Topic: Government and Politics

Federal Robbers

The Washington Post ran a short piece on October 26 that reported on $2.6 million flushed down the drain by the Department of Agriculture. Federal auditors looked at housing subsidies handed out after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and found: “Based on discussions with disaster victims, we concluded that much of the $2.6 million in emergency rental assistance that [the department] provided to disaster victims was unnecessary.” Apparently, officials overlooked basic accounting controls and most of the covered costs were already paid for by another federal agency. 

After reading such stories, I wonder: Will any official get fired? Shouldn’t officials at least apologize to us for wasting our hard-earned dollars? How is this sort of wasteful tax-and-transfer activity any different than bank robbery? 

Is It Possible to Embarrass Republicans?

Is it possible to embarrass Republicans? Apparently not. As they get more desperate about their prospects in the midterm election, Republicans have become ever more hysterical in their denunciations of the Democrats. The Republican National Committee’s ad depicting a scantily clad blond flirting with Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN) at a Playboy party has gotten the most attention. But it’s not the worst.

Take the latest charge that Sen. George Allen (R-VA) has leveled at his opponent, Vietnam veteran and novelist James Webb: Allen is shocked, shocked to find sex scenes in Webb’s novels. Or at least, since Allen doesn’t claim even to have read a novel about the Vietnam War, he’s shocked to have been told that there are sex scenes in realistic novels about men at war. His campaign “leaked” the text of Webb’s bestselling novels to the Drudge Report Thursday night, having failed to persuade any journalist that it was a real story. By noon Friday, Rush Limbaugh was in full-throated outrage: “Get the kids away from the radio,” he warned listeners. He was determined to read the sexually explicit bits of Webb’s writing. “I don’t think you understand the importance of this,” he declared. Having listened to him, and read Saturday’s Washington Post article on the topic, indeed I don’t.

And then there are the various ads Republicans are running around the country. Honestly, if you didn’t know better, you’d think that Republican politicians are obsessed with sex. In Wisconsin, an ad for challenger Paul Nelson declares, “Rep. Ron Kind pays for sex!” with XXX stamped across Kind’s face. As the Washington Post reports, ” It turns out that Kind – along with more than 200 of his fellow hedonists in the House – opposed an unsuccessful effort to stop the National Institutes of Health from pursuing peer-reviewed sex studies.” Meanwhile, in New York, the National Republican Congressional Committee “ran an ad accusing Democratic House candidate Michael A. Arcuri, a district attorney, of using taxpayer dollars for phone sex. ‘Hi, sexy,’ a dancing woman purrs. ‘You’ve reached the live, one-on-one fantasy line.’ It turns out that one of Arcuri’s aides had tried to call the state Division of Criminal Justice, which had a number that was almost identical to that of a porn line. The misdial cost taxpayers $1.25.” In North Carolina, challenger Vernon Robinson’s TV ads blare, “If Brad Miller had his way, America would be nothing but one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals.”

And let’s not forget Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is holding up President Bush’s appointment of a federal judge on the grounds that she attended a commitment ceremony for two lesbian friends. What’s the matter with Kansas, indeed? And what’s the matter with the Republican Party?

The Deval in Massachusetts

The establishment media are swooning over Deval Patrick, former civil rights chief in the Clinton administration and now on the verge of being the first black governor of Massachusetts. The New York Times says, “Mr. Patrick’s greatest assets include his charismatic personality, inspiring speaking style and biography.” The Washington Post reports long-time non-voters in tears over his ”message of optimism, his personal charisma and his uplifting personal story.” David Broder hails him as “New Star among the Democrats.”

But Deval Patrick’s personal story isn’t quite so uplifting to advocates of equality under the law. When he was named to be assistant attorney general for civil rights by President Clinton, after Lani Guinier’s nomination was withdrawn under fire, he came under the same sort of criticism. Clint Bolick, then with the Institute for Justice, called him “pro-quota” and a “stealth Guinier” who held the same views but lacked the same paper trail.

After Patrick took office, he seemed to confirm Bolick’s warnings. In 1995, Bolick called him “a master at using the threat of expensive litigation to extort concessions from municipalities and organizations.” (Alas, none of these op-eds and news articles from the 1990s seem to be online, but they can be found in Nexis.) He testified in 1995 oversight hearings that Patrick was “shedding any pretense of impartial law enforcement in favor of unbridled ideological activism” at the Justice Department.

Bolick wasn’t alone in his criticisms. “Deval Patrick has committed the Clinton administration to a vision of racial preference that fulfills the most extravagant fantasies of a conservative attack ad,” wrote Jeffrey Rosen in a 1994 New Republic article. “Rather than honestly confronting the costs of affirmative action, Patrick has blithely endorsed the most extreme form of racialism.” Nat Hentoff denounced one of Patrick’s most famous cases, when he sided with the Piscataway, N.J., school board’s decision to fire a white teacher in the name of “diversity.”

These days, Patrick endorses the standard tired litany of big-government liberalism: more tax money for middle-class housing, more tax money for low-income housing, more tax money for schools, more tax money for jobs and education for ex-cons, more tax money for alternative energy. Oh, and property tax relief. But his record suggests a propensity for more authoritarian policies to ensure that his moral vision prevails.

As for the title, a tip of the hat to Marion L. Starkey, author of the acclaimed book, The Devil in Massachusetts, about Massachusetts leaders who would go to extraordinary means to root out the merest allegations of sin.

Going off the Rails on a Crazy Train

A recent report reveals that Amtrak spent a staggering $102.6 million on outside legal counsel between June 2002 and June 2005. The review, requested by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also finds that Amtrak improperly managed its legal contracts and failed to provide proper oversight (as if simply wasting more than a tenth of a billion dollars wasn’t enough).

Members of the committee are predictably outraged.

Rep. John Mica (R-FL) said, “Amtrak’s management of outside legal services has been found to be in serious disarray, with virtually no attention focused on costs and expenditures.”

Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) remarked, “Amtrak is continually showing us it is incapable of effectively spending the $1 billion in federal funding it receives each year.”

But before we label these folks paragons of fiscal responsibility, keep in mind that last year this same committee passed a bill that would recommend a 67 percent increase in federal funding for Amtrak. The bill is highlighted on the committee’s list of its proudest accomplishments, despite the fact that the full House of Representatives never brought it up for a vote.

And they call this a “do-nothing” Congress?

It’s Not Fair, Your Schools Are Designed to Work Better!

Charter schools, which often live and die on the whims of public officials, are at best a pale shade of choice. Still, at least in Los Angeles, even charters have enough freedom to work better than traditional public schools. And that just ain’t fair.

District officials, as well as the president of the teachers union, bristle at assertions by the Charter Schools Association that middle and high school charters are significantly outperforming their district counterparts.

A fairer comparison would be with the district’s magnet schools, which outperform charters, school board member Jon Lauritzen said.

“I think it’s basically unfair to compare an entity that is able to take their entire budget and focus it entirely on their own schools,” he said. “They have some real advantages over our schools in the flexibility of actually providing the type of education that a particular community wants, whereas we are trying to provide a curriculum that works for everyone all across the school district.”

Yeah! Lauritzen is right! I mean, the nerve of people creating schools that can provide what parents and communities want!

It’s no wonder that, a few months ago, Mr. Lauritzen proposed a moratorium on charter schools, and that public schooling’s defenders fight even harder against reforms like vouchers and tax credits. After all, who could just sit by and watch parents get schools they want when an old, hopeless system is suffering?

Be Careful What You Wish For…

A couple of people over recent days have asked my opinion on the prospects for reform of agriculture policy should Democrats take over the House and/or the Senate. My usual reply is to lament the depressingly bipartisan nature of support for farm subsidies and trade barriers, and to also point out that the recent farm bill (implemented by a Republican congress) has been one of the most expensive in history: $23 billion last year. In a nutshell, I had thought that the prospects for reform could not be any worse under the Democrats than under Republicans.

It turns out that I may be wrong (yes, it happens occasionally). In a recent press release from Texas A&M University, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee (and probable chairman of that committee should the Democrats regain the majority in the House), Colin Peterson (D-MN) seems to support extension of the current farm bill, egregious though it is, but with yet more pork added.

Rep. Peterson would implement permanent crop disaster relief (I have blogged on this idea previously), and was indirectly quoted as calling renewable energy derived from crops ”the most exciting development in agriculture in his lifetime.”

Rep. Peterson does seem to have a point about the scope for the addition of expensive and agriculture-irrelevant rider amendments to ad-hoc disaster relief bills, but describing a permanent disaster relief program as a way to “save taxpayer dollars” is disingenuous, to say the least.

Rep. Peterson seems to have no truck with the idea that agriculture should contribute to deficit reduction, either: “I reject the idea that because we have a $9 trillion deficit, we have to get rid of farm programs. We didn’t cause that problem. In fact, agriculture was the only government initiative that actually spent less than was projected, $13 billion less so far. Besides, if you got rid of all agriculture programs, it wouldn’t make a dent in the deficit. So we need to do what’s right for agriculture, and that’s where I’m coming from.”

On ethanol, which my colleague Jerry Taylor has blogged about here, Rep. Peterson wheeled out the old “foreign oil dependency” issue and put his full support behind investing significant resources (that’s your resources) into more research into bio-fuels, describing the profits that investors are making currently from ethanol as “obscene.”

You said it, sir.