Category Archive 'Government Spending'

05 Sep 2010

Pyramid-building in Los Angeles

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Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools Complex

Los Angeles may be broke and its public school system may only graduate from high school (as of 2008) 45.3% of its students, but those minor considerations are not stopping the opening of the most expensive school ever constructed in the country’s history.


Allysia Finley
, in the Wall Street Journal, comments on the Neronian insolence of it all.

At $578 million—or about $140,000 per student—the 24-acre Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in mid-Wiltshire is the most expensive school ever constructed in U.S. history. To put the price in context, this city’s Staples sports and entertainment center cost $375 million. To put it in a more important context, the school district is currently running a $640 million deficit and has had to lay off 3,000 teachers in the last two years. It also has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and some of the worst test scores.

The K-12 complex isn’t merely an overwrought paean to the nation’s most celebrated liberal political family. It’s a jarring reminder that money doesn’t guarantee success—though it certainly beautifies failure.

The cluster of schools is situated on the premises of the old Ambassador Hotel where the New York senator and presidential candidate was shot in 1968. The school district insists that it chose the site not merely for sentimental reasons, but because it was the only space available in the area and the property was dirt cheap.

That was the only cheap thing about the project. In order to build on the site, the school district had to resolve protracted legal battles with Donald Trump—who wanted to build the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi there—and with historical conservationists who demanded that certain features be restored or recreated.

Set to open Sept. 13, the school boasts an auditorium whose starry ceiling and garish entrance are modeled after the old Cocoanut Grove nightclub and a library whose round, vaulted ceilings and cavernous center resemble the ballroom where Kennedy made his last speech. It also includes the original Cocoanut Grove canopy around which the rest of the school was built. “It wasn’t cheap, but it was saved,” says Thomas Rubin, a consultant for the district’s bond oversight committee, which oversees the $20 billion of bonds that taxpayers approved for school construction in recent years.
View a slide-show of the school.

I asked Mr. Rubin whether some of the school’s grandiose features—like florid murals of Robert F. Kennedy—were worth the cost. “Did we have to do that? Hell no. But there’s no accounting for taste,” he responded.

Talking benches—$54,000—play a three-hour audio of the site’s history. Murals and other public art cost $1.3 million. A minipark facing a bustling Wilshire Boulevard? $4.9 million.

The Kennedy complex is Exhibit A in the district’s profligate 131-school building binge. Exhibit B is the district’s Visual and Performing Arts High School, which was originally budgeted at $70 million but was later upgraded into a sci-fi architectural masterpiece that cost $232 million.

Even more striking is Exhibit C, the Edward Roybal Learning Center in the Westlake area, which was budgeted at $110 million until costs skyrocketed midway through construction when contractors discovered underground methane gas and a fault line. Eventual cost: $377 million.

Mr. Rubin admits that the Roybal Center project was “a tremendous screw-up” that “should have been studied closer beforehand.” The project was abandoned for several years, only to be recommenced when community activists demanded that the school be built at whatever cost necessary in order to show respect for the neighborhood’s Latino children, many of whom were attending an overcrowded Belmont High School.

The Roybal center now ranks in the bottom third of schools with similar demographics on state tests, while Belmont High ranks in the top third. But even though many Roybal kids can’t read or do math, at least they have a dance studio with cushioned maple floors and a kitchen with a restaurant-quality pizza oven.

Expect more such over-the-top and inefficient building projects in the future. Los Angeles voters have approved over $20 billion of bonds since 1997 and state voters have chipped in another $4.4 billion of matching funds. Roughly a third of the cost of the Kennedy complex will be shouldered by state taxpayers.

1:55 ABC “>video

19 Jul 2010

WaPo Top Secret America Website Launched Today

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The Washington Post’s sexy new multimedia web-site adversarially reporting on the US Intelligence Community’s components, contractors, facilities, size, and expenditures is, as was predicted, up and running today.

The introductory 1:47 video and a lengthy article by Dana Priest and William Arkin take a downright conservative-sounding tone of skepticism of big government, complaining about massive growth, duplication of effort, paralysis and confusion stemming from over-large bureaucracy, and an excessive cult of secrecy leading to a lack of accountability.

After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine. …

An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances. …

Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored. …

The U.S. intelligence budget is vast, publicly announced last year as $75 billion, 21/2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001. But the figure doesn’t include many military activities or domestic counterterrorism programs.

At least 20 percent of the government organizations that exist to fend off terrorist threats were established or refashioned in the wake of 9/11. Many that existed before the attacks grew to historic proportions as the Bush administration and Congress gave agencies more money than they were capable of responsibly spending. …

Beyond redundancy, secrecy within the intelligence world hampers effectiveness… say defense and intelligence officers. For the Defense Department, the root of this problem goes back to an ultra-secret group of programs for which access is extremely limited and monitored by specially trained security officers.

These are called Special Access Programs – or SAPs – and the Pentagon’s list of code names for them runs 300 pages. The intelligence community has hundreds more of its own, and those hundreds have thousands of sub-programs with their own limits on the number of people authorized to know anything about them. All this means that very few people have a complete sense of what’s going on.

“There’s only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all SAPs – that’s God,” said James R. Clapper, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and the Obama administration’s nominee to be the next director of national intelligence.

Such secrecy can undermine the normal chain of command when senior officials use it to cut out rivals or when subordinates are ordered to keep secrets from their commanders.

One military officer involved in one such program said he was ordered to sign a document prohibiting him from disclosing it to his four-star commander, with whom he worked closely every day, because the commander was not authorized to know about it. Another senior defense official recalls the day he tried to find out about a program in his budget, only to be rebuffed by a peer. “What do you mean you can’t tell me? I pay for the program,” he recalled saying in a heated exchange.

These contentions sound reasonable, though the idea of top secret government functions and processes being reformed by even more unaccountable journalists with a record of personal career advancement via damaging leaks of highly classified intelligence operations strikes me as a case of the local foxes putting on efficiency expert Halloween costumes and volunteering to improve operations in the chicken house.

I’m not in the least persuaded that the Post really needed to publish a cool interactive map of government facility and contractor company locations and a searchable database of companies working on top secret contracting assignments. Why do Washington Post readers need such detailed information? Couldn’t foreign intelligence services do their own research?

It is also far from clear to me that Dana Priest and the Washington Post have not knowingly again violated the Espionage Act of 1917 by publishing that map and database. This time, who knows? It is much easier for a leftwing administration to undertake prosecutions of these kinds of offenses. The Obama Administration has already demonstrated more willingness to enforce the law in National Security cases than the Bush Administration ever did. It will be interesting to see how the government reacts.

Will Dana Priest go to jail or will she just collect one more Pulitzer Prize?

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Fox News says the Obama Administration is expecting some absurd spending stories and quotes Intelligence Community sources talking about what a great resource for America’s enemies that Post website is going to be.

The Obama administration is bracing for the first in a series of Washington Post articles said to focus in unprecedented detail on the government’s spending on intelligence contractors.

The intelligence community is warning that the article could blow the cover of contract companies doing top-secret work for the government. At the same time, a senior administration official acknowledged that the kind of wasteful spending expected to be spotlighted in the series is “troubling” and something the administration is trying to address.

“There will be examples of money being wasted in the series that seem egregious and we are just as offended as the readers by those examples,” the official said. The official said some of the information in the story is “explainable,” in that some “redundancy” is necessary in the intelligence community. But the official said the administration has been working to reduce “waste” and that “it’s something we’ve been on top of.”

Other sectors of the administration were on high alert over the piece. A source told Fox News that the series amounts to a “significant targeting document” in that it will apparently bring together unclassified information from the public domain in a single location, making it a one-stop shop for this level of detail. The official said “few intelligence groups have the assets and resources to pool” this kind of information.

This has led to warnings about how the information could be used. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence sent out a memo saying that “foreign intelligence services, terrorist organizations and criminal elements will have potential interest in this kind of information.”

07 Nov 2009

Democrats Scaring Independents

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David Brooks, too, observes that the willingness of democrats to try for radical change at the risk of the economy is costing them the support of the non-ideological center.

Independents turned on the Republican Party because the MSM persuaded them that it was George W. Bush’s intransigent extremism which had poisoned American political life and produced bitter factionalism, and that it was Bush’s war spending and Republican banking deregulation that produced the economic crisis. They put democrats in charge, and our politics has not become bipartisan, the Middle East is not at peace, and the economy has not recovered. On the other hand, the deficit has quadrupled, the government owns General Motors, and Congress is trying to nationalize another one sixth of the economy while adding another trillion dollar entitlement, just before it proceeds to start working on carbon taxes.

Right now, independent voters are astonishingly volatile. Democrats did poorly in elections on Tuesday partly because of disappointed liberals who think that President Obama is moving too slowly, but mostly because of anxious suburban independents who think he is moving too fast. In Pennsylvania, there was an eight-point swing away from the Democrats among independents from a year ago. In New Jersey, there was a 12-point swing. In Virginia, there was a 13-point swing.

The most telling races this year were the suburban rebellions across the country. For example, in Westchester and Nassau counties in New York, Republican candidates came from nowhere to defeat entrenched Democratic county officials. In blue Pennsylvania, the G.O.P. won six out of seven statewide offices.

Middle-class suburban voters who have been trending Democratic for a decade suddenly lurched out of the Democratic camp — and are now in play.

Why? What do these voters want?

The first thing to say is that this recession has hit the new suburbs hardest, exactly where independents are likely to live. According to a survey by the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, 76 percent of suburbanites say they or someone they know have lost a job in the past year.

The second thing to say is that in this time of need, these voters are not turning to government for support. Trust in government is at its lowest level in recent memory. Over the past year, there has been a shift to the right on issue after issue. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who believe that there is too much government regulation rose from 38 percent in 2008 to 45 percent in 2009. The percentage of Americans who want unions to have less influence rose from 32 percent to a record 42 percent.

Americans have moved to the right on abortion, immigration and global warming. Over the past seven months, the number of people who say government is doing too many things better left to business has jumped from 40 percent to 48 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

According to that same survey, only 31 percent of Americans believe that the president and Congress “should worry more about boosting the economy even though it may mean larger budget deficits.” Sixty-two percent, twice as many, believe the president and Congress “should worry more about keeping the deficit down, even though it may mean it will take longer for the economy to recover.”

These shifts have not occurred because conservatives and liberals have changed their minds. They haven’t. The shift is among independents.

According to Gallup, the share of independents who describe their views as conservative has moved from 29 percent last year to 35 percent today. The share of independents who believe there is too much government regulation of business has jumped from 38 percent to 50 percent. Independents are in the position of a person who is feeling gravely ill at the same time he has lost faith in his doctor. …

Independents support the party that seems most likely to establish a frame of stability and order, within which they can lead their lives. They can’t always articulate what they want, but they withdraw from any party that threatens turmoil and risk. As always, they’re looking for a safe pair of hands.

30 Oct 2009

“So Let It Be Written… So Let It Be Done”

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David Harsanyi thinks Americans need a good stiff drink as we survey the sheer size of Nancy Pelosi’s Pharonic pyramid of paper.

The King James version of the Bible runs more than 600 pages and is crammed with celestial regulations. Newton’s Principia Mathematica distilled many of the rules of physics in a mere 974 pages.

Neither have anything on Nancy Pelosi’s new fiendishly entertaining health-care opus, which tops 1,900 pages.

So curl up by a fire with a fifth of whiskey and just dive in.

But drink quickly. In the new world, your insurance choices will be tethered to decisions made by people with Orwellian titles (“1984” was only 268 pages!) like the “Health Choices Commissioner” or “Inspector General for the Health Choices Administration.”

You will, of course, need to be plastered to buy Pelosi’s fantastical proposition that 450,000 words of new regulations, rules, mandates, penalties, price controls, taxes and bureaucracy will have the transformative power to “provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending . . . .”

It’s going to take some time to deconstruct this lengthy masterpiece, but as you flip through the pages of the House bill, you will notice the word “regulation” appears 181 times. “Tax” is there 214 times. “Fees,” 103 times. As we all know, nothing says “affordability” like higher taxes and fees.

The word “shall” – as in “must” or “required to” – appears over 3,000 times. The word, alas, is never preceded by the patriotic phrase “mind our own freaking business.” Not once.

To vote for the bill, a legislator must believe a $1 trillion price tag is “revenue neutral,” or that it alleviates any of the pain higher costs bring to the average American. This would require alcohol.

30 Oct 2009

Callous Children

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Peggy Noonan is feeling a bit depressed today contemplating 1990 unreadable pages costing $2.24 million dollars a word.

While Americans feel increasingly disheartened, their leaders evince a mindless . . . one almost calls it optimism, but it is not that.

It is a curious thing that those who feel most mistily affectionate toward America, and most protective toward it, are the most aware of its vulnerabilities, the most aware that it can be harmed. They don’t see it as all-powerful, impregnable, unharmable. The loving have a sense of its limits.

When I see those in government, both locally and in Washington, spend and tax and come up each day with new ways to spend and tax—health care, cap and trade, etc.—I think: Why aren’t they worried about the impact of what they’re doing? Why do they think America is so strong it can take endless abuse?

I think I know part of the answer. It is that they’ve never seen things go dark. They came of age during the great abundance, circa 1980-2008 (or 1950-2008, take your pick), and they don’t have the habit of worry. They talk about their “concerns”—they’re big on that word. But they’re not really concerned. They think America is the goose that lays the golden egg. Why not? She laid it in their laps. She laid it in grandpa’s lap.

They don’t feel anxious, because they never had anything to be anxious about. They grew up in an America surrounded by phrases—”strongest nation in the world,” “indispensable nation,” “unipolar power,” “highest standard of living”—and are not bright enough, or serious enough, to imagine that they can damage that, hurt it, even fatally.

We are governed at all levels by America’s luckiest children, sons and daughters of the abundance, and they call themselves optimists but they’re not optimists—they’re unimaginative. They don’t have faith, they’ve just never been foreclosed on. They are stupid and they are callous, and they don’t mind it when people become disheartened. They don’t even notice.

19 Aug 2009

America’s Future

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Warren Buffett spouts conventional pieties in the New York Times, but in the middle of Warren’s bromidal call for fiscal responsibility, the astute reader will find a shrewd assessment of what is really going to happen.

With government expenditures now running 185 percent of receipts, truly major changes in both taxes and outlays will be required. A revived economy can’t come close to bridging that sort of gap.

Legislators will correctly perceive that either raising taxes or cutting expenditures will threaten their re-election. To avoid this fate, they can opt for high rates of inflation, which never require a recorded vote and cannot be attributed to a specific action that any elected official takes. In fact, John Maynard Keynes long ago laid out a road map for political survival amid an economic disaster of just this sort: “By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens…. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”

30 Jan 2009

The New Politics of Hope

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Ben Stein voices outrage at the feckless irresponsibility of Congress and the newly-hatched Obama administration.

The new kind of politics of hope. Eight hours of debate in the HR to pass a bill spending $820 billion, or roughly $102 billion per hour of debate.

Only ten per cent of the “stimulus” to be spent on 2009.

Close to half goes to entities that sponsor or employ or both members of the Service Employees International Union, federal, state, and municipal employee unions, or other Democrat-controlled unions.

This bill is sent to Congress after Obama has been in office for seven days. It is 680 pages long. According to my calculations, not one member of Congress read the entire bill before this vote. Obviously, it would have been impossible, given his schedule, for President Obama to have read the entire bill.

For the amount spent we could have given every unemployed person in the United States roughly $75,000.

We could give every person who had lost a job and is now passing through long-term unemployment of six months or longer roughly $300,000.

There has been pork barrel politics since there has been politics. The scale of this pork is beyond what had ever been imagined before — and no one can be sure it will actually do much stimulation.

How do you improve the economy? You restore confidence by reducing taxes and government expenditure and by adopting policies calculated to assure a sound currency.

Under Bush, and far more under Obama already, even in his first week in office, the policy of the US Government has been to throw money out the window, assuring higher taxes, significant inflation sooner or later, and demolishing confidence. The only difference between the administrations is that the Bush administration gave federal money to the financial industry, and Obama is giving away a lot more money, primarily as a democrat dream-fulfilling shopping spree.

03 Jan 2009

Brother Can You Spare $1Trillion?

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The Nation’s Katrina Vanden Huevel climbs onto the lap of the American taxpayer and pleads for an increase in Leviathan’s allowance.

Poverty is on the rise, record numbers of people are relying on food stamps and we’ve seen no relief for the foreclosure crisis. There are increasing rates of child abuse and domestic violence linked to this recession. State governments don’t have financial resources to cope at the exact moment when those resources are most needed. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have lowered Medicaid payments or eliminated people from eligibility. The senior economist of the International Monetary Fund recently warned of another Great Depression

We don’t need a stimulus, we need a recovery. And that means investing $1 trillion over the next two years.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has proposed a plan to do just that–a detailed $1 trillion recovery plan to kick start the economy, invest in sustainable, long term growth and target individuals and communities that are most desperate for resources.

We’ve seen “progressive” economic plans work so often, after all.

28 Oct 2006

Dick Armey Explains Why Congressional Republicans Are in Trouble

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When Bill Clinton out-maneuvered House Republicans in the 1995 budget battle, and they found themselves under fire for “shutting down the government,” wholesale incumbency timidity returned.

In 1989, Newt Gingrich rose to the number two leadership position in the House after a contentious three-way race pitting young backbench conservatives such as myself, Bob Walker, Joe Barton and others against old bulls such as Minority Leader Bob Michel and other ranking members. We thought they suffered from a minority party mindset and were too accommodating of the Democrats. Out of congressional power for nearly two generations, Republicans had become complacent. Senior members of the party were happy to accept the crumbs afforded by Democratic chairmen. Life was comfortable in the minority as long as you did not rock the boat. Members received their perks — such as travel abroad and special banking privileges — and enough pork projects for reelection. The entire Congress lived by the rule of parochial politics.

Gingrich and I and a handful of true believers in Ronald Reagan’s conservative vision set the goal of retaking the House. The “Contract With America” outlined our platform of limited government. This vision appealed to both the social and economic wings of the conservative movement; equally important, it included institutional reforms for a Congress that had grown increasingly arrogant and corrupt. The contract nationalized the vision of the Republican Party in a way that unified our base and appealed to independents. We championed national issues, not local pork projects or the creature comforts of high office.

In 1994, this vision was validated when Republicans took 54 seats in the House, eight seats in the Senate and control of both houses of Congress.

Welfare reform in 1996 only affirmed the revolution. Bureaucrats, special interests and the White House all claimed that the sky would fall if we touched this failed Great Society program, but we held firm. When you take on a sacred cow, you must kill it completely — tinkering on the margins is ineffective. In the end, the reform proved so successful and popular that President Bill Clinton (who rejected the original bill twice) considers it one of the best ideas his administration ever had.

At one point during the welfare reform debates, a member approached me and said, “Dick, I know this is the right thing to do, but my constituents just won’t understand.” I told him, “So you’re telling me they are smart enough to vote for you but not smart enough to understand this?” He ended up voting to pass the bill.

Yet despite such successes, we didn’t learn the right political lessons. A few months before the victory on welfare, we lost the battle over the federal government shutdown of 1995, when we were outmaneuvered by Clinton, a masterful political operator. After that fight, too many Republicans apparently concluded that America wanted bigger government. This misreading was the first step on the road away from the Reagan legacy.

We emerged as a wounded party; we stopped trusting the public; and we internalized the wrong lesson. Since the party won the majority in 1994, the GOP Conference had been consistent in requiring offsetting spending cuts for any new spending initiatives. (In fact, during the aftermath of a large Mississippi River flood, Rep. Jim Nussle even waited to find and approve offsets before moving the relief legislation for his own state of Iowa.) But by the summer of 1997, the appropriators — rightly called the “third party” of Congress — had begun to pass spending bills with Democrats. As soon as politics superseded policy and principle, the avalanche of earmarks that is crushing the party began.

Read the whole article.

I noticed that Dick Armey failed to discuss how in 1997, with Newt Gingrich under fire from ethics charges trumped up by democrats, House Republicans led by Armey himself attempted to remove Gingrich as Speaker. Consequently the following year, after unexpected electoral setbacks (Republicans lost five House seats), Gingrich was blamed. He resigned the Speakership and left the House, rather than face another rebellion. It’s impossible to avoid comparing the quality of Republican leadership, and ideological commitment, before and after Gingrich’s departure.

09 Dec 2005

The Inalienable Right to Television

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George Will exposes another spectacular waste of federal tax money: subsidized television upgrades:

Feeling, evidently, flush with (other people’s) cash, the Senate has concocted a novel way to spend $3 billion: create a new entitlement. The Senate has passed — and so has the House, with differences — an entitlement to digital television.

If this filigree on the welfare state becomes law, everyone who owns old analog television sets — everyone from your Aunt Emma in her wee apartment to the millionaire in the neighborhood McMansion who has such sets in the maid’s room and the guest house — will get subsidies to pay for making those sets capable of receiving digital signals….
Remember, although it is difficult to do so, that Republicans control Congress. And today’s up-to-date conservatism does not stand idly by expecting people to actually pursue happiness on their own. Hence the new entitlement from Congress to help all Americans acquire converter boxes to put on top of old analog sets, making the sets able to receive digital programming. All Americans — rich and poor; it is uncompassionate to discriminate on the basis of money when dispersing money — will be equally entitled to the help.

The $990 million House version of this entitlement — call it No Couch Potato Left Behind — is (relatively) parsimonious: Consumers would get vouchers worth only $40 and would be restricted to a measly two vouchers per household. The Senate’s more spacious entitlement would pay for most of the cost — $50 to $60 — of the converter boxes. But there is Republican rigor in this: Consumers would be required to pay $10. That is the conservatism in compassionate conservatism.


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