Topic: Government and Politics

Bob McDonnell Wants to Scare You and Take Your Money

Though I’m not a Virginia resident or voter, nor a donor to politicians, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell (whose party affiliation I’m not aware of) has added me to his email list. His name is similar to a past roommate, and that affinity has caused me to open more of his emails than I ordinarily would.

Today’s is worth writing about: It’s a political candidate transparently trying to scare voters and use their fear for fundraising.

Dear Jim,

Terror suspects could be headed to Virginia…

With the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay the federal government must find new locations in which to house and try the roughly 240 terrorist suspects currently held 90 miles from our shores. Recent news reports indicate that the Department of Justice is considering transferring a number of the detainees to the Commonwealth of Virginia. One specific location: Alexandria. And other Virginia locations could be possibilities as well.

There are security details to be worked out when prisoners are transferred out of Guantanamo Bay, but the prisoners themselves are not dangerous as such. They’re prisoners, and they will always be under heavy guard. Terrorists are not radioactive, and they do not have lasers built into their eyes.

The problems with housing prisoners in the past have been over-the-top security precautions that make a great show but don’t necessarily meet actual security problems associated with housing terror suspects.

Bills have been introduced to bar detainees from being transferred to various states.

A precious few Americans have exhibited cool in this fear-of-detainees brouhaha. Alexandria Sheriff Dana A. Lawhorne is quoted in this Washington Post article, at least saying “he would do what he can: ‘You can’t run the other way when your country calls.’”

But McDonnell, the politician seeking a prominent leadership position in the state, would “lead” by pretending that captured terrorists are too big a security risk for Virginia. It’s shameful fear-mongering meant to capitalize on the ignorance and weakness of Virginians who don’t understand terrorism. The only links in the text of the email are to the fundraising page on McDonnell’s Web site.

McDonnell exhibits leadership malpractice with this kind of campaigning.

Does Big Government Breed Corruption and Sleaze?

Washington is riddled with both legal and illegal corruption, but why?

Perhaps it is because government is too big and has too much power. The federal budget redistributes $3.5 trillion through more than 1,800 subsidy programs. The regulatory burden is $1.2 trillion and there have been 51,000 new regulations since 1995. And there are more than 70,000 pages of tax law and regulations.

These are the reasons why Washington is a hornet’s nest of deal-making, influence-peddling, and back-scratching.

In this new video, produced by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, I argue that reducing the size and scope of government is the only effective way to control Washington sleaze.

The President’s Make-Believe Fiscal Conservatism

At first, I thought the calendar was wrong and it must be April 1 and the White House was playing an April Fool’s joke. That seemed like the only logical explanation for a story in today’s Washington Post stating that the President wants all government departments to identify $100 million in supposed budget cuts. With 14 cabinet-level departments, that adds up to $1.4 billion of savings – and those savings almost certainly be measured against an ever-increasing budget baseline, which means that they would merely be reductions in planned increases. This is a shallow and insincere stunt to trick taxpayers. This is the same President, after all, that just squandered nearly $800 billion on a so-called stimulus bill. And this is the same President that just rammed through a $3.5 trillion budget. This chart provides a useful comparison.

For those who appreciate irony (or perhaps a late April Fool’s joke), the Washington Post story makes for interesting reading:

President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, where he will order members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official. Although the cuts would account to a minuscule portion of the federal budget, they are intended to signal the president’s determination to trim spending and reform government, the official said. …In his radio and Internet address Saturday, Obama repeated his vow for his administration to scour the federal budget “line by line” to reduce spending.

Update: Some people have written to say that Obama is asking his team to come up with a combined $100 million, not $100 million from each department. So my initial post gave him 14 times too much credit. This is almost beyond parody.

Private Zips Past Public

Govexec.com reports: “Private sector zips past government in Recovery Act tracking.”

If you want to find out where governments are spending the $800 billion in federal stimulus money, the story reports that you would do better to go to www.recovery.org than www.recovery.gov. The latter is the government website that stimulus-overseer, VP Joe Biden, could not remember the name of. The former is a project of the business research firm Onvia.

The private www.recovery.org does have useful data and charts. But Onvia should have paired the chart ”Estimated Jobs Created by State” with another one titled “Estimated Jobs Destroyed by State” to illustrate the financing burden of all the new spending.

Is Rick Perry Really for Limited Government?

Conservative radio hosts are excited about a recent speech by Texas governor Rick Perry. Perry forcefully argued his theme of “unwavering support for efforts all across our country, but, most of all, here in Texas, to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed through the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

That sounds great, but does he really mean it?

In a study, I noted that Perry and the Texas state government are aggressive scavengers of federal grant dollars. The rise in federal granting is one of the central causes of the destruction of the Tenth Amendment in recent decades.

I noted that Perry’s official webpage is chock full of press releases touting his distribution of federal subsidies. These press releases are from a short time period in 2006:

  • “Perry: Texas Farmers and Ranchers to Share $780 Million in Drought Assistance.”
  • “Perry: FEMA Agrees to Reimburse Texas at Same Rate as Louisiana for Hurricanes.”
  • “Gov. Perry Announces $1.6 Million in Grants to Juvenile Offender Accountability Programs.”
  • “Perry: Homeland Security Grants to Focus on Technology Needs.”
  • “Gov. Perry: Presidential Disaster Declaration Approved for El Paso.”
  • “Gov. Perry Announces $38,098 in Victims of Crime Act Funds to El Paso County.”
  • “Gov. Perry Announces $3.6 Million in Grants to Local Law Enforcement.”

Notice how Perry takes credit for all the new spending? Politicians love spending, especially when they can foist the cost on taxpayers living in other states.

Look at these two press releases up on Perry’s website right now:

  • Apr. 9: “Gov. Perry Backs Resolution Affirming Texas’ Sovereignty Under 10th Amendment.”
  • Apr. 10: “Gov. Perry Calls on FEMA to Assist the State in Fighting Wildfires.”

Governor Perry: Do you want to revive the Tenth Amendment or do you want the FEMA money? You’re giving us whiplash out here!

I don’t think Perry’s tax policies have been particularly conservative either, as they have centralized fiscal power at the state level and thus reduced beneficial competition between local governments.

Evo Morales’ Biometric Identity System

It was with interest and concern that I read about the new election law recently signed by Bolivian President Evo Morales. The AP reports that it “sets stricter standards for voter authentication, introducing a $30 million system of biometric identification, based on voters’ fingerprints.”

It is important to secure voting systems against fraud, but be careful how you do it. Identity systems are powerful administrative tools which historically haven’t mixed well with authoritarian governments.

A biometric voter identification system was apparently a demand of Morales’ right-wing opposition. Don’t be surprised if he uses it to consolidate power or do far worse than that to his political rivals.

Some advocates have dabbled in supporting a national ID in the United States for election administration, but that would be error. I wrote about the many risks of uniform identity systems in my book Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.

Demand for Subsidies

My op-ed on National Review Online today provided new information about the increasing number of federal subsidy programs. The federal welfare state is expanding rapidly.

One friendly reader emailed me:

Ever cross your mind that there’s a reason government programs increase over time? I’ll clue you in: Programs increase because of public demand.

It’s not rocket science, people want more services. Period. Somebody’s got to pay for them. Hences taxes. Or perhaps borrowing. Or a combination of both. In any event, there’s no evidence people are willing to get along with fewer services.

The situation seems simple to me; so why can’t you ideologues on the far right understand what’s going on. Instead, you simply go on bemoaning the existence of programs and taxes you don’t like.

There are numerous problems with this reader’s views, including constitutional problems. But one thing that strikes me is the underlying assumption of the “public interest theory of government,” or the idea that democracies and bureaucracies operate to efficiently provide “services.”

In reality, there are structural problems in government that bias policymakers toward fiscal irresponsibility, as our current $1.8 trillion federal deficit indicates. The issue is not ideology, it is scientific: Does the government actually work as the optimists, like this reader, believe? I think the empirical evidence is in on that question.