Posts tagged ‘washington’

LOL, Going to See a Lot of These

Got this from some Republican group (the "virtue" of being a libertarian is that I get bipartisan spam).

Tim Bishop = ObamaCare 

Bishop Has Been a Co-Conspirator in the Disaster That is ObamaCare; It’s Time for Him to Apologize For This Colossal and Expensive Mistake 

WASHINGTON – Today, in a rambling press conference, President Obama admitted he “fumbled” the ObamaCare rollout. And the president even warned of more problems to come.

Tim Bishop has been a vocal ObamaCare supporter from the beginning—voting for the bill in 2010 and giving the president a blank check on ObamaCare time and time again. Now that the law is becoming more of a disaster every day, Bishop needs to answer for the higher premiums and canceled plans facing families in his district.

Didn't even know who this dude was until I checked (US Representative from NY, apparently).  I expect to see a lot of this.  At least for now.  Things can change quickly.  After all, just 30 days ago the Republicans were supposedly on the ropes from self-inflicted wounds vis a vis the shutdown.  Now, no one even remembers it.

Sequester Madness 2

This just came in over the transom via email.

WASHINGTON, D.C.///February 20, 2013///Sequestration will cut visitor access to the rim of the Grand Canyon, significantly delay the spring opening of key portions of Yellowstone and Yosemite, reduce emergency response help for drivers in the Great Smoky Mountains, limit access to the beach at the Cape Cod National Seashore, and impair the experiences in many other ways for millions of visitors at America’s national parks.   In addition, local, regional and state economies that depend on national parks will take huge hits as visitors are either turned away or skip visits due to the impact of the mindless sequestration budget cuts.....

CNPSR Spokesperson, Joan Anzelmo, former Superintendent of Colorado National Monument said:  “Congress might just as well put a big “Keep Out !” sign at the entrance to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Cape Cod Seashore, and every other iconic national park in the U.S.   This foolhardy path tarnishes America’s ‘crown jewels’ and is a repudiation of the nation’s national parks often touted as ‘America’s best idea’.  Millions of Americans depend on national parks for their vacations and livelihood.  Those Americans are being told that national parks don’t count … that people who use national parks don’t count … and that people who live and work near national parks don’t count.”

A few observations:

  • It's a 5% freaking cut.  I bet Wal-Mart is a more tightly-run organization than the NPS, and I further bet if I forced an immediate 5% cut at Wal-Mart they would do it without cutting store hours or service to customers.
  • Again, we see government officials cutting the most cherished, visible services, rather than the chaff, in order to maximize citizen outrage rather than do their freaking job and set priorities
  • It's a freaking 5% cut.  Did I say that already?
  • I could cut huge chunks from the NPS budget while improving service by having private companies perform many operating functions.  Our company runs nearly 175 parks and in every one we have seen something like a 50% reduction in cost over government operation while simultaneously increasing staffing in the parks.
  • This is absolutely boilerplate from every single agency and constituency that gets threatened with even the tiniest budget cut -- "you are telling XXX group they don't count."  Barf.
  • I was going to make some observations about their budget over the last few years, but all their budget detail pages online seem to be down

I am currently as depressed and cynical as I have ever been today due to this absurd reaction to a trivial spending cut.  I have about zero hope that Federal spending will ever be reigned in.  Politicians of both parties and the special interests that support them will spend and spend until we find ourselves calling Greece asking for a bailout.

Hiding the Decline in Massachusetts

This is pretty scary.  From the Massachusetts state treasurer, the state health care system (essentially the model for the current version of Obamacare) is going bankrupt, and only huge cash infusions from the Federal government are hiding the full disaster.

"If President Obama and the Democrats repeat the mistake of the health insurance reform here in Massachusetts on a national level, they will threaten to wipe out the American economy within four years," Cahill said in a press conference in his office.

Echoing criticism leveled by congressional Republicans in recent weeks, Cahill said, "It is time for the president, the Democratic leadership, to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan that does not threaten to bankrupt this country."

[T]he state's health insurance law"¦Cahill said, "has nearly bankrupted the state."

Cahill said the law is being sustained only with the help of federal aid, which he suggested that the Obama administration is funneling to Massachusetts to help the president make the case for a similar plan in Congress.

"The real problem is the sucking sound of money that has been going in to pay for this health care reform," Cahill said. "And I would argue that we're being propped up so that the federal government and the Obama administration can drive it through" Congress.

The Democrats have no good ideas for controlling Medicare costs after a government takeover.  If they did, they would have already implemented these ideas on Medicare or in Massachusetts.  Their only plan is price controls and rationing.  Here is an example of price controls hitting a wall in Medicare:

Walgreens drugstores across the state won't take any new Medicaid patients, saying that filling their prescriptions is a money-losing proposition "” the latest development in an ongoing dispute over Medicaid reimbursement....

In a news release, Walgreens said its decision to not take new Medicaid patients stemmed from a "continued reduction in reimbursement" under the state's Medicaid program, which reimburses it at less than the break-even point for 95 percent of brand-name medications dispensed to Medicaid patents....

Washington was reimbursing pharmacies 86 percent of a drug's average wholesale price until July, when it began paying them just 84 percent. While pharmacies weren't happy about the reimbursement reduction, the Department of Social and Health Services said that move was expected to save the state about $10 million.

Then in September came another blow. The average wholesale price is calculated by a private company, which was accused in a Massachusetts lawsuit of fraudulently inflating its figures. The company did not admit wrongdoing but agreed in a court settlement to ratchet its figures down by about 4 percent.

So the Government is reimbursing retailers at 80% of wholesale costs.  Even forgetting their overhead,  Walgreens was asked to sell dollar bills to the government for 80 cents.

What both stories have in common are government health plans that are subsidized from the outside:  The Feds are pouring money into Massachusetts and money is sucked out of the private medical side to subsidize Medicare.  But what happens when there is only one system, when there is nothing outside of it to subsidize it?  What are they counting on to save them?

Headline of the Day

A reader sent this to me:

Snow shuts down federal government, life goes on

WASHINGTON (AP) - If snow keeps 230,000 government employees home for the better part of a week, will anyone notice?

With at least another foot of snow headed for Washington, Philadelphia and New York, we're about to find out. The federal government in the nation's capital has largely been shut down since Friday afternoon, when a storm began dumping up to 3 feet of snow in some parts of the region. Offices were remaining closed at least through Wednesday.

Notes from Touring Washington, DC

We just finished up 4-1/2 days in Washington, DC, and I wanted to share some thoughts of various attractions.  Unlike with Disney World, I am not a Washington expert, so others are welcome to comment with their thoughts.

Hotels: Right now, hotels are offering screaming deals.  I have become a Hotwire aficionado, in large part because I discovered this site which helps one break the secrecy at Hotwire and figure out in advance, with a fair bit of certainty, exactly what hotel for which one is signing up.  As a result, I got a $165 rate at the Willard, right next to the White House, which was less than my sister paid for a Residence Inn out at Dupont Circle.  And unlike many hotels who sometimes put Hotwire customers in the worst rooms, we got a huge room, really a suite.  And there is no better location for being a tourist in Washington than the Willard.

Restaurants: We had really bad luck with restaurants for dinner.  There are plenty of chains for predictable meals, but we tried several local favorites and were disappointed each time, even after checking them out at TripAdvisor (another favorite site of mine).  I don't know if this was bad luck or a statement on Washington dining.  We did have a good meal in Georgetown, where there are lots of choices.  It looked like there were some nice places with cafe-style outdoor dining on Wisconsin Ave near the center of Georgetown, but I can't remember any of their names.  We had ice cream in Georgetown at Thomas Sweets, a family favorite we knew because it is an institution at Princeton.

Lunches, on the other hand, were a pleasant surprise.  Both the National Gallery and the Natural History Museum had very nice cafes with lots of dining choices, good salad bars, etc.  We liked these better than the all-McDonald's fair at the Air and Space Museum.

Never, ever eat breakfast in a fancy hotel, unless you are very wealthy.  We tried the outdoor cafe one day at the Willard and ended up with the classic 5-star 4 croissant $100 breakfast.  We quickly found a bakery a block away by the Filene's Basement that was just fine for breakfast.

Transport: At the Willard, we were walking distance from nearly everything we wanted.  The Washington subway system is very good and cheap, and we used it several times (after all, my tax money pays for it so I might as well).  Cabs seem cheap but beware -- they add $1.50 for each extra person beyond one and some amount for each bag in the trunk.  We took the cab to National Airport when we got pinched for time (the subway goes right there) and found that we had an $11 charge before the wheels even started to roll.  Fortunately, National was so close the final bill was less than $25.  Cabs are therefore better for long trips than short ones.

Memorials: We walked around the Washington monument but did not go up  (we were way too late in the day to get tickets).  For various reasons related to the elevation and the buildings on the mall, the area at the base of the monument is windy as heck, even if the rest of DC is calm, so it is a nice place to relax with a good view on a hot day.  The Lincoln Memorial is far better seen at night than during the day.  The memorial is powerful, but the view from it at night is awesome.

The Vietnam War Memorial is simply awesome.  I have never yet found a war memorial that is more moving.  Unlike many memorials, it is truly dedicated to the individuals who fought and died.  In contrast, the WWII memorial is, to my mind, a complete loss as a memorial.  While dramatic architecturally and in a great location, it produces zero emotion.  It has monuments to states and places, not people.

Air and Space Museum: Always a winner.  I have never met a person who didn't enjoy it.  But expect crowds to be high -- this is by far the most popular spot on the mall.   The IMAX shows get most of the attention but I found the planetarium shows to actually be more interesting (though visually less stunning).

National Gallery: I struggle with large art galleries.  My favorites are places like the Frick in New York, which are easily digestible.  I floundered in the Louvre -- there is just too much.  I found the National Gallery to be a nice size -- large enough to have some great pieces, but small enough that one can get through several different eras in a single visit.  My wife likes the French impressionists, while I like the earlier Dutch, and there was good stuff for both of us to see.  I thought the modern art collection in the annex was pretty mediocre.  There is a fabulous huge Calder in the atrium, however, that is worth a quick peak inside.

Natural History Museum: This one is tough.  Either you have to see it for 5 minutes or 5 hours.  One can jam through and see the Hope diamond and the squid and a few other attractions, or one can really take time to learn from the exhibits, in which case one needs to be prepared to stay quite a while.  To the latter goal, I prefer the new reorganization of the Natural History museum in New York -- I think it is more logical and really helps one understand the evolution and relationship of species better.

Museum of American History: This museum has changed several times, looking to find its niche.  I think it used to be more of a technology museum.  I actually loved the old museum, full of old steam engines and machinery, but I think my kids liked the new version better, which is aimed more at being a history museum (there is still a technology portion, with some good machinery, cars, and trains, but it is smaller).  The military history section is good, and fills a niche that really hasn't existed before in this country, though it falls far short of, say, the Imperial War Museum in London.  My wife always likes to check out the first lady gowns.

International Spy Museum: I was kind of skeptical of this, thinking it might be like a Madame Tussuad's or some-such.  But this museum was fabulous.  It had great exhibits, and was very well organized.  Had the single best combination of any museum we went to of cool exhibits combined with teaching.  The kids loved it too, as there were some good kids activities and lots of interactive things.  In addition to the museum, we also did an interactive experience with a group of 12 folks for about an hour.  This was a simulated spy mission, complete with eavesdropping, breaking in and searching an office, interrogation, etc.  Maybe a bit campy for adults, it is very well done and the kids loved it.  Like Disney but much more interactive.  Note that both the museum and the experience require advanced reservations.

White House: Probably my biggest disappointment of the week.  Note that currently, the only way you can get a tour is through your Congressman -- you have to contact his or her office and get them to schedule you a time, and you have to submit some personal information in advance for security checks.  Having gone through this, I thought we might actually get, you know, a tour.  But instead all we got was the right to join an endless, really slow-moving line that allowed us to see about three rooms with no tour guide or interpretation.  Kids like being able to say they had been there, but that was about the only value.

Capitol: One can sign up for a public tour, in which case you will, from my observation, stand in some huge lines.  If you want to bypass this, and you are talking to your Congressperson already for the White House tour, see if you can get a staff-led private tour.  One of John Shadegg's aids showed about eight of us through the capital and into the House gallery.  She did a very good job (thanks Congressman Shadegg!) and we skipped most of the lines.  By the way, I did indeed see our new billion dollar visitor center.  It was enormously disappointing.  The public spaces were huge, but mostly filled with queues (apparently most of the space was appropriated by Congress for their own use as offices and meeting rooms).  We saw a film in a nice theater, but the propaganda meter was turned up pretty high  (They kept calling the capitol the "temple of liberty."  Really?  Someone must have forgotten to tell Congress).

Archives: You gotta go see the big documents.  The Bill of Rights, a copy of Magna Carta, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence are all there (though the Declaration has really faded).  If we have a "temple of liberty" in Washington, this is more rightly it.  Or maybe it is more rightly called the reliquary of liberty.  There can be a line, but this changes a lot through the day.  If it looks like a long wait, come back in a few hours and the line may be gone.  Also, they have opened up new galleries that are usually totally uncrowded with a lot of other cool documents.  I could have spent all day here but my family dragged me out.

Botanical Gardens: The surprise of the trip.  We tripped over this place by accident, as it seems to have few visitors.  I never even knew it existed, which is odd as it is cleverly hidden right on the mall next to the capitol.  The big glass conservatory has 8 or 9 zones with different plants from desert to tropical.  This is an outstanding place to decompress, and surprisingly my kids even liked it.  If you go, don't forget to go up the stairs to the catwalk in the jungle canopy, which includes a pretty unique view of the capitol building.

Places we missed but wanted to go:  Jefferson Memorial, Hershorn Gallery, Corcoran Gallery, Air and Space Museum Annex (near Dulles).

Many people seem to like the FBI tour, but I just couldn't stand the thought.

Politicians and Personality Cults

One of the things I had never noticed before was just how prevalent George Washington's image is around the capital.  The city is named after him, there are statues of him all over the place, the capital and the White House are full of paintings of him, and of course there's that big phallic symbol out on the mall.   I found it a bit off-putting, something I would expect more of Napoleon or a Roman Emperor than a US President.  The oddest site of all was the mural on the dome of the capital, which actually shows the deification of George Washington, a leitmotif taken from Roman emperors and tyrants like Julius Caesar, who were often deified by Senate proclamation after their deaths.


Which brings me to our current president.  The cult of personality around Obama as seen in the Washington area is just startling, and horribly troubling for those concerned about the power of the state and individual liberty.  Pictures of him and his family are seemingly on every wall, with whole souvenir shops dedicated to everything Obama.  Searching for some kind of analog, I actually found two:

  • Princess Diana -- Little of what Princess Diana said or did bore up under much scrutiny, but it didn't matter.  For some reason, huge numbers of people totally invested themselves in her personality cult.   In fact, the more screwed up she was, and the more mistakes and weakness she admitted to, the more people rushed to support her.   I was in London a few days after her funeral, and it was the only occasion I had ever seen as much merchandise sales for a government figure as I did this week for Obama.
  • Augustus Caesar.   Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, or Augustus, had the problem of wanting all the power of a tyrant, but he knew the dangers because his [adoptive] father Julius Caesar had been killed for being a tyrant.  So he brilliantly built over time a personal loyalty among those in the state to himself, and exercised power with good PR.  He was more powerful and more autocratic than Julius Caesar, but cleverly disguised the fact.  He gave the people the illusion of freedom without the reality, and they ate it up.

Litmus Test

A lot of the time, the left can reasonably argue that their increases in the size of government are made out of concern for the common man.  For example, they argue that government needs to massively expand its involvement in health care to help the poor get better treatment.  I think they are wrong, but that's a different story.

But there are occasionally important litmus tests where the left must decide between the interests of government (and its expansion) and the interests of the common man.  I think the DC school voucher program is such an occasion, and its pretty clear that the Democrats in Congress are landing on the side of government.  No matter than most Democrats in Congress send their kids to private schools rather than DC public schools.  No matter that our new Secretary of Education was unable run a public school in Chicago that our current President was willing to send his kids to.

I think proponents of school choice have been very smart in creating school voucher programs that preferentially target poor kids in failing schools.  It eliminates the typical class warfare argument that the program is just about giving rich people a break on their private school tuitions.  Democrats are forced to declare on whether the well-being and education of kids in a program that is dominated by poor African-Americans is more or less important to them than sealing a crack in the government education monopoly.

My Education Secretary Pick

Obama has picked Arne Duncan of Chicago as Secretary of Education.  Unwilling to send his own kids to schools run by Mr. Duncan, he is never-the-less putting Duncan in charge of the rest of our schools.

My appointment for the Secretary of the Department of Education would have been the head of a liquidation firm.  As a libertarian, I can find fault just about everywhere in Washington, but nothing better illustrates the modern disregard for the Constitution and the 9th and 10th Amendments than the Federal education infrastructure.  My daughter asked me what I would do first if I were President.  I would put blowing up this department first (though its demise would be neck and neck with the Department of Energy).  I would even be willing to do it in a funding-neutral way, such that Federal funds currently allocated to education would still be so allocated, and simply distributed on some kind of per head basis to local districts.  Which, in fact, would actually increase real education funding, eliminating the great Washington leaky bucket as well as the cost of compliance with reams of rules and regulations that is born by local districts.

It is possible to find a few  (though very few, on a percentage basis) anecdotes of public schools that have been turned around  (in fact, I think there are few enough that a movie can and has been made about every one).  There are no examples that I know of a large school district being turned around.   As to this guy Duncan picked by Obama today --  I am willing to believe he had some point successes at individual schools.  But he certainly didn't turn around the whole district  (certainly not to the Obama family's standards, since they refused to send their kids to the schools Duncan ran).  So what hope does he have at a national level?  Answer:  none.  But I am sure he will ask for more money to do it.

Not the Comfy Chair! (Updated)

Well, Newsweek has admitted that it screwed up.  Big time:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Newsweek magazine said on Sunday it
erred in a May 9 report that U.S. interrogators desecrated the
Koran at Guantanamo Bay, and apologized to the victims of
deadly Muslim protests sparked by the article.

Editor Mark Whitaker said the magazine inaccurately
reported that U.S. military investigators had confirmed that
personnel at the detention facility in Cuba had flushed the
Muslim holy book down the toilet.

The report sparked angry and violent protests across the
Muslim world from Afghanistan, where 16 were killed and more
than 100 injured, to Pakistan to Indonesia to Gaza. In the past
week it was condemned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh,
Malaysia and by the Arab League.

On Sunday, Afghan Muslim clerics threatened to call for a
holy war against the United States.

"We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and
extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the
U.S. soldiers caught in its midst," Whitaker wrote in the
magazine's latest issue, due to appear on U.S. newsstands on

It is not Monday morning quarterbacking to say that they should have known better -- many observers noted the danger right off the bat of posting such an inflammatory story based on only a single anonymous source.

The point I want to make is a different one than the obvious MSM-continues-to-slide-into-the-abyss observation.  That is:  We really, really seem to have dumbed down the whole "torture" thing.  When I grew up, torture was pulling out someones fingernails or whacking their genitals with a stick while they were tied to a cane chair or maybe starving them in a pit for a few weeks. 

Here is my fervent hope:  If I ever find myself imprisoned by hostile forces, I pray that they will torture me by sitting me in a chair and having me watch them flush books down the toilet.  The toughest part will be acting like I am really suffering watching a copy of some document I respect, maybe the US Constitution or Atlas Shrugged or the latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, swirling down the pipe.  Then, if that does not work, I hope and pray that they then resort to stripping me naked and taking pictures of me in a human pyramid with other prisoners.  I just hope they don't find out that I already did something similar in college.

By the way, while we are inventing a kindler-gentler torture, can we also tone down our dedication to icons?  I have never understood the need to ban Koran flushing or American flag burning.  Both the Koran and the flag are symbols that have meaning to each individual.  If someone wipes their butt in public with the American flag, my  respect for the US and what it stands for is in no way tarnished - only my opinion of the flag-wiper has changed.

UPDATE:  WOW!  How did I miss this one?  I really, REALLY hope they choose this torture for me:

One female civilian contractor used a special outfit that included a
miniskirt and thong underwear during late-night interrogations with
prisoners, mostly Muslim men who consider it taboo to have close
contact with women who aren't their wives...

The female interrogator wanted to "break him," Saar adds, describing
how she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and
began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against
the prisoner's back and commenting on his apparent erection....

In November, in response to an AP request, the military described an
April 2003 incident in which a female interrogator took off her uniform
top, ran her fingers through a detainee's hair and sat on his lap. That
session was immediately ended by a supervisor and that interrogator
received a written reprimand and additional training, the military said.

Please, no.  Anything but that.  Las Vegas better watch out or it may start losing visitors to Gitmo.  I wonder if this is going to cause a problem for the ACLU, which has been opposing these interrogation techniques at Gitmo.  After all, doesn't this woman have a right to free expression?

Postscript:  By the way, I am serious that I think the media has purposefully dumbed-down the definition of torture to improve their story, and in the process has hurt the US internationally.  However, while I find most of the torture accusations a joke, I still absolutely oppose the whole Guantanamo Bay indefinite detention camp concept.  I don't like allowing US authorities to set up a civil-rights-free zone, and I think it is an incredibly slippery slope that we are climbing on.   And yes, I say this with full knowlege that some bad folks could be released back into the wild.  Guess what -- the American justice system does this all the time.  We have 200 years of history of preferring to let guilty parties go free rather than letting innocent parties rot in jail, and I am not ready to overturn our pretty succesful precendent on this matter.

UPDATE: And to be clear, this is torture, or close enough.  Its good these folks are being brought to justice.   I encourage the media to keep up the pressure on true misconduct -- the gratuitous "wrapped-them-in-the-israeli-flag non-tortures just dillute our focus.  I guess I would also encourage those of you who want to extrapolate from these events to a condemnation of the US military as a whole to inform yourself.  The US military, like any institution of human beings, has criminals in it.  However, that being said, our military has been by far the best behaved occupying force in history, bar none (And, if you don't think they should be occupiers at all, well, blame the politicians that sent them).  For every story of atrocious behavior by a US soldier are 20 stories of soldiers being fair and kind.  The fact that these 20 other stories don't make the paper doesn't make them any less true.

A Very Different Perspective

As the owner of a small blog as well as of a number of small commercial websites, I spend a lot time trying to Google to index me higher (hey, you, down here, look at me).  So its strange to me when I see this:

WASHINGTON : Agence France-Presse has sued Google Inc. for
copyright infringement, alleging that the Internet search engine
included AFP headlines, news summaries and photographs published
without permission.

In a suit filed in a Washington court, AFP sought damages and interest
of at least 17.5 million dollars (13.1 million euros) and an
interdiction on the publication of its text and photos without prior

I know several news agencies have tried this.  My guess is that this is a bid for payment rather than delisting.  It would be interesting to test them and see what their reaction would be if Google said "OK, we'll drop you".  My guess is that if Google purposely did not include AFP in their news index, they would probably get sued instead for anti-trust.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.  Something Walmart is probably coming to understand nowadays.


OMG -- Wash. State Sales Taxes

Just pulled out the new Washington State sales tax forms to do my September taxes. The form is now 8 (dense)pages long! This is really getting out of control. In contrast, the sales tax forms for Florida (which has other problems, but we will talk about those later) fit on one side of a 3x5 card.

Washington is the worst offender I have seen in at adding jillions of new small targeted sales based taxes. They have become even more complicated than California. The basic sales tax rate varies by industry and by location - and I am not talking about just by county or city but by town. Each of something like 350 towns have their own tax rate. Then there are add-on taxes that don't follow any recognized borders, such as convention taxes and transit district taxes. Then there are lodging taxes, that vary by town but also depend on the number of sites we have in a campground, but of course that threshold number of sites changes by town as well. I have spent litterally hours with maps trying to figure out what rate we collect at for each of our locations. The Washington State tax return takes longer to prepare than any 4-5 other returns we have.