Fix the Tax Code—in One Easy Step

So here we go again: it’s Tax Day in America.
 
The weekend news broadcasts were flooded with tax stories.
One stated that Americans spend billions of dollars just to fill out their tax forms each year.
In another story, a reporter interviewed people in the line at the post office on Saturday.
Another spoke of how Americans spend an average of 52 hours— just to fill out their tax forms.
That’s a whole lot of time spent just to hand over money to the federal government.
 
For decades Americans have grumbled, swallowed hard, and sent in their taxes on the National Day of Doom, April 15th.
 
Over the last 20 years, economists Thomas Sowell  and Walter Williams have each had easy ways to simplify the Tax Code. 
 
Dr. Sowell suggested making Tax Day the same day as Election Day. That would force Congress to simplify it.
 
Dr. Williams suggested a 10% flat tax. He explained that “if 10% of my income is good enough for the Methodist church, it should be more than enough money for the federal government.” 
 
The problem with tax reform is that your friendly neighborhood congressman really has no interest in simplifying the tax system. Each year, the federal government sucks more than $4 trillion dollars out of American taxpayers. And even with all that money, Congress still spends more than it receives. Your congressman is not giving up that much money, no matter how much suffering you do to hand it over to him.
 
If Americans are really serious about fixing the confusing, frustrating, expensive, and headache-inducing tax forms, there is a simple solution:
Require ALL elected officials (the president, vice president, senators, congressman, and all their staffs), and congressionally appointed officials (including the Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Commerce, the head of the Federal Reserve Board, the head of the Congressional Budget Office, the Secretary of Defense… ALL one of them with any fiduciary responsibility) to fill out their tax returns: ON CAMERA.
 
Then make them publish it on YouTube.
 
Every one of these government officials can have an accountant, a lawyer, or even their own mom sitting in the room, helping them fill out their tax return. But they MUST do the entire process on YouTube.
 
I promise you that real Tax Reform and Simplification would be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President within a single month.
–The Beltway Bandit
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No to Term Limits

…but YES to Time Limits.
At long last, the tool to slow down the out-of-control Montgomery County Council is at hand. The 9-member council is an exclusive club—all 9 are Democrat Party loyalists. There are no Republicans; no Independents; no Green, Constitution, or Labor Party members; and absolutely no creative thinking. Just Democrats.
 
Like all Democrats, The Nine agree on almost everything, except how much they deserve to be paid. And like Democrats everywhere, The Nine tirelessly tinker with the lives of the people who pay their salaries. They’ve even created 20 intrusive agencies to help them out.
 
Do you want to add a driveway at your house? You need to get approval, a zoning permit, and pay a hefty fee.
Do you want to cut down a tree in your own back yard? You need to get a permit, bureaucratic approval and of course, pay a hefty fee.
 
Want to add a bathroom to your house? You need to get construction, plumbing, and electrical permits; construction approval and of course, pay hefty fees for each.
 
But don’t forget to shovel your walk after it snows—or you get a ticket and a big fine.
 
Accidentally put your recycling into the wrong trash can on Trash Day? You face a ticket and a fine.
 
And don’t forget to rake your leaves out into the street for the scheduled County Leaf-Pick-Up-Day in the Fall. Dry leaves are a serious fire hazard, ya know. Oh wait—that was last year’s law. The Nine changed it so you have to rake you leaves, but only to the edge of the street. They found out the hard way that all those leaves piled in the street were starting fires underneath hot cars when residents parked on top of dry leaves. Oops!
 
They required every home to have hard-wired smoke detectors installed in all new construction. It was a backup safety measure because they beleived that residents were too dumb to remember to change the batteries. But this year they changed their minds, and are now requiring all hard-wired smoke detectors be removed and replaced by only battery-powered units.
 
This council requires every home to have an expensive “radon-dissipation system” to assure that no county resident dies of radon poisoning. Even though there has never been a radon-poisoning-death recorded anywhere in the United States—ever.
 
Did your 10-year-old daughter set up a card table in your front yard and eagerly try to sell lemonade to the neighbors?
That will cost her thrice: a fine for not having a business permit; not having a food-service-permit; and the possibility of arrest. Not to mention shattering her enthusiasm.
 
Trying to update your business and need to fix the parking lot? You must schedule a public hearing, get county approval, then pay for a permit, submit architectural plans showing where the curbs will be located including width and length, prove that rain-storm run-off is environmentally friendly, get that approved, have the lot repaved, then get the work approved by a leisurely county inspector who will never arrive on time, and of course, pay a hefty permitting fee.
 
This council banned paper grocery bags because they were bad for the environment. Grocery stores obediently adjusted and started using free plastic grocery bags. Then the council decided that free plastic bags were bad for the environment, so they imposed a tax on any grocery store customer foolish enough to want to carry their groceries
out of the store. They even required the grocery stores to reprogram all their cash registers to collect a 5-cent-tax for each plastic bag used—and the stores have to collect the tax for the county! Only Montgomery County could come up with a scheme to tax its own citizens before they get to leave the grocery store.
 
Don’t send you kids out to play at the park down the street; they will be arrested; you will be fined; and a County Social Worker escorted by a policeman will come to your home and interrogate you about potential child neglect.
 
How about the idea of banning smoking in your own home—unless you live on a plot of at least one-acre. That leaves only the wealthy who own large lots in Potomac or Avenel who could smoke in their own homes.
 

Or how about their legendary idea requiring all pet cats to be leashed…?

 
These are just a few examples of what our County Council does all day. They simply make up schemes to justify their existence.
 
But here is the best example of the County Council’s use of its time: last year the nine member council unanimously voted themselves a juicy raise to $136,258 by January 1, 2017. And this is in a county where the median income for a 4 person family is $70,150. They decided to pay themselves almost twice what their average resident taxpayer
earns.
 
For over a quarter century, the most grumbled question about Montgomery County governance has been, who is serving whom…?
 
The problem with our local government is that they spend much of the year meddling with nonsense, making mountains out of mole hills, and banning common sense in the sole mission to justify their jobs and eye-popping pay checks. Check out the biographies of the 9 council members. 6 of the 9 members have held these offices since Bill Clinton was president.
 
As the Term Limits campaign proves, once elected to office in Montgomery County, it is impossible to unseat a sitting member—it’s a job for life!
This is why all 9 current council members are against the Term Limits Amendment.
So what is the realistic solution?
 
The goal to limit the terms of these perennial bureaucrats deserves great praise. But the smarter constitutional amendment is to limit their time on the job each year.
 
They should be allowed 30 days to do their job: pass a budget, deal with long-term fiduciary responsibilities, settle long-term zoning issues, then go home—and leave us alone.
 
The Maryland State Legislature meets for 90 days every year. Period. And somehow they manage to run the entire state.
 
The Texas State Legislature meets for 90 days—every other year.And Texas is the sole economic success story of the past decade.
 
Why does the Montgomery County Council need to meet every work day of the year? Are they that much more important? Do they accomplish that much more?
 
Just because you show up at a bureaucratic job every day and make sure your press secretary gets you on the TV news or into the newspaper every week so you look busy doesn’t mean you are actually doing something productive. Those nine council members have proven this year in and year out.
 
The Term Limits Amendment is a brave start, but the end goal should be to limit their time in office each year to 30 days. Such a law would require them to focus on their real duties; not squander time on the fabricated and illogical issues which consume their time throughout the year.
 
If they choose to work all 30 days great; if not, it would be an added bonus to the people of Montgomery County.
–The Beltway Bandit

Best Bureaucracy Ever: Verizon

Everybody has been stuck in the only check-out line at the store when there are another 9 cash registers that are closed. We’ve all had to wait too long to be served at a restaurant. We’ve all been put on hold by a customer service rep in the Philippines who barely understands you as you repeat your customer ID over and over. We’ve all paid for a car repair, to have the same problem pop up only days after leaving the shop.

When you’re faced with these frustrations, you start to wonder: what is the worst company in America?

Is it the companies politicians love to bash: say, Exxon?

How about a car company? Or  a coal company?

Maybe even Koch Industries, Halliburton, or Walmart…?

No. Without a doubt, it is—Verizon.

When you call for customer service, you get a robot who asks you the same questions over and over.

When you finally get a rep on the phone, they lie. And lie. And lie. If they’re not lying, they’re making stuff up to get you off the phone.

Here’s proof:

My phone service from Verizon is called “Freedom  Essentials” on the monthly  bill. It includes phone and internet. I don’t watch TV much, so I’ve never paid for it.

In early March, I received a call from Verizon informing me that my account was past due. If I paid $57 right now, my service would not be interrupted. In a panic, I pulled out my credit card, read its numbers to the rep, and paid the bill. That evening when I got home, I received an email receipt of my payment.

One March 18th, I received another call from Verizon telling me my service would be interrupted if I didn’t pay another $114 immediately. I explained that I had paid my bill a week earlier, but they insisted I was two months behind on my payment, and needed to get up to date or service would be terminated. Since I was at work and couldn’t check, I again pulled out my credit card and paid another two months. The rep thanked me and explained that I was now paid through March 18th, and the next bill would reflect that my account was up to date.

When I got home from work that evening, a new email from Verizon showed that I was now paid through May 18th. I shook my head, sighed and accepted the fact that once again, Verizon doesn’t know what is what. But I was relieved that I was paid up two months in advance, and wouldn’t have to pay that bill for a while.

Ten days later, my internet service stopped working. It was around 10 in the morning, so I figured I’d wait a couple hours, clear the Fios modem, and try again. At noon, it still wasn’t working. At 3pm it still wasn’t working, so I called Verizon’s customer service number.

After the usual 15 minutes of Verizon’s robot-automatic-answering-service asking for my account number, my phone number, my name, address, and whether I had a cell number I’d like to have listed as a back-up security question, I finally got through to a live person. After reciting my account number, my phone number, my name and address again, she paused while she looked up my account.

After a few minutes, she informed me that I didn’t have internet service on my account.

Stunned, I asked why I had been receiving it since 2009, and why I had paid for it every month since then. I reminded her that in January of this year, my internet service was interrupted, and that two Verizon Service Techs had visited my home over a three day period to replace my Fios modem because the first one had gone bad; the second one was defective; and the third one finally worked.

She told me there was no record of that service in my account log. She told me to hold, and after ten minutes, transferred me to someone in Tech Support. After another lengthy period on hold, the tech came on and checked through my account log. He explained that the previous Verizon person didn’t know what she was talking about, and that he would have service back on the next morning—he simply had to order a service call to my home.

The next morning no rep showed up. I called Verizon and they said they had cancelled the Service Tech’s request. I asked why and they said that the Tech who spoke to me the previous evening had noted in my account log that the problem was fixed.

From that point I started getting mad.

On that Tuesday, I spent three hours on the phone, being transferred from Customer Service, to Financial Services, to Tech Support, and back to Customer Service in some sort of round-robin. I talked to Verizon people in Delaware, Arizona, New Jersey, Tijuana Mexico… And in all that time, every person I spoke to seemed completely clueless as to how such a problem could exist.

And so it went for 15 days, including a Saturday morning and Sunday evening on the phone with Verizon.

My son works in IT, and kept telling me I was doing something wrong. He came over to my house and called Verizon, confident that with his background he could speak the same language as Verizon’s tech guys, would have the confusion cleared and the problem solved within 15 minutes. I lauded him for his confidence, and handed him all my notes from the past week, my previous Verizon invoices and emails, and gave him the phone.

He started his call with Tech Support at 4pm that Sunday afternoon. He stayed on the phone with me by his side, and we listened on the speaker-phone to the ricochet of tech people and customer service people from across America, Mexico and the Philippines go back and forth, changing stories and explanations for how to fix the problem. As the sun faded out the window behind him, my son sat there diligently waiting, and calmly retelling the story of our problem to each succeeding Verizon person who came on the line.

3-1/2 hours later it was dark outside, and they promised that phone service would be restored at 8 o’clock the next morning.

Well, believe it or not, 8 o’clock came and went, and we had no internet service. My son’s marathon call from the evening before had no more impact on Verizon’s bureaucracy than did mine.

I got back on the phone and spent another two hours on the phone with Verizon that day. I got the same run-around, and each new Customer Service Rep had to be told my entire story from the previous week. Even though they had my account log on a computer screen in front of them, they had no idea what I was saying.

This went on through Day 8, Day 9, and Day 10. My fury with Verizon was broiling. With every person I spoke to, I explained that my bill was paid through May. Every Rep would acknowledge that it was. But at that point, they would shut down and act like they had no idea how to flip a switch to turn my internet service back on. I also noticed that when I asked the Rep’s name, they would say simply their first name. I would follow that up with, “And where are YOU?”

“In Richmond, Virginia,” would be the timid response.

“Can I get your ID number?” I got used to asking.

“No sir, we’re not allowed to give that out,” would be the firm response.

“Of course not,” I always answered cynically.

And then, on Day 10, it happened.

Somehow, a Verizon rep actually acted like she knew what was going on. Almost on auto-pilot, I explained what had happened, that my bill was paid up for the next two months, and about the dozens of people I had spoken to. She looked at my account log on screen and said “Oh My God!”

“What now?” I asked, afrad to hear the next twist in my ordeal.

I heard her tapping away at her computer, so took the opportunity to ask her name.

“Mallory” she said vacantly.

“And where are YOU?” I asked.

“I’m in Massachusetts,” she answered, still vacantly.

“Can I get your ID Number?” I asked automatically.

“Sure,” she said, “It’s ———” and she gave it to me.

I was shocked—I got a real ID number from a Verizon Rep! I was so stunned, I was almost speechless.

She interrupted my stupor and said, “I know what has been happening with your account.”

“You do?!”

“Every time you called in, a new Work Order was assigned to your account to correct this issue. The problem is that you have 1, 2, 3, oh my God, at least 9 overlapping work orders here, so the system didn’t know what to do.”
“How could that happen?” I asked.

“Well, every time you called in, a new work order was assigned to your account, and—“

“So wait a minute,” I interrupted. “If that’s the case, why didn’t ANY of the people I’ve spoken to over the last week and a half figure this out?”

“I’m not saying they didn’t, but some people here are trained a lot better than others,” she explained, sounding guilty about my problem.

She told me that she needed to call a Tech and have all the other work orders cleared in order to start a new work order to solve the problem.

I scoffed in disbelief. She heard me too, because she said, “I’m sure you don’t believe me after all this time, but I will call you back to let you know about my progress. I have a few friends in different departments who will help me fix this.”

Surprised by this new candor, I agreed, gave her my number, and hung up.

The next morning she actually called me! I was so surprised, I know I didn’t properly thank her. She told me she had her friend Lynne from Tech Support on the line in a conference call, and that she was going to help us. Lynne reiterated Mallory’s observation about the multiple work orders  and about all the confusion it caused. While she was explaining this, she gasped and said, “Look at all these work orders—how many times have you called in?”

I explained that with all the disconnections, second calls on most days, I must have called at least 15 times.

“Well that explains that!” she said. “There are 13 different work orders in here for service on your account since last Monday.”

“Now you can understand his anger,” Mallory piped in.

“This will take a few hours, and some calls to our field office, but we’ll clear it up,” Lynne said.

Mallory told me, “You see, it’s all in knowing the right people. I will call you back at 1 o’clock and give you an update to see if we can get your service up today or not.”

I thanked her, hung up, and for the first time in 12 days, started to feel hopeful. Perhaps I would finally have my internet service back by the weekend.

At 1pm she promptly called me back to explain that it was so messed up that it would be Monday before all the orders could be cleared properly. She apologized, but promised to call me at 8am Monday morning to confirm that service would be restored that morning.

I thanked her for being the only person out of three dozen who had been honest and consistent with me. We wished each other a happy weekend, and hung up.

At 8:05 on Monday morning, my phone rang. It was Lynne, not Mallory. She explained that Mallory had to rush her husband to the hospital, but called her on the way to make sure that I was updated on  the progress of my internet service. I was speechless from her commitment to solving my problem, and told Lynne to thank her for me.

Lynne explained that the backlog of orders had been cleared, gave me the new Work Order Number, and assured me that internet service would be restored by 2pm. I was so thankful, and told her so. She told me to be home between 2 and 4pm to accept a call and to reactivate the service through an email I would be sent.

I was home around 3:30, clicked open my email, and was happy to receive an email from Verizon asking me to click a specific button to restart my Fios internet service. I did so, and sat back in my chair with a long sigh. 2 weeks, I thought. Two whole weeks wasted. Two weeks of service I paid for, and didn’t get. At least 24 hours of work time squandered over these two weeks. I sighed again.

I waited a few minutes for my Fios modem to go through its start-up cycle, and then clicked on the internet icon on my computer screen.

Nothing happened.

That feeling of Verizon Doom flooded over me once again.

I called 1-800-Verizon once again. After the first 7 minutes of telling the Verizon-robot all my account information once more, I waited for a customer service rep. When one finally came on the line, I asked to speak to Mallory in Massachusetts, and recited her ID Number.

“We have no way of calling another representative in a different office,” she explained in a disinterested tone.

“Wait a minute: you’re a phone company, and you can’t talk to another employee in your company?” I asked incredulously.

“Only email,” she said with an over-the-phone-shrug.

I swallowed hard, and started to explain my entire 2 week ordeal yet once more.

She said “hmmm ,” out loud and looked at my account on screen. “It appears that there is a power outage near your home. If service doesn’t come up within the next 3 hours, then we can’t guarantee that you’ll have internet for the next 24 hours.”

“So are you telling me that we won’t have internet until Wednesday now?!” I exploded.” We are able to receive emails from Verizon, because I received an email a half hour ago telling me that my service was restored, and now—“

“We have no record of that here,” she said.

I recited the Confirmation Number right off the email from 4pm back to her.

“Well, why don’t you do it again, so we can be sure,” she said.

So I went back to the email, and clicked the button once more to accept my fios service. Almost immediately, I got another “Congratulations!” message, with a different series of numbers to confirm our service. I recited them to her.

“Let’s see,” she said again cheerfully. “Yep, looks like you’ll have to wait another three hours until that power outage clears up. If not, it’ll be another 24 hours for ya.”

I was so mad, I’m sure there was smoke spewing from my ears, but I tried to remain calm. “Let me speak to a supervisor. Please.”

“There aren’t any on the work floor at this time. Can I take a message and have one call you?” she said in a tone as if there was not a problem.

“No, I want to talk to a supervisor right now. This is Day 15 of dealing with you all, and I was promised that service would be restored today.”

“I can put you on hold and see if one will be available soon,” she offered.

“I don’t want to be put on hold, because you’ll hang up on me. Get me a supervisor. Now.”

“Please h—“ she clicked me on hold so fast, she didn’t even get the rest of “hold” out.

I listened to verizon’s insipid “On Hold Music” for the umpteenth time. I waited for another 20 minutes. Finally a male came on the line. Once again I had to explain my two week trek through Verizon’s bureaucracy to this guy too.

He hummed and hawed, and then told me there was a power outage. I told him I already knew that. He said, “I can have an Outage Repair Ticket set up, and we can take a look at it tomorrow…?”

“Now why didn’t she suggest that when we discussed this earlier?” I asked frustrated.

“Oh well,” he chuckled, “I told her not to write one until you and I discussed the issue and decided on what the best course of action was to take.”

That did it. I exploded: “I have not had internet service I paid for in advance for 15 days. What do YOU think the best course of action would be?!”

“Sir,” he said, trying to use his customer-calming-skills he learned in Call-Center-Training-Class, “if you’re going to be rude, then I cannot help you. Do you want me to write an Outage Repair Ticket or not…?”
Still furious, I asked to be transferred to Mallory, and gave her ID number to him.

“How did you get that information?” he asked suspiciously.

“Transfer me to Mallory right now so I can leave a message on her voicemail,” I reiterated, still broiling.

“Tell you what, let me contact the Tech Department, and see what we can do for you..” and pushed the Hold Button as fast as he got that last word out.

On hold for another 12 minutes, I listened to the same Verizon On Hold Music. I’m a music lover, but even Helen Keller would cringe if she was stuck listening to this tripe.

A Tech Rep finally came on the line, “Hello, I understand you’re having a little glitch with your internet service?”

“A little glitch?!” I said sarcastically.

Before I could open up my floodgates of rage, he interrupted me: “Have you cleared the cache on your computer?”

“Cleared the what?” I asked, “How do I do that?”

He had me go onto my computer screen, showed me how to click to buttons in the preference menu, and then told me to wait 30 seconds.

And what do you know?

I suddenly had internet service.

I sighed out loud and asked the guy, “Why didn’t anybody tell me to do this 45 minutes ago?”

He chuckled and said, “Customer Service People. What do they know? Heh heh heh!”

I thanked him, and hung up.

So after 15 full days of paid but unavailable service, shifting explanations and excuses, I finally got my internet service back on.

This problem began on March 28th at 10am, and trudged along until 6:30pm on April 11th.

The following morning, on Day 16, I received the most polite email from Mallory I have every received from a Customer Service Person. She was thoughtful, apologetic, considerate, and reiterated how frustrated many of her colleagues are with Verizon’s Bureaucracy.

It was refreshing to know that out of the 37 people we spoke to over our 15 day ordeal, there was one honest person who cared enough to bend over backwards to help me.

_______________________________

Ten days later, I was surprised to see an email from Verizon asking me to “Take a Quick Survey!” about their service. I did so with relish. After giving them Zeros for their responsiveness and if I would recommend them to a friend, they asked these two questions.

Please tell us why you chose these ratings or what we can do to improve our service:
Although we were paid up through May 18th, 2016, for 2 months in advance, Verizon disconnected our service on March 28th.

It took 15 days, 26 hours on the phone, and speaking to 37 different customer service, tech, and financial services people in Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, the Philippines and Mexico to straighten it out. Amusingly, 6 of your customer service reps proudly announced they were “taking ownership of this problem, and will not hang up until your problem is solved.” Yet to top it off, all 6 transferred me elsewhere. We were transferred dozens of times, and also hung up on 4 times over that 15 day period.

Over that period, we were often on the phone for 3-hour periods: We spoke to you all at 8 in the morning, at noontime, at 3 in the afternoon, on a Sunday evening, and even at 11:15 one night. And yet at every turn we were treated like the IRS treats American citizens: with excuses and indifference.

Except for the last person, Mallory in Massachusetts, EVERY SINGLE Verizon employee gave us a different explanation and promise to solve the problem.

People complain about how horrid it is to deal with the Post Office, the local MVA, or with Comcast.
But I have NEVER been treated so dishonestly and with so many over-the-phone-shrugs for such a lengthy period of time.

And just in case you believe my experience is frivolous, I do Customer Service for a living. If a single person on my staff treated a customer in such a way, I would have him fired that day.

Since we were put on hold for about 22 of the 26 hours we were on the phone with Verizon, both my wife and I were forced to memorize your “On Hold” music, which, by the way, is horrid. We are convinced it was composed by the son of some Verizon Top Executive and recorded in his garage. You all REALLY need to invest in some music.

And how many times, during that hold music did Verizon’s robotic-female-voice pipe in and remind us that “if you are having trouble with your service, you can log onto verizon.com for assistance.” Even though we had no internet service!

I never truly understood why Americans hate a monopoly; but now it is crystal clear.

Over those 15 days of NO SERVICE from Verizon, we decided there is only one word to describe Verizon: “Excruciating”.

What can we do to make it easier for you to do business with us?
Have your Overpaid Lobbyists go to Congress to have a law passed to allow other companies to compete in the Washington DC region.

____________________________________________________

I have yet to hear back from them, but am still exhausted from the experience and feel like I have the domestic form of PTSD.

If there was an alternative to Verizon, I would sign up for it without blinking.

–The  Beltway Bandit

Let’s Try Something New

Washington-Portrait-021516

Let’s celebrate Washington’s birthday on his own birthday

Long ago, our Nation celebrated one of the great men of Western Civilization, George Washington. The United States honored him with an official holiday each year on his birthday, February  22nd.

But thanks to a fine example of the dwindling logic in Washington, DC, Congress changed his birthday to any Monday close enough to his birthday. In the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971, they did this to provide federal employees a three-day-weekend.

But even though it is known all over the country as “President’s Day”, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM)  https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/snow-dismissal-procedures/federal-holidays/#url=2016   it is officially listed as “Washington’s Birthday”.

So how did everyone start calling it Presidents Day?

When in college, I was pummeled by several history and political science teachers who relentlessly trashed George Washington. Was it a conspiracy of history teachers who thought too much emphasis was placed on the man who created every precedent for political humility?

You see, some states honored President Abraham Lincoln, while other states honored President Thomas Jefferson on his birthday.  As you can probably figure out, Northern states celebrated Honest Abe, and Southern states did not.

Lincoln’s birthday falls on February 12th. Congress thought that plopping a holiday between the his and Washington’s would pretty much split the difference.

So in its perpetual efforts to solve problems which do not exist, did Congress change Washington’s Birthday to “Presidents Day”…?  The common explanation was that the newly-named-holiday would offer Americans a day to ponder the many presidents and their grand contributions to our heritage.

The problem is, nobody has ever heard of Rutherford Hayes, Martin Van Buren, or Franklin Pierce. This effort to make Washington just another one of 44 men simply corroded the national reverence for Washington, and eliminated the celebration of Lincoln and Jefferson in those many states that had up until then done so. Pretty soon schoolchildren may not know Washington’s name either.

Every year during the week after Valentine’s Day you can flip through the local newspaper and see advertisements for “Presidents Day Weekend”.  There is always a cartoon-sketch of Washington with a speech balloon telling his Heirs of Liberty to buy cars, refrigerators or carpet. The worst are TV commercials with an actor dressed in a colonial uniform sprawled on a bed calling Americans to join him at the mattress store.

Meanwhile, no American  high school graduate has ever learned why Jefferson invaded Morocco, why Wilson belittled the Constitution, why Ford vetoed more bills in record time than any other president, or how Coolidge balanced the budget during a recession.

In fact, despite the effort to make Presidents Day a teachable moment, Americans don’t know anything about any president, except that some owned slaves, a few were assassinated for some obscure reason, and that all Republican presidents were stupid.

The funniest thing about assigning Washington’s Birthday to the 3rd Monday in February is that this year, Washington’s birthday is actually on a Monday, but the Federal government celebrates it on Monday February 15th—a week early.

Ahhh, the irony which once again reflects the nimble OPM and the federal bureaucracy. They can’t even change their own rules just a tiny bit to celebrate Washington’s birthday on his own birthday.

It is an amusing example of how inflexible the federal government is in almost all its endeavors. You can find dozens of such examples in the soon to be published book, Bureaucratic Bombs.

For almost a half century, our culture has belittled George Washington. Despite the  Federal Government’s growing habit of ignoring precedents and laws, he continues to stand out as a grand example of leadership and manhood.

As David Boaz of the Cato Institute explains, King George III, the man who wanted Washington hanged as a traitor during the American Revolution, summed up Washington’s stature best:

The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/man-who-would-not-be-king

 

Too bad Americans don’t know how great George Washington truly was, and why he was so loved by his countrymen. And thanks to the insistence upon making him as bland as 40 of our 44 presidents, they never will.

Advertising the Obvious

Ever notice stupid ads on TV or radio?

Although masked under a rapidly mumbled closing line of “brought to you by the Ad Council…” these ads are really paid for by YOU.

This is the kind of obvious stuff your government wastes their money promoting:

Advertising the Forest

“The Chief of the United States Forest Service says people should celebrate Earth Day by getting out of the house.”

No kidding?!

Did you get a college degree to come up with that wisdom?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGnZQzCbTX8

…and look at how many people watched this dynamic government-agency-self-promoting video: 2,412 in a nation of 350 million people!

Of course, writing the video, assembling a video crew to drive outside of the Forest Service’s air-conditioned office building in Downtown Washington and trekking all the way to A Real Forest to film the video, and then scheduling a meeting with Chief Tom Tidwell to interview him about all the good works he and his teammates in The Forest Service are doing is really expensive. Then they had to record the interview, go back to a studio and edit the interview for time and pithy wisdom from Chief Tom, and then edit the interview together with footage of The Great Outdoors.

This takes lots of people and lots and lots of tax money. All to tell you something you already know how to do: go outside.

And then there’s the ubiquitous radio advertisement promoting The Forest: a manager assembles his forest-animal-workers in an early-morning-meeting  to impress their human visitors. He talks to a bird to make sure she’s ready to sing; to a river to make sure he’s ready to show off; to a tree which cleverly responds that he’s still not going anywhere; and to a turtle, who is always late for their daily pep talk. It’s a whacky crew, that’s for sure:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYtUPQoAOOc

While this ad is heard everywhere on radio stations across America in the middle of the night when nobody is awake, the YouTube edition has earned a whopping 555 views with no comments. Betcha that almost all of the views are from employees of the United States Forest Service.

Advertising the Horrors of Radon

Although there is still no evidence anywhere that Radon Gas has ever killed anyone, the federal government spends money promoting the “fact” that it is a major threat to people everywhere. Radon is a natural radioactive vapor which seeps out of the ground in microscopic amounts almost everywhere in the United States. Local governments desperate to find missions to justify their existence, such as the Montgomery County Council in suburban Maryland, pass laws requiring Radon Testing in every house on sale or for rent. They even require each homeowner to install radon-exhaust-pipes from under their basement slab or crawlspace just to make sure nobody ever gets sick from this elusive toxin. But in the 15 years they have required this expensive test and equipment, they have never condemned a house for occupancy because of elevated radon levels. But they get to charge each homeowner a big fee and then pat themselves on the backs for saving lives of people who have never been sick. And thus far, there has never been a single case of this natural gas poisoning anyone or anything, even the squirrels, rabbits and deer which sleep on the ground where this horrid threat is seeping up onto them.

Be that as it may, the US Department of Health and Human Services created a radio ad—and an insipid song—to remind us to be wary of this ever-present and odorless threat to our very existence.

The original threatening ad is here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYtUPQoAOOc

The fun starts at 1:04, but the first half of the video is a great historical record of how we’ve been brow-beaten into recycling for over a quarter-century now…

After you watch it, can you believe you didn’t know how poisonous is this nefarious odorless gas called Radon? Have you ever met anyone who was hospitalized for Radon Poisoning? or perhaps, undergoing extensive treatment for Radon Cancer?

Of course not… because like most things the government wastes your money pondering, it is completely made up.

And how about this classic Radon Ad. It’s even more ridiculous:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDYHj3pIp7c

Although this ad can be heard throughout the middle-of-the-night hours on radio all across America, look at the number of youtube views: 417.  That means that outside of the federal bureaucracy, no one beyond the mothers of the six toddlers in this ad has watched it.

Creating Crises

These government-paid-for-advertisements cover Hunger: “1 out of 5 kids struggles with hunger…”. They also promote Autism Awareness, Bullying, Clean Water, Recycling, Wearing Seatbelts, Healthy Lunches for School Kids, Retirement Savings, ObamaCare, Smoking, Drunk Driving, Healthy Smiles, and even Girl-on-Girl Violence.

Really??

These ad campaigns are another reflection of what the federal bureaucracy really thinks of the people who pay all those taxes to them: they think Americans are stupid. Too stupid to know how to wear seatbelts, not laugh at autistic kids, eat healthy meals or how to go to a dentist.

The bureaucrats must think that Americans are really a bunch of illiterate people who just hiked out of the mountains, and never saw a bathroom, a phone, or a car before.

Every one of these advertised topics is on The News all the time, so why do we need government agencies to create ridiculous ads promoting the issue? Because their chief purpose in life is to justify the existence of that agency promoting that issue. And since each federal agency has more money to spend than they know what to do with, they can spend it advertising their main cause! The IRS is a perfect example of this. As detailed in the upcoming book “Bureaucratic Bombs!” the IRS has their own in-house video studio, where they record ads and ‘team building” videos for all those IRS agents.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/taxpayer-money-finances-irs-star-trek-parody/

Why again does the IRS need their own recording studio??

Heck: even the Food & Drug Administration has a ”Center for Tobacco Products”. Their sole purpose is to study the effects of smoking and to create advertising campaigns to tell people not to smoke. Can someone please tell me who in the Western World born after 1950 does not know that smoking is bad for you? Yet the FDA has over a hundred full-time-employees (who each get 2-full-weeks’ vacation, 10 paid federal holidays, 8-paid sick-days and a continuously accruing pension) whose job it is to do just that. Once I asked one of their staff if the bureau’s title meant that they were for or against tobacco…?

Most of the above mentioned topics are ads created “in association with the Ad Council”. Watch a few here…

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=ad+council+social+responsibility+campaigns+

This ‘council’ turns out to be a group which appears to be funded solely by the Federal government, although research shows that they are VERY good at hiding who pays their bills, how they get their funding, and how they spend their money. But the only time you ever hear their name is  very rapidly at the end of an ad sponsored by the USDA, or the Department of Homeland Security, or the US Treasury… The list of federal sponsors is endless.

But the most ludicrous part of the campaigns is the cost. Businesses which try to advertise on TV or radio know how eye-poppingly expensive it is. That is why almost all the ads you see are from huge companies with incredibly big advertising budgets. Companies know that if you want to advertise your car, your restaurant, or your plumbing company, that you need to advertise when people are watching TV or listening to the radio. Those “prime times” for radio are between 6 and 9 in the morning, and from 4 to 7 in the evening; it’s called “Drive Time”. For TV, those times are from 6 to 8 in the morning and from 6 to 11:30 at night. TV and radio stations are smart enough to charge a company a ton of money to run their advertisement JUST ONCE during those time periods.  The only companies which advertise in the other time slots just don’t have enough money to spend on ads to show off their products during Prime Time.

Interestingly, almost all of the “Ad Council” or “Public Service Announcement” ads occur in the middle of the night, or in those times when there are almost no viewers or listeners.  That way, those Creative teams responsible for advertising recycling, diversity-awareness, healthy-eating, drunk-driving, and going-outside, can report back to their bosses in Washington that yes, their ad campaign ran on 1,200 stations, and they are proud to have gotten the cheapest advertising rates. At that point, they click up a PowerPoint presentation bragging about their tight budgets, the success of their campaign, and justifying the continuing existence of their program.

And look at the end of the “Ad Council” link above. Not to nit-pick, but why is the Federal Bureaucracy concerned with social responsibility? Why not concern themselves with their agency Mission Statement, or–God forbid–their fiduciary responsibility…?

But my favorite Federally-Sponsored-Ad is this one.

The Department of Homeland Security advertises snooping on your neighbor or fellow commuter without calling it Terror Watch because if we call it Terror Watch somebody somewhere might be offended, so we call it the impossible-to-remember and really-hard-to-say “If You See Something Say Something”.

http://www.dhs.gov/video/if-you-see-something-say-something%E2%84%A2-video-drop-30-second-public-service-announcement

This is classic Federal Bureaucracy: they assemble a team to create an advertising campaign to tell Americans what they already know.

There are suspicious people moving freely around the country, and we need to watch out for them. And then if you see somebody who acts or looks suspicious, you should report that person. But as all things in Washington, they have to be politically correct. They can’t mention Hispanic gangs like MS-13, or terror groups like ISIS or al-Queda, so they have to write an advertisement that is sooo bland that nobody will pay attention to it. But once the ad is written, filmed and recorded and sent out via the Ad Council to TV and radio stations all over the country for broadcast, the team that assembled the ad can say, “Hey, we did OUR part to keep America safe!” And believe me, they are the first ones to say it after an event like the Boston Bombings or the San Bernadino Murders.

The best example of this is what happened in the San Bernadino murders on December 2, 2015. The husband-and-wife-murder-team spent many evenings at their home assembling weapons and explosives to prepare for their attack. Their next-door-neighbor saw a lot of suspicious activity, as she watched “middle eastern men” go to and fro through the night, many nights in a row.

After the murderers killed 14 and maimed another 22, the police interviewed the neighbors in an attempt to connect the dots. This poor neighbor admitted she “had seen something” but didn’t “say something.” When asked why, she said she didn’t want to be accused of being politically incorrect by calling the police on an obviously ethnic couple.

So there ya go!

We have a murder spree which scars a whole town. But at least the Homeland Security Bureaucrats in Washington can go to work the next morning and report that their “If You See Something Say Something” ad ran on 1,200 radio stations at 4:15 in the morning when nobody is listening to the radio, and at 2:07 am all across America on hundreds of local cable stations when no one is watching TV. They also have billboards posted on public buses all over the major metropolitan areas in America.

And when it comes time for a bonus at the end of the fiscal year, those Creative Team Members will all receive bonuses in their paychecks for saying confidently that their Ad Campaign is working. Even though their entire campaign only tells people stuff they already know–the obvious.

–The Beltway Bandit

 

 

 

Don’t Worry: It’s No Problem!

This is a sad example of how the Washington Bureaucracy really works:

72 DHS Employees on Terrorist Watch List

December 6, 2015 4:12 pm

At least 72 employees at the Department of Homeland Security are listed on the U.S. terrorist watch list, according to a Democratic lawmaker.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.) disclosed that a congressional investigation recently found that at least 72 people working at DHS also “were on the terrorist watch list.”

This story, published by The Washington Free Beacon, was broadcast on most of the major TV and radio news networks on that same day and evening during their regular 6 o’clock news and  11 o’clock news wrap-up shows. 

And then, guess what–NOTHING HAPPENED.

No Congressmen ran to the microphones and demanded these employees be fired. The President didn’t run to a microphone and announce that these government employees would be suspended until an investigation was completed. And nobody in the Washington Press Corps–not an investigative journalist, not any reporter whose beat is the Department of Homeland Security–nobody announced they would begin an undercover investigation to find out how potential terrorists got jobs in what is supposed to be “The Defense Department” for threats inside the United States.

Everybody in power, including the News Media, ignored the story.

Now imagine if a newspaper had published a story reporting that 72 employees of Exxon were on the Terror Watch List? Or if 72 employees of Koch Industries were on the Terror Watch List? The news would explode on the front page of the Washington Post and New York Times. It would make the cover of Time magazine, and 60 Minutes would postpone their regularly scheduled show for the next Sunday and rush an hour-long-special into production to voice its alarm that Americans would dare employ 72 people on the Terror Watch  List.

But….

Since the 72 work for the Federal Government, the story is shrugged off–even by the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson.

The sad part is that no one asked what these employees do all day. Do they work as TSA agents, groping children or old men in wheel chairs, while simultaneously ignoring others who might be smuggling an explosive past their $150,000 scanners?

Do they work in Port Security in Baltimore, or Los Angeles, or New York City, assuring that no dirty nuclear materials are being off-loaded onto one of our nation’s largest docks ?

Are they the ones who man the phones at the “If You See Something Say Something!” Hotline? What if someone calls in with a terror-plot tip, and one of those employees “accidentally” hangs up on  the caller, then blames the disconnect on Verizon?

Do these employees work in the DHS Cyber Center, where they can tip off other people on the Terror Watch List that they might be under surveillance?

Or do they work as Diversity &  Inclusion Specialists in the “Special Emphasis Programs” office in DHS’s Diversity Training Office inside the DHS Office for Civil Rights, assuring that other Terror-Watch-List-Members also have an equal opportunity to work at the Department of Homeland Security?

Of course, we’ll never know, because as with almost all things that happen in the Federal Bureaucracy which spark alarm, the news was shrugged off with a yawn, and the News Media shifted right back into important stories about the Kardashians,  and where the Obamas planned to dine during their upcoming Christmas vacation.

Amusingly, only one publication responded to this bombshell news story: Government Executive magazine, at GovExec.com. In a classic CYA article to protect the federal workforce, journalist Eric Katz explained it as an error reported by Congressman Lynch based on confusion during a congressional hearing. The 72 were not federal employees, but federal contractors who worked at Homeland Security.

So there.

Problem solved. Since the 72 people on the Terror Watch List weren’t actually working for the government, what’s the problem?

Of course,there was no follow up on whether those contractors were investigated, reassigned, suspended, or God forbid–fired.

This is another example of how no matter what the event, a federal agency is never accountable to anyone–not even to the President or to Congress.

The soon to be published book Bureaucratic Bombs explains these events and this mindset in entertaining detail.

But in the meantime, let us all pray that none of these 72 people who spend their work days with official government ID badges somewhere inside the labyrinth known as the Department of Homeland Security don’t end up on the evening news for a more deadly reason.

–The Beltway Bandit