Uncommon Sense

politics and society are, unfortunately, much the same thing

Billion$ spent to fix failing schools; fail

original article: Obama administration spent billions to fix failing schools, and it didn’t work
January 19, 2017 by Emma Brown

One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis.

Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.

The Education Department published the findings on the website of its research division on Wednesday, hours before President Obama’s political appointees walked out the door.

“We’re talking about millions of kids who are assigned to these failing schools, and we just spent several billion dollars promising them things were going to get better,” said Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has long been skeptical that the Obama administration’s strategy would work. “Think of what all that money could have been spent on instead.”

The School Improvement Grants program has been around since the administration of President George W. Bush, but it received an enormous boost under Obama. The administration funneled $7 billion into the program between 2010 and 2015 — far exceeding the $4 billion it spent on Race to the Top grants.

The money went to states to distribute to their poorest-performing schools — those with exceedingly low graduation rates, or poor math and reading test scores, or both. Individual schools could receive up to $2 million per year for three years, on the condition that they adopt one of the Obama administration’s four preferred measures: replacing the principal and at least half the teachers, converting into a charter school, closing altogether, or undergoing a “transformation,” including hiring a new principal and adopting new instructional strategies, new teacher evaluations and a longer school day.

The Education Department did not track how the money was spent, other than to note which of the four strategies schools chose.

Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary from 2009 to 2016, said his aim was to turn around 1,000 schools every year for five years. “We could really move the needle, lift the bottom and change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children,” Duncan said in 2009.

Duncan often said that the administration’s school-improvement efforts did not get the attention they deserved, overshadowed by more-controversial efforts to encourage states to adopt new standards and teacher evaluations tied to tests.

The school turnaround effort, he told The Washington Post days before he left office in 2016, was arguably the administration’s “biggest bet.”

He and other administration officials sought to highlight individual schools that made dramatic improvements after receiving the money. But the new study released this week shows that, as a large-scale effort, School Improvement Grants failed.

Just a tiny fraction of schools chose the most dramatic measures, according to the new study. Three percent became charter schools, and 1 percent closed. Half the schools chose transformation, arguably the least intrusive option available to them.

“This outcome reminds us that turning around our lowest-performing schools is some of the hardest, most complex work in education and that we don’t yet have solid evidence on effective, replicable, comprehensive school improvement strategies,” said Dorie Nolt, an Education Department spokeswoman.

Nolt emphasized that the study focused on schools that received School Improvement Grants money between 2010 and 2013. The administration awarded a total of $3.5 billion to those schools, most of it stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. “Since then,” she said, “the program has evolved toward greater flexibility in the selection of school improvement models and the use of evidence-based interventions.”

“Here in Massachusetts, it actually took several years to see real improvement in some areas,” Duncan said at the time. “Scores were flat or even down in some subjects and grades for a while. Many people questioned whether the state should hit the brakes on change. But you had the courage to stick with it, and the results are clear to all.”

Smarick said he had never seen such a huge investment produce zero results.

That could end up being a gift, he said, from Duncan to Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary and is a prominent proponent of taxpayer-supported vouchers for private and religious schools.

Results from the School Improvement Grants have shored up previous research showing that pouring money into dysfunctional schools and systems does not work, Smarick said: “I can imagine Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump saying this is exactly why kids need school choice.”

bailout, bureaucracy, crisis, education, funding, government, nanny state, politics, public policy, reform, spending, study, unintended consequences

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Republican lawmakers slam ‘diversion’ of ObamaCare funds from Treasury

original article: Republican lawmakers slam ‘diversion’ of ObamaCare funds from Treasury
March 11, 2016 by FoxNews

Republican critics say an ObamaCare program is breaking the law by shorting the U.S. Treasury — and therefore U.S. taxpayers– billions of dollars collected from the insurance industry.

Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., chairman of the health subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, called it “an illegal wealth transfer from hard-working taxpayers to (insurers).”

He recently joined Republican colleagues in grilling Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell about the shortfall of money  supposed to be flowing into Treasury coffers – as mandated in the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

They followed up that hearing by sending a letter this week seeking clarification from the administration, according to The Hill.

Under the law, money is collected each year from insurers for the ACA’s reinsurance program, which helps plans taking on higher costs associated with sicker enrollees.

While $10 billion was supposed to go back to the market to pay those costs in 2014, the first year, an additional $2 billion was supposed to go to the U.S. Treasury under the law. It never arrived.

That was because not enough money was brought in to cover both, so the administration prioritized. Then HHS published a new rule saying payments would be made to insurers first in the event of a shortfall.

The rule, set in 2014, was published publicly for comment and received no reaction at the time, Burwell told a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing when the matter was raised again by lawmakers last week.

According to health care law expert Tim Jost, a professor at Washington & Lee University School of Law, the reinsurance program is not permanent and was instituted as a way to shoulder some of the burden for the new costs connected with new, at-risk enrollees who weren’t able to get adequate coverage before ObamaCare.

The reinsurance program was to collect $10 billion from insurance companies in 2014, $6 billion in 2015, and $4 billion in 2016. The Treasury would get $2 billion in 2014 and 2015 and $1 billion in 2016.

In 2014, according to reports, only $9.7 billion was collected from the industry , and 2015 totals were expected to be short, as well.

Critics say the law is clear: the Treasury gets the money and it cannot be transferred elsewhere, even if that “elsewhere” is to the insurance companies for the reinsurance program.

According to The Hill, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., teamed up with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R- Utah, to write a letter decrying the administration’s moves.

“The statute in question is unambiguous, and the HHS regulation and recent practice violates its clear directive,” the letter read.

Jost is not so sure. He says it all depends on how the mandate is interpreted. “(The administration’s) reading of the statute is, that the reason for adopting this program was to establish a reinsurance program, and therefore if there was a shortfall the money collected should first go to reinsurance,” and if more is collected, “only then would it go to the Treasury,” Jost told Foxnews.com. “(Republicans) say that reading is wrong.”

“It’s a disagreement on how to read the statute,” he added, “but I don’t think there is anything illegal, unconstitutional or immoral in respect to what the administration is doing.”

bureaucracy, congress, ethics, funding, government, health care, nanny state, politics, public policy, rationing, reform, regulation, spending

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ACLU fights against school choice; is it because of anti-religious bias?

original article: ACLU Files Lawsuit to Block School Choice for Nevada Children
August 27, 2015 by Lindsey Burke

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has just filed a lawsuit intended to block students from participating in Nevada’s groundbreaking near-universal education savings account (ESA) option. The ESA option was signed into law this spring by Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nev., and began accepting applications a few weeks ago.

More than 2,200 parents have already applied to participate in the ESA option, which provides students with a portion (roughly $5,100 annually) of the funds that would have been spent on them in their public school in an ESA account that they can then use to pay for a variety of education-related services, products, and providers.

They can use their ESA to pay for private school tuition, online learning, special education services and therapies, textbooks, curricula, and a host of other education-related expenditures. As the name implies, parents can also save unused funds, rolling dollars over from year-to-year to pay for future education costs.

The ACLU’s lawsuit alleges that the ESA program “violates the Nevada Constitution’s prohibition against the use of public money for sectarian (religious) purposes.” Yet ESA funds go directly to parents, who can then choose from any education option that is right for their child.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education explains that the Arizona Court of Appeals noted in a similar case in 2013,

“The ESA does not result in an appropriation of public money to encourage the preference of one religion over another, or religion per se over no religion. Any aid to religious schools would be a result of the genuine and independent private choices of the parents. The parents are given numerous ways in which they can educate their children suited to the needs of each child with no preference given to religious or nonreligious schools or programs.”

The Institute for Justice, which will be defending the ESA option, is confident it does not violate the state’s constitution.

Tim Keller, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, declared that,

“Nevada’s Education Savings Account (ESA) Program was enacted to help parents and children whose needs are not being met in their current public schools, and we will work with them to intervene in this lawsuit and defeat it.”

“The United States Supreme Court, as well as numerous state supreme courts, have already held that educational choice programs, like Nevada’s ESA Program, are constitutional. We expect the same from Nevada courts.”

Education director for the Goldwater Institute, Jonathan Butcher, had this to say,

“Every child deserves the chance at a great education and the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. Lawsuits such as this challenge parents’ ability to help their children succeed,”

“Nevada has a unique law that makes flexible learning options available to every child attending a public school and a treasurer that has committed his team to listening to public comments and designing a successful education savings account program. Opponents should give students the chance to succeed with these accounts.”

Education savings accounts are one of the most promising paths forward on choice in education. They enable families to direct every single dollar of their child’s state per-pupil funding that is deposited into their account to a wide variety of education options. Arizona became the first state, in 2011, to enact the ESA model.

Today, five states, including Arizona, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, and Nevada have ESAs in place, with Nevada’s being notable because it will be available to every single child currently enrolled in a public school. It is the first program universally available to all public school students. Arizona, which has the longest-running ESA option, has had great success for participating families.

As Marc Ashton, father to Max Ashton who is legally blind and used the ESA prior to finishing high school explained,

“A blind student in Arizona gets about $21,000 a year. That $21,000 represents what Arizona spends to educate a student such as Max in the public-school system.”

“We took our 90 percent of that, paid for Max to get the best education in Arizona, plus all of his Braille, all of his technology, and then there was still money left over to put toward his college education,” Marc explains. “So he is going to be able to go on to Loyola Marymount University, because we were able to save money, even while sending him to the best school in Arizona, out of what the state would normally pay for him.”

That type of customization and innovation is what the ACLU is threatening now in Nevada. It’s a shame that special interest groups continue to threaten choice in education, when choice is what is needed so badly, for so many.

Do we need a separation between school and state?

anti-religion, bias, bigotry, bureaucracy, children, civil rights, discrimination, education, freedom, funding, government, ideology, innovation, intolerance, left wing, liberalism, litigation, nanny state, oppression, philosophy, political correctness, progressive, public policy, reform, relativism, spending, tragedy

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Federal watchdogs accused of stealing lunch money from needy kids

Federal watchdogs accused of stealing lunch money from needy kids
August 12, 2015 by Fox News

Five employees who work at a federal watchdog agency tasked with rooting out fraud and abuse were indicted Tuesday after investigators say they concocted a plan that stole lunch money from needy children.

Prosecutors say the employees, all working with the Government Accountability Office, as well as the spouse of a separate GAO worker, tried to illegally obtain reduced-price school lunches for their children. They did so by falsely reporting their incomes in order to qualify for the discounted government meals.

“There is no excuse for stealing funds intended to go to children whose parents cannot afford the school lunches,” Maryland’s Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said in a written statement announcing the news. “Their actions are made even worse by the fact that some of them claimed to have not just low income, but no income at all, even though they were working full-time jobs at the GAO.”

One of the accused is Lynette Mundey, a Prince George’s County school board member. Mundey, along with Barbara Rowley, Jamilah Reid, Tracy Williams, Charlene Savoy and James Pinkney, the spouse of a GAO employee, were charged with filing false applications, fraud and theft.

Federal officials say the group bilked the program designed to benefit needy children out of $13,000 over the course of five years. They did so by either under-reporting their income or in some cases, reporting that they had no income even though their actual salaries ranged from $55,000 to $78,000.

Children who are legally eligible for the reduced-cost lunch program must come from households with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level – or about $30,615 for a family of four.

A reduced-price lunch costs an elementary child 40 cents compared to $2.75 for a full-price meal, according to the Prince George’s County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services.

“This is a program for people who can’t afford it, but these are people who can,” John Erzen, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office told The Washington Post in a statement.

Calls to Mundey as well as the Prince George’s County Board of Education were not immediately returned.

abuse, bureaucracy, children, corruption, criminal, ethics, fraud, funding, government, greed, nanny state, poverty, scandal, spending

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Are we being double-taxed? Why ObamaCare may render Planned Parenthood obsolete

original article: Are we being double-taxed? Why ObamaCare may render Planned Parenthood obsolete
July 22, 2015 by Dr. Manny Alvarez

With the inception of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, President Obama created a new system of health care that aimed to allow all Americans to carry health insurance, and in many cases, that insurance is subsidized by the federal government with our tax dollars.

His sales pitch to America was that by expanding access to health insurance, he would help create better patient-doctor relationships that would be effective in prineventing several of the chronic health conditions and concerns that affect the U.S. population— many of which affect women.

Now, no matter your stance on universal health care, a concern that every tax-paying American, man or woman, should take issue with centers on waste. This is especially true given the recent events surrounding the claims that Planned Parenthood seems to be in the business of selling aborted fetal body parts.

Now, if my tax dollars are being used to subsidize our national health care program, then why are my tax dollars also being allocated for Planned Parenthood? This isn’t a matter of ethics, but rather, of practicality.

Many of the clinical services Planned Parenthood offers— including Pap smears, breast exams, tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and abortions— can be performed by gynecologists, family practitioners and pediatricians. The ACA guarantees coverage for the vast majority of women’s reproductive needs.

According to Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 annual report, the latest data available, the organization received nearly $1.15 billion in revenue— $528.4 million of which came from the federal government.

During that period, it spent about $769 million on medical services, $45 million on sexuality education, $34 million on public policy and $12 million to engage communities. In all, the organization spent over $859 million in the fiscal year of 2014.

Planned Parenthood heralds its efforts to promote education among young women and expectant mothers, and certainly it should be applauded for those campaigns. But according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under the ACA, women are now covered for annual counseling in STIs, HIV, contraceptive methods, breastfeeding support and interpersonal and domestic violence.

All things considered, if American tax dollars are being allocated for the ACA and Planned Parenthood, it seems like we are getting double-taxed. And I don’t want my tax dollars involved in promoting all the other programs that Planned Parenthood peddles outside the scope of medical care. In 2014, they spent $34 million in public policy. The average American does not control the political agenda of Planned Parenthood, and yet we are all paying for it.

Planned Parenthood accepts patients under Medicaid, private insurance and all state plans subsidized by Obama’s health care law. And again, this is the similar coverage that is offered by many other types of clinics. The only difference is they don’t receive added federal dollars.

Of course, for uninsured patients, Planned Parenthood services may prove cheaper than services offered at a regular doctor’s office. According to the organization’s website, many of its fees are based on a sliding fee scale, which depends on the patient’s income. Services like family planning, birth control, gynecological exams, pregnancy testing, STI testing and other reproductive health care services are on that sliding scale. But all of that should be irrelevant if the ACA, plus expanded Medicaid, is meant to guarantee health coverage for all.

The bottom line is this: There was a time in our country when Planned Parenthood played a role in providing women with medical services that otherwise were not available to people who had no insurance. However, to have, at present, an organization that continues to be subsidized by the taxpayer is not necessary. We now have the same services covered by ObamaCare, and millions of taxpayer dollars are helping to keep that system in check. And that system includes community hospitals, physician practices and community clinics that don’t receive any extra support from the federal government and only rely on the fees they receive from patient care.

abortion, bureaucracy, economy, entitlements, funding, government, health care, nanny state, public policy, spending, taxes, unintended consequences

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Planned Parenthood and Unfettered Congressional Spending

original article: Planned Parenthood and Unfettered Congressional Spending
July 22, 2015 by Zack Pruitt

The U.S. Constitution permits congressional spending for two purposes only — to pay debts and to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the country (Article 1, Section 8).  Experts have debated ad nauseam over the proper interpretation of the terms “common defense” and “general welfare” but it is difficult to deny that modern spending has far surpassed the intent of the Founders and, in some cases, reached the point of absurdity.  With entire websites devoted to exposing the excesses of government spending that has virtually no limits, it is inevitable that taxpayers will be forced to subsidize things that they view as morally questionable.

Planned Parenthood receives over $500 million each year from American taxpayers, which comprises over 40 percent of its budget.  It was recently shown on video ostensibly seeking to profit from the sale of aborted baby parts (as opposed to being reimbursed for tissue donation), perhaps in violation of federal law.  Make no mistake, the big picture story here is not congressional overspending; it is the Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood graphically describing her efforts to “not crush” vital organs when performing abortions in an effort to preserve them and recoup “between $30 and $100 per specimen.”  In another video, the President of Planned Parenthood’s Medical Directors Council indicates a profit-motive for aborted parts by negotiating for higher prices and haggling over the cost of “intact tissue.”  When a system allows for unfettered spending, taxpayers can wind up paying not only for unnecessary services, but ones that straddle the line between genocide and the commercialization of human body parts.

Without government assistance it is unlikely Planned Parenthood could survive as currently structured.  A system without proper checks and restraints allows for congressional funding of a multitude of programs that are unnecessary, and some, like Planned Parenthood, that blur ethical and moral lines.  Numerous calls for investigation and defunding have followed the release of this video, but under the current setup it will be difficult to fully strip federal grants because congressional Democrats and the President support the continued funding of Planned Parenthood despite the recent revelations.  In 2013, President Obama said, “You’ve also got a president who is going to be right there with you, fighting every step of the way… Thank you Planned Parenthood, God bless you.”

It should come as no surprise that when the government sanctions a morally questionable procedure such as abortion, that other morally suspect actions will stem from that tree, even ones that shock the conscience.  Historically, polls have shown this nation to be nearly 50-50 when it comes to general abortion rights, but the same polls move sharply against abortion in the 2ndand 3rd trimesters.  Partial-birth abortion is illegal but the methods described by Dr. Deborah Nucatola in the video closely resemble techniques in the partial-birth procedure.  She said that “[Planned Parenthood doctors are] very good at getting heart, lung, and liver…so I’m not going to crush that part, I’m going to crush below, I’m going to crush above, I’m going to see if I can get it all intact.”  Dr. Nucatola implies that specific steps are taken to preserve body parts, deviating from legal abortion standards.  In response to this aspect of the video evidence, Bill Murphy, co-Director of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center at the University of Wisconsin, told the Washington Post “The general consensus is that’s unethical and unsafe… you can’t modify a life-saving procedure for a patient in order to harvest organs.”

Control of the nation’s money with few limitations on expenditures encourages legislators to provide funding for projects they personally deem necessary for society and equality.  The results are runaway spending and massive budget deficits.  Politicians routinely use the public coffers to strengthen their reelection efforts by securing the support of special interest groups.  Irresponsible fiscal policy combined with substantial political support for abortion rights have led to taxpayer funding for an organization that harvests and sells baby body parts for research.  It strains credibility to reason that this is what the Founders had in mind when they authorized spending only for debt, defense, and general welfare.

Public money is used for a multitude of things that many Americans find objectionable.  When standards for congressional spending become virtually obsolete, the financial door swings wide-open for potential abuse.  Likewise, it is not a stretch that a society that permits abortion and the use of fetal parts for research would give rise to groups looking to profit from it.  As Dr. Nucatola explained in the video, “I think for [Planned Parenthood] affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a non-profit… if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that.”

What has resulted is a perfect storm of economic entropy and blurred bioethical lines, in which congressional spending is rubber-stamped and prices can be placed on human body parts.  This lethal downward trajectory of fiscal and moral standards tugs at the fabric of society in ways that is harmful to both the economy and to the culture.  It is one thing for evil to exist but it is another for that evil to be sanctioned by the government and paid for by the people.  Without dramatic financial reforms and near-unanimous condemnation of immoral actions, we can expect an exponential increase of morally objectionable activity subsidized by the taxpayers.

Ending the trafficking of aborted baby parts will not be easy, but a return to the original plan for congressional spending would be a good start.

abortion, babies, bureaucracy, congress, constitution, corruption, ethics, extremism, funding, government, greed, ideology, political correctness, politics, public policy, reform, relativism, scandal, spending, taxes

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Democrats want to force everyone to pay for abortions. So much for having a choice.

Abortion opponents used to be told things like “if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one”. But Democrats want them to pay for abortions anyway. Because that’s not oppression, killing babies is health care!”

original article: Dems Propose ‘Historic’ Abortion Rights Legislation
July 8, 2015 by Laura Bassett

House Democrats proposed bold pro-abortion rights legislation on Wednesday that has no chance of passing in the GOP-controlled chamber, but highlights the massive gulf between the two parties on the hot-button issue.

The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or the EACH Woman Act, would guarantee abortion coverage for all Medicaid recipients and women who receive health insurance through the federal government. The bill, authored by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and co-sponsored by more than 60 House Democrats, would repeal the decades-long ban on abortion insurance coverage for U.S. federal employees, military servicewomen, Peace Corps volunteers and those who are insured through the Indian Health Service. It would also prevent state legislatures from interfering with the private insurance market and banning insurers from covering abortion.

Specifically, the bill would overturn the Hyde Amendment, a policy rider that bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, except if a pregnancy arises from incest or rape. Anti-abortion politicians have been attaching the rider to important pieces of legislation each year since 1976, and it disproportionately affects minority and low-income women.

“Make no mistake– these lawmakers really do want to ban abortions altogether,” Lee said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Since they can’t, they employ these very devious and underhanded tactics to push abortion care out of reach for women who are really just struggling to just make ends meet, and that’s just wrong. Politicians have no business interfering with a woman’s private reproductive health decisions.”

When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, 86 percent of private insurance companies covered abortion. This meant that most women who purchased private insurance plans or received health coverage through their private sector jobs had abortion coverage, while Medicaid recipients and federal employees did not. But the passage of Obamacare seemed to alert Republican lawmakers to the fact that abortion was being covered in insurance plans, and more than 20 GOP-led state legislatures have since passed laws banning private insurance companies from covering abortion.

Republicans have tried to restrict abortion in the past few years by mandating ultrasounds, placing gestational limits on abortions and imposing harsh clinic regulations. While Democrats have pushed back hard, the Hyde Amendment and other efforts to restrict the funding and coverage of abortion have slipped into law relatively easily. Republicans have successfully branded federal insurance coverage of abortion as “taxpayer-funded abortions,” and President Barack Obama has accepted the Hyde anti-abortion language in Obamacare and year after year in unrelated bills.

This year, as Republicans in Congress push to ban abortions at earlier stages of pregnancy than the limit established by the Supreme Court in 1973, House Democrats are playing offense, too, by pushing for an unprecedented expansion of abortion coverage. Planned Parenthood, one of 39 national organizations working with the All Above All coalition in support of the effort, lauded the new legislation as “historic.”

“For 40 years, the majority of Americans have been saying that abortion should be safe and legal,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “And that means it should be safe and legal for everyone – not only for those who can afford it.”

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How did federal agency get $500M from stimulus? ‘We misled Congress’

How did federal agency get $500M from stimulus? ‘We misled Congress,’ ex-official says
June 18, 2015 by Judson Berger

On paper, it sounded like a true government success story: The Social Security Administration in September opened a “state-of-the-art” data center in Maryland, housing wage and benefit information on almost every American, “on time and under budget.”

However, six years after Congress approved a half-billion dollars for the project — the largest building project funded by the 2009 stimulus — a whistleblower says the center was built on a lie.

“We misled Congress,” Michael Keegan, a former associate commissioner who worked on the project, told FoxNews.com.

Officials originally claimed they needed the $500 million to replace their entire, 30-year-old National Computer Center located at agency headquarters in Woodlawn, Md. But Keegan says they overstated their case — the agency has no plans to replace the center, and only moved a fraction of the NCC to the new site.

Keegan’s claims were first heard last week at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, where he testified on alleged retaliation he faced as a whistleblower. Though two watchdog agencies previously discarded his complaints, documents submitted to Congress and obtained by FoxNews.com along with congressional records appear to back him up, at least in part. They show:

1) SSA officials told Congress in 2009, and as late as 2011, they planned to “replace” the National Computer Center, using $500 million from the stimulus.

2) That never happened. Rather, the agency built a new data center called theNational Support Center, in Urbana, Md. This now houses data center functions from the National Computer Center, and is what was touted inSeptember 2014. But the original, supposedly outdated NCC continues to operate, and hundreds still work there. And transcribed depositions from Keegan’s lawsuit against the agency show top officials indeed have no plans to replace the entire NCC.

Keegan maintains the agency didn’t have to move anybody out of the NCC, and could have simply renovated the floor holding the old data center.

“The data center occupies one half of one floor in a four-story building,” he told FoxNews.com. “We didn’t need to build [the new center] to begin with.”

Agency leaders disagree, and forged ahead. Yet the records show while officials originally talked about replacing the building, there are no plans to do so now.

‘[W]e have yet to receive a coherent response from the agency as to the reasons it didn’t do what it told Congress had to be done.’

– Morris Fischer, attorney for ex-SSA official

Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin said in a deposition she “did not” know of any plan to abandon the NCC or move all its workers to another site. Other officials echoed this statement.

“After seven months, we have yet to receive a coherent response from the agency as to the reasons it didn’t do what it told Congress had to be done,” Keegan’s attorney Morris Fischer said.

Former SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue, who led the agency under President George W. Bush and for several years under President Obama, also said he’s not sure why the building isn’t being replaced entirely.

Astrue said he made the original decision to replace the NCC, toward the end of the Bush administration. He said the building was “antiquated and fraying,” and was worried a disruption in payments could send “the entire economy into recession.” A backup SSA center in North Carolina, he said, was not enough.

Astrue said his intention was to replace and phase out the NCC entirely, and disputed Keegan’s claims that Congress was misled. He maintains the proposal was the “correct decision.”

But he said he was “surprised” to learn the NCC is still in operation. He doesn’t know why.

The agency’s claims to Congress over the years were, at best, confusing.

In congressional hearings in 2009, SSA officials repeatedly said they planned to use stimulus funds to replace the NCC. In one April 2009 hearing, Mary Glenn-Croft, a deputy commissioner at SSA, said the funds “will help us process our increasing workloads and replace our aging National Computer Center.”

But officials also occasionally referred to simply building a new “data center.”

This may have given the agency just enough wiggle room.

When the Office of the Inspector General reviewed Keegan’s complaints, it concluded the SSA “did not mislead” Congress to believe the NCC wouldn’t be needed. At the same time, the OIG acknowledged SSA talked about “replacing” the center and “did not implicitly state” it would stay in use. (Further, while IG Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., oversaw the spending, he also was among those making the case for the project, telling Congress in 2009 the NCC was “rapidly approaching obsolescence.”)

Like the OIG, the Office of Special Counsel last year also said they could not determine whether agency leaders misled Congress. Keegan disputes these findings.

The Social Security Administration has not yet responded to a request for comment from FoxNews.com.

The agency has said the new data center will meet SSA’s “anticipated IT workloads for at least the next 20 years.” The full budget for the project reportedly was about $750 million; it’s unclear what the final price tag was for the “under budget” building, or what happened to the unused money.

Keegan suspects agency leaders pushed for the new building because they saw it as a “slam dunk” once word got out in 2009 about stimulus funding. “I think every IT person wants a new toy,” he said, and they decided to go for “the whole ball of wax.”

Of the new building, he said, “It’s palatial.”

Astrue, speaking with FoxNews.com, acknowledged the offer of stimulus funds prompted his agency to make the case for the building.

“That money was going to get spent one way or the other,” he said, claiming the SSA project was more worthy than many others. “And Congress agreed.”

Keegan’s complaints are now at the center of nasty legal dispute over his treatment at the agency. As project executive for the center’s construction, he said he brought his concerns to his higher-ups, but was subsequently placed under an internal probe and relieved of his duties. He said he was confined to an empty office with little or no work to do until mid-2014, when he retired early.

bureaucracy, congress, corruption, ethics, fraud, funding, government, greed, nanny state, politics, scandal, spending, stimulus, taxes

Filed under: bureaucracy, congress, corruption, ethics, fraud, funding, government, greed, nanny state, politics, scandal, spending, stimulus, taxes

How Government Inaction Ended the Depression of 1921

original article: How Government Inaction Ended the Depression of 1921
May 20, 2015 by Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.

As the financial crisis of 2008 took shape, the policy recommendations were not slow in coming: why, economic stability and American prosperity demand fiscal and monetary stimulus to jump-start the sick economy back to life. And so we got fiscal stimulus, as well as a program of monetary expansion without precedent in US history.

David Stockman recently noted that we have in effect had fifteen solid years of stimulus — not just the high-profile programs like the $700 billion TARP and the $800 billion in fiscal stimulus, but also $4 trillion of money printing and 165 out of 180 months in which interest rates were either falling or held at rock-bottom levels. The results have been underwhelming: the number of breadwinner jobs in the US is still two million lower than it was under Bill Clinton.

Economists of the Austrian school warned that this would happen. While other economists disagreed about whether fiscal or monetary stimulus would do the trick, the Austrians looked past this superficial debate and rejected intervention in all its forms.

The Austrians have very good theoretical reasons for opposing government stimulus programs, but those reasons are liable to remain unknown to the average person, who seldom studies economics and who even more seldom gives non-establishment opinion a fair hearing. That’s why it helps to be able to point to historical examples, which are more readily accessible to the non-specialist than is economic theory. If we can point to an economy correcting itself, this alone overturns the claim that government intervention is indispensable.

Possibly the most arresting (and overlooked) example of precisely this phenomenon is the case of the depression of 1920–21, which was characterized by a collapse in production and GDP and a spike in unemployment to double-digit levels. But by the time the federal government even began considering intervention, the crisis had ended. What Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover deferentially called “The President’s Conference on Unemployment,” an idea he himself had cooked up to smooth out the business cycle, convened during what turned out to be the second month of the recovery, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

Indeed, according to the NBER, which announces the beginnings and ends of recessions, the depression began in January 1920 and ended in July 1921.

James Grant tells the story in his important and captivating new book The Forgotten Depression — 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself. A word about the author: Grant ranks among the most brilliant of financial experts. In addition to publishing his highly regarded newsletter, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, for more than thirty years, Grant is a frequent (and anti-Fed) commentator on television and radio, the author of numerous other books, and a captivating speaker. We’ve been honored and delighted to feature him as a speaker at Mises Institute events.

What exactly were the Federal Reserve and the federal government doing during these eighteen months? The numbers don’t lie: monetary policy was contractionary during the period in question. Allan Meltzer, who is not an Austrian, wrote in A History of the Federal Reserve that “principal monetary aggregates fell throughout the recession.” He calculates a decline in M1 by 10.9 percent from March 1920 to January 1922, and in the monetary base by 6.4 percent from October 1920 to January 1922. “Quarterly average growth of the base,” he continues, “did not become positive until second quarter 1922, nine months after the NBER trough.”

The Fed raised its discount rate from 4 percent in 1919 to 7 percent in 1920 and 6 percent in 1921. By 1922, after the recovery was long since under way, it was reduced to 4 percent once again. Meanwhile, government spending also fell dramatically; as the economy emerged from the 1920–21 downturn, the budget was in the process of being reduced from $6.3 billion in 1920 to $3.2 billion in 1922. So the budget was being cut and the money supply was falling. “By the lights of Keynesian and monetarist doctrine alike,” writes Grant, “no more primitive or counterproductive policies could be imagined.” In addition, price deflation was more severe during 1920–21 than during any point in the Great Depression; from mid-1920 to mid-1921, the Consumer Price Index fell by 15.8 percent. We can only imagine the panic and the cries for intervention were we to observe such price movements today.

The episode fell down the proverbial memory hole, and Grant notes that he cannot find an example of a public figure ever having held up the 1920–21 example as a data point worth considering today. But although Keynesians today, now that the episode is being discussed once again, assure everyone that they are perfectly prepared to explain the episode away, in fact Keynesian economic historians in the past readily admitted that the swiftness of the recovery was something of a mystery to them, and that recovery had not been long in coming despite the absence of stimulus measures.

The policy of official inaction during the 1920–21 depression came about as a combination of circumstance and ideology. Woodrow Wilson had favored a more pronounced role for the federal government, but by the end of his term two factors made any such effort impossible. First, he was obsessed with the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, and securing US membership in the League of Nations he had inspired. This concern eclipsed everything else. Second, a series of debilitating strokes left him unable to do much of anything by the fall of 1919, so any major domestic initiatives were out of the question. Because of the way fiscal years are dated, Wilson was in fact responsible for much of the postwar budget cutting, a substantial chunk of which occurred during the 1920–21 depression.

Warren Harding, meanwhile, was philosophically inclined to oppose government intervention and believed a downturn of this kind would work itself out if no obstacles were placed in its path. He declared in his acceptance speech at the 1920 Republican convention:

We will attempt intelligent and courageous deflation, and strike at government borrowing which enlarges the evil, and we will attack high cost of government with every energy and facility which attend Republican capacity. We promise that relief which will attend the halting of waste and extravagance, and the renewal of the practice of public economy, not alone because it will relieve tax burdens but because it will be an example to stimulate thrift and economy in private life.

Let us call to all the people for thrift and economy, for denial and sacrifice if need be, for a nationwide drive against extravagance and luxury, to a recommittal to simplicity of living, to that prudent and normal plan of life which is the health of the republic. There hasn’t been a recovery from the waste and abnormalities of war since the story of mankind was first written, except through work and saving, through industry and denial, while needless spending and heedless extravagance have marked every decay in the history of nations.

Harding, that least fashionable of American presidents, was likewise able to look at falling prices soberly and without today’s hysteria. He insisted that the commodity price deflation was unavoidable, and perhaps even salutary. “We hold that the shrinkage which has taken place is somewhat analogous to that which occurs when a balloon is punctured and the air escapes.” Moreover, said Harding, depressions followed inflation “just as surely as the tides ebb and flow,” but spending taxpayer money was no way to deal with the situation. “The excess of stimulation from that source is to be reckoned a cause of trouble rather than a source of cure.”

Even John Skelton Williams, comptroller of the currency under Woodrow Wilson and no friend of Harding, observed that the price deflation was “inevitable,” and that in any case “the country is now [1921] in many respects on a sounder basis, economically, than it has been for years.” And we should look forward to the day when “the private citizen is able to acquire, at the expenditure of $1 of his hard-earned money, something approximating the quantity and quality which that dollar commanded in prewar times.”

Thankfully for the reader, not only is Grant right on the history and the economics, but he also writes with a literary flair one scarcely expects from the world of financial commentary. And although he has all the facts and figures a reader could ask for, Grant is also a storyteller. This is no dry sheaf of statistics. It is full of personalities — businessmen, union bosses, presidents, economists — and relates so much more than the bare outline of the depression. Grant gives us an expert’s insight into the stock market’s fortunes, and those of American agriculture, industry, and more. He writes so engagingly that the reader almost doesn’t realize how difficult it is to make a book about a single economic episode utterly absorbing.

The example of 1920–21 was largely overlooked, except in specialized treatments of American economic history, for many decades. The cynic may be forgiven for suspecting that its incompatibility with today’s conventional wisdom, which urges demand management by experts and an ever-expanding mandate for the Fed, might have had something to do with that. Whatever the reason, it’s back now, as a rebuke to the planners with their equations and the cronies with their bailouts.

The Forgotten Depression has taken its rightful place within the corpus of Austro-libertarian revisionist history, that library of works that will lead you from the dead end of conventional opinion to the fresh air of economic and historical truth.

budget, conservative, crisis, economics, economy, funding, government, history, ideology, philosophy, politics, president, public policy, recession, Republicans, right wing, spending

Filed under: budget, conservative, crisis, economics, economy, funding, government, history, ideology, philosophy, politics, president, public policy, recession, Republicans, right wing, spending

Political cash and favors for me, but not for thee

original article: Hillary Clinton’s Hypocritical and Totalitarian War on Free Speech
May 20, 2015 by Benjamin Weingarten

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has suggested that a key litmus test in evaluating prospective Supreme Court appointees would be their willingness to challenge “the right of billionaires to buy elections.”

Presumably, a suitable judge would indicate a desire to overturn the Citizens United decision that struck down a ban on political expenditures by corporations and unions ruled to violate the First Amendment protection of free speech – a case coincidentally centered on Citizen United’s attempt to advertise for and air a film critical of none other than Clinton.

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the reporters at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. Clinton conceded that she should have used a government email to conduct business as secretary of state, saying her decision was simply a matter of "convenience." (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In light of recent allegations swirling around the presidential favorite, Clinton’s support of such a position is highly ironic.

For while the former secretary of State may oppose the rights of the wealthy to spend money on politics, she seems to have no such concern with the wealthy spending money on the Clinton Foundation and her husband Bill – all while Hillary served in the Obama administration.

Would Clinton seek a Supreme Court justice who would protect the rights of the likes of Carlos Slim and James Murdoch to contribute to the favored cause of a politician and shower the politician’s spouse with millions for speaking engagements?

If so, this apparent hypocrisy can be read in one of two ways:

  1. Clinton believes that money does not have a corrupting influence so long as it is funneled through “indirect” channels
  2. Clinton believes that the wealthy and powerful ought to bypass funding elections and simply pay politicians outright.

Appearances of impropriety aside, there are a few substantive questions around political speech that Clinton should be required to address.

Why does Clinton believe that the government has a compelling interest in stifling the political speech of any American, rich or poor?

How does Clinton square her supposed advocacy of human rights with her belief in inhibiting the right to free speech — which facilitates the robust and vigorous debate essential to a liberal society?

More generally, given a system in which millions of dollars are spent on losing causes each election cycle on both the left and right, what have Americans to fear about spending so long as laws are enforced equally and impartially regarding “pay-to-play” schemes and other politically corrupt activity?

Spending is a symptom of our system, and an all-intrusive government its proximate cause.

This is well known to Clinton, who seeks to raise a record $2.5 billion for her own campaign.

She is aware that people spend money on politics because there is the perception that there is something to be bought.

This perception becomes a reality when government creeps into every aspect of our lives, creating an unfortunate two-way street: Individuals and businesses spend money in order to maintain competitive advantages. Politicians in effect extort individuals and businesses by threatening to take away said competitive advantages, or threatening to mitigate them.

If we want money out of politics, the answer is not to stifle speech, but to shrink government.

***

While Hillary Clinton’s aversion to political speech is well-documented, less scrutinized is her support of limitations on speech of an entirely different kind: Religious speech.

During her time as secretary of State, Clinton championed the Organization of Islamic Conference-backedUnited Nations Human Rights Commission Resolution 16/18, which calls for “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”

Retired Maj. Stephen Coughlin, the Pentagon’s leading adviser on Islamic law as it relates to national security, makes a compelling case in his book “Catastrophic Failure” that the resolution is actually a Shariah-based Trojan Horse meant to stifle all criticism of Islam.

Coughlin writes that the Islamic Conference, through the resolution, seeks to criminalize incitement to violence by imposing a “legal standard designed to facilitate the “shut up before I hit you again” standard associated with the battered wife syndrome.”

He convincingly argues that the Islamic Conference desires that…

the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and all other non-Muslim countries pass laws criminalizing Islamophobia. This is a direct extraterritorial demand that non-Muslim jurisdictions submit to Islamic law and implement shariah-based punishment over time. In other words, the OIC is set on making it an enforceable crime for non-Muslim people anywhere in the world—including the United States—to say anything about Islam that Islam does not permit.

For believers in the sanctity of the First Amendment, Clinton’s support of this policy as secretary of State should be disqualifying.

This is made crystal clear when we consider that Clinton has shown her support for the resolution in practice.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, then-Secretary of State Clinton and President Barack Obama felt compelled to film an address for the Muslim world. In the video, Clinton and Obama disavowed any link between the U.S. government and the “Innocence of Muslims” movie that critically depicted Muhammad, which the Obama administration infamously argued prompted the jihadist attack.

Hillary Clinton delivers a message to the Arab world disavowing any ties between the U.S. government and the "Innocence of Muslims" video following the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack. (Image Source: YouTube screengrab)

That address we may chalk up to political correctness.

But a related fact we cannot.

In spite of Judicial Watch’s bombshell report indicating that the Obama administration knew about the Benghazi attack 10 days in advance – and knew that it had nothing to do with “Innocence of Muslims” — as revealed in an October 2012 interview with Glenn Beck, Charles Woods, father of slain Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, told Beck that Clinton had personally vowed to “make sure that the person who made that film [“Innocence of Muslims”] is arrested and prosecuted.”

The “Innocence of Muslims” filmmaker and former bank fraudster Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was later arrested and charged with violating the terms of his probation, spending one year in prison.

Consequently, the U.S. government — as promised by Clinton — in effect enforced Shariah compliance concerning blasphemy consistent with the Islamic Conference-backed resolution, and did so knowing that the film had nothing to do with the Benghazi attack.

Of course, even if a jihadist declared explicitly that he killed Americans because of a film, or a Muhammad cartoon or a burned Koran, it is the jihadist and the jihadist alone responsible for such actions. This point is apparently lost on the U.N.’s policy advocates, who in their victomology fail to realize that they are exhibiting the soft bigotry of low expectations when it comes to Muslims.

Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be an ardent opponent of free speech, notably with respect to politics and religion.

Her positions are anathema to an America founded on the basis of protecting political and religious dissent, which requires free expression.

Absent such protections, an America under Clinton will look increasingly like the totalitarian Islamic world that she seeks to protect, rather than the Liberal Judeo-Christian America with which we have been so blessed.

campaign, censorship, civil rights, corruption, Democrats, elections, elitism, ethics, foreign affairs, free speech, funding, hypocrisy, left wing, politics, progressive, scandal, spending

Filed under: campaign, censorship, civil rights, corruption, Democrats, elections, elitism, ethics, foreign affairs, free speech, funding, hypocrisy, left wing, politics, progressive, scandal, spending

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