By now Americans know that the Obama administration is not, as it claimed, the most transparent in history. Ongoing scandals such as Fast and Furious, IRS targeting, Obamacare, Benghazi, and NSA snooping explode that ludicrous notion. On the other hand, as author Robert Keith Gray explains in the Daily Caller, the Obama administration is breaking all records for expense, courtesy of American taxpayers.
Gray finds that the $1.4 billion spent on the Obama family last year includes the biggest staff in history, with “no mechanism for anyone’s objection if a president were to pay his chief of staff $5,000,000 a year.” He finds that Obama has, count ‘em, 469 senior staffers, with 226 bagging more than $100,000 a year and 77 at $172,000 a year. Gray also counts 42 “czars” the president has appointed, and they don’t work for minimum wage. The Obama family dog handler reportedly gets $102,000 a year. Nice work if you can get it.
The president himself, in addition to his salary, gets a $50,000 a year expense account, a $100,000 travel account, $19,000 entertainment budget, and an additional million for “unanticipated needs.” As Gray sees it, that includes using other people’s money to buy his own reelection. As Gray notes in his book Presidential Perks Gone Royal, it’s all in the regal style, but by the author’s accounting, Britain spends only $57.8 million a year on the royal family.
As Mel Brooks said, it’s good to be the king. The regal style fits an administration shrink-wrapped in statist superstition, and after six years still colonizing the nation with government waste, fraud, and abuse. As ever, the folks up there in Washington are looking out for number one. Taxpayers aren’t even number two.
What do you get when you combine a lack of transparency with a lack of accountability in a massive federal government spending program?
If you said at least $250 billion in fraud and waste, you’re right! Nashville’s WZTV reports:
In fact, when the Government Accountability Office set out to deliberately scam the Department of Health and Human Services’s Healthcare.gov website and various state-run health insurance marketplaces to see if they could get away with Obamacare subsidy fraud, their sting operations were successful 91% of the time.
The funny thing is that this whole situation could have been avoided by having people who buy health insurance through the federal and state “marketplaces” pay the full price for the coverage they chose to buy and provide any tax-credit subsidy for which they might be eligible by adjusting their federal income tax withholding — effectively putting extra money in their paychecks each month while automatically providing for an audit of the tax-credit subsidy they received when they next file their income tax returns.
But unfortunately, that would have meant being transparent and honest about how much the health insurance policies would really cost, which was the last thing the Department of Health and Human Services wanted to do.
Recent hearings on the Secret Service by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee proved entertaining and educational. For example, in 2011 someone had fired shots at the White House but Secret Service bosses wrote this off as a car backfiring, rather unlikely since all cars now have fuel injection. And even with carburetors, multiple backfires were rare. Turns out that the shots did indeed hit the White House, but a housekeeper, untrained in security matters, found evidence of the attack days before the Secret Service. Legislators got the full story from the Washington Post, not the federal government.
More recently, a veteran jumped the fence and gained entry to the White House through the unlocked front door. Secret Service bosses said he didn’t get far, but it turned out he did, all the way to the Green Room. They said he wasn’t armed, but it turned out he was. Legislators grilled Secret Service boss Julia Pierson about these and other lapses. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) wondered how much it would cost to lock the front door.
Viewers may have wondered how the singularly unimpressive Pierson got the job in the first place, but she had mastered the bureaucratic dialect. Mistakes had been made, she said. And of course, it wouldn’t happen again. Pierson should have been fired long ago but was allowed to resign instead. As columnist Dana Milbank observed, she “made it look as if Secret Service secrecy is not meant to protect the president’s life but to protect an arrogant agency from embarrassment and reform.” That is a major dynamic in Washington, where arrogant agencies abound. Bureaucratic bosses often fail at their appointed tasks, abuse taxpayers, and do all in their power to stop reforms.
During the hearing Rep. John Mica (R-FL) displayed a sign of the ADT security firm and suggested that the Secret Service hire that company. This was more than a theatrical gesture for the cameras. In the recent case, the White House would clearly have been more secure with ADT than Pierson’s open-door security plan. Taxpayers, meanwhile, would also be better off with private security, private health care, and private education.
That didn’t stop Mick Teufel from trying, though! Here’s his attempt to describe the size of the national debt using the metaphor that anyone who has ever driven or ridden in a car might appreciate:
Imagine 250 lanes of Cadillac Premium Edition Escalades (manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $81,190) placed bumper to bumper going from New York to Los Angeles (2,790 miles). This is an illustration of how much our national debt is. Our debt has been a problem for many years; however, it has been greatly accelerating the last 14 years.
According to the Department of Transportation, the minimum width for a freeway lane in the United States, not including shoulders or curbs, is 12 feet (3.6 meters). With 250 lanes side-by-side, the U.S. debt superhighway would be 3,000 feet wide (900 meters).
That’s some gridlock!
But more to the point, if the federal government had actually borrowed all the money it has for the purpose of buying and parking so many of GM’s Cadillac division’s luxury gas guzzlers on a superhighway between New York and Los Angeles, the national debt would be visible from low Earth orbit.
A high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco could have been built privately. That remarkable admission comes from none other than Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, in an interview with Allen Young of the Sacramento Business Journal. The article, titled “Why Does California’s High-Speed Rail Need Public Money?”, notes that a new rail line from Houston to Dallas will be privately financed. So why isn’t California’s?
Morales claims that this plan would bypass “population centers” in the central valley. But as Allen points out, those centers are home to less than 10 percent of the state’s population. Even so, the government bullet train, originally sold as a conduit from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, aims to start somewhere near Fresno. These cities have vacant land “perfect for sprawl development,” Allen says, so the project “has morphed into crony capitalism with generous government support.”
In reality, high-speed rail is designed to shore up the prospects of California congressmen by spending money in their districts. That’s why the first stretch of the system is slated for the boondocks. The High Speed Rail Authority also serves as a soft landing spot for washed-up politicians such as board member Lynn Schenck, a former congresswoman and chief of staff for governor Gray Davis. The bullet train also rewards politicians’ support networks. All the work will go to union contractors, even though more than 90 percent of workers in the private sector are not union members.
High Speed Rail may serve as a legacy project for Governor Jerry Brown, but it won’t take people where they want to go or get “old people” out of their cars, as Brown says. But there’s more to it still. Politicians love to spend other people’s money. As bullet train boss Jeff Morales notes, they do so even when they know full well that an independent, privately funded project would be better. That’s why the bullet train railroads taxpayers.
In international politics, the Group of 7, or G-7, is made up of the world’s seven most industrialized economies, which include the United States, Japan, Germany, Canada, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Rebecca Strauss of the Council of Foreign Relations recently compared how the national debt of the United States changed with respect to the other six members of this exclusive club since 2000:
On matters of fiscal health, the US has not traditionally looked to Europe for guidance. For much of the past three decades, governments in Italy, France, and Germany were much deeper in the hole than the US.
How things have changed. The US racked up debt faster than any other G7 country during the Great Recession, so that its debt burden is now as bad as the average European country. If current projections hold, by 2040 the US will have the worst debt burden of any G7 country save for Japan, reaching levels not seen since World War II.
Almost all of the U.S. achievement in catching up to and nearly surpassing the debt carried by the other six nations of the G-7 has been racked in the second half of the period from 2000 through 2014.
As we noted, governments indulge their own form of insider trading through cronyism and nepotism. In California’s capital, that was on display with longtime Senate human-resources boss Dina Hidalgo. Her practice was not to give jobs to those most qualified. Rather, she gave jobs to her own son, Gerardo Lopez, other family members, and even members of her softball team. What a cozy world. Since the California Highway Patrol polices the Capitol, Lopez’s post as a sergeant at arms is really a sinecure. As the Sacramento Bee noted, Lopez “routinely received special treatment during the 15 years he worked for the Senate.” Lopez’s wife, Jennifer Delao, managed to gain a job with Senate boss Darrel Steinberg in his policy unit.
This cronyism and nepotism took long time to emerge, but the Senate finally paid a private law firm $98,000 to look into it. Those were all taxpayer dollars, but taxpayers did not see the result because the Senate refused to release the report citing privacy concerns and attorney-client privilege. So a public matter that should have been investigated by the CHP winds up an expensive cover-up. The secrecy is part of Dina Hidalgo’s retirement deal, including $85,400 in cash and $13,000 for her legal fees. One thing it fails to include is any kind of punishment or accountability. And she gets her generous pension also courtesy of taxpayers.
Steinberg is also on the way out, but taxpayers should recall that in 2012 he blocked the California Channel from showing a Senate Governance and Finance Committee hearing on four ballot measures that involved taxes and spending. And in a lame apology Steinberg said, “I pride myself on being open and transparent.” That’s how it works with the ruling class.
A food desert has been arbitrarily defined as an area in which at least 20 percent of the households have incomes that put them below the federal poverty line, before receiving any welfare benefits or considering public transportation options or the existence of grocery delivery services, where the nearest grocery store is more than a mile away in urban areas or more than 10 miles away in rural areas.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture produced the following map to describe the areas where food deserts meet its definition:
That’s important because, as a business lender, the bank would profit from the solutions most likely to be implemented by politicians seeking to rectify the “crisis”: building more grocery stores.
That inherent conflict of interest came to a head in Portland, Oregon, where the residents of such a food desert successfully fought against having a grocery store put in their community to “fix” their neighborhood’s food-desert crisis. Gawker‘s Vann R. Newkirk II explains, starting with the role of one of Chicago’s more preeminent former citizens in promoting the concept of food deserts as a crisis requiring government action:
In previous efforts to promote her “Let’s Move” campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama lauded mayors for easing zoning and permit requirements for grocery stores to move into food deserts. One of her stated goals of the program is “to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved communities all across the country.” Obama’s campaign to get people moving, increase awareness about nutrition and get farmers markets to disadvantaged areas was so politically safe—and universally accepted as necessary—that she remains easily one of the most favored public figures in this country, despite being married to one of its least. Locally, across several large metropolitan areas, efforts to move grocers and farmers markets near poor neighborhoods have often been met with wide acclaim. These were the rare policy options that worked in a free market system and helped increase quality of life for disadvantaged communities. Slam dunks, they seemed.
But the evidence that grocers and farmers markets actually irrigate food deserts never came. In fact, the actual existence and mechanisms of food deserts have been questioned. The developing body of research has suggested over the past few years that while spatial access to groceries is a factor, economic and cultural access are more important. As Betsy Breyer, a researcher from Portland State University noted, “I don’t think the [food deserts] idea captures the full spectrum of food access possibilities and problems in poor communities.” In many cases, even building expensive stores directly next door to poor people, while solving the “food desert” issue from a definitional perspective, actually does little to help the underlying problem. Public perception and policy, however, have been retreating from the woefully inadequate but somewhat compelling conclusions about nutrition justice at an absolutely glacial pace.
The conflict between public policy, perception and local facts and realities came to a head in national news when earlier this year residents of a once-predominantly black neighborhood in Portland successfully rallied against the building of a Trader Joe’s on a vacant lot in the area. Many folks were baffled. Why wouldn’t people in this place labeled as a clear food desert rejoice at the fact that they could get great groceries (and tasty cookie butter) right down the street? But what outside viewers and eager Traderites willfully ignored was that many citizens were deathly afraid of gentrification and being displaced from their own neighborhoods in a city well-known for aggressive gentrification, much of which had involved early incursions by large chain grocery stores.
Breyer said that in the case of Trader Joe’s in Portland, the food desert concept was “used as an excuse to push an agenda that had nothing to do with food access for low-income communities” and had more to do with providing a rationale for securing access to cheap, promising real estate for developers and, eventually, the chain. The lower-income inhabitants of the neighborhood had figured out what policymakers and informed citizens across the country hadn’t: that the courtship dance with grocery stores was a dance with death for the people that needed the groceries most. The jig was up.
Solving the “problem” of food deserts was never the point of the government programs supposedly established for the purpose of eliminating them. The purpose of these programs is and always have been to benefit the crony capitalist industrial complex of banks, real estate developers, and corrupt politicians.
Never mind the interests of those who would rather not have their tax dollars fund such follies or see their already debt-burdened government borrow large amounts of money to solve problems that really never existed in the first place.
The new school year has kicked off but many students, particularly African Americans in the inner cities, remain interned in dysfunctional and dangerous schools. This is not an accident. Those are the very schools that legislators, bureaucrats, and government employee union bosses want for low-income students. In government education, money goes directly to the education bureaucracy, and it keeps on coming despite dismal results. Should parents want to opt for an independent school, the money does not follow the student. It keeps going to the bureaucracy.
In Washington DC, African American parents got some relief from the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which empowered them to choose the schools they wanted. The program was popular and effective but the education establishment and teacher unions fought it tooth and nail. President Barack Obama opposed the program and teamed with his education secretary, Arne Duncan, to cancel a number of scholarships that had already been issued and limit the number of students who may take advantage. This year the number is a paltry 285.
This all comes under a president who is a product of exclusive private schools, elementary through university, and who sends his own children to exclusive private schools, just like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. And as Larry Elder has noted 37 percent of representatives and 45 percent of senators also send their own kids to private school. In the Congressional Hispanic Caucus it’s 38 percent and the Congressional Black Caucus 52 percent. Public school teachers also send their own children to private schools at a high rate, 44 percent in Philadelphia, 39 percent in Chicago, and 38 percent in Rochester, New York. Like politicians, they want the best for their kids, while denying opportunity to low-income African Americans and Hispanics.
This is not a partisan issue. There are currently 29 Republican governors and not a single one is advancing a plan for parental choice in education. The bipartisan ruling class prefers private schools for their own kids. Everybody else, particularly low-income African Americans, gets only the schools the ruling class wants them to have.
The answer, of course, is yes! By clamping down on corruption and other ethically questionable practices by politicians and bureaucrats, regular Americans could benefit by both reducing government spending and making it more effective in achieving its intended purposes.
How much could be saved? According to a recent study by Cheol Liu and John Mikesell, who measured the cost of corruption at the state government level, an average of $1,308 per person could be saved in just the 10 states with the highest level of corruption as determined by the number of convictions of public officials under federal corruption laws in the years from 1976 through 2008.
Fortune‘s Chris Matthews describes the researchers findings:
The researchers studied more than 25,000 convictions of public officials for violation of federal corruption laws between 1976 and 2008 as well as patterns in state spending to develop a corruption index that estimates the most and least corrupt states in the union. Based on this method, the the most corrupt states are:
8. South Dakota
That these places landed on the list isn’t exactly surprising. Illinois, which has gain notoriety for its high-profile corruption cases in recent years, is paired with states like Mississippi and Louisiana, which are some of the least economically developed in the country. The researchers also found that for 9 out of the 10 of the most corrupt states, overall state spending was higher than in less corrupt states (South Dakota was the only exception). Attacking corruption, the researchers argue, could be a good way to bring down state spending without hurting services that people need.
Researchers also found that spending in these states was different than their less corrupt counterparts. According to the report, “states with higher levels of corruption are likely to favor construction, salaries, borrowing, correction, and police protection at the expense of social sectors such as education, health and hospitals.”
The same principles apply to the federal government, but on a much larger scale, given its much larger level of spending, and that’s been particularly true since the nation’s spending exploded in the years since 2008, beginning with President Obama’s economic stimulus bill in 2009, which unleashed a torrent of corruption at the federal level, hurting regular Americans far more than it helped them:
WASHINGTON—The largest government infusion of cash into the U.S. economy in generations—the 2009 stimulus—was riddled with a massive labor scheme that harmed workers and cheated unsuspecting American taxpayers.
At the time, government regulators watched as money slipped out the door and into the hands of companies that rob state and federal treasuries of billions of dollars each year on stimulus projects and other construction jobs across the country, a yearlong McClatchy investigation found.
A review of public records in 28 states uncovered widespread cheating by construction companies that listed workers as contractors instead of employees in order to beat competitors and cut costs. The federal government, while cracking down on the practice in private industry, let it happen in stimulus projects in the rush to pump money into the economy at a time of crisis.
The stimulus set the stage for the institutionalization of corruption throughout the federal government, which continues to this day as a corrupted federal government continues to establish crony capitalism as President Obama’s primary economic program.
Clamping down on this unrestricted corruption by effectively enforcing federal laws against the unethical and unlawful conduct of politicians and bureaucrats would go a long way toward restoring trust to government while making the government that Americans are paying for both better and cheaper. And a good place to begin would be with the Department of Justice, which could get started by changing sides to join regular Americans in the fight against corruption in government.