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Let’s Just Have A Computer Program Decide Everything

in From Me To You, Liberator Online, Libertarianism, Philosophy by Brett Bittner Comments are off

“Let’s Just Have A Computer Program Decide Everything”

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

On my way to Las Vegas last week for FreedomFest, I had a revelation about “efficient government” and why it does not appeal to me. At least, it does not appeal in the same way a free society does.

WALL-EAs we’ve seen many times, candidates for office will promise to make government more efficient, eliminate waste, and reduce its size. While I appreciate the sentiment and pragmatism of that message, as a libertarian, I can’t take it seriously.

When we encounter those in favor of efficient government over the freedom a libertarian society offers, I suggest we offer the following suggestion: “Let’s just have a computer program decide everything.”

When it comes to efficiency, a computer program can make the decisions currently made by bureaucrats administering the myriad government programs that exist today. If you think about it, we could eliminate the waste, fraud, and abuse by making programming the decision-making to execute the laws and regulations on the books. The savings made by this automation would certainly make government operate cheaper, and there would be fewer people employed by government.

As we saw in Back to the Future II’s vision for 2015, the legal system moved much more swiftly after they abolished all lawyers. While this was certainly more efficient, it likely wasn’t effective when it came to justice and the preservation of liberty.

Is that what libertarians are really seeking?

So, if you really think about it…if we make government more efficient, will we be freer?

 

 

Pennsylvania School Bus Waste Story Nothing New

in Economic Liberty, Education, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Taxes by Advocates HQ Comments are off

Pennsylvania School Bus Waste Story Nothing New

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Another day, another story of government waste.

School BusEach year, Watchdog.org reports, Pennsylvania school districts spend over $54 million of taxpayer money on transportation services provided by contractors who do not have to compete for exclusive contracts with the state and local education agencies. Due to the state’s lack of rules regarding competitive bids, many are calling for an audit and a change of rules.

But would opening up the districts to a competitive bidding process alone do the trick?

According to late free market economist Milton Friedman, there are at least 4 ways money can be spent. “You can spend your own money” on things and services you consider important to yourself, trying to “get the most for your money.” You may also spend your money on somebody else, forcing yourself to look for something that will be meaningful or useful to the recipient while remaining mindful “about the cost.” Or you can either spend somebody else’s money on yourself or others.

According to Friedman, when you spend money earned by somebody else on other people, you’re not “concerned about how much it is,” and that, he concluded, is what government does.

While the waste promoted by Pennsylvania school districts is nothing unheard of, media outlets seldom discuss the lack of incentives in keeping a budget among government officials, whether they are local, state, or federal employees.

If bureaucrats are not concerned about the source of resources, they won’t be concerned with how much they spend. Opening the state’s districts to a competitive process might be of help, but it still won’t solve the government’s money spending problem.

In an article for the Mises Institute, Ryan McMaken makes the case that government is never able to allocate tax money efficiently.

He justifies his argument by claiming that once money is taken from an owner through taxation, the coercive nature of the transaction keeps those allocating it from learning just how valuable roads, law enforcement, and even public education truly are to those paying for them. He also argues that, when government spending is not limited by tax revenues alone, government officials have an endless source of revenue, either in the form of cheap money coming from a central bank or a federal government grant. And that alone is enough incentive to keep government employees from acting responsibly.

Without a free and unrestricted market in business transactions between service providers and consumers, transactions are imposed by the government, not sought after by the individual. Therefore, government cannot assess just how much those services are worth if they do not have a way to gauge demand.

If lawmakers and officials want what’s best for Pennsylvania’s children and their taxpaying parents, the only way to give them what they need—and want—is to remove perverse incentives from the equation, allowing parents to act on their ability to choose what’s best, and most valuable, to their children.

Social Security Administration Continues With Its Tradition of Punishing Whistleblowers

in First Amendment, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

Social Security Administration Continues With Its Tradition of Punishing Whistleblowers

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Recently, Watchdog.org published a report claiming that Ronald Klym, a long-time federal employee is paying a hefty price for blowing the whistle on the waste and abuse taking place in the Social Security Administration.

SSAAfter blowing the whistle to the media, Klym was put on administrative leave as he was forced out of the Milwaukee building he worked for years.

Klym who had been with the SSA for 16 years, was accused of violating the public trust by discussing issues within the administration with the press. But during the years he has been working for administrative judges who decide Social Security disability benefits cases, he started paying attention to what Daily Caller calls serious management problems within SSA. Among some of the issues raised by Klym, Daily Caller highlights some of the problems with the Milwaukee SSA office regularly transferring claims for disability benefits from its original offices to other SSA addresses around the country in order to make it look like the local administration was reducing the backlog. This move, Klym contends, made Milwaukee’s SSA office appear to be making major progress. While Klym tried to discuss some of these problems with his legislators for years, nothing was done to put an end to the abuse, forcing him to go to the media.

As Klym waits to learn more about his future with the government agency, others who, like Klym, have spent years in SSA’s bureaucratic hell attempting to make waste and abuse within government agencies public share their personal stories of censorship and persecution.

Sarah Carver, a former senior case technician at the Huntington, West Virginia Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, claims she now suffers the consequences of her actions by having to deal with the ostracism and trauma related to how the agency penalized her for reporting on waste and fraud within the system.

Along with whistleblower and colleague Jennifer Griffith, Carver stood up to the SSA’s pressure.

After reporting on corruption problems within the federal agency that later led to the indictment of an administrative law judge, a psychologist, and an attorney over their participation in a scheme to defraud taxpayers of $600 million, Griffith paid the price for speaking out.

During an entire year after attempting to get attention to her reports, Griffith claims to have been placed in “solitary confinement” within her own office. Instead of being allowed to do her job, Griffith was put in “a room that had no windows, and there were no other coworkers.” According to the whistleblower, she wasn’t able to even take part in staff meetings.

What Watchdog.org claims is that the SSA has a history of punishing whistleblowers who see abuse, fraud, and corruption and speak out.

As another governmental agency encourages individuals to step up and alert potential security problems to the authority, government workers who put the concerns of taxpayers first are punished.

As NSA whistleblower famously pointed out: If the whisteblower is a traitor, who are they betraying? Not the American people.

So, You Won This Week’s Powerball…

in From Me To You, Liberator Online by Brett Bittner Comments are off

So, You Won This Week’s Powerball…

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

We all went to Chino Hills, California to purchase a Powerball ticket this week, right?

Powerball cartoonNow, it’s time to discuss the realities of having won. Assuming you chose the cash option, you’ll “earn” $930 million dollars. The IRS gets 25% off the top, before the money hits your hands, with another 14.6% due at tax time. Surprisingly, California has a personal income tax exemption for lottery winnings, stemming from a law passed in 1984.

How are you going to spend the remaining $561.72 million dollars?

Obviously, you’ll want to ensure that your family is comfortable for the rest of their lives. Let’s assume you also want to make a positive impact on the world around you. This is a path taken by many entrepreneurial philanthropists like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

Let’s say that you have $200 million dollars for your philanthropy. How can you make the best use of those dollars?

Option 1: Write a check $568.28 million ($200 million beyond your “tax liability”) already taken by the bureaucrats in Washington DC to add to the Treasury to be doled out as they see fit.

Option 2: Research to find 200 charities and organizations that have similar goals that will make $1 million go a long way toward their mission.

Option 2, right?

When discussing the coercion of government to have you spend money on things you may not want to fund, this is a great exercise with those skeptical of libertarian ideas. Almost EVERYONE picks Option 2, regardless of political affiliation.

That’s because the waste and inefficiency associated with government is known far and wide.

That knowledge is another opening to build rapport to share libertarian philosophy with those who already have some libertarian leanings without even realizing it.

A “Devil’s Dictionary” of Washingtonese

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Activist Ammunition section in Volume 20, No. 15 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

WashingtoneseLibertarian journalist James Bovard — author of a dozen outstanding and eye-opening books including Lost RightsThe Bush Betrayal, and most recently Attention Deficit Democracy — has done Americans yet another service.

In an editorial for USA Today Bovard put together a short dictionary of “Washingtonese” — the slippery lingo that politicians, bureaucrats and other such nefarious critters use to hide what they really mean.

Or, as Bovard puts it, the government’s “nebulous nomenclature [that] deters citizens from recognizing exactly how well their elected leaders serve them.”

Here’s a sampling:

  • Historic — different than last week
  • Unprecedented — different than last month
  • Emergency — the gift that keeps giving
  • Truth — whatever people will swallow
  • Legacy — any political boast that survives more than three 24-hour news cycles
  • Handout — a government benefit received primarily by the supporters of the other party
  • Mandate — whatever a winning politician can get away with
  • Honorable — any public figure who has not yet been indicted
  • Bill of Rights — (archaic) political invocation popular in 1790s
  • Fair play — any process in which politicians or bureaucrats pick winners and losers
  • Rule of Law — the latest edicts from a deputy assistant Labor Secretary or deputy assistant HUD Secretary
  • Patriotic — any appeal that keeps people paying and obeying
  • Waste — federal spending that fails to generate laudatory headlines, votes or campaign contributions
  • Freedom — whatever rulers have not yet benevolently prohibited
  • Election — when voters are permitted to freely consent to one of the two aspiring despots offered by the major parties
  • Cynic — anyone who expresses doubt about the latest bipartisan agreement to gradually eliminate the federal budget deficit over the next 117 years
  • Anarchist — anyone who advocates across-the-board spending cuts of more than 3.63%
  • Scurrilous — anyone who mentions previous federal failures when the president proposes glorious new programs

For much more Bovardian wit and wisdom, see his USA Today article.

Your Tax Dollars Paid for Swedish Massages for Rabbits

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 19 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Politicians are warning us that the government is broke. It’s time for higher taxes and belt-tightening. Citizens need to pay more and expect less.

But still, our leaders heroically scraped together funding for the most important, the most fundamental, the most essential government functions.

Like providing Swedish massages to rabbits.

Yep. The National Institutes of Health spent $387,000 on this project. Yes, that’s the same NIH whose director says they “probably” would have come up with a vaccine for Ebola by now, if it wasn’t for low funding (they only get $30 billion a year).

And that’s just the beginning. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has released his annual Wastebook report.

Wastebook 2014: What Washington Doesn’t Want You To Read“ identifies “100 silly, unnecessary, and low priority projects” that lay bare Washington’s loony spending priorities. Wastebook

Total bill for these one hundred projects? A whopping $25 billion. And, Sen. Coburn warns, this is “just a fraction of the countless frivolous projects the government funded in the past twelve months — with borrowed money and your tax dollars.”

Sen. Coburn further notes: “Despite all of this obvious waste, Washington politicians celebrated ending the fiscal year with a deficit under half-a-trillion dollars for the first time since 2008 — as if adding $486 billion to a national debt quickly approaching $18 trillion is an actual accomplishment deserving praise.”

Here are a few more choice items from Coburn’s Wastebook 2014:

  • $856,000 to teach mountain lions to use treadmills.
  • $307,524 to study whether sea monkeys can be trained to swim. 
  • $371,026 to study whether mothers love their dogs as much as their own children.
  • $804,254 for a video game to empower parents to persuade their kids to eat vegetables.

Just skimming the table of contents rewards you with items like these below. And each one is accompanied by a jaw-dropping description that will have you thinking you’re reading the humorous parody site The Onion:

  • Roosevelt and Elvis Make a Hallucinatory Pilgrimage to Graceland
  • NASA Wonders How Humans Will React to Meeting Space Aliens
  • Anti-Terror Grant Buys State-of-the-Art SWAT Equipment for Safest Small Town in America
  • Spouses Stab Voodoo Dolls More Often When “Hangry,” Study Reveals
  • Scientists Hope Gambling Monkeys Unlock Secrets of Free Will
  • Paid Vacations for Bureaucrats Gone Wild 
  • Taxpayers Help NY Brewery Build Beer Farm
  • Free “High-End” Gym Memberships for DHS Bureaucrats
  • USDA’s “Perfect Poop Pak” Smells Like Government Waste

Page after page, the idiocy and waste goes on and on. Read the whole thing here.

Cut Military Spending by 60%: Libertarian Candidates Pledge

in Liberator Online, Military by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 16 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Cut Military Spending by 60%As we noted last issue, scores of Libertarian Party candidates for federal office have pledged to downsize the bloated federal government — in four big and specific ways:

  • Eliminate the federal income tax
  • End the War on Drugs
  • Abolish the NSA
  • Cut military spending by 60%

We’re exploring each of these pledges in detail, one per issue, because the Libertarian Party has done a great job of showing that these bold proposals are not only possible, they are practical and enormously beneficial. (Of course, you can jump ahead of us and read about all four positions right now.)

Let’s look at the pledge to cut military spending by 60% or more. The candidates pledge: “If elected, I will sponsor legislation to cut military spending by 60% or more and cut total federal spending accordingly; close all foreign U.S. military bases; withdraw completely from the Middle East; and bring our troops home.”

Here are the benefits, according to the Libertarians:

* A non-interventionist foreign policy will result in less hostility towards the United States and reduce the risk of a terrorist attack.

* There is no justification for forcing U.S. taxpayers to fund the military defense of other nations, including wealthy countries such as France, Germany and Japan.

* Cutting the U.S. military by 60 percent does not remove one cent of U.S. military defense spending — only military offense, defense of other countries, and waste.

* An oversized military budget is a war waiting to happen. Needless war results in untold death and destruction — the greatest assault on human liberty. A lean, reasonably-sized military budget will save lives, avoid casualties, preserve personal property and community infrastructures, and foster peace.

* Voters want to downsize the U.S. military. According to a survey by the Stimson Center, Democratic, Republican and independent voters all want to cut military spending “far more severely than the sequester would” and “far, far more severely than either party has proposed.”

* Closing foreign bases and withdrawing from the Middle East means that U.S. troops stationed abroad can come home to their families. Kids will grow up with mom and dad at home.

* Fewer casualties will reduce demand on the Veterans Administration, which will improve the care of America’s wounded soldiers.

* Downsizing the military will force the reduction and consolidation of 18 separate spy agencies — the surest way to end the government’s spying on innocent citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

* A right-sized military will be auditable, will squeeze out its legendary waste and will put an end to overpriced and unneeded multi-billion-dollar procurements that politicians lobby for to “bring home the bacon” to their districts.* A non-interventionist policy will reduce trade barriers, resulting in greater prosperity for both Americans and our trading partners.

* Cutting the military by 60 percent will enable substantial cuts in federal taxes and stop the growth of the national debt. If applied to the income tax, each American family will get back, on average, $4,100 — every year. If used to balance the budget, it will eliminate approximately 70 percent of the deficit and stop today’s rapid inflation of the dollar. This will stabilize prices on everyday goods and services and dramatically reduce the risk of an economic collapse.

* Transferring wealth out of the government sector and into the private sector will create sustainable, productive jobs — approximately twice as many jobs as will be lost in the government sector. A net increase of millions of new jobs.

Resource: A Verifiable and Disturbing Look Into “Top Secret America”

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

“Top Secret America” is a investigative report first published in The Top Secret AmericaWashington Post on July 19, 2010. It is based on a two-year investigation by a team of journalists headed by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dana Priest and William Arkin.

Top Secret America attempted to discover the size and scope of the post-9/11 growth of the U.S. intelligence community.

Though the report is now nearly three years old, it remains a startling and shocking profile of the post 9/11 security state. It’s available online, along with supplementary material.

The Post found that the top-secret world the federal government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 “has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”

This constitutes nothing less than “an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.”

Among the investigation’s findings:

  • Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
  • An estimated 854,000 people — nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C. — hold top-secret security clearances.
  • In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — about 17 million square feet of space.
  • 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.

Indeed, the secret government is growing so fast and so secretly that no one really knows its size or scope — including those who are supposedly in charge of it.

Reports the Post: “In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials — called Super Users — have the ability to even know about all the department’s activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation’s most sensitive work.”

In the years since, we can only imagine the further expansion of Top Secret America. Revelations since then include, for example, charges from reliable sources that the government is tracking most if not all electronic communication in America.

This report is an excellent mainstream account of startling information and thus is a useful and reliable resource. Just remember, things are even worse than the Post reports.