediately calling the cops. Too many people in our increasingly risk-averse society seem to have the police on speed-dial. Calling the cops doesn’t always make things better because cops arrive prepared to use force in a situation they usually don’t fully understand. Maybe people imagine that when they call the cops they’re going to have an unarmed Andy Griffith show up to sort everything out using Southern charm and sweet reason, but that’s obviously not the case. Before calling the cops, people should first ask themselves, “Would this situation be improved by adding to the mix some uptight, unionized, public employees with guns and qualified immunity?” If you can’t answer yes, don’t call the police.

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Ex-NBA star Vin Baker working at Starbucks

A cool story from the Providence Journal:

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The world’s tallest, and perhaps most famous, barista is stationed behind a busy coffee counter. His smile and easy-going style welcome customers looking for their Starbucks fix as they fastbreak to work or South County’s beaches.

“I love North Kingstown. It reminds me of my hometown, so it’s comfortable,” says the man, who stretches to 6-feet-11. “I like this community. Starbucks draws a lot of repeat customers and so many know me now.”

This is Vin Baker’s world these days. This is the same Baker who grew up in Old Saybrook, Conn., and went on to become one of New England’s all-time great collegiate basketball players at the University of Hartford. It’s the same Baker who won Olympic gold in 2000, played in four NBA All-Star Games and spent 13 years in the pros, including parts of two seasons with the Celtics.

It’s also the same Baker who battled alcoholism toward the end of his career. That addiction, plus a series of financial missteps ranging from a failed restaurant to simply too many hands dipping into his gold-plated cookie jar, combined to wipe out nearly $100 million in earnings.

Now 43, newly married and with four children, Baker is training to manage a Starbucks franchise. He thanks CEO Howard Shultz, the former Seattle SuperSonics owner, with this opportunity. He’s also a trained minister who savors work at his father’s church in Connecticut. Most important, he has been sober for more than four years.

Cudos to Vin! After blowing through $100,000,000 (although Uncle Sam took a good chunk of it) he conquered his personal demons, sucked it up, and did what he had to do to take care of his family.  He didn’t whine and complain, but rather, took responsibility for himself instead of blaming others.

Who Rules America?

In America we are promised government “by the people, of the people, and for the people,” but an academic study released last year found that public opinion has virtually no influence on government policy. Instead, America is ruled by economic and political elites. Call them America’s Ruling Class.

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Researchers concluded that U.S. government policies rarely align with the preferences of the majority of Americans, but do favour special interests and lobbying organizations: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.”

A vivid illustration of this study’s conclusions was just provided by the United States Senate. In an extraordinary Sunday session, the Senate’s Republican leadership engineered passage of a pork-laden highway bill which also included an amendment to revive the recently-expired Export-Import Bank. The Export-Import Bank is a corrupt institution that exists for the purpose of providing corporate welfare. Specifically, Ex-Im uses taxpayer money to subsidize loans to the export customers of American corporations. Our local TV news described Ex-Im in the most benign terms as just some institution that “helps American companies export their goods.”

Well, anybody can export goods. Somebody in Milan used Ebay recently to export some DVDs to us. But nobody on Ebay or any small company is helped by Ex-Im. The beneficiaries of Ex-Im’s largess include only giant corporations like Boeing. In fact, Boeing in particular soaks up such a large proportion of Ex-Im lending that the institution is sometimes referred to as “Boeing’s Bank.”

Now, the Senate at the moment is run by the Republicans, following the sweeping GOP electoral victory of just eight months ago. One might therefore reasonably expect that the Senate’s priorities might bear some resemblance to those of rank-and-file GOP voters. Yet this weekend’s Senate activity revealed no such concurrence.

One amendment on Sunday was brought forward to end federal subsidies to the abortion industry. Another amendment proposed to repeal Obamacare. Those are two positions that command widespread support, at least among GOP voters. But the Senate leadership would not even allow a vote on those two amendments for fear that attaching them to the highway bill would cause the bill to fail. Hence the Republican Senate chose to reject two policies with considerable popular support in order to protect highway pork and the Export-Import Bank–two measures that almost nobody cares about. Who exactly are these guys working for?

Well, for some insight on the answer to that question, consider the activities this very same weekend of a prominent presidential candidate. Jeb Bush attended a get together with his real constituency, and it wasn’t our local libertarian book club.

Behind a garden modeled on Monet’s, Jeb Bush addressed a lawn-full of chief executives and hedge-fund managers at an East Hampton, New York, estate Saturday morning. While the candidate is no stranger to courting wealthy donors, this time was different: about half the attendees were Democrats.

“This guy sells well,” said Kenneth Lipper, the money manager and registered Democrat who hosted the event, after Bush left. Virtually the only one who left without writing a check, Lipper said, was a buck deer that wandered past the group assembled on the wooded grounds.

[…]

The race for money adds to the importance of places like the Hamptons, Wall Street’s oceanside playground, where Lipper remarked that it’s become fashionable to spend more than $100 million on a vacation home. The entire annual income for the median U.S. household—$50,000—wouldn’t cover more than 900 of the summer rentals here listed on one brokerage’s website.

After answering questions for an hour at Lipper’s event, Bush left for two more gatherings at a pair of mansions near the beach.

[…]

Bush’s schedule took him to the six-bedroom beachside mansion of Clifford Sobel, a former ambassador and entrepreneur, who served crab cakes and bruschetta. Then there were cocktails at the home of Emil Henry, a former Treasury official and now the CEO of an infrastructure fund.

The Bush campaign wouldn’t comment on the events or say how much was raised, but Lipper said his event alone raised about $230,000.

Over a salad on the deck at the South Fork Country Club prior to attending two of the fundraisers, Sabin said donors appreciate the way Bush’s staff keeps in touch.

“We get a rundown every week—they’re very transparent,” said Sabin…

Indeed. This all appears very transparent to us as well.

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A’s Fan Sues MLB Over Seating Unprotected From Foul Balls

From the Belmont Patch:

An Oakland A’s fan, saying that she fears for her family’s safety, has sued Major League Baseball in federal court in Oakland in a bid to force the organization to require more safety netting to protect spectators from foul balls and shards of broken bats.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on Monday by Gail Payne of Oakland, described in the suit as a “devout fan” of the A’s who has season tickets at the Coliseum in an area along the first-base line that is not protected by nets.

Payne says in the lawsuit that she hasn’t been hit by a foul ball, but “is constantly ducking and weaving to avoid getting hit by foul balls and shattered bats” and fears for the safety of herself, her husband and their daughter. The lawsuit seeks to be certified by a judge as a class action on behalf of all MLB spectators who have season tickets for seats located in an unprotected area between home plate and the right and left foul poles.

The lawsuit estimates the class would number in the hundreds.

It asks for an injunction requiring the MLB to mandate that all major and minor league ballparks must extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole by the beginning of the 2016-2017 season.

About 1,750 spectators are injured at MLB games each year, according to the lawsuit, which names New York-based MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred as defendants.

The suit says the risk of injury to spectators has increased in recent years because of greater velocity of pitches, the use of maple bats that break into shrapnel-like pieces when shattered, and distractions from electronic devices.

Hmm, Ms. Payne, on every level this is what’s sick and sad about some Americans today: THEY WILL NOT TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEMSELVES!!! You take a risk of having to deal with balls flying at 100 MPH in all directions when you enter a ballpark. Life is very risky.  Everyone is going to die.  Almost everyone will come down with cancer or heart disease or some other terminal illness.  Over 30,000 people a year in the US alone will die in an auto crash. Driving to the game is FAR more risky than getting hit with a foul ball. Our advice is to watch out for foul balls and get off your phone! Nobody has a right to baseball tickets. If you’re afraid to go to games, then don’t go instead of trying to ruin it for fans that bring their gloves in hopes of catching a foul ball.

Self-Defense is a Human Right

From USA Today:

President Obama says the biggest frustration of his tenure is the lack of new gun control laws.

The one area “where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied” is the fact that the United States “is the one advanced nation on earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense, gun safety laws,” Obama told the BBC in an interview.

Let’s be clear. Any president who is more concerned with me having a gun than with Iran having nuclear weapons is unfit for office.

Note also that this shyster didn’t bring up gun control in either of his presidential campaigns. Guess he was hoping to get elected without alerting the public to his true intentions. A real paragon of transparency and democratic virtue, this guy.

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The Animals in Gotham

It’s a little surprising that cats can cause so much trouble:

A runaway kitty caused rush-hour subway delays of up to 40 minutes for 10,000 commuters when he broke free from his owner’s grip and jumped onto a downtown station’s tracks, officials said. A total of 83 trains were stopped or rerouted along five lines while MTA workers and cops scrambled to get the black kitten out of harm’s way on Wednesday evening.

Whereas an alligator is just able to blend in with commuters walking the streets:

NEW YORK (AP) — An alligator that was caught crossing a New York City street during rush hour has died unexpectedly. A spokesman for Animal Care and Control of NYC says the 3-foot alligator died Friday morning. Police officers had discovered the creature crossing Ninth Avenue in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood Thursday evening.

Yet Another Bad Labor Regulation

As cities across the country propose jacking up minimum wages to $15 an hour, ostensibly to eliminate poverty, but perhaps moreso to keep their communities gentrified by pricing low-skilled workers out of the market, the Obama Administration recently imposed yet another wealth-destroying regulation on the labor market. Up until recently, salaried workers earning more than $23,660 were exempt from the rule that requires extra pay for overtime work. Obama just increased that threshold to $50,440.

People who don’t know how to do economic analysis see this change as having the desirable effect of increasing pay for workers earning between $23,660 and $50,440. But to borrow a term from economist Thomas Sowell, that is just the ‘stage one’ effect of the policy. Looking beyond stage one reveals a number of ‘unintended’ effects of the policy.

  • Employers will keep some employees exempt by boosting their pay above the $50,440 threshold, but recoup that extra pay by cutting employee benefits.
  • Other employees will be converted from salaried to non-exempt hourly workers, but with the hourly wage cut to offset the additional overtime pay.
  • Some of the converted hourly workers, however, will see no overtime as their hours will be limited to 38 per week. This group ends up unambiguously worse off as some of their hours are transferred to new part-time workers.

Economist Doug Holtz-Eakin relates the results of a simulation by Oxford Economics that was intended to predict the effects of an increase in the weekly threshold to $984, very close to the Obama Administration’s chosen threshold of $970. Here’s what Oxford Economics predicted.

For some workers to remain exempt, employers would raise their pay by an average $1,800, only to have their benefits cut by the same amount. Other workers would be converted to non-exempt hourly employees and would receive an average additional $11,700 per year in overtime. That seems great except their base hourly pay rate would be sliced by the same amount, leaving them no better off. Finally, some unlucky workers will move from salaried to hourly and see their hours fall to 38 per week. As a result, this group would lose about $2.73 billion total. To make up for the lost hours, employers would hire part-time workers.

Another effect of the policy will be to decrease the number of available lower and mid-level management positions that pay between $23,660 and $50,440. Their responsibilities will to some extent be taken up by more senior managers, making considerably more than $50,440. There will therefore be more jobs and pay for senior and high-ranking managers, thus potentially increasing inequality in the workplace. Why does the Obama Administration want to create more inequality?

Moreover, working long hours in lower-level management is how a lot of salaried employees work their way up to higher-level management positions. The new overtime rule threatens to foreclose that opportunity for many people.

If we take a look at Southern Europe–Spain, Italy, and Greece–a major reason for their economic struggles is lack of freedom in labor markets. The markets are hamstrung by innumerable laws and regulations governing employment. All of those regulations were enacted to ostensibly improve pay and security for workers, but the result is that labor markets become dysfunctional. And so, as just one appalling result, youth unemployment rates hover around 50%. The only way young Spanish workers can find jobs is by going to the UK, where labor markets are relatively freer.

Obama’s new rule won’t by itself make U.S. labor markets dysfunctional, but it’s part of a disturbing trend of increasing intervention in labor markets, including dramatically higher minimum wages, and onerous employer mandates such as Obamacare. If this keeps up, a lot of young people and other fools will be wondering where all the jobs and opportunities went.

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Technology is Rewilding the Environment

A huge and growing ‘sustainability’ movement obsesses over man’s use of natural resources. Oddly, this movement has grown despite the fact that resource use in advanced nations during recent decades has been leveling off or even declining. In a superb article at The Breakthrough Institute, Jesse H. Ausubel shows that the trend in diminishing resource use is driven by technology, and that the trend appears in most major resources, including timber, farmland, energy, and water.

[B]y about 1970 a great reversal had begun in America’s use of resources. Contrary to the expectations of many professors and preachers, America began to spare more resources for the rest of nature — first relatively, and then more recently in absolute amounts. A series of “decouplings” is occurring, so that our economy no longer advances in tandem with exploitation of land, forests, water, and minerals. American use of almost everything except information seems to be peaking. This is not because the resources are exhausted, but because consumers have changed consumption, and because producers changed production. These changes in behavior and technology are today liberating the environment.

In particular, improvements in agricultural productivity have freed millions of acres of farmland to be reclaimed by forests. Thus technology has obviated the famous concern of Teddy Roosevelt and the conservation movement of the early 20th century that the forests would disappear unless preserved in government-managed state and national parks.

[A]round 1900,…states such as Connecticut had almost no forest…. The thick green cover of New England, Pennsylvania, and New York today would be unrecognizable to Teddy Roosevelt, who knew them as wheat fields, pastures mown by sheep, and hillsides denuded by logging.

People often view technology as something that creates an artificial world, and thus alienates man from nature. To the contrary, however, technology is enabling a rewilding of the land, and bringing humans into contact with wildlife in ways that haven’t been experienced in more than 100 years.

Fox experts now estimate that about 10,000 foxes roam the city of London, more than the double-decker buses. Foxes ride the London Underground for free. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, became enraged when his cat appeared to be mauled by a fox, and perhaps because of the fare-beating too. English snipers charge $120 to shoot a fox in your city garden. Meanwhile in rural England, badgers are causing an uncivil war between farmers and animal protection groups….

[T]he incipient rewilding of Europe and the United States is thrilling. Salmon have returned to the Seine and Rhine, lynx to several countries, and wolves to Italy. Reindeer herds have rebounded in Scandinavia. In Eastern Europe, bison have multiplied in Poland. The French film producer Jacques Perrin, who made the films Winged Migration about birds and Microcosmos about insects, is working on a film about rewilding. The new film, The Seasons, scheduled for release later this year, will open millions of eyes to Europe’s rewilding.

The image of a humpback whale in New York Bight with the Empire State Building in the background was the most significant environmental image of 2014. Humpback whales and other cetaceans, perhaps even blue whales, are returning in large numbers to New York Bight. Recall the whale despair of the 1970s and consider that the Bronx Zoo has just announced a program together with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to monitor whale numbers and movements in sight of New York City. Many decades without hunting, and improved Hudson River water quality, have made a difference.

Whether into the woods or sea, the way is clear, the light is good, and the time is now. A large, prosperous, innovative humanity, producing and consuming wisely, might share the planet with many more companions, as nature rebounds.

We experienced firsthand this ‘backyard rewilding’ on a recent visit to Massachusetts. In one of the most densely populated of states, we were shocked to see huge wild turkeys running around suburban neighborhoods.

Wild turkeys – the official game bird of Massachusetts – are impressive animals that can grow to be roughly 20 pounds and 4 feet tall. By 1851, they had been eliminated from Massachusetts, a victim of hunting.

But now they’re back.

[T]oday’s turkey population in Massachusetts lingers around 20,000. But Marion Larson, an information and education biologist at MassWildlife, said officials had not counted on the turkey’s appetite for suburban – and even urban – living.

“That was something that surprised us,” Larson said. “Who knew? The last time there were turkeys in Massachusetts there weren’t a whole heck of a lot of suburbs.”

This time around, of course, that is not the case, and turkeys have proven especially adaptable to residential living. By his last count, Verrier said, there are at least two dozen wild turkeys living in Brookline, feeding off everything from bird seed to gutter trash and, sometimes, scaring the wits out of the townspeople.

New England wouldn’t just look different to Teddy Roosevelt; it even looks different from the New England in which we grew up.

Wild turkeys in Massachusetts

Wild turkeys in Massachusetts

In another encounter with suburban Mass wildlife, our dog got into a tussle with a skunk. As a result of that experience, we can report that the old folk remedy of dousing the dog with tomato juice does not get rid of skunk odor, and merely results in a dog that is both smelly and pink.

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