The Big Think

August 31, 2014

Your Government At Work

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 5:07 am

Audit: Five-year review of Recovery Act finds $5 billion misspent

“More than five years after the stimulus was signed into law, a new audit reveals the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) spent nearly $5 billion in questionable costs and funded programs that were ‘inherently not shovel ready.’

‘As a result of these reviews, we also reported monetary exceptions of over $5.1 billion, including $4.9 billion related to questionable or unsupported costs,’ the audit said.

‘Most programs that received Recovery Act funds were expected to quickly pump money into the economy by immediately executing infrastructure and labor intensive projects,’ the OIG said. ‘These were known as ‘shovel ready’ projects.’

‘However, our reviews discovered USDA encountered challenges because several of its programs were inherently not ‘shovel ready,’’ they said.

Of the nearly $5 billion in unsupported costs, the USDA has recovered only $11 million. The OIG still has seven open investigations for fraud and abuse of Recovery Act funds.”

Just remember this the next time someone says “there’s no time to waste”. But apparently there’s plenty of money to waste.

August 27, 2014

Tax the Burger

Filed under: Education,Politics — jasony @ 9:36 am

Let me explain. Or actually, in the case of Burger King’s planned acquisition of Tim Hortons, let my colleague Matt Levine explain, because he is smarter and funnier and a better writer than I am, and has already nicely summed things up:

The purpose of an inversion has never been, and never could be, and never will be, “ooh, Canada has a 15 percent tax rate, and the U.S. has a 35 percent tax rate, so we can save 20 points of taxes on all our income by moving.” Instead the main purpose is always: “If we’re incorporated in the U.S., we’ll pay 35 percent taxes on our income in the U.S. and Canada and Mexico and Ireland and Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, but if we’re incorporated in Canada, we’ll pay 35 percent on our income in the U.S. but 15 percent in Canada and 30 percent in Mexico and 12.5 percent in Ireland and zero percent in Bermuda and zero percent in the Cayman Islands.”

What is he talking about? The U.S., unlike most developed-world governments, insists on taxing the global income of its citizens and corporations that have U.S. headquarters. And because the U.S. has some of the highest tax rates in the world, especially on corporate income, this amounts to demanding that everyone who got their start here owes us taxes, forever, on anything they earn abroad.

This is a great deal for the U.S. government, which gets to collect income tax even though it’s not providing the companies sewers or roads or courts or no-knock raids on their abodes. On the other hand, it’s not a very good deal for said citizens and corporations, especially because our government has made increasingly obnoxious demands on foreign institutions to help them collect that tax. Both private citizens and corporations who have a lot of income abroad are deciding that they’d rather renounce their ties to the U.S. than deal with the expense and hassle of letting it tap into income that they have earned using some other country’s roads and sewers and police protection.

If there are two car dealerships next door to each other and one offers a car for 20% less than the other (all-in), which one are you going to patronize? Sure, the coffee, environment, and paint job might be better at the more expensive dealership, and that might be worth paying more for, but at some point– 10%, 35%, 50% (and there is a point)– the benefits of going to the higher-cost dealer are outweighed by the economic comparison.

People who are arguing against Burger King leaving the U.S. and reincorporating in Canada are essentially saying that they must continue patronizing the more expensive store, and they are using guilt-trip tactics to argue their point. It’s what we have come to expect from a less economically literate worldview. I’m glad that we’re finally seeing such effective pushback. I hope it’s not too late.

Do I want Burger King to leave the U.S., taking a lot of tax revenue from us? No way. But I sympathize with their plight (being a small business owner, boy do I sympathize). It’s absolutely worth it to be a part of the U.S. economic system and, yes, I think they do “owe” something on some level to that system. But when that system constantly demands more and more while other countries are offering them better rates? It’s a no-brained decision to eventually leave for other shores.

Dear taxing authorities: if you get greedy, eventually you’ll get nothing. There’s a lesson here– there’s a trend going on here. You need to learn it before you have no business tax revenue left.

Tax sanely. Spend wisely and responsibly. Be good stewards of the economic trees. And the Burger Kings, and all of his friends, may come back.

August 14, 2014

Propagandists with Bylines

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:52 am

Hamas Threatened Reporters in Gaza: ”

I asked him how come we never see on television channels reporting from Gaza any Hamas people, no gunmen, no rocket launcher, no policemen. We only see civilians on these reports, mostly women and children. He answered me frankly: ‘It’s very simple, we did see Hamas people there launching rockets, they were close to our hotel, but if ever we dare pointing our camera on them they would simply shoot at us and kill us.’’

I understand why these reporters didn’t write about this while they were in Gaza. They could have been kidnapped or killed. Perhaps their editors back home kept quiet for the same reason, to protect their employees and freelancers.

There is a solution to this conundrum, however. Don’t send reporters to places where they are intimidated into lying by omission or commission.

The Gaza war was a huge story, of course, and it had to be covered, but it could just as easily have been covered from the Israeli side of the line. Covering both sides of the story is of course preferable whenever possible, but providing balanced coverage from Israel alongside censored coverage from Gaza is a form of journalistic malpractice. Stop it. “

(Via .)

July 16, 2014

Good to Know The TSA is On The Job

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:21 am

TSA:

“Justin Gray was flying home to D.C. from Orlando International Airport when according wftv.com, a TSA agent asked to see Gray’s passport because his D.C. driver’s license wasn’t a valid form of identification.  Gray works as a reporter in Cox Media Group’s Washington bureau.

‘.@TSA Agent in Orlando never heard of ‘District of Columbia.’  Demanded passport because he didn’t believe my drivers license was from US!?’ Gray tweeted on July 12.

The station reports that Gray’s license was up-to-date, but the agent didn’t seem to know what the District of Columbia was.”

But don’t worry, they’re there for our safety.

July 9, 2014

Quoth

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:33 pm

Via Instapundit: “‘The journalists who populated America’s newspapers in the pre-Watergate 20th century by and large weren’t Columbia Journalism School graduates, but for the most part, blue collar types who could pound their Underwoods and had a keen sense for wanting to know who was screwing who over what and a desire to share it with the world. . . . No matter how many degrees they have on their cubicle walls, today’s MSM journalists are, if anything, much more ignorant about the state of their city and America — and certainly about the average Joe who reads their paper, whom they openly despise — than the hardscrabble predecessors who earned their papers’ reputations.’”

July 7, 2014

Teatopia

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:23 pm

What would happen if the Tea Party ran the country?:

“The goal of Tea Party federalism is not for states to serve as ‘laboratories of democracy,’ in which programs that work in Houston are eventually adopted across the country by dint of federal pressure. State governments wouldn’t serve as a kind of minor-league farm system for the big leagues in Washington, D.C.

Rather, the goal would be for different states to offer different visions of the good life. Citizens would vote with their feet in favor of the social-democratic societies that would emerge in Vermont and the Bay Area or the laissez-faire societies that would emerge in large stretches of the Mountain West.

The Tea Party movement sees this approach as the best way to honor and reflect what you might call America’s normative diversity — a diversity that has less to do with ethnicity and race and more to do with the virtues that we as communities want to cultivate in our children, and that we want to see reflected in our collective institutions.”

A level-headed examination of what Tea Party America would look like. The author goes through some of the negatives as well (it’s not just cheerleading).

Overall, it’s as clear and non-freakout of an article about this subject that I’ve read, and certainly refrains from the “they’re all raaaacists! stupidity that has come to be the main objection of detractors. I’ve always wondered about this one in particular since I know several minority-Americans who are firmly behind these precepts. Maybe the cry of racism has been knee-jerk reactionism? Nahh…

Remember the old saying:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you. Then you win.”

July 6, 2014

Be Careful What You Wish For

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:59 pm

A Company Liberals Could Love – NYTimes.com:

“Insist that for legal purposes there’s no such thing as a religiously motivated business, and you will get fewer religiously motivated business owners — and more chain stores that happily cover Plan B but pay significantly lower wages. Pressure religious hospitals to perform abortions or sex-reassignment surgery (or some eugenic breakthrough, down the road), and you’ll eventually get fewer religious hospitals — and probably less charity care and a more zealous focus on the bottom line. Tell religious charities they have legal rights only insofar as they serve their co-religionists, and you’ll see the scope of their endeavors contract.”

July 3, 2014

Seen on FaceBook

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:33 pm

“You are only born with the rights the government gives you.”

Sigh.

July 2, 2014

Selling Obamacare

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 4:21 pm

Selling Obamacare – Reason.com:

“…Even more disturbing is that the ambitious Obamacare marketing campaign went well beyond the typical awareness initiatives sponsored by government, making forays into the much more opaque world of popular culture. In 2012, California’s Obamacare exchange spent at least $900,000 hiring the marketing firm Ogilvy to do P.R. as part of an effort that would enlist ‘Hollywood, an industry whose major players have been supportive of President Obama and his agenda,’ according to The New York Times. The effort was said to be working on a reality TV show about families without health insurance, as well as weaving Obamacare story lines into prime time shows and Spanish language TV. ‘I’d like to see 10 of the major TV shows, or telenovelas, have people talking about ‘that health insurance thing,” Peter V. Lee, the executive director of California’s exchange, told the Times.

Two years later, the White House was still working on getting Hollywood to promote ‘that health insurance thing.’ In March, White House aide Valerie Jarrett told Popsugar.com, ‘I’m meeting with writers of various TV shows and movies to try to get [Obamacare] into the scripts.’…

…Aside from her ethically dubious plans to politicize popular entertainment, Jarrett provided an unintentionally revealing window on the administration’s propaganda efforts. ‘What we want to do here is, like, nag,’ she said. ‘We’re really good at nagging. I’m a mom so I know. I’m a really good nag. And I can come at the same issue like 20 different ways until my daughter goes, ‘OK, I’m cool, I’ll just do it.’”

Because what America means is having a government that spends our own money to nag us to do unpopular things.

Why Embarrass Journalists?

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:25 am

Because it’s easy:

“I would not go through life ignorant of key facts, especially important facts.  So many of the people writing under bylines are willing to do just the opposite today.  It cannot end well when a free people are choosing leaders based upon the reporting of a class of people both biased and blind as well as wholly unaware of both or if aware, unwilling to work at getting smart enough to do their jobs well.”

Fix the media and you fix the country.

June 26, 2014

Media Loves Big Government

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:58 pm

Media Loves Big Government: “When I began consumer reporting, I assumed advertisers would censor me, since sponsors who paid my bosses wouldn’t want criticism. But never in 30 years was a story killed because of advertiser pressure. Not once. (I hear that’s changed since, and big advertisers, such as car dealers, do persuade news directors to kill stories.)

‘I do a lot of reporting on corporate interests and so on, so there’s pressure from that end,’ says Attkisson, but ‘there’s a competing pressure on the ideological end.’ Right. Ideology affects more stories than ‘corporate interests.’

My ABC bosses leaned left. They liked stories about weird external threats from which government can swoop in to rescue you. 

They are much less fond of complex stories in which problems are solved subtly by the dynamism of the free market. The invisible hand, after all, is invisible. It works its magic in a million places and makes adjustments every minute. That’s hard for reporters to see—especially when they’re not looking for it.

Often, when it comes to news that happens slowly, the media get it utterly wrong. I suspect we get it wrong now about things like global warming, genetically modified foods, almost any story related to science or statistics, or, heck, basic math. Math threatens many reporters.”

A peak behind the media curtain.

June 6, 2014

Color Me Shocked

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 4:52 pm

Report: Freed Taliban Commander Vows To Return To War Against US:

“The deepest concerns of critics of President Obama’s decision to release five Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may be coming to fruition.

One of the commanders, Noorullah Noori, has plans to return to Afghanistan to resume fighting against the U.S., according to NBC News which spoke to another Taliban commander.

‘After arriving in Qatar, Noorullah Noori kept insisting he would go to Afghanistan and fight American forces there,’ the commander told NBC News.”

Who could have seen this coming?

June 5, 2014

More Media

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:14 pm

A potential candidate putting pressure on a media outlet.

Washington Free Beacon: “Some of Hillary Clinton’s closest aides blasted the New York Times for what they said was unfair coverage of the former first lady during a recent secret meeting with the paper’s Washington bureau, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

Sources said the meeting included Clinton advisers Philippe Reines and Huma Abedin, as well as Times Washington bureau chief Carolyn Ryan and national political reporter Amy Chozick, who has been on the Clinton beat for the paper.

During the closed-door gathering, Clinton aides reportedly griped about the paper’s coverage of the potential 2016 candidate, arguing that Clinton has left public office and not be subjected to harsh scrutiny, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

Neither the Times nor the Clinton camp would discuss on the record specifics. However, sources familiar with the meeting describe it as an attempt to brush back and even intimidate the staff of the Times. The sometimes fraught relationship between Clinton and the press has been well documented.”

Hypothetical reverse: the presumptive 2016 Republican candidate held a closed-door meeting with the New York Times to complain that the paper had treated him/her too harshly.

What would the proper response be?

Fix the media and you fix the country.

June 4, 2014

When You’ve Lost The Atlantic, You’ve Lost Middle America

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:30 am

President Obama’s Prisoner Swap Weakened the Rule of Law:

“‘If the president truly believed that the bill was unconstitutional, he had a duty to veto the bill pursuant to his oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. President Obama didn’t veto the bill, and instead made it the law of the land. Having done so, he cannot now complain that the law he is ultimately responsible for is unconstitutional and doesn’t need to be followed… A country where the laws apply to the people but not to the president, even when the laws are specifically directed towards the executive branch, is not governed by the rule of law.’ “

June 3, 2014

A Modest Proposal

Filed under: Politics,Technology — jasony @ 12:59 pm

Let’s Charge Politicians for Wasting Our Time – Bloomberg View: “You should be able to set a charge for calling you. Every number that isn’t on your ‘free’ list would automatically be assessed a fee. The phone company would get a percentage of the revenue, and you’d be able to adjust the fee to different levels at different times of the day or for different seasons. (The nearer the election, the higher I’d make my charge.) If candidates really think it’s valuable to call me, they should be willing to pay. Otherwise, they’re just forcing me to subsidize their political efforts with my time and attention.”

Our home phone is going crazy, to the point that we pretty much just ignore it and use it for outgoing calls only.

June 1, 2014

From the I-can’t-believe-they-said-it department

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 12:23 pm

Property tax appraisals here in Austin came through a few weeks ago and the increases were intense. We personally know people who had annual property tax increases of $8000. On top of what they were already paying.

The front page of the Austin American Statesman’s above-the-fold article contains the following quote:

“Its not because I don’t like paying taxes”, said Gardner, who attended both [tax complaint] meetings. “I have voted for every park, every library, all the school improvements, for light rail, for anything that will make this city better. But now I can’t afford to live here any more.”

Apparently said without the slightest awareness of irony.

May 31, 2014

Quoth

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:54 am

A blast from the past, for accountability’s sake:

Ezra Klein – Does The Government Run Health Care Better?:

“If you crudely ordered America’s different health-care systems from least government control to most, it would look something like this: individual insurance market, employer-based insurance market, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration (Medicare is single-payer, but VA is actually socialized medicine, where the government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors).

If you ordered America’s different health systems worst-functioning to best, it would look like this: individual insurance market, employer-based insurance market, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration.

That symmetry should get more attention in the health-care discussion than it does.”

Yes, and this quote should get more attention that it does, especially in light of recent VA events.

May 29, 2014

Fourth Estate

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:46 pm

Jorge Ramos: Reporters ‘Cozy with Power,’ Act Like They’re in a Club | Mediaite:

“‘You turn on the TV, and you see very bland interviews. Journalists in the United States are very cozy with power, very close to those in power. They laugh with them. They go to the [White House] correspondents’ dinner with them. They have lunch together. They marry each other. They’re way too close to each other. I think as journalists we have to keep our distance from power.’
‘I’m not seeing tough questions asked on American television,’ he added later. ‘I’m not seeing those correspondents that would question those in power. It’s like a club. We are not asking the tough questions.’

Ramos has been critical of Republicans who haven’t prioritized immigration reform and Democrats like President Obama who have yet to deliver on their promises. And Ramos’ hard-hitting interview with Rahm Emanuel earned him praise from Matt Drudge as ‘the last journalist standing.’”

Well good. It’s refreshing to see someone on the inside who is finally speaking up to the fact that all the pressure seems to be rather, er. uniderectional.

The issue of administration officials being married to those who need to hold them accountable seems like a legitimate complaint that isn’t getting enough airtime. Hard to hold someone’s feet to the fire in a confrontational way if you have to go home to the same person at night. That just seems like common sense.

May 16, 2014

Well, Good

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:16 am

Poll Shows Everyone Wants Investigation into Benghazi Except Reporters: ”

‘A majority (55 percent) of self-identified Democrats agree with the 67 percent of respondents who approve of the creation of a select committee to investigate the attacks. 66 percent of independent voters share interest in a thorough Benghazi investigation.

While Democratic voters disagree with the majorities who believe that both President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been dishonest with the public in regards to the attack, they clearly want answers to the many outstanding questions surrounding Benghazi. Even if they only seek those answers to exonerate the administration, this implies that even Democrats believe there are more details about the attack that have not yet been revealed to the public. That comes as a surprise only to those who refuse to acknowledge that there are outstanding questions relating to that attack.’ Which is to say, reporters.”

Good news. And even if the investigations show no sign of malfeasance on the part of the administration, it’s refreshing to hear that people are no longer just blindly buying the medias nothing-to-see-here approach.

May 15, 2014

Nothing To See Here

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:22 am

Judicial Watch Obtains New Documents Showing IRS Targeting Came Directly From Washington D.C.: “Emails released by Judicial Watch last month show former head of taxpayer groups Lois Lerner was in contact with the Department of Justice about the potential criminal prosecution of conservative groups. In her emails about DOJ, Lerner noted that putting one person from a conservative organization in jail would create and example and ‘shut the whole thing down.’”

Her words. Her email. Hers.

They insisted the IRS scandal was initially the work of just a few “rogue agents” in Cincinnati and they were as shocked as the rest of us, then they said that it wasn’t anything to worry about, then got all indignant and said they would bring the perpetrators to justice, and then they promptly forgot about it.

Regardless of your political party: is this acceptable behavior in our government?

This appears to be the real thing, with real ramifications and a very clear paper trail to some people who told us blatant lies.

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