Tag: Government

Good Call

The good people of Charlemont, Massachusetts, have decided that telling Comcast to f%$# off is worth a million dollars:

A small Massachusetts town has rejected an offer from Comcast and instead plans to build a municipal fiber broadband network.

Comcast offered to bring cable Internet to up to 96 percent of households in Charlemont in exchange for the town paying $462,123 plus interest toward infrastructure costs over 15 years. But Charlemont residents rejected the Comcast offer in a vote at a special town meeting Thursday.

“The Comcast proposal would have saved the town about $1 million, but it would not be a town-owned broadband network,” the Greenfield Recorder reported Friday. “The defeated measure means that Charlemont will likely go forward with a $1.4 million municipal town network, as was approved by annual town meeting voters in 2015.”

About 160 residents voted, with 56 percent rejecting the Comcast offer, according to news reports.

Charlemont has about 1,300 residents and covers about 26 square miles in northwest Massachusetts. Town officials estimate that building a municipal fiber network reaching 100 percent of homes would cost $1,466,972 plus interest over 20 years.

An increase in property taxes would cover the construction cost. But the town would also bring in revenue from selling broadband service and potentially break even, making the project less expensive than Comcast’s offer.

“With 59 percent of households taking broadband service, the tax hike would be 29 cents [per $1,000 of assessed home value], similar to that for Comcast,” a Recorder article last month said. “But if 72 percent or more of households subscribe to the municipal-owned network, there is no tax impact, because subscriber fees would pay for it.”

Currently, Comcast covers about 9.5 percent of Charlemont, while Verizon DSL is available in about 88 percent, according to estimates by BroadbandNow.

The town plans to charge $79 a month for standalone Internet service with gigabit download and upload speeds and no data caps, though the price could rise to $99 a month if fewer than 40 percent of households buy the service. The town also plans to offer phone and TV service at rates cheaper than Comcast’s.

This is making the right call.

It’s worth spending a million dollars to exclude Comcast from you community.

To paraphrase Johnny Cash, I shot a man in Reno, just to avoid having Comcast.

Who Blinks First?

The European Commission has told the Italian Government that its budget is not acceptable, and the Italian government has told the European Commission to pound sand:

The Italian government will not budge from its position on the country’s budget plan even though it is in breach of EU rules.

In a three-and-a-half page letter sent on Monday to commissioners Pierre Moscovici and Valdis Dombrovskis, Finance Minister Giovanni Tria wrote: “Italy is aware it has chosen a path that isn’t in line with EU rules. It was a hard decision but necessary in order to bring the country’s GDP back to pre-crisis levels and considering the ongoing economic difficulties for Italians.”

Tria went on to address the three objections raised by Moscovici and Dombrovskis in their letter to him last week, saying the government is confident it can achieve the ambitious growth targets it has outlined. Tria’s letter explained that the government will increase public investments and implement a number of significant structural reforms that should help trigger such growth. However, should Italy’s “growth trajectory evolve differently to what we expect, we would intervene,” he wrote.

Tria concluded the letter by saying that although the positions of Rome and Brussels are different, he hopes a “constructive dialogue” within the framework of EU rules can continue. He said Italy’s place is “in the eurozone.”

This situation is likely going to be rather different than that of Greece, or even Spain:  Italy is a far larger economy, and its current ruling coalition is not irrevocably linked to the Euro or the EU as, for example, Syriza was in Greece, which made meaningful negotiations impossible.

Also, it should be noted that even with the spending increase, the budget remains in primary surplus (its revenues exceed all spending but interest on the debt).

As I’ve noted before, the problem with the EU in general, and the Eurozone in particular, is the hegemony that Germany, and its economic philosophy, hold over the entire European Project.

Even without the obvious history, current events have shown this to be a bad thing.

South Carolina: Slavery, Sedition, and Now State Sanctioned Anti-Semitism

The Trump administration is considering whether to grant a South Carolina request that would effectively allow faith-based foster care agencies in the state the ability to deny Jewish parents from fostering children in its network. The argument, from the state and from the agency, is that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act should not force a Protestant group to work with Jewish people if it violates a tenet of their faith.

The case being made by South Carolina is an extension of the debate around RFRA, which is more commonly associated with discrimination against LGBTQ people, but by no means applies exclusively to that group.

If granted, the exemption would allow Miracle Hill Ministries, a Protestant social service agency working in the state’s northwest region, to continue receiving federal dollars while “recruiting Christian foster families,” which it has been doing since 1988, according to its website. That discrimination would apply not just to Jewish parents, but also to parents who are Muslim, Catholic, Unitarian, atheist, agnostic or other some other non-Protestant Christian denomination.

I’ve really had enough with how the local, state, and federal government coddle these Talibaptist whack-a-doodles.

Least Surprising News of the Day

It turns out that government pension plans are flushing their money down the toilet by playing high fees to Wall Street.

Of course, this observation misses the primary purpose of state pensions wasting money on hedge funds and private equity, it creates opportunities for bribes and corruption:

Recent research from North Carolina State University finds that state pension plans would be better off avoiding external asset managers when investing their plans’ assets – and would carry substantially smaller unfunded liabilities if they had simply invested in a conventional index fund.

“We set out to answer three questions about state pension plans, their external management fees and the return on their investments,” says Jeff Diebold, an assistant professor of public administration at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “First, what influences the amount of money that state pension plans pay in external management fees? Second, do higher fees lead to better performance? And third, how would those pension plans have fared if they had taken the money spent on external management fees and invested it in a conventional portfolio, with 60 percent invested in the S&P 500 and 40 percent invested in an intermediate bond fund?”

To address these questions, the researchers turned to the Public Plans Database, where they were able to find data from 49 state-administered pension plans – spanning 30 states – regarding how much those plans spend each year on external management fees. Specifically, the researchers evaluated data on the performance of those 49 plans, spanning the years 2001-2014.


“Unfortunately, higher fees did not lead to better performance,” Diebold says. “There was no positive relationship between what plans paid in fees and how they performed. You don’t always get what you pay for.”

For the third research question, the researchers only evaluated 42 of the 49 plans, because the evaluation required at least 10 years of data. But for those 42 plans, the researchers found that the more a plan spent on external fees, the more it lost – relative to what it would have made investing in the conventional portfolio of the S&P 500 and intermediate bond funds.

For example, the plan that spent the fourth least amount of money on external fees would have cut 5 percent of its unfunded liability if it had invested in the conventional portfolio. The median plan would have eliminated 14 percent of its unfunded liability. And the plan with the fourth highest fees would actually have recouped 44 percent of its unfunded liability – approximately $4.2 billion – if it had invested its external fees in the S&P 500 and intermediate bond funds. In this context, an unfunded liability is the amount of the pension plan’s obligation for which the plan has not set aside money.

There is a good reason reason for me to refer to big finance as parasites, because they sure as hell aren’t symbiots.

Because Dealing with the Real World Equivalent of Lex Luthor Works out so Well

Of course, I am referring to Lex Luthor lookalike Jeff Bezos, and it increasingly appears that Amazon is increasingly using its contracts with state and local governments to lock out vendors who don’t use their platform.

Also, it looks like the promised cost savings have not materialized:

Amazon has already helped reshape the retail landscape for books, clothes and groceries. Now the online retail giant is moving into local government procurement. This new business venture is raising concerns that cities, school districts and counties will end up spending more money than they have to on supplies.

Early last year, Amazon contracted with the Prince William County School District in Virginia and by extension earned a contract with U.S. Communities, a purchasing group with public-sector members in all 50 states. More than 1,500 public agencies have since signed on to buy products through Amazon Business, the B2B counterpart to the company’s popular Prime service.

While Amazon and U.S. Communities have touted their partnership as a cost-saver for public agencies and a boon for suppliers, a new report finds that Amazon Business does not always deliver the savings it promises. The report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a frequent critic of Amazon, also argues that Amazon is increasingly cornering the supply market by forcing vendors to sell their products through Amazon.


On a press call about the report, Mike Mucha of the Government Finance Officers Association explained the contractual problems with an example of a government choosing a new type of software, in which Apple is expected to be one of the proposed vendors.

“You can structure that process so that you can truly evaluate the merits of [different companies] through a fair process. Or you can include a requirement in the RFP [request for proposal] that says, ‘The logo must be in the shape of a fruit,'” he says. “It’s not a real RFP.”

Prince William County Public Schools created a similar bid in 2016 when it required 10 product categories in an RFP for office supplies. Of the 12 firms that submitted bids, only Amazon was able to supply all 10 of the categories requested.

Additionally, the Amazon contract differs dramatically from traditional procurement contracts between governments and businesses. While government purchases are usually based on fixed prices, the Amazon Business prices can vary by the day and even by the hour. The report analyzed purchases made by a California school district and found that buying those supplies from a local vendor as opposed to Amazon would have saved the district between 10 and 12 percent.


If public agencies have long-established relationships with certain vendors, they are now only allowed to continue buying from them if those vendors join Amazon’s marketplace.

Seriously, we need aggressive and broad antitrust enforcement today.

This is Not a Surprise

One of the members of Trump’s voter fraud panel, one who had to sue to get the internal documents of their deliberations, has now gone public, and revealed just how much of clown show the Kris Kobach voter fraud commission was:

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, one of the 11 members of the commission formed by President Trump to investigate supposed voter fraud, issued a scathing rebuke of the disbanded panel on Friday, accusing Vice Chair Kris Kobach and the White House of making false statements and saying that he had concluded that the panel had been set up to try to validate the president’s baseless claims about fraudulent votes in the 2016 election.

Dunlap, one of four Democrats on the panel, made the statements in a report he sent to the commission’s two leaders — Vice President Pence and Kobach, who is Kansas’s secretary of state — after reviewing more than 8,000 documents from the group’s work, which he acquired only after a legal fight despite his participation on the panel.


Dunlap said that the commission’s documents that were turned over to him underscore the hollowness of those claims: “they do not contain evidence of widespread voter fraud,” he said in his report, adding that some of the documentation seemed to indicate that the commission was predicting it would find evidence of fraud, evincing “a troubling bias.”


“After reading this,” Dunlap said of the more than 8,000 pages of documents in an interview with The Washington Post, “I see that it wasn’t just a matter of investigating President Trump’s claims that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally, but the goal of the commission seems to have been to validate those claims.”

It was clear from day 1 that the goal of the commission was to perpetrate a fraud on the American public, but it was even worse than it appeared then.

F%$# Them

I am, of course, referring to Amazon and Starbucks, which are manifesting petulant butt-hurt over a tax bill which results directly from their impact on Seattle:

Amazon has threatened to move jobs out of its hometown of Seattle after the city council introduced a new tax to try to address the homelessness crisis.

The world’s second-biggest company has warned that the “hostile” tax, which will charge firms $275 per worker a year to fund homelessness outreach services and affordable housing, “forces us to question our growth here”.

Amazon, which is Seattle’s biggest private sector employer with more than 40,000 staff in the city, had halted construction work on a 17-storey office tower in protest against the tax.

Pressure from Amazon and other big employers, including Starbucks and Expedia, had forced councillors to reduce the tax from an initial proposal of $500 per worker. The tax will only effect companies making revenue of more than $20m-a-year.

The tax is expected to raise between $45m and $49m a year, of which about $10m would come from Amazon.


“We are disappointed by today’s city Council decision to introduce a tax on jobs,” said Drew Herdener, an Amazon vice-president. We remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here.”


Campaigners said the company should be forced to take financial responsibility for Seattle’s cost of living, which has forced many families on to the streets. There are almost 12,000 homeless people in Seattle region, equating to the third-highest rate per capita in the US. Last year 169 homeless people died in Seattle. The city declared a state of emergency because of homelessness in late 2015.


Politicians from 50 other US cities wrote an open letter to Seattle council in a show solidarity with the councillors attempt to tackle Amazon’s impact on the city.

“By threatening Seattle over this tax, Amazon is sending a message to all of our cities: we play by our own rules,” the letter said.

Starbucks had also fought against the tax, with its public affairs chief, John Kelly, accusing the city of continuing to “spend without reforming and fail without accountability, while ignoring the plight of hundreds of children sleeping outside”.

These guys have been driving the cost of living up in Seattle, and aggressively fighting any sort of taxes to address this issue, and somehow or other, it’s everyone else’s fault.

F%$# them, and f%$# all the capitalist ubermenschen who have their hands out for public subsidies.

Why Does it Take So Long For Us to Build a Damn Bridge?

Putin annexed the Crimea in 2014

The contract to construct the bridge was issued in early in 2015, and the bridge opened today.

The 19km span is the longest bridge in Europe, and it would have taken at least twice as long in the US.

It took 25 years to complete the Bid Dig, and that tunnel borer underneath Seattle keeps breaking.

The New York Times noted something similar, where they discovered that per mile subway construction costs are from 5 to 10 times that of other similar projects in first world nations.

There is something seriously wrong here.

Social Engineering 101

A man in Chicago had a novel way to make some money, he used a US Post office change of address form to redirect mail to UPS headquarters, and then he cashed the checks that came in the mail:

As federal crimes go, this one seems to have been ridiculously easy to pull off.

Dushaun Henderson-Spruce submitted a U.S. Postal Service change of address form on Oct. 26, 2017, according to court documents. He requested changing a corporation’s mailing address from an address in Atlanta to the address of his apartment on Chicago’s North Side.

The post office duly updated the address, and Henderson-Spruce allegedly began receiving the company’s mail — including checks. It went on for months. Prosecutors say he deposited some $58,000 in checks improperly forwarded to his address.

The corporation isn’t named in the court documents, but the Chicago Tribune reports that it’s the shipping company UPS.

Note to self:  Check and see if there is a way to place a lock on my forwarding addresses.

Tory Government in a Nut Shell

The UK Government refused to cooperate with a French money laundering investigation because the company being investigated was a major donor to the Conservative Party:

The British government refused to assist a French investigation into suspected money laundering and tax fraud by the UK telecoms giant Lycamobile – citing the fact that the company is the “biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party” and gives money to a trust founded by Prince Charles.

French prosecutors launched a major probe into the firm and arrested 19 people accused of using its accounts to launder money from organised criminal networks two years ago, after BuzzFeed News revealed its suspicious financial activities in the UK. But the Conservatives continued taking Lycamobile’s money – and it can now be revealed that the British authorities stonewalled a formal request from French prosecutors to carry out raids in London as part of the ongoing investigation.

Confidential correspondence between British government officials and their French counterparts, shown to BuzzFeed News by a source in the UK, reveals that the French wanted British authorities to raid Lycamobile’s London headquarters last year and seize evidence as part of their investigation into money laundering and tax fraud by the company.

In an official response dated 30 March 2017, a government official noted that Lycamobile is “a large multinational company” with “vast assets at their disposal” and would be “extremely unlikely to agree to having their premises searched”.

The letter, from the team at HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) that handles law enforcement requests from foreign governments, continued: “It is of note that they are the biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Theresa May and donated 1.25m Euros to the Prince Charles Trust in 2012.” The email referred to Lycamobile’s donations to the British Asian Trust, which was founded by the Prince of Wales to tackle poverty in South Asia, not to his youth foundation The Prince’s Trust which has never received any money from Lycamobile.


When BuzzFeed News first approached HMRC to ask about its response to the French request, the agency’s senior press officer strongly denied that Lycamobile’s donations would ever be cited as a reason not to conduct criminal raids. “No HMRC official would ever write such a letter,” he said. “This is the United Kingdom for God’s sake, not some third world banana republic where the organs of state are in hock to some sort of kleptocracy.”

However, after verifying the contents of the email seen by BuzzFeed News, another HMRC spokesman said that it was “regrettable”.

Translation, we regret that we have been caught.

Lord (Ken) Macdonald, England’s former director of public prosecutions, said the government’s response to the French request for assistance represented “a descent into banana republic law enforcement” – and called on the UK authorities to cooperate fully with the investigation. “It would be beyond worrying if HMRC were to regard the payment of political donations as a shield against criminal investigation,” he said. “Obviously the fact that a company may have the resources to challenge HMRC’s actions in court is not a reason for authorities to back off. Otherwise, wealthy organisations would be beyond the reach of the law.”

Gee, you think?

This is not a surprise.  The Tories and the Blairite New Labour have made financial corruption and money laundering the center (or centre) of their economic plans, and this is the inevitable result.

Live in Obedient Fear Citizen

It looks like the Orwellian named Department of Homeland Security is compiling a database of media and “Media Influencers”, which has civil libertarians concerned.

This seems to be rather more extensive that a typical clipping service, which would make copies fof articles about an organization and file them, in the days or yore:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to monitor hundreds of thousands of news sources around the world and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents, and bloggers to identify top “media influencers.”

It’s seeking a contractor that can help it monitor traditional news sources as well as social media and identify “any and all” coverage related to the agency or a particular event, according to a request for information released April 3.

The data to be collected includes a publication’s “sentiment” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum, and circulation. No value for the contract was disclosed.


The DHS wants to track more than 290,000 global news sources, including online, print, broadcast, cable, and radio, as well as trade and industry publications, local, national and international outlets, and social media, according to the documents. It also wants the ability to track media coverage in more than 100 languages including Arabic, Chinese, and Russian, with instant translation of articles into English.


The DHS request says the selected vendor will set up an online “media influence database” giving users the ability to browse based on location, beat, and type of influence. For each influencer found, “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”

Why does the Department of Homeland Security always make me feel less secure?

This Sh^% Just Got Real

The good folks at Naked Capitalism made note of a lawsuit where Current trustees of the Kentucky Retirement System are considering joining a lawsuit against them.

Basically, they are considering including former trustees and staff as targets for the roughly $1½ billion that the hedge funds lost at the dog track.

The fact that they are going after their predecessors is significant, but to my mind, the thing that makes this more than a legal long shot is the fact that the hedge funds have been sufficiently spooked to ask the judge to have the bulk of the proceedings sealed.

If the hedge funds are worried enough about this to do this, than this suit has a real possibility of holding them to account.

Metaphor of the Day

Over at Naked Capitalism, I suggested in the comments that, as I have here, given the problems creating a majority coalition, Frau Merkel* should at least make a proforma effort to bring in Die Linke (The Left) into the coalition.

Well, this engendered the following response, which is one for the ages:

Sid Finster:

Ain’t gonna happen. It would be the equivalent of asking ‘OK, which one of you just farted?” during an audience with the Pope.

Some things cannot be acknowledged, especially among Europeans, who have created a political system based almost entirely on pretense. Even if the assembled petitioners are turning green and retching from the rancid stank and the Holy Father has s stupid grin on his mug, everyone has to carry on like everything is normal.

Because Europe is so committed the pretense of “More Europe!”, to “fake it until you make it”, it is particularly bad form to point out that Europe is faking it.

I love the f%$#ing internet.

*Horses whinnying.

Running America Like a Business: Burning It down for the Insurance Money

Case in point, Pittsburgh’s increasingly privatized water system, which is now also increasingly lead tainted:

“The government should be run like a great American company,” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser (who is also an alleged slumlord and the future broker of peace in the Middle East) told The Washington Post last March. “Our hope is that we can achieves successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.” President Trump’s administration touts private enterprise as the solution to any and all challenges faced by public projects—from budget waste to bureaucratic delays to low test scores, the market can fix it all.


Yet governments, local and federal, frequently look to the private sector to solve their problems. And it’s no wonder: They need help. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the entire country a D+ on its 2017 infrastructure report card. “From the crumbling bridges of California to the overflowing sewage drains of Houston and the rusting railroad tracks in the Northeast Corridor,” reads a 2016 piece in The New Yorker, “decaying infrastructure is all around us.”

Pittsburgh, in an attempt to deal with entrenched infrastructure problems, turned to the private sector in 2012 when it partnered with the French management firm Veolia North America, the same water-management company that would fail to disclose Flint’s lead-contamination problem in 2015. Alongside aging infrastructure that produced frequent water-main breaks, flush and boil advisories, and wildly incorrect billing statements, PWSA was in massive debt. Veolia promised to streamline the public utility—in fact, its Peer Performance Solutions model, which embeds private-sector consultants with public-sector employees, won the company an award from the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships in 2014, a little more than a year after it began partnering with PWSA. The organization lauded Veolia for identifying $2.3 million in new PWSA revenue and $3 million more in operating savings, a move incentivized by their contract that stipulated the company could keep 40 percent of every dollar it saved the city. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a glowing account of PWSA’s partnership with Veolia, despite reports that it laid off 23 employees, many of whom were longtime employees with critical institutional knowledge. The private sector had seemingly done its job, weeding out inefficiencies and saving the authority millions.

But this August, a consulting group hired to assess the organization’s current state announced in a public meeting that PWSA was “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure” with “an aging system in demonstrably worse condition than any water utility of its size in the country.” Not only that, water tests showed that since the partnership began, Pittsburgh’s water had been tainted with dangerously high levels of lead.


PWSA, like community water systems across the country, had been dealing with the challenges of operating aging infrastructure long before the public-private partnership. And these issues were only complicated further by poor management—the authority was infamous for its high rates and billing mistakes that verged on the absurd. But at least the water didn’t boast dangerously high rates of lead.

In the summer of 2016, when Pittsburgh’s water was tested for the first time since Veolia began instituting changes, the resulting lead levels exceeded the federal limit. Before Veolia, the water authority had long supplemented its water with soda ash, a substance very similar to baking soda that lines the inside of pipes to prevent corrosion. But under Veolia’s management, it switched to caustic soda—which, while approved for use, is generally acknowledged as an inferior, cheaper, means of corrosion control. The switch to caustic soda stripped the inside of PWSA’s pipes, removing the layer of minerals previously deposited by soda ash, helping leach lead into the city’s drinking water.

The mayor and the City of Pittsburgh say they were never notified of the change. The state Department of Environmental Protection demanded immediate testing when notified PWSA had switched back to soda ash and chastised PWSA for making unapproved modifications to the water-treatment process. Veolia says it had no part in the decision, arguing the PWSA board approved the switch—a board made up of half Veolia executives and half members of PWSA’s Board of Directors. And according to The Guardian, “Under Veolia’s management, PWSA’s new executive director, James Good, a longtime Veolia employee and former private water lobbyist, became the second-highest paid public employee in the region. He earned $240,000 a year with generous benefits.”

The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) and its British cousin, the QUANGO (Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization) have not proved to be successes.

It’s not surprising.  When you juxtapose taxpayer money with a lack of accountability, incompetence and corruption are what you are paying for.

The Joys of Hyperlinks

In a rather alarming article about the contractor looting that is the F-35 program, POGO revealed a little gem:

Military officials like to say that contractors actually cut costs and take care of the support functions, allowing the troops to focus on winning the war. Whether or not a contractor really “frees a Marine to fight” is debatable. Using contractors does provide a convenient means by which Administrations can mask the size of our military commitments to these places by adhering to caps on the official numbers of troops deployed in the strict sense of the actual number of uniformed military personnel deployed. These force caps rarely include contractor personnel. And contractors are hardly more economical. A 2011 Project On Government Oversight study found contractors can cost the government more than twice the amount (PDF) of an equivalent government employee.

Following the above link down the rabbit hole gets us to this:

Based on the current public debate regarding the salary comparisons of federal and private sector employees, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO)1 decided to take on the task of doing what others have not—comparing total annual compensation for federal and private sector employees with federal contractor billing rates in order to determine whether the current costs of federal service contracting serves the public interest.

The current debate over pay differentials largely relies on the theory that the government pays private sector compensation rates when it outsources services. This report proves otherwise: in fact, it shows that the government actually pays service contractors at rates far exceeding the cost of employing federal employees to perform comparable functions.

POGO’s study analyzed the total compensation paid to federal and private sector employees, and am-1ml billing rates for contractor employees across 35 occupational classifications covering over 550 service activities. Our findings were shocking—POGO estimates the government pays billions more annually in taxpayer dollars to hire contractors than it would to hire federal employees to perform comparable services. Specifically, POGO’s study shows that the federal government approves service contract billing rates—deemed fair and reasonable—that pay contractors 1.83 times more than the government pays federal employees in total compensation, and more than 2 times the total compensation paid in the private sector for comparable services.

Additional key findings include:

  • Federal government employees were less expensive than contractors in 33 of the 35 occupational classifications POGO reviewed.
  • In one instance, contractor billing rates were nearly 5 times more than the full compensation paid to federal employees performing comparable services.
  • Private sector compensation was lower than contractor billing rates in all 35 occupational classifications we reviewed.
  • The federal government has failed to determine how much money it saves or wastes by outsourcing, insourcing, or retaining services, and has no system for doing so.

POGO’s investigation highlights two basic facts about outsourcing government work to contractors. First, comparing federal to private sector compensation reveals nothing about what it actually costs the government to outsource services. The only analysis that will shed light on the true costs of government is that of contractor billing rates and the full cost of employing federal employees to perform comparable work. The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan recently completed a fundamental study of costs, and found that, in certain contingency operations, although savings resulted from hiring local or third-country nationals, military and civilian employees can cost less than hiring American contractors.

I’m glad that someone else has noticed this.


Meet the New Boss………

Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 and once proclaimed that “only God will remove me,” resigned as president on Tuesday shortly after lawmakers began impeachment proceedings against him.

The speaker of the Parliament, Jacob Mudenda, read out a letter in which Mr. Mugabe said he was stepping down “with immediate effect” for “the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and the need for a peaceful transfer of power.”

Lawmakers erupted into cheers, and jubilant residents poured into the streets of Harare, the capital. It seemed to be an abrupt capitulation by Mr. Mugabe, 93, the world’s oldest head of state and one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Zimbabwe,” Perseverance Sande, 20, said in central Harare minutes after news of the resignation began spreading, as crowds of people started singing around her. “I’ve been waiting so long for this moment.”

It is widely expected that Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former VP, whose firing precipitated the coup, will succeed him, so I’m not expecting much in the way of political change.

Mnangagwa was, after all, hip deep in the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in the early 1980s.

Mixed Emotions

After Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of Presidential elections in Zimbabwe in 2008, I followed developments there hoping for a peaceful transition to democracy for a few years before throwing in the towel.

I figured that nothing would change, and I felt that I had nothing to add.

Well, it appears that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces have deposed Robert Mugabe in a coup.

I’m not sure if this actually constitutes a change, or if it will lead to change:

Zimbabwe — After ruling Zimbabwe for nearly four decades, leading the country from the triumph of its independence struggle to economic collapse, the world’s oldest head of state became a prisoner of the military he once commanded.

Robert Mugabe, 93, was detained along with his wife, according to a military announcement Wednesday. The move appears to end one of Africa’s most controversial political dynasties while raising questions about what might come next — military rule, a transitional government or a settlement that would allow Mugabe to return to power.

No matter what happens, this appears to be a watershed moment for Zimbabwe and southern Africa, which have suffered from the tumult of Mugabe’s reign, even as his hold on power sometimes seemed unshakable.

Zimbabweans awoke early Wednesday to a televised announcement from an army general promising that there was “not a military takeover,” although Mugabe had been detained and armored vehicles were rolling into Harare, the capital.


Mugabe recently purged some key officials from the ruling party, ZANU-PF, paving the way for his 52-year-old spouse, Grace, to succeed him. Many see that move as a major miscalculation, alienating Mugabe from the civilians and military leaders on whom he had long depended. 

Seeing as how the military is part and parcel of the corruption and human rights disaster that is today’s Zimbabwe, I do not expect this to usher in an era freedom, prosperity, and democracy.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

It appears that tech companies are looking to running portions of towns.

Why do I NOT find this reassuring?

It sounds almost dystopian: One of North America’s largest cities handing over a key neighborhood to a tech giant so it can be rebuilt from scratch. That, however, may be exactly what is about to happen. Recently, it was announced that Sidewalk Labs, a division of Google-parent Alphabet, will (pending approval) lead the creation of about a 12-acre district called Quayside in a prime area of Toronto’s newly revitalized waterfront area.

But if the plan immediately sounds like the beginning of a sci-fi movie in which things are about to go very wrong, Sidewalk Labs’ vision at least is distinctly utopian. Simply put, Google’s urban spinoff wants to build a laboratory for how a city should be run, a smart city predicated on tech, data, and everything from self-driving shuttles to garbage sorted by robots — all while shifting its Canadian headquarters to the new district.

This has fail written all over it.

After all, these are the folks who can’t write a calculator app that adds 1+2+3.

This Is the Stupidest Thing I’ve Read All Day, including Twitter

There is a happy ending though, because the author of this post on Reddit has finally realized that you don’t have to pay to take books out of the library.

How do people not know this?

Admittedly, I live just outside Baltimore City, where the local library is known as the “Enoch Pratt Free Library,” which is a bit of a tell, but I am still stunned.