One Year Later, No One Has Been Punished for the IRS Leak of Billionaires’ Tax Data

“So, the use of tax data by ProPublica and its source to make a policy point isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Some of the agents and politicians who weaponized the IRS in the past intended to make the world a better place by their lights, or at least to hurt only people and organizations they were convinced were bad. And leaks from government agencies often do achieve beneficial ends. Where would we be without Daniel Ellsberg’s copies of the Pentagon Papers, Mark Felt’s role as “Deep Throat” in the Watergate scandal, or Edward Snowden’s revelations of government surveillance?

But leaks from the IRS aren’t war plans, misuses of power, or politicians’ schemes; they’re sensitive, private financial information that we’re forced to surrender to government agents. We have no choice but to fill out our tax forms even though we know that the federal employees receiving our information have a track record of abusing that data for their own ends and to our detriment.”

The American Rescue Plan Bailed Out Unprofitable Government-Owned Golf Courses

“An unnecessary federal bailout of state and local governments has given an undeserved mulligan to some money-losing government-owned golf courses.

That’s despite the fact that some of those same courses reported an increase in customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to reports submitted to the Treasury Department and reviewed by Reason, Union County, New Jersey, has committed $929,000 of its federal COVID funds to a pair of county-owned golf courses: Galloping Hill and Ash Brook. That spending will help the courses cover “costs associated with increased use” as a result of “an increase in play at county golf courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

That’s the sort of problem that many private businesses would probably love to have. Either as the result of government-imposed lockdowns or changes in consumer behavior during the pandemic, recreational spending on restaurants, bars, concert venues, and theaters plummeted. If that made golfing—an outdoor, socially distanced activity—more popular, why should taxpayers now have to bail out a business that got more successful?”

“In a report published earlier this year, the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website) found that 155 local governments lost a combined $61 million by running golf courses during their 2020 fiscal years. One of the biggest losers was Thousand Oaks, California, which lost a staggering $800,023 on a single city-owned golf course in 2020.

Naturally, that course got a piece of the federal bailout too. The Treasury Department’s tracker of American Rescue Plan spending shows that Thousand Oaks plans to spend more than $14 million on “revenue replacement” on a variety of items, including “city-owned theatres and golf course.” It’s not clear from the data provided to the Treasury Department how much of that money will be spent on the golf course (nor is it clear why the city owns multiple theaters, but that’s for another day).”

“”Congress really put taxpayers in the rough,” says Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a fiscally conservative nonprofit. He says Congress should have placed stricter limits on how the $350 billion state and local government bailout could be used.

Those funds were included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress in March 2021, and were ostensibly meant to cover pandemic-related public health costs or to offset lost tax revenue due to the economic consequences of COVID-19. Even before the law was passed, there were questions about whether such a large bailout of state and local tax coffers was necessary or prudent.

It seems to have been neither, as most governments did not experience a significant revenue shortfall due to the pandemic. Now flush with extra cash from Washington and few restrictions on how to use it, some state and local governments are blowing the money on pet projects like government-owned golf courses and bonuses for government workers”

“Other obviously vital public health costs being covered by the American Rescue Plan’s local government bailout fund include the planting of new trees “including ash, spruce, maple, pine, [and] cherry” and the installation of a new irrigation system at a government-owned golf course in Elmira, New York, according to Treasury Department data. That’ll burn through $1.2 million of federal funds.

In Lexington, Kentucky, a government-owned course that brags about containing “the longest par-5” hole in the state, will be getting a new irrigation system with the help of more than $1.3 million from the federal bailout. The course is already “a local favorite and an attraction to visitors,” the county wrote in its project summary submitted to the Treasury Department, but the desired upgrades haven’t been made due to a lack of funding from the local government.”

GM Slashes Prices for Its Electric Vehicles (To Compete With Tesla)

“How much of this innovation and aggressive price-slashing is due to government intervention in the clean energy market? It’s hard to tell. E.V. sales have long been boosted by government subsidies that offer electric and hybrid vehicle owners federal income tax credits of up to $7,500 for new cars bought in or after 2010. But in a splendid twist of government logic, carmakers also get punished for being too successful, since customers are phased out of subsidies if the automaker has sold more than 200,000 qualifying units—a threshold Tesla has reached, rendering owners ineligible for tax rebates. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has even criticized such tax credits, noting that they’re simply not needed in order to drive demand for E.V.s. Though likely correct, Musk delivered this critique years after the subsidies were put in place and after his company’s customers became ineligible for it. It’s entirely possible that tax credits helped drive the early transition to E.V., but play less of a role now, and will play no role in the future.

In May, the Biden administration signaled that it would incentivize further E.V. adoption—pursuing ill-advised and market-distorting economic nationalism despite the fact that consumers were already gravitating in that direction (as strong Tesla sales, even post-subsidy-expiration, have suggested, and Musk has confirmed). The administration last month started to put in place a $3.1 billion plan to ramp up domestic production of E.V. batteries. Though packaged as a way “to insulate consumers from the fluctuation of global oil markets,” as The New York Times reports, gesturing at Russia’s war in Ukraine, the shift to mass domestic production of E.V. batteries will take quite a while to implement, and the effects even longer to be felt. It also ignores that much of the lithium, cobalt, and nickel mining needed for these batteries is done in China and will be difficult to scale up to sufficiently meet demand.

Mass electric vehicle adoption need not be spurred by socially conscious word-fluff or well-meaning (but flawed) subsidies; it’s looking like customers want electric vehicles because they’re high-quality, convenient products made increasingly attractive by their lower price and easier maintenance. May the best man win in the coming price wars.”

Ukraine thanks U.S. for ‘game changing’ weapons system: But what is the HIMARS?

“Built by military contractor Lockheed Martin, the HIMARS, or high-mobility artillery rocket system, can fire the same type of long-range ordnance as a conventional multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), such as the M270, at targets up to 300 kilometers away. It too can put Ukrainian forces out of range of artillery, while placing the Russian batteries at risk.

A crew consisting of driver, gunner, and launcher section chief operate the system, which carries a payload of six precision-guided missiles. A spent munitions pod can be reloaded in mere minutes by trained soldiers.

Yet it has one key difference—the M142 is not a heavy tracked vehicle, like a tank for example, but instead uses a three-axle wheeled chassis one might find in a commercial semitruck.

“This design offers a unique shoot and scoot capability that enables soldiers, Marines and our allies to position, engage and rapidly relocate after firing,” wrote Michael Williamson, vice president and general manager of missiles and fire control at Lockheed Martin, last year in a LinkedIn post.

Thanks to its light weight, the HIMARS is also easily transportable so it can be utilized in locations otherwise hard to reach. It’s even deployable from a C-130 Hercules turboprop transport plane.”

Do We Really Need 100 Different Federal Programs To Fund Broadband?

“President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill apportioned $1.2 trillion for such projects as roads, bridges, and airports. But it also designated $65 billion “to help ensure that every American has access to reliable high-speed internet” by funding broadband expansion. This included a $45 billion “Internet for All” program, under which Biden pledged to expand broadband access to all Americans by 2030.

But this was not the first tranche of federal funds dedicated to expanding internet access: The 2009 stimulus bill allocated more than $7 billion toward broadband grants for rural areas, and expenditures have grown since. A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that the return on that investment has been underwhelming.

The report, titled “Broadband: National Strategy Needed to Guide Federal Efforts to Reduce Digital Divide,” was released…Based on Biden’s pledge of getting to universal broadband access by the end of the decade, the GAO studied the government’s current broadband programs and expenditures, looking for shortcomings or areas of improvement.

What it found was a jumbled mess.

“Federal broadband efforts are fragmented and overlapping,” with “at least 133” programs “administered by 15 agencies,” the report found. These agencies varied widely, with the three largest being the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is part of the Department of Commerce. Between FY 2015 and FY 2020, these programs collectively dispensed at least $44 billion in broadband assistance.

In practice, so many programs from so many agencies all pursuing the same goal leads inevitably to waste. In one case the report cites, “multiple providers received funding from different programs to deploy broadband to the same county in Minnesota.” If the goal of the federal broadband effort is to expand into areas that lack access, then there is no reason to fund multiple providers in the same area.”

“Overall, the report determined, “The U.S. broadband efforts are not guided by a national strategy with clear roles, goals, objectives, and performance measures.””

“A previous GAO report noted that while the federal government invested over $47 billion in rural broadband infrastructure between 2009 and 2017, the broadband industry invested $795 billion over the same period. To the extent that federal funding would ever be necessary, it would be to fill in any gaps the private sector was unable to cover.

“The problem is the Biden administration is prioritizing the government being the provider,” rather than the private sector, says Swarztrauber. “The rhetoric is all about how we should prioritize the local government being the owner and operator of the network.”

In the past, such plans consistently lead to higher costs, corrupt bidding processes, and technology inferior to what’s offered by the private sector. But the Biden administration is moving full steam ahead, with NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson saying last month that his agency would “press” states to allow more municipal broadband programs.”

You’re Wrong About Disinformation

“People believe and say things that aren’t true all of the time, of course. When false beliefs influence the outcomes of major elections or, say, decision making during a pandemic, it’s reasonable to consider ways to minimize the ill effects those false beliefs can create. But efforts by public officials to combat them—and tremendous confusion over how to identify them—may well make things worse, not better.”

Globalization Is Alive, Well, and Changing

“It’s undoubtedly true that international trade, like all forms of market competition, disrupts some American companies and workers that, through government protection, formerly had the U.S. market to themselves. However, the economic case for free trade remains rock solid. American consumers (who are also American workers, by the way) gain from new access to goods and services at lower prices and in greater varieties. These gains come not only from foreign-made items but also from similar domestic ones that are now forced to compete with imports on price and quality. Studies show that trade’s “consumer surplus” is far more significant than a few cents on the proverbial cheap T-shirt. Recently, for example, several economists have found that falling prices caused by Chinese imports into the United States during the 2000s generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in consumer benefits for each American job potentially displaced by the China Shock—the equivalent of giving every American “$260 in extra spending per year for the rest of their lives.” Similar gains occur outside the United States: European consumers, for example, save €60 billion per year (about $64 billion) from lower tariffs resulting from the European Union’s entry into the WTO. Studies also uniformly find that these benefits—again contrary to the conventional wisdom—tend to disproportionately aid the poor and the middle class, who have tighter budgets and concentrate their spending on tradable sectors like food, clothing, footwear, and consumer electronics.

The consumer gains from trade are a big reason why Americans today work far fewer hours to own more and better essentials than at any prior time in history. Dartmouth economist Bruce Sacerdote finds that lower-income Americans’ overall consumption (adjusted for inflation) increased by 62 percent to 164 percent between 1960 and 2015, not fully accounting for improvements in quality. In other words, poorer Americans today can consume about twice as many goods and services as their 1960 counterparts, and expanded international trade is undeniably a big reason why.

Additionally, domestic companies and farmers gain financially from exporting their products”

“American companies also gain from foreign direct investment”

“the supply chain crisis? Another miss. For starters, multinational corporations and consumers have been adjusting their practices—diversifying suppliers, building inventories, investing in new capacity, altering spending patterns—since COVID first hit. Keeping trade and investment lanes free from government interference helps facilitate this adjustment. Just as important, there’s scant evidence that reshoring supply chains would help the country withstand future economic shocks. Two recent studies (one from the OECD and another from German research network CESifo) found, for example, that an economic shock abroad would hit a “decoupled” U.S. economy just about as hard (in terms of stability or welfare) as our current, globally integrated one. Any meager benefits, moreover, would come with major costs: Insulation from foreign shocks makes a nation more susceptible to domestic shocks (say, a freak ice storm in Texas) and intensifies any resulting pain because local supply chains adapt more slowly than global ones.”

How Woodrow Wilson’s Vanity Destroyed the Old World

“Wilson’s position was beyond outlandish. He believed that the presence of just one American should immunize a reserve military vessel of a belligerent power under orders to attack enemy submarines and carrying military contraband through a war zone. It was a nonsensical claim, understandable only as policy calculated to allow Washington to enter the war on behalf of the Allies. To make such a position the cause for war was murderous partisanship.”

We Poked the Bear

“Most cynical has been the West’s Big Lie that Ukraine would enjoy eventual NATO membership. In 2008, at Washington’s behest, the transatlantic alliance told Georgia and Ukraine that someday they would be inducted. Western officials spent the last 14 years repeating that promise.

However, Tbilisi and Kiev are no closer to joining, an unofficial recognition that virtually no member wants to add either one. Yet Washington led the consensus rejection of Moscow’s demand that the two states be excluded in the future. Rather than admit the truth, alliance members prevaricated, even though admitting the truth might have forestalled Russia’s attack on Ukraine.”

“Long forgotten is Vladimir Putin’s conciliatory speech to the German Bundestag more than two decades ago. He explained:

“No one calls in question the great value of Europe’s relations with the United States. I am just of the opinion that Europe will reinforce its reputation of a strong and truly independent center of world politics soundly and for a long time if it succeeds in bringing together its own potential and that of Russia, including its human, territorial and natural resources and its economic, cultural and defense potential.”

He went on to declare: “One of the achievements of the past decade is the unprecedentedly low concentration of armed forces and armaments in Central Europe and the Baltic. Russia is a friendly European nation. Stable peace on the continent is a paramount goal for our country, which lived through a century of military catastrophes.”

However, his attitude changed as NATO advanced. Despite the mass amnesia that appears to have afflicted the Cold War’s victors, they offered numerous assurances to Soviet and Russian officials that NATO would not march ever eastward to Russia’s borders. For instance, reported George Washington University when it released a trove of declassified U.S. documents: “Secretary of State James Baker’s famous ‘not one inch eastward’ assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.”

The allies also whispered sweet nothings in the ears of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and those around him. Explained GWU: “Declassified documents from U.S. and Russian archives show that U.S. officials led Russian President Boris Yeltsin to believe in 1993 that the Partnership for Peace was the alternative to NATO expansion, rather than a precursor to it, while simultaneously planning for expansion after Yeltsin’s re‐election bid in 1996 and telling the Russians repeatedly that the future European security system would include, not exclude, Russia.”

In a detailed study, UCLA’s Marc Trachtenberg concluded that the allies originally promised to respect Moscow’s security interests. However, he added: “It was only later that U.S. leaders realized that the USSR had become too weak to prevent them from doing whatever they wanted. So by mid‐1990, the February assurances were no longer taken as binding. What Gorbachev called the ‘sweet talk’ continued, but the whole vision of a cooperative relationship based on mutual trust and mutual respect, it became increasingly clear, was at odds with the reality. All of this was, and still is, deeply resented in Russia.””

“Russian complaints continued. Early the following year a State Department cable (released by Wikileaks) reported: “Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests.””

“the problem is not that the allies ignored East European demands that Washington garrison states of little relevance to its own security. Rather, it is that the U.S. and its allies ruthlessly ran roughshod over Russian security interests in expanding NATO up to Russia’s border—just 100 miles away from St. Petersburg. Moreover, Washington repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to aggressively promote regime change, through financial and diplomatic support as well as military force.

Washington sought to impose its will not just in its own sphere of influence, the Western hemisphere, but in countries once part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Allied claims to be surprised and shocked by Moscow’s complaints are careless at best, dishonest at worst. The West thought there was nothing Russia could do. Alas, the U.S. and its allies were wrong.

Of course, the past will do little to solve the present. However, Washington policymakers should start learning from their mistakes. Two decades of disastrous wars have left thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of foreigners dead. To this toll can be added those dying in Ukraine, another unnecessary war spurred by Washington’s arrogance and myopia.”