Archive for the ‘Government’ Category.
Many on the Left often deride the notion that government regulation really affects business behavior and reduces business activity. But it turns out that even the Feds themselves throw up their hands and give up in the face of trying to deal with their own regulations
Government estimates suggest there may be 77,000 empty or underutilized buildings across the country. Taxpayers own them, and even vacant, they’re expensive. The Office of Management and Budget believes these buildings could be costing taxpayers $1.7 billion a year.
…But doing something with these buildings is a complicated job. It turns out that the federal government does not know what it owns.
…even when an agency knows it has a building it would like to sell, bureaucratic hurdles limit it from doing so. No federal agency can sell anything unless it’s uncontaminated, asbestos-free and environmentally safe. Those are expensive fixes.
Then the agency has to make sure another one doesn’t want it. Then state and local governments get a crack at it, then nonprofits — and finally, a 25-year-old law requires the government to see if it could be used as a homeless shelter.
Many agencies just lock the doors and say forget it.
Today I had to do my annual renewal of my corporate registration in Arizona. As in most states, this involves a bit of information foreplay followed by the purpose of the exercise -- sending in a check to the corporation commission.
But here is the extraordinarily scary part -- I started the annual reporting process by just typing in the name of my company and getting started. There was no password protection, no identity check. They had no way of knowing I had anything to do with this corporation and yet I was answering questions like "have you been convicted for fraud." The potential for mischief is enormous. One would have to get the timing right (an annual report must be due before one can get in) but one could easily open the site on January 1 and start entering false information in the registrations for such corporations as Exxon and Wal-Mart.
See for yourself. Here is their web site. Below is a screen shot of the site letting me in to edit one of Wal-Mart's corporate registrations in Arizona:
Again, note what I am saying. This is not the result of hacking. This is not lax security I figured out how to evade. This is the result of no security whatsoever. I simply went to the link above, clicked on the Wal-Mart Associates link, and then clicked on the annual report link. I know from doing my own registration that there is a signature page at the end, but all you do is type in the name of an officer and a title -- data that is right there on the site. It's like asking you for a password after the site just listed all the valid passwords.
If I disliked Wal-Mart, I could put all kinds of crazy garbage in here. I did not go further, because I would have had to answer these questions to proceed and I had no desire to mess with another company's critical data, but if I had gone further I could have changed their mailing address, the names of their officers, etc. -- all I had to do was just pay the $60-ish registration fee for them and they would have a big mess on their hands to sort out. If I had access to a fake or stolen credit card and a public computer, I could have done it all without any hope of being traced.
By the way, from my experience, this is not unique to Arizona. This criminally lax behavior seems to be the norm in most states.
I have submitted this all as a complaint to the state, so far with no response. If anyone in AZ knows how I can get someone's attention with this, let me know.
This week's episode: Spending enormous resources on a program to reduce X, and then not tracking (or even putting in place a mechanism to track) whether X was reduced as promised. James Taranto quoting the National Journal quoting Administration officials:
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the health care law will reduce the number of uninsured people by about 24 million over the next few years, and that about 6 million previously uninsured people will gain coverage through the law's exchanges this year. So, is enrollment on track to meet that goal? Overall enrollment is looking pretty decent, but how many of the people who have signed up were previously uninsured?
"That's not a data point that we are really collecting in any sort of systematic way," Cohen told the insurance-industry crowd on Thursday when asked how many of the roughly 4 million enrollees were previously uninsured.
Nicely done. The PPACA was passed first and foremost to bring insurance to the uninsured. I always thought that the Left misunderstood (accidentally or on purpose, I do not know) the nature of the uninsured and thus overestimated what impact the PPACA would have in this regard. But one way or another, you would track the impact, right? I can just imagine trying to explain to my old boss Chuck Knight why we spent billions to gain new customers for a product but didn't track how many new customers we gained.
Postscript: Here is my prediction -- The Administration will declare that no one had "real" insurance (as they define it) so everyone in the exchange was previously uninsured.
Today I have yet another person with a full disability settlement (e.g. from Social Security) telling me that they are fully capable of working and pestering me to hire them. The rub is that paying them any money would endanger their disability payments, so they ask me to pay the money to someone else (husband, child) or to pay them off books in cash. Essentially, they are asking me to violate the law in order the help them violate the law.
Why would I take this risk? Last year I had 21,000 people sign up on a mailing list looking for work.
Perhaps I am somehow an outlier because I hire so many older folks, but I get dozens of request like this a year. You can't convince me that the disability system is not broken.
One of my favorites writers Megan McArdle comments on my post about the regulatory excess in California. The same post was linked by Reason as well. The Reason post got the attention of Ron Paul, who will be interviewing me for his radio show next week.
I posted a few updates on the article today:
Wow, reading this again, I left out so much! An employee once sued us at this location for harassment and intimidation by her manager -- when the manager was her sister! It cost me over $20,000 in legal expenses to get the case dismissed. I had an older couple file a state complaint for age discrimination when they were terminated -- despite the fact that our entire business model is to hire retired people and the vast majority of our employees are 70 and older. And how could I have forgotten the process of getting a liquor license? I suppose I left it out because while tedious (my wife and I had to fly to California to get fingerprinted, for example), it is not really worse than in other places -- liquor license processes are universally bad, a feature and not a bug for the established businesses one is trying to compete with. We gave the license up pretty quickly, when we saw how crazy and irresponsible much of the customer base was. Trying to make the place safer and more family friendly, we banned alcohol from the lake area, and faced a series of lawsuit threats over that.
Give people power and they will abuse it. I don't care if it is Chicago Democrats or New Jersey Republicans. Most recent example:
A top aide to Gov. Chris Christie told an executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" before the authority closed lanes onto the George Washington Bridge in September, triggering a week of massive traffic jams, documents show.
The aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, sent the email, dated Aug. 13, to David Wildstein, a political ally of the governor who was the authority's director of interstate capital projects.
Mr. Wildstein, replied: "Got it."
Apparently this conversation occurred in response to Fort Lee's mayor Mark Sokolich refusing to endorse Christie in last year's governor race
[Mr. Wildasin said] in an apparent reference to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich: "It will be a tough November for this little Serbian."
Mr. Sokolich said in an interview Wednesday, "I didn't sign up for this petty political insanity."
Mr. Sokolich said he was now convinced he'd been the target of retribution for not endorsing Mr. Christie. "I've been punished not for something I've done, but for something I didn't do," Mr. Sokolich said. "This is the behavior of a bully in a schoolyard. It is the greatest example of political payback."
Also, Mr. Sokolich said he is Croatian.
Mr. Wildasin seens to have been teleported out of a Sopranos episode.
Glen Reynolds brings us this bit from a letter to the WSJ about the IRS and 501c4's:
For example, if an IRS official subjects citizens to incredibly burdensome demands for irrelevant information just to harass them for their political or religious beliefs, no 501(c)(4) group could later criticize that official’s nomination to be IRS commissioner, without engaging in restricted activity. That’s because the IRS’s proposed regulation defines even unelected government officials, like agency heads and judges, as “candidates” if they have been nominated for a position requiring Senate confirmation. The IRS’s proposed rules are an attack on the First Amendment that will make it easier for the government to get away with harassing political dissenters and whistleblowers in the future.
The part about classifying Senate-confirmed officials as "candidates" seems to be part of the same initiative as the changes to the filibuster to make it easier for the President to confirm controversial judges and administrators. I wonder if this is a general effort or battlespace preparation for a specific confirmation battle.
Because the government exempts itself from the most basic rules that apply to private companies.
Raising concerns about consumer privacy, California's health exchange has given insurance agents the names and contact information for tens of thousands of people who went online to check out coverage but didn't ask to be contacted.
The Covered California exchange said it started handing out this consumer information this week as part of a pilot program to help people enroll ahead of a Dec. 23 deadline to have health insurance in place by Jan. 1.
State officials said they are only trying to help potential customers find insurance and sign up in time. But some insurance brokers and consumers who were contacted said they were astonished by the state's move.
"I'm shocked and dumbfounded," said Sam Smith, an Encino insurance broker and president of the California Assn. of Health Underwriters, an industry group.
Smith said he was under the impression from the exchange that these consumers had requested assistance. He received the names of two consumers this week but has not yet contacted them.
"These people would have a legitimate complaint," Smith said.
The names provided include people who started an insurance application on the Covered California website since enrollment launched Oct. 1, but for whatever reason never picked a health plan or completed the sign-up process.
The state said it provided information on tens of thousands of people who logged into the state's website, but it didn't know the exact number.
The exchange said agents were given names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses if available.
This is an update of a chart I have published a couple of times. The Obama Administration in the past couple of years has threatened at various times that a) the sequester and b) the government shutdown would have a devastating impact on employment. Here is the most recent job addition data (I would prefer just private job changes but this is public and private, via here).
I have helpfully annotated it with two government actions the Left claimed would negatively affect employment growth, and one item I claimed would do so. You be the judge:
The media published 6 zillion articles worrying or outright predicting in advance that the government shutdown would hurt the economy and destroy private employment. No such thing appears to have happened. But of course the media never, ever, ever goes back and retrospectively revisits predictions of doom gone wrong.
The original subtitle of my blog has long-ago been eclipsed. I am trying out a new one. Our tributes usually wear a lot of copper.
As much fun as it is to mock the US Postal Service, their inability to restructure their costs is not all their fault. Every time they try to close a facility, they get met by opposition from about everywhere. Here is an example where Berkely, CA is doing all it can to prevent the USPS from selling a post office building.
The Postal Service over the summer began moving ahead with a plan to sell its 1914 Beaux-Arts post office in the heart of Berkeley near the old city hall and a park named after Martin Luther King Jr. The move drew howls from residents worried that the building would turn into condominiums or office space, even drawing dissidents to camp out for days by the columned building entrance.
Now, opponents are gaining traction with an unorthodox zoning restriction: that the mustard-colored building must remain open to the public
The Berkeley Planning Commission last month approved a measure that would restrict the use of the post office and adjacent government buildings to government agencies or public uses like a theater. Residential use and many other private functions would be banned by the action, which requires City Council approval.
This is simply bizarre. What, do residents have so many fond memories of their time spent in the line at the post office that they want these golden memories preserved? The assumptions made by local opponents are just bizarre -- they seem OK if the building is used for offices of the Social Security Administration but not if it is used for private offices. Why would anyone possibly care. From my experience, private urban office buildings tend to be cleaner and better maintained than government offices.
An anonymous quote from an employee at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
"Let me give you the honest truth: A lot of FMCS employees don't do a hell of a lot, including myself. Personally, the reason that I've stayed is that I just don't feel like working that hard, plus the location on K Street is great, plus we all have these oversized offices with windows, plus management doesn't seem to care if we stay out at lunch a long time. Can you blame me?"
This is actually the least of the problems in the agency -- fraud appears to be rampant. The Washington Examiner has a five part series.
Via the ARRA:
On October 31, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a speech at the National Press Club, "If Congress doesn't step up to act to protect some of these important places that have been identified by communities and people throughout the country, then the President will take action. There's no question that if Congress doesn't act, we will." Jewell was referring to designating huge swaths of public lands as National Monuments. When she calls on Congress to “step up,” she may be ignoring that local citizens, including some recreationists and businesses near public lands where Wilderness or other special designations are being considered, may not support such action.
Just what we need - even more land that the Department of Interior can block with gates and guards next time they are unhappy with their budget.
It is an amazing spectacle to see Senators Feinstein and McCain, both A-OK with NSA spying on ordinary American citizens, draw the line at NSA spying on foreign politicians. A reasonable person would say that tapping the German leader's phone is a hell of a lot closer to the NSA's true brief than tapping mine, but our political leaders believe the opposite.
That is because they have come to believe that politicians and government officials are a special class with special rights and privileges. They don't have to follow labor law (Congress is exempt), they don't have to deal with the Obamacare exchanges (Congress is exempt), they don't even have to follow the same laws, like DWI (DC police typically help drunk Congresspersons home rather than arrest them).
Apparently, the public wants to preserve the house where the Apple Computer was born. OK. So is some private non-profit gathering money to buy it and preserve it? Has the local town appropriated money to buy it and take it over?
None of the above. The town is simply designating the house as a landmark, imposing all sorts of new costs on the current owner. This is a taking, and should be treated as such
It doesn't seem like Patricia Jobs, sister of famed Apple co-founder Steve, is exactly onboard with her family home being designated a "historic resource" by the Los Altos Historical Commission. Not that it matters, anyway. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the decision to preserve the one-story home at 2066 Crist Drive where Jobs got a start building the first Apple computers was made independent of her consent. The distinction, which Patricia can still appeal, also means any renovations/repairs to the home would first have to be reviewed by the commission -- so you can understand why the honor's both a blessing and a curse.
If a city government cannot bring itself to end something so obviously abusive as pension spiking, what hope is there of any real reforms on tougher matters? Government employees are increasingly running government in their own favor.
After nearly three hours of contentious debate, Phoenix city leaders were so divided over how to tackle pension “spiking” on Tuesday that they ended up doing nothing at all.
They walked into the City Council chambers prepared to make changes, but after splintering into three ideological factions, voted 5-4 against a plan to combat spiking, generally seen as the artificial inflation of a city employee’s income to boost his or her retirement benefit.
Several high-profile cases have come to light, pushing the effort to eliminate pension boosting to the forefront of the council’s agenda.
Former Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos, who retired last week to lead another city, was able to apply unused sick pay and other perks to spike his pension to an estimated $235,863, the second-largest retirement benefit in city history.
Earlier this month, a subcommittee of council members proposed modest reforms that they said would reduce pension spiking and provide transparency. They said the plan treated existing employees fairly and avoided potential litigation.
But the proposal fell apart Tuesday night, when a group of liberal-leaning council members joined the body’s fiscal conservatives in voting against it, though their rationales were vastly different.
After the motion to approve the proposal failed, the meeting ended. The result, greeted by cheers from employee unions in the crowd
The Florida auditor sitting in my one-man office was shocked to learn I would not be in the rest of the week. I said you scheduled the audit visit for today, so I changed my plans and am in the office today, but leave tomorrow. Apparently she assumed that the audit schedule gave her the right to stay as long as she wanted. She was planning to sit in my office for another 2-5 days. I told her sorry, but if she wanted to book 5 days, she should have booked five days. And by the way, if she had tried in advance to make me sit dormant in my office all week, I would not have agreed to the visit.
This is just insane in an Internet world. Everything she asked for in advance was sent to her electronically. Even though she is sitting right next to me, her requests to me for more data have come by email. I can't figure any reason why she is even here, unless Florida finds it cheaper to fly her around and use other people's offices rather than provide her with one of her own.
By the way, this is fairly typical of a lot of government workers in my experience. If they block a meeting on their calendar for the whole afternoon, they want it to last the whole afternoon. There are a lot of jobs out there where people are most comfortable proving their worth by showing that their calendars are always full.
It took into the mid-1960's for the Federal government to accumulate $328 billion in debt (yeah, I know, nominal dollars). It rose that much in one day last week.
You may be wondering under what authority the government is taking actions during the government shutdown. We had a meeting with the Chief of the US Forest Service on Friday. This is the specific text the Administration is using to justify all of its shutdown actions
(a)(1) An officer or employee of the United States Government or of the District of Columbia government may not—
(A) make or authorize an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation;
(B) involve either government in a contract or obligation for the payment of money before an appropriation is made unless authorized by law;
(C) make or authorize an expenditure or obligation of funds required to be sequestered under section 252 of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985; or
(D) involve either government in a contract or obligation for the payment of money required to be sequestered under section 252 of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.
I will leave it as an extra credit exercise for the reader to explain how this text justifies either a) spending extra money to barricade war memorials on the Washington Mall or b) closing privately-funded parks that take not a single dime of government money. All these tests have everything to do with limiting government expenditures, not limiting citizen access to public lands.
We had some delays (in part because the government is taking a holiday from the shutdown today, so everything is REALLY closed) but we file our lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order on the US Forest Service in the morning.
From the Washington Examiner. Because tenants have to be evicted when their landlord goes on paid vacation.
National Park Service officials cited the government shutdown as the reason for ordering an elderly Nevada couple out of their home, which sits on federal land.
"Unfortunately overnight stays are not permitted until a budget is passed and the park can reopen," an NPS spokesman explained to KTNV.
Ralph and Joyce Spencer, aged 80 and 77, respectively, own their home, but the government owns the land on which it sits.
"I had to be sure and get his walker and his scooter that he has to go in," Joyce Spencer told the local news outlet. "We're not hurt in any way except it might cost me if I have to go buy more pants."
Of course, I am in the exact same position
Fox Business has done an article on the government closing of privately funded parks.
One interesting note - many state parks operate on Federal land using almost exactly the same king of lease contract (called a special use permit) we have to privately operate parks and campgrounds. If private parks with this type of lease with the USFS have to close, shouldn't state parks as well? For example, both Slide Rock SP in Arizona and Burney Falls SP in California operation using the same kind of lease as we do.
Here is my letter to my Congresspersons:
Senator John McCain
Senator Jeff Flake
Representative David Schweikert
Help! Administration Orders Shut Down of Privately-Operated Parks in National Forest
Parks that require no Federal money, and actually pay rent to the Treasury, are being required to close
My company, based in North Phoenix, operates over 100 US Forest Service campgrounds and day use areas under concession contract. Yesterday, as in all past government shutdowns, the Department of Agriculture and US Forest Service confirmed we would stay open during the government shutdown. This makes total sense, since our operations are self-sufficient (we are fully funded by user fees at the gate), we get no federal funds, we employ no government workers on these sites, and we actually pay rent into the Treasury.
However, today, we have been told by senior member of the US Forest Service and Department of Agriculture that people “above the department”, which I presume means the White House, plan to order the Forest Service to needlessly and illegally close all private operations. I can only assume their intention is to artificially increase the cost of the shutdown as some sort of political ploy.
The point of the shutdown is to close non-essential operations that require Federal money and manpower to stay open. So why is the White House closing private operations that require no government money to keep open and actually pay a percentage of their gate revenues back to the Treasury? We are a tenant of the US Forest Service, and a tenant does not have to close his business just because his landlord goes on a vacation.
I urge you to help stop the Administration from lawlessly taking arbitrary and illegal actions to artificially worsen the shutdown by hurting innocent hikers and campers. I am not asking you to restore any funding, because no funding is required to keep these operations open. I am asking that the Administration be required to only close government services that actually require budget resources.
I mentioned in an earlier article that the Administration is threatening to close US Forest Service parks it does not even fund or run, privately operated parks that happen to have the Federal government as a landlord. In fact, in our case, we pay the US Forest Service between 8 and 22 percent of revenues as a concession fee, so by threatening to close us it is costing them, not saving them extra money.
Apparently, the NPS is already doing this:
National Park Officials closed down the educational Claude Moore Colonial Farm near the CIA in McLean, Va., even though the federal government doesn't fund or staff the park popular with children and schools. Just because the privately-operated park is on Park Service land, making the federal government simply its landlord, the agency decided to close it.
A Claude Moore Colonial Farm official said that the privately-funded staff is on the job Wednesday, but barred from letting anybody visit the historically accurate buildings or animals. Anna Eberly, the managing director, sent out an email decrying the decision and rude National Park Service staff handling the closure.
Pointing to Park Service claims that parks have to be closed because the agency can’t afford staff during the government closure, Eberly wrote: “What utter crap. We have operated the Farm successfully for 32 years after the NPS cut the Farm from its budget in 1980 and are fully staffed and prepared to open today. But there are barricades at the Pavilions and entrance to the Farm. And if you were to park on the grass and visit on your own, you run the risk of being arrested. Of course, that will cost the NPS staff salaries to police the Farm against intruders while leaving it open will cost them nothing.”
She added: “In all the years I have worked with the National Park Service, first as a volunteer for six years in Richmond where I grew up, then as an NPS employee at the for eight very long years and now enjoyably as managing director for the last 32 years — I have never worked with a more arrogant, arbitrary and vindictive group representing the NPS. I deeply apologize that we have to disappoint you today by being closed but know that we are working while the National Park Service is not — as usual.”
This is purely political -- it costs rather than saves the government money.