Daily Archives: October 5, 2013

Bob Horton looks at local spending

thesignal-elephant-donkey-holding-hands-kelly-savage-2012-02And boy, is he unimpressed. From a two-year, $86,000 project to replace two tiny foot bridges in Binney Park to the incredibly bad performance of our town pension manager (who we have just rewarded by extending their contract) to the”deferred” (read, “never”) maintenance of our schools, Horton’s got a list.

We can’t control federal or even state spending, but we do have a choice locally; the first step is to dismantle the existing power structure of the Republican party.

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More rave reviews for ObmaKare

And if anything goes wrong, son, you just call me on your ObamaPhone

And if anything goes wrong, son, you just call me on your ObamaPhone

The efficiency of the DMV combined with the intrusiveness of the NSA and IRS.

One woman’s fruitless attempt to log on to the ObamaKare application site. While she was unable to learn anything about what plans she might qualify for, she did learn that the government will be tracking and confirming any information she coughs up with Equifax, Homeland Security and the IRS. How reassuring.

The “web site” the government spent two years preparing is less sophisticated than the most basic commercial sites in 1998. The web has – ahem – advanced since then; the government is apparently too busy devising new spyware to devote resources or talent to designing a healthcare system.

As outlined in the second link, above (and discussed here earlier this morning) the failure of this attempt to design a computer program has nothing to do with “overload” – the most basic servers can handle 1,000,000 X as much traffic as these government sites are experiencing, and they do it effortlessly – this is an architectural problem, not a server capacity issue.

So again, and again: these are the people we propose turning our entire medical care system to? They designed ObamaCare to fail so as to set up a move to a single-payer system; they got the first part right, but god help us when they move on to the second.

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At least he’s gotten his mind off golf

Just wait 'til they see you in this back home in New Delhi - they're gonna love the way you look

Just wait ’til they see you in this back home in New Delhi – they’re gonna love the way you look

Our commander in chief returned from his essential-thus-open government golf course today and turned his attention to the most pressing matter facing the nation: no, not the government shut down, and certainly not the SEAL commando raids in Somalia and Libya;  but the national debate among liberals over the appropriateness of the name “Washington Redskins” by the local football team. 

“There are plenty of matters too big for our leader to handle,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said to reporters this afternoon, “but none too small.”

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Well yes, some of us have been saying this for years

Nick Gillepsie, in Time.  Shutdown highlights basic fact: most government is non-essential. 

After learning that 95 percent of Department of Education employees were deemed “non-essential” during the government shutdown and furloughed, I’m still wondering: Is that all?

Since its creation as a cabinet-level agency in 1979 and spending billions of dollars every year since, test scores for high-school seniors have either declined slightly or remained flat at best, suggesting perhaps still more fat to trim. I’m confident that we could get the same results with fewer people. It’s called productivity, people!

The shutdown may have started over a hare-brained attempt by Tea Party darling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to delay and/or defund President Obama’s signature health-care reform (it is sure to fail because Obamacare’s implementation is not contingent on passing a federal spending plan).

Nevertheless, the shutdown provides the country with a perfect moment to ask why a federal government whose spending habits are an insult to drunken sailors everywhere is paying above-market compensation to hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” workers.

The Department of Education is far from the only federal agency where massive numbers of take-them-or-leave-them employees hang their hats. According to Government Executive magazine’s incomplete tally, 90 percent or more of the staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Securities and Exchange Committee, and the Departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development are considered “non-essential.” And let’s get real: When the Department of Commerce claims that a relatively tiny 85 percent of its workers are “non-essential,” we know we’re being played. Conversely, anyone who has ever passed through a airport checkpoint in the past decade will find it hard to keep a straight face when the Department of Homeland Security – home to 56,000 Transportation Security Administration workers – says just 14 percent of its crew is non-essential. Overall, 80 percent of federal employees will stay on the clock during the shutdown. It turns out that the feds can’t even do shutdowns very efficiently.

And check out this spending by employees of a federal agency you’ve probably never even heard of:

The other story is “Just Sign Here,” a five-part series by Luke Rosiak, a senior investigative reporter and the watchdog team’s data editor, focuses on an obscure federal agency known as the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Rosiak dug into records of thousands of government purchase card transactions by FMCS employees and found a culture of irresponsibility that almost defies description:

“One federal employee leased a $53,000 take-home car with taxpayer money in apparent defiance of federal regulations and regularly billed the government for service at shops such as BMW of Fairfax.

“Others charged the government monthly for family members’ cell phones and high-end TV packages and Internet at home — and even at second homes.

“Managers freely made out checks to employees without requiring documentation of how it would be spent, giving $1,316 directly to one who said she was reimbursing herself for furniture she bought for a ‘home office’ and using convenience checks to give workers bonuses.

“Government employees used federal purchase cards to order items such as a $560 Bose stereo and $1,490 for two high-definition televisions that could not be located.”

Rosiak also uncovered evidence that FMCS’s spending corruption was covered up by top executives, who also attacked whistle blowers and colluded with contractors to get them sweetheart deals.

There is no reason to believe the shutdown has changed anything at FMCS. When these kinds of things happen even during a “shutdown,” it’s clear the federal government has grown too big to manage.

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Enron advisor Tom Friedman: Tea Party is exactly like Hezbollah

 

Tea Party - Hezbollah joint venture

Tea Party – Hezbollah joint venture

The rubes lap this stuff up, but Friedman risks losing what little credibility he and his employer, the NYT, have left among the thinkers. No, Tom, the Tea Party is not “armed with guns and bazookas”, it is not a terrorist organization.

FRIEDMAN: It’s exactly how Hezbollah, a minority party in Lebanon, has managed to intimidate and pervert Lebanese democracy. And by the way, do you know what Hezbollah means? It means “the party of God.” They have God on their side, but they also have guns and bazookas on their side. And they use that in order to intimidate an entire democracy.

ASHBROOK: I mean, isn’t that quite a jump from Hezbollah to Tea Party?

FRIEDMAN: Not in the least, okay? They’re both using intimidatory tactics to override, okay, override the will of the majority. We should call this by its real name. This is serious. This is not a joke, and this is not a test. The implications of this succeeding I think are incredibly, incredibly dangerous.

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It’s all part of the plan

 

Heaven on earth

Heaven on earth

Obama’s departments adding hundreds of insects and animals to the endangered species list to thwart oil exploration in the decades to come. I’ve written about this before: Obama’s regulators, EPA, Interior, and any one else he can utilize, are promulgating hundreds of new regulations that will far outlast his administration. Each one gives “environmentalists” new grounds to sue and they’ll be delaying and preventing energy projects and other exploitation of natural resources into the foreseeable future.

In the 1980s, environmentalists successfully used a listing of the Northern Spotted Owl as threatened to cripple the timber industry in Oregon and Washington, throwing many thousands out of jobs. This is the playbook now being used by groups like the CBD—which boasts on its website of its desire to end most oil and gas production in the United States.

Since taking office, the Obama administration and its green allies inside and outside federal agencies have been making expanded use of a tactic called “sue and settle” to issue new and expensive regulations. Groups like CBD and WildEarth Guardians, for example, petition Fish and Wildlife to list a species as endangered. Other environmental groups use a similar tactic to get new water and air regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency. Then, sometimes the very same day, the environmental groups file a lawsuit against Fish and Wildlife or the EPA to force the government to act—arguing that the regulatory process is too slow.

Because the federal agencies include former employees of green organizations, sue and settle can be a collaborative, not adversarial, process. The agency may be only too happy to sign a consent decree that courts then rubber stamp. Often, state and industry officials directly affected by the settlements have no opportunity to weigh in.

Increasingly, sue and settle is how rules are made in Washington. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has found that more than 60 times in the last four years the EPA agreed to settlements with environmental groups to pass regulations that in some cases impose tens of billions of dollars of costs on industry and land owners. The feds have even paid green groups millions of dollars in legal fees for the favor of suing the government.

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Petulant ruler

 

Stay home!

Stay home!

Punish the people.

“It’s a cheap way to deal with the situation,” an angry Park Service ranger in Washington says of the harassment. “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”

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On the other hand…

NYC real estate prices (and sales) are going nuts. Some people have money, and lots of it, and they can’t all be Russians, can they? Still, some are: here’s one Ruskie who’s agreed to pay $75 million for a co-op at 828 Fifth Avenue – previous record price for a co-op was a mere $45.

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Not to be Debby Downer but …

WSJ reports that lean times are coming to Wall Street.

Poor results could prompt additional job cuts and worsen the already downcast mood on Wall Street, bankers and recruiters said.

“I haven’t seen morale this bad since the Titanic,” said Richard Stein, a senior recruiter at Caldwell Partners, who specializes in financial services.

The tempered expectations are a troubling sign for an industry already struggling to overcome lackluster loan demand, a weak economy and the hangover from the 2008 financial crisis, as regulators and government investigators work through a backlog of cases focused on banks’ activities during the housing downturn.

“For a while we thought a light was at the end of the tunnel,” said Gerard Cassidy, a banking analyst with RBC Capital Markets. “It seems to be a Mack truck.”

Nowhere are banks hurting more than in mortgages. Banks long have braced for a slowdown, but the spike in interest rates this summer brought a yearlong boom to an abrupt end.

“It’s been brutal,” said Michael Menatian, a mortgage banker in West Hartford, Conn. “We were flat-out busy until May. Once rates went up, things went completely dead.” He said he closed around $4 million in loans every month through June, and about $1.5 million a month since then.

The Mortgage Bankers Association expects refinance volume to fall from $1.2 trillion last year to less than $400 billion next year, which would be the lowest level since 2000. While home-purchase lending is expected to rise, it won’t go up by nearly enough to account for the shortfall, experts said.

J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup already have cut more than 10,000 mortgage jobs this year, with plans for thousands more to come. J.P. Morgan is accelerating plans to cut as many as 15,000 jobs in its mortgage division by the end of 2014.

All told, the number of employees in the industry will likely shrink by 25% to 30% over the next year, estimates Christine Clifford, president of Access Mortgage Research & Consulting, Inc., a Columbia, Md., mortgage research and consulting firm.

Bankers now warn of a long-term turn away from refinancing and toward home-purchase lending as a three-decade period of declining rates seems to be nearing an end.

“Over the last five years, all you had to do was answer the phone,” said David Stevens, chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association, at an industry conference last month. “That’s going to be over, and it’s going to be over for quite some time.”

 

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So what’s Drew Marzullo been doing to earn his princely salary all these years?

Who among us does not love Drew (and NASCAR), and there’s no question but that he’s a jolly good fellow, but check his “Reelection 2013” website and you’ll find a recital of deeds accomplished during his tenure, the most recent of which dates back to 2011. His proudest act of public service (at $1,000 a month)? Cupcakes for football. I kid you not.

Hey, it's a living

Hey, it’s a living

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From the island nation of seafarers, this:

 

Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

Captain Calamity arrested after crashing his sailboat for tenth time (in one month).

 

The arrest, mind you, was for failure to appear in court on an unrelated matter – it’s not only not illegal in Britain to be stupid, it’s the prime qualification for high political office. That’s one tradition we should have jettisoned after our own revolution, alas.

An incompetent sailor dubbed Captain Calamity has been arrested by police after coastguards were called to rescue him at sea for the 10th time in a month.

A concerned member of the public had called emergency services after seeing Tim Freeman, 24, standing in the surf at Studland, Dorset, struggling to control his 24ft yacht with a rope.

By the time help arrived Mr Freeman had left the area, but he was found soon afterwards and taken into custody in connection with allegedly failing to attend court over an assault charge.

Residents living along the south coast hope his detention will bring some respite to coastguard and lifeboat crews after Mr Freeman’s calamitous solo voyages ended in him being rescued nine times at a cost of more than £20,000.

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And the best thing that could happen to Democrats would be for Obama to quit

Gallup: Disapproval 52%, approval 41%. That’s down a bit from the early days after  he’d taken office, when 74% of the rubes approved of his ascension.

Hopeless and changed

Hopeless and changed

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The best thing that could happen to Obama would be if the Republicans won their one-year delay

ObamaKare application system a technological mess. The government that had two years to design the system,however, assures the public that, while they can’t design a computer system, the nation’s medical system they’ve taken over will run just fine:”it’s so much easier and simpler than those darn computers,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Government officials blame the persistent glitches on an overwhelming crush of users – 8.6 million unique visitors by Friday – trying to visit the HealthCare.gov website this week.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversaw development of the site, declined to make any of its IT experts available for interviews. CGI Group Inc, the Canadian contractor that built HealthCare.gov, is “declining to comment at this time,” said spokeswoman Linda Odorisio.

Five outside technology experts interviewed by Reuters, however, say they believe flaws in system architecture, not traffic alone, contributed to the problems.

For instance, when a user tries to create an account on HealthCare.gov, which serves insurance exchanges in 36 states, it prompts the computer to load an unusually large amount of files and software, overwhelming the browser, experts said.

If they are right, then just bringing more servers online, as officials say they are doing, will not fix the site.

“Adding capacity sounds great until you realize that if you didn’t design it right that won’t help,” said Bill Curtis, chief scientist at CAST, a software quality analysis firm, and director of the Consortium for IT Software Quality. “The architecture of the software may limit how much you can add on to it. I suspect they’ll have to reconfigure a lot of it.” . . .

He said because so much traffic was going back and forth between the users’ computers and the server hosting the government website, it was as if the system was attacking itself.

Hancock described the situation as similar to what happens when hackers conduct a distributed denial of service, or DDOS, attack on a website: they get large numbers of computers to simultaneously request information from the server that runs a website, overwhelming it and causing it to crash or otherwise stumble. “The site basically DDOS’d itself,” he said.

Self-destructive behavior is always a symptom of trouble.

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