Why Have One Government Program When 10 Can Do the Same Thing? GAO Report Reveals Duplicated Efforts, Wasted Money.

MultiplicityIn the movie
Multiplicity, we learned that a copy of a copy is
sometimes not as sharp as the original. When it comes to
government, the original isn’t usually that sharp to begin with.
But officials sometimes insist on duplicating their efforts anyway,
according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The result
is about as unimpressive as you’d expect, when federal agencies
persist in stepping on each other’s feet at enormous expense to
taxpayers.

In the fourth
report
in a series that has already identified hundreds of
instances of federal agencies providing the same or similar
services to the same or similar beneficiaries, the GAO “presents
new areas in which we found evidence that fragmentation, overlap,
or duplication exists among federal programs or activities.”

Why does this matter?

Because, as the GAO points out, “the federal government faces an
unsustainable fiscal path,” and getting out of its own way is one
of the easier means of cutting costs.

Among the problems identified in the latest report is the lack
of any consolidated system at the Department of Defense to contract
for health care professionals. “For example, we identified 24
separate task orders for contracted medical assistants at the same
military treatment facility.” Now, multiply that across the entire
military establishment.

And the creeping police state around us may be intrusive and
presumptuous—but it sucks at cooperation. The Departments of
Justice, Homeland Security, and the Treasury are independently
modernizing their wireless communications systems. “As a result,
their communications systems, which represent hundreds of millions
of dollars in investment, may not be interoperable and may not
enable the most effective response to natural disasters, criminal
activities, and domestic terrorism.”

That’s hundreds of millions of dollars just on radios that may
not talk to each other.

The federal government is equally efficient about monitoring
double-dipping from disability and unemployment benefits. In 2010
alone, the GAO found more than $850 million in duplicated payments
from the Disability Insurance and Unemployment Insurance programs.
In each case, “the federal government is replacing a portion of
lost earnings not once, but twice.”

Even when it comes to targeted programs and specific
communities, government officials can’t resist cloning—badly—their
efforts. The GAO found 10 different agencies and offices in the
Department of Health and Human Services offering overlapping
programs with regard to HIV and AIDS among racial and ethnic
minorities.

After taking a grand tour of federal government multiplicity,
the GAO recommends 45 actions for cutting costs. Don’t get your
hopes too high, though. Of the 380 reforms previously recommended,
only 124 have been fully addressed.

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AirPooler Could Be the Uber of Flying

There’s a lot of buzz around services like Uber,
Lyft, and Sidecar, which facilitate convenient, competitively
priced rides around cities. Given the state of the airline
industry—the cost of flying is
creeping up
every year while the experience of flying gets
worse—it’s no surprise that someone figured out how to take the
ride-sharing business model from cars and adapt it to planes.

This week a service called Airpooler is launching on the East
Coast. Last week it got off the
ground
on the West Coast.

AirPooler allows private pilots to post listings about upcoming
trips, requiring them to input important information about their
own credentials and experience and their plane’s weight limits.
“Most pilots listing flights on AirPooler fly small single-engine
piston airplanes that carry from 2 to 4 passengers,” explains AirPooler. For
passengers, requesting a ride is no harder than ordering a ticket
on a commercial flight, and one can even send questions to the
pilot beforehand.

The Daily Dot‘s Brendan O’Connor, incredulous, asks
why anyone would get on some stranger’s plane, calling it “an
insane idea.” He also insists that AirPooler is “a thing that the
world doesn’t need and 99 percent of it could never use!”

But the service regulates itself,
notes
 BetaBoston, by “only working with pilots
who are members of flying clubs like East Coast or Associated
Pilots,” which “have processes in place for vetting pilots, and
ensuring the airworthiness of the planes.”

Prices, meanwhile, are far from prohibitive. Right now, the
service lists a round-trip flight from Palo Alto, California to
Sacramento this weekend for under $180. A comparable
economy ticket from United Airlines with such short notice is

over $800
.

Part of the reason tickets are so cheap is because the Federal
Aviation Administration prohibits private pilots from accepting
personal payment; they can only be reimbursed for “flight costs”
such as “fuel oil, certain airport costs or rental fees.” One
consequence of restricting profits, though, may be that pilots
aren’t able to expand operations and offer even more flights to
meet consumer demands.

Still, AirPooler’s take off is yet another example of the
sharing economy’s ability to disrupt the status-quo in surprisingly
simple ways.

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The (Fake) Free State Project of 1970: Turn a Texas Town Into a Haven for Every ‘Wholesome Vice Known to Modern Man’

Pull my strings and I'll go far.Over at Historia Discordia, an
entertaining blog devoted to those anti-authoritarian pranksters
known as the Discordians, Adam Gorightly has posted one of the hoax
articles that the Discordian crew inserted into the press—in this
case, the November 1970 edition of Playboy
magazine—in the 1960s and ’70s. The piece describes a
libertarian “corporate commune” called “Mad Dog, Inc.” that plans
“to buy a small town they can call their own and rename it,
predictably, Mad Dog, Texas.” The town’s laws “will endorse
gambling, saloons, prostitution, marijuana, dueling, spitting in
public, lascivious carriage, cohabitation and every other wholesome
vice known to modern man,” though this code will “not,
unfortunately, supersede existing state and Federal laws.” Several
famous figures are identified as alleged participants in the
project, including underground cartoonist Gilbert Shelton,
Pulitzer-winning journalist David Halberstam, former Kingston Trio
banjoist Dave Guard, and Sports Illustrated writer Bud
Shrake; Shrake is quoted proposing that the group purchase the town
of Shafter, on the grounds that its border-adjacent location
will be good for a “heavy tourist trade in expatriates, the
smuggling of Chinamen and extensive trade with the Far East in
jade, fine silks and frankincense.”

The unsigned piece was written by Robert
Anton Wilson
and/or Robert
Shea
, two Discordians who worked for Playboy at the
time. (They would later write the cult novel
Illuminatus!
, which features a rather different Mad
Dog, Texas, in its pages.) The first page of the article is posted

here
, and the remainder is
here
. And as a bonus,
here’s
a piece that a Discordian (probably Shea, though Wilson
may have had a hand in it) inserted into Teenset magazine.
This one exposes the nefarious conspiracy known as the Illuminati,
whose puppets turn out to include Lyndon Johnson, Ringo Starr, and
Bob Hope.

Advertisement: These hoaxes were part of a larger
project called Operation Mindfuck. You can read more about that in
my book The United
States of Paranoia
or, if you want the short version,
right here.

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Sin Taxes ad Absurdum: Why Illinois Taxes Hershey Bars But Not Kit Kats

I’ll
be on John Stossel’s special Tax Day show that airs
this
Thursday at 9 P.M. Eastern Time on Fox Business.

I’ll be talking about sin taxes past, present, and future. Above
is a short snippet about some of the dumber sin taxes in place:

a tax on popsicles
, for instance, and on Hershey bars but not
Kit Kats. The latter have flour, you see, and so are not “candy,”
according the wise men of the Illinois state legislature.

More Stossel videos and info on the show here.

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Arkansas Cop Who Fatally Shot Teen Wants Job Back After Prosecutors Decline to Try Him for Third Time

badge works even after it's gone?Prosecutors in Pulaski County,
Arkansas,
won’t try
Josh Hastings a third time for the fatal shooting of
Bobby Moore, Jr. in 2012. The former Little Rock police officer’s
previous two trials ended with hung juries. The first time the jury
deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Hastings on charges of
manslaughter. David Koons of the Arkansas
Times
 spoke to one of the jurors
from the first trial
:

The marquee quote from the juror on the two female
holdouts who refused to convict: “They were biased. I really feel
like they were, because they couldn’t get past the badge.”

In part, said the juror, the two holdouts favored acquittal because
Hastings in the fatal shooting was “preventing future
crimes.”

The same judge, Wendell Griffen, presided over both trials. The
judge expressed concern about bias in the first jury selection,
which yielded an all-white panel. Defense attorneys argued the
judge should recuse
himself
from the re-trial because of his own antipathy toward
police. Griffen denied it, taking charge of questioning during jury
selection for the second trial. That trial also ended with a
deadlocked jury, this time 11-1 in favor of acquittal.

After being told in court by prosecutors about the decision not
to re-try Hastings, Griffen noted that it was “not an acquittal.”
Nevertheless, Hastings was given his government-issued badge and
gun back.
Via the Arkansas Times
:

Hastings’ attorney Bill
James said Hastings will seek a civil service hearing to
get his job with the Little Rock Police Department back. “He did
what he had to do,” James said of Hastings shooting
Moore. 

“There are no winners here,” James said outside the courthouse, “a
family lost their son, his buddies lost their friend, Mr. Hastings
lost the better part of two years of his life dealing with this.”
James said that Hastings and his family are happy that they can
move on with their lives, adding that he can’t imagine that new
evidence would be brought forward that would lead to the case being
reopened.

Hastings was
initially charged
with manslaughter after internal
investigators at the Little Rock Police Department determined that
the officer’s account of the speed and direction of the stolen car
he claimed the 15-year-old Moore was trying to drive at him didn’t
match the evidence. 

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This Is Why It’s So Hard To Cut Medicare

Have you ever had a friend who
is chronically about to start a diet? Yes, he admits, he needs to
reduce his calorie consumption, and he has for a while. That’s why
he’ll be starting a new eating regime tomorrow, or maybe next week.
And because he knows how hard it is to cut back—he’s tried
before—he’s not planning on making major changes, just trimming a
little bit over time until he hits his goals. But tonight, he’s
hungry, and his stomach is grumbling rather loudly, so why not
feast a bit more before the fast?

Even if you’ve never met someone like that, you can get a
similar experience just by following various attempts to cut
Medicare spending. Yesterday, for example, the Centers for Medicare
& Medicaid Services (CMS)
announced
that a proposed 1.9 percent cut to Medicare
Advantage, which allows seniors to get Medicare benefits through
privately run plans,
would not go into effect
. Instead, the new rates for the
program will likely result in a 0.4 percent spending increase.

This is not the first time that Medicare Advantage cuts have
conveniently transformed into increases. Last year, CMS initially
proposed a 2.2 percent cut—which, over the course of a few months,

evolved into a 3.3 percent hike
.

In both years, what happened between the initial proposal and
the final was the same: an intense lobbying campaign by insurers
who get paid by the program, as well as heavy political pressure
from both sides of the aisle.

Insurers began their campaign in January this year,
before the proposed cuts were even formally announced
. A
bipartisan group of 40 senators, led by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)
and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), sent a
letter to CMS head Marilyn Tavenner
expressing concern about
the cuts. “Given the impact that payment policies could have on our
constituents,” the letter said, “we ask that you prioritize
beneficiaries’ experience and minimize disruption in maintaining
payment levels for 2015.”

The stomach grumbled, and CMS listened.

The Medicare Advantage reversals in many ways recall the
long-lived saga of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), a formula put
in place in the late 1990s to keep Medicare payments to physicians
in check.

The original thinking was that the formula, which is designed to
keep physician payments on a steady trajectory in line with the
overall economy, wouldn’t require cuts. But in 2002, when the
economy didn’t keep growing at late-90s rates, and the formula
began to call for cuts, Congress balked, replacing the cuts with
short-term increases—a pattern it has repeated over and over again,
for more than a decade. Indeed,
yet another one-year patch
to the SGR, overriding a large
scheduled cut, was passed just last week—in a deal worked out
between Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Democratic
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The fast can always come later.

This is a debate that sometimes scrambles easy assumptions about
party roles in the entitlement fight: Republicans, from
presidential candidate Mitt Romney down to Florida special election
victor David Jolly have been quite successful at hammering the
Obama administration for cutting Medicare in order to pay for
Obamacare. 

At the same time, it exposes the hollowness of both parties’
claims to fiscal responsibility. The Obama administration is
counting on
$156 billion in Medicare Advantage cuts by 2022
in order to
help finance Obamacare; but the strength and influence of the
opposition, which includes more than a few prominent Democrats,
means no cuts to the program are ever a sure thing. Republicans,
meanwhile, make the already treacherous path to Medicare reform
even more difficult with their constant complaints about Democratic
cuts to the program. For both parties, the time to feast is always
now. The time to diet, or cut Medicare, is always later. 

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Nevada Rancher Threatens “Range War” Over What He Sees as Illegitimate Bureau of Land Management Seizure of His Cattle

Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattle rancher, has threatened a “range
war” with the federal government as its Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) has begun confiscating his cattle.

The BLM is mad at Bundy for racking up over $300,000 in unpaid
grazing fees he claims they owe for 150 square miles of scrub the
BLM legally owns; he hasn’t paid any since 1993.

As
the Los Angeles Times reports
:

Officials say Bundy is illegally running cattle in the
600,000-acre Gold Butte area, habitat of the federally protected
desert tortoise. Last year, a federal court judge ruled that if the
68-year-old veteran rancher did not remove his cattle, they could
be seized by the BLM. That seizure began Saturday….

Federal authorities have closed off the Gold Butte area and are
rounding up what they call “trespass cattle,” many of which belong
to Bundy. By Monday, 134 cattle had been impounded….

Bundy says he “fired the BLM,” and vows not to pay one
dime to the agency that he accuses of plotting his
demise.

A father of 14…Bundy has insisted that his cattle aren’t
going anywhere. He acknowledges that he keeps firearms at his
ranch, 80 miles north of Las Vegas, and has vowed to do “whatever
it takes” to defend his animals from seizure.

Bundy is the type who,
from his public statements
, seems to believe in local and
county and state authority and not federal. He insists his family
has homestead rights to that land from the 1880s that predate the
federal government’s claims. 
Hundreds of Bundy
supporters have gathered in the past couple of days to protest the
BLM’s actions, but they’ve been taking the cattle
anyway.

Bundy has been reminding the press of Waco and Ruby Ridge
and other times when federal agents facing recalcitrant citizens
have resorted to violence.
As ABC News reported
:

a spokesperson for the National Park Service were told
that Bundy supporters had reported seeing snipers present near the
Ranch. Asked whether snipers indeed were on the scene, they said
that law enforcement was in place, as needed, and that they could
not comment more specifically.

Reassuring!

Dave Bundy, Cliven’s son, was briefly arrested Sunday then
released, as he
told the Las Vegas Review Journal
:

The 37-year-old said heavily armed federal agents roughed him up
and arrested him for exercising his constitutional rights on a
state highway in northeast Clark County on Sunday.

“They got on their loudspeaker and said that everyone needed to
leave,” Dave Bundy said during an impromptu press conference
alongside his father outside a 7-Eleven on Las Vegas Boulevard. “I
stood there and continued to express my First Amendment right to
protest, and they approached me and said that if I didn’t leave,
they’d arrest me.”

The younger Bundy said he was taking photographs and protesting
peacefully at the time.

Natalie Collins, a spokeswoman for the Nevada U.S. Attorney’s
office, said Bundy was cited for misdemeanor charges of “refusing
to disperse” and resisting arrest.

Earlier, BLM spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon said Bundy was taken
into custody to “protect public safety and maintain the
peace.”…

Dave Bundy showed a Review-Journal reporter his scratched face
and swollen, scraped hands while describing his arrest.

“Without any further questions, two rangers surrounded and a
third one approached me and they all jumped me, pulling different
directions. And then a couple other guys jumped in and they took me
to the ground,” Dave Bundy said. “… One ranger had had his knee on
my spine and the other one was on my head with his knee on the side
of my head and his other knee on the back of my neck.”

Dave Bundy maintains his arrest was improper because he was
standing along the side of Route 170 in a state right-of-way. BLM
officials said the right-of-way is under their jurisdiction and
within an area their agency had closed to the public.

This
KCET.org article
tries to make the preservationists case
against Bundy’s cattle.

The Bundy family’s collection of
YouTube videos
making their case (hat tip to the Griggs Family
on that link).

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Gene Healy on the GOP’s Counterproductive ‘Imperial Presidency’ Bill

House Majority Leader Eric
Cantor (R-Va.) is leading the charge against the “Imperial
Presidency.” In March, he helped shepherd the adroitly
acronymed ENFORCE the Law Act (for “Executive Needs to Faithfully
Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments”) through the House.
Gene Healy explains how the bill actually subverts separation of
powers principles in an attempt to enforce them and that the courts
are unlikely to comply.

View this article.

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White House Says Wage Gender Gap Stats Are Misleading…When Applied to the White House

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney doesn’t
like when you apply the same logic governing wages in private
businesses to his employer’s own payroll. As
President Obama prepares to sign an executive order addressing the
gender gap
in federal contractors’ wages, critics have pointed
out that female White House staffers make an average of 88 cents
for every dollar male staffers earn. 

Carney protested that this was misleading, because women and men
holding similar positions at the White House are paid equivalent
salaries. Because women outnumber men at the lowest levels of the
employee chain, however, the average female salary at the White
House is lower. 

Carney is right: It is misleading to average the salaries of men
and women in widely varying positions and then use this as evidence
that women are being discriminated against. That women
disproportionately make up lower-paid positions may point to some
broad, systematic gender bias, past or present, but it doesn’t
equate to outright sexist behavior on an employer’s part. 

It’s good that Carney acknowledges this as far as the White
House is concerned, because the Obama administration and many
others are quick to gloss over nuance like this when talking about
the wage gap in general. We frequently hear that American women
make only 77 cents for every dollar men make, but this is based on
data that fails to account for women’s work histories and life
choices. It aggregates the earnings of women in all positions and
compares this average against the earnings of all men. 

As The Washington Post‘s
Nia-Malika Henderson points out
, “It’s hard to find a
study that finds no pay disparity in what men
and women make,”—several studies place it closer to 84 cents on the
dollar. But the gap is neither as wide nor as easily reduced as
many would make it out to be. Though there are surely some
occupations and companies where women get paid less out of plain
old sexism, the wage gap overall seems a product of large but less
nefarious
structural and cultural forces
.

These forces are certainly worth talking about. Why do women
still flock to lower paying fields and positions? How can women,
men, and companies make having children less detrimental to women’s
careers? Why does the wage gap widen for older women even when they
don’t have children? Etcetera. But trotting out misleading
statistics about women’s wages not only fails to address these
issues adequately, it actively works against addressing them. It
makes things too simplistic, and thus given to simplistic
solutions.

This week, Senate
Democrats are (again) considering
the “Paycheck Fairness Act,”
which would require employers to submit pay information annually
for all employees. How will this help shrink the wage gap? No one’s
been too specific about that. But, hey, what’s a little more
bureaucracy when there’s the spectacle of government action to
uphold?

The bill would also make employers liable to civil actions for
pay discrimination. Republicans in Congress say
this is unnecessary
, because gender-based discrimination is
already illegal. But a vote against the bill is a good way to get
painted as complicit in the Republican “war on women,” so you can
see why backing the lackluster legislation is a good political move
for Democrats. Henderson notes in the Post that states
where Democrats are running close races this year seem to contain
Democrats most concerned with addressing the wage gap
immediately. 

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Press Release Boo-Boo Reveals Lots About Rights-Preventing Gun Prohibitionists

Woman shooting AR-15Last week, a year after the
passage of
rushed and poorly drafted
gun restrictions in Connecticut, the
organization Connecticut Against Gun Violence issued
a press release
celebrating the anniversary and deriding gun
owners for continuing to call for repeal of the law.

Fairfield, CT Last April, following the
senseless slaughter of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook,
the Connecticut General Assembly took a courageous action. It voted
“yes” in a bipartisan effort to strengthen the state’s gun laws
with common-sense measures that make our communities safer. It did
so while respecting Second Amendment rights, as confirmed by a
federal court decision upholding the constitutionality of the
law.

Nonetheless, gun rights activists are holding a rally at the
Capitol on April 5 to protest the law.  They are demanding
that the law, which they call “one of the most unconstitutional gun
laws in the nation”  be enforced or repealed, warning that
“State-provoked chaos and violence will be required to enforce the
anti-gun laws.”

A coalition of state Gun Rights Prevention Groups will
be holding a press conference on Thursday, April 3, at 10:00 am at
the State Capitol, 3rd Floor, Old Judiciary Room. ( See logos below
of participating organizations).

Very quickly, as the reference to the law’s supporters as “a
coalition of state Gun Rights Prevention Groups” drew
notice, a correction
went out over the wire
changing the wording to: “A Coalition of
state Gun Violence Prevention Groups.”

Whoops.

But in a year marked by
political turmoil
, the
steady migration of firearms companies
from Connecticut to
other states, and
massive defiance of the the new gun law
, you have to wonder if
a little honesty might have peeked through.

Ultimately, prohibitionists and restrictionists inherently want
to stop us from doing something. If you believe that people have
the right to be free—to act so long as they don’t harm others—then
you better believe that some rights are being prevented. And they
know it.

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