Category Archives: Government

Whole Foods CEO: Obamacare Is ‘Like Fascism’

via Huffington Post: 

John Mackey Obamacare

Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey would like to revise a previous accusation that Obamacare is a form of socialism.

“It’s more like fascism,” Mackey recently told NPR. “In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.”

Mackey, a libertarian, compared Obamacare to “socialism” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed he penned in 2009. Obamacare would “move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system,” he proclaimed.

Are you a Whole Foods shopper? Does CEO John Mackey’s stance on Obamacare change your perception of the company? Let us know by emailing business-tips@huffingtonpost.com

The op-ed infuriated Whole Foods’ liberal customer base, Time reported at the time.Some customers boycotted the organic food chain in protest, according to ABC.

Whole Foods could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Other CEOs have criticized Obamacare for intervening in the health care market.Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told the Seattle Times last year that although more Americans should have health insurance, “the pressure on small businesses, because of the mandate, is too great.”

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini has said that health insurance premiums could double because of Obamacare. And Cheesecake Factory CEO David Overton said in December that Obamacare “will be very costly” and force most businesses to raise prices or “cheapen their product.”

Some business executives plan to pass higher costs on to employees and customers.

Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter said last year that he plans to raise prices and cut employee hours because of Obamacare. A Wendy’s franchisee in Omaha, Neb. is cutting employee hours in an attempt to sidestep the Obamacare requirement that businesses employing more than 50 workers provide health insurance to full-time employees.

John Mackey

via Business Insider:

Outspoken Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who describes himself as a libertarian, once again addressed the topic of President Obama’s healthcare legislation, which he equated with socialism in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published in 2009.

 

In an interview with NPR’s John Inskeep, pointed out by ThinkProgress, Mackey was asked about his earlier characterization, and responded with this:

Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.”

The law’s been controversial, particularly among smaller retailers that will have to provide healthcare benefits to employees for the first time.

Despite his objection to that particular law, Mackey told Inskeep that he sees room to cooperate with the administration on changing the way America eats, saying that Americans are “addicted to sugar, and to fat, and to salt.”

Find the interview at NPR.org
via NPR: 

Whole Foods has more than 300 stores and continues to expand.

Whole Foods has played a key role in propelling organic foods into the mainstream. The specialty supermarket chain has more than 300 stores and plans to continue expanding. But outspoken founder and co-CEO John Mackey is not the crunchy granola liberal one might conjure while perusing aisles of earnestly labeled blue corn chips and gently misted red peppers.

In fact, he’s a self-styled libertarian: a vegan who sells sustainably raised meat, a man who compares the government’s health care overhaul to “fascism” but wants to improve American diets.

And he thinks big businesses have an obligation to change customers’ perception that big corporations are “primarily selfish and greedy.” (Not that he’s opposed to profits. In fact, Whole Foods posted a 49 percent boost in quarterly earnings in November.)

Mackey sat down with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep to discuss his philosophy and the new book he co-authored, Conscious Capitalism. Part 1 airs Wednesday, Part 2 on Thursday.

Mackey tells Inskeep that companies must have a higher purpose than just making money.

John Mackey is co-CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods Market and co-founder of the nonprofit Conscious Capitalism, Inc.

Whole Foods Market/Courtesy Harvard Business Review Press

For example, when Whole Foods decided it wanted to stop selling overfished species of cod and octopus at its seafood counters, it didn’t just abruptly cut off its suppliers. Instead, the company gave its suppliers three years to come up with a better way of fishing; during that time, the seafood stayed for sale — but with a label of “unsustainable.”

In the end, Whole Foods, working with the Marine Stewardship Council (we’ll have much more on them later), was able to find one supplier of sustainable cod.

“You take a risk when you do that because some of your customers … who don’t care about sustainability, they’re going to go shop at your competitor’s store who has the fish, so you lose some business that way,” Mackey says. “But it was the right thing to do.”

What he doesn’t think is right is President Obama’s health overhaul and the new costs that coverage requirements will place on businesses.

Conscious Capitalism

When Inskeep asks him if he still thinks the health law is a form of socialism, as he’s said before, Mackey responds:

“Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.”

Still, Mackey sees room to cooperate with the administration on another front: efforts to reform the American diet, a pet project of first lady Michelle Obama.

“People in America are addicted to sugar, and to fat and to salt,” he says, and as a nation, it’s holding us back. “Food is intensely pleasurable, and people are afraid that if they change the way they eat, they’ll stop having pleasure.”

Still, he acknowledges how hard it can be to stick to a health-conscious diet. Restaurant meals, he says, rarely meet his personal dietary rules — not just no meat, but also no oil or refined flour. Luckily, Mackey jokes, there’s a Whole Foods to be found wherever he travels.

So our question to you, dear readers, is this: How big a role does a business leader’s personal philosophy play in your decision to buy products from his or her company? Tell us in the comments section below.

REPORT: Feds Waited Until After The Election To Arrest A US Senator’s Illegal Immigrant Intern

via Business Insider: 

An intern for Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., was an undocumented immigrant and a registered sex offender whose arrest was delayed by federal immigration officials just before the election, the Associated Press reports.

bob menendez

The Department of Homeland Security pushed the arrest back six weeks after some officials with the agency said they were worried the case might grab too many headlines before Menendez’s re-election run, according to the AP.

The AP story, which cites internal agency documents provided to Congress, is long and rather complex, but the basic facts are these:

  • Luis Abraham Sanchez Zavaleta, an 18-year-old Peruvian immigrant, first entered the country on a visitor visa, which has since expired, according to the AP.
  • Last summer, he applied for the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which would have allowed him to stay in the U.S. legally for two years. He didn’t tell immigration officials he was a registered sex offender, and his application was denied, according to the AP.
  • He was charged with aggravated sexual assault in 2009 – for allegedly attacking a young boy at least 8 times – at the age of 15, according to the AP. He got two years of probation and had to register as a sex offender.
  • In September, he began working for Menendez’s Newark office as an unpaid intern.
  • Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials in Newark had planned to arrest Sanchez on Oct. 25, but were then adviced by New Jersey ICE officials to postpone the arrest.
  • Menendez, a Democratic Senator from New Jersey, was easily re-elected on Nov. 8 with 58 percent of the vote.
  • Immigration officials arrested Sanchez in front of his New Jersey home on Dec. 6.
  • The AP broke the story on December 12.
  • The next day, Menendez’s staff told him about Sanchez. His staff told the AP, as well as Roll Call, that they hadn’t known about Menendez’s immigration status or prior crimes.

Assistant DHS Secretary Nelson Peacock denied the AP’s allegations in a letter on Monday, stating that Sanchez’s arrest was not delayed “for political purposes.”

 

The Federal Government Hands Out Money To 128 Million Americans Every Month

via The Economic Collapse: 

The Federal Government Hands Out Money To 128 Million Americans Every Month

The number of Americans receiving money directly from the federal government has grown from 94 million in the year 2000 to over 128 million today.  A shocking new research paper by Patrick Tyrrell and William W. Beach contains that statistic and a whole bunch of other very revealing numbers.  According to their research, the federal government hands out money to 41.3 percent of the entire population of the United States each month.  Overall, more than 70 percent of all federal spending goes to what they call “dependence-creating programs”.  It is the most massive wealth redistribution scheme in the history of the world, and it continues to grow at a very rapid pace with each passing month.  But can we really afford this?  Of course we never want to see a single person go without food to eat or a roof to sleep under, but can the federal government really afford to support 128 million Americans every month?  If millions more Americans keep jumping on to the “safety net” each year, how long will it be before it breaks and it is not there for anyone?  The federal government is already drowning in debt.  This year the U.S. national debt will easily blow past the 17 trillion dollar mark and we are rapidly heading toward financial oblivion.  We are stealing more than 100 million dollars from our children and our grandchildren every single hour of every single day with no end in sight.  If we don’t get our finances in order as a nation, what will the end result be?

According to Tyrrell and Beach, federal spending on entitlement programs has been rising more than 6 times as fast as population growth has in recent years…

Between 1988 and 2011, spending on dependence-creating federal government programs has increased 180 percent versus “only” a 62 percent increase in the number of people who are enrolled in federal government programs, and a 27 percent increase in the population. Not only are more people enrolled in government programs than ever before, but more US taxpayer dollars are being spent on each recipient every year.

But even though the numbers that Tyrrell and Beach present in their paper are incredibly shocking, the truth is that they have probably underestimated the true scope of government dependence in America today.  Just consider the following numbers…

Food Stamps

Back in the year 2000, there were about 17 million Americans on food stamps.  That number has exploded to more than 47 million today.

Medicaid

If you can believe it, today more than 70 million Americans are on Medicaid, and it is being projected that Obamacare will add 16 million more Americans to the Medicaid rolls.

Social Security

Right now, there are more than 53 million Americans on Social Security, and that number is projected to absolutely explode as huge waves of Baby Boomers retire in the coming years.

Medicare

As I wrote about in a previous article, the number of Americans on Medicare is expected to grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 millionin 2025.

And those are only four examples of government programs that have seen their numbers explode in recent years.  There are so many more that could be mentioned.  Overall, the federal government runs nearly 80 different “means-tested welfare programs“, and almost all of them are experiencing explosive growth.

So is the “128 million” figure that Tyrrell and Beach have come up with actually too low?  I believe that it is.  But in any event, nobody can deny that the “welfare state” in the U.S. has absolutely mushroomed in size since the turn of the century.

According to one recent poll, 55 percent of all Americans say that they have received money from a safety net program run by the federal government at some point in their lives.  We are a nation that has become very comfortable leaning on Uncle Sam for help.

And poor people from all around the globe see how good things are here and they are eager to get a seat at the table.  In a previous article, I talked about a federal government website (“WelcomeToUSA.gov“) that actually teaches new immigrants how to apply for welfare once they are able to get into the United States.

Will we all eventually becoming dependent on the government?  If that happens will we still be free men and women?

Once someone is dependent on the government, they become forced to do what the government tells them to do in order to survive.  If we all eventually become dependent on the federal government, how much power will that give them over us?

That is something to think about.

Another thing to ponder is how the U.S. middle class is rapidly disappearing.

There will always be poor people, and we should always take care of them, but what we should be truly alarmed about is how the middle class in America has been dramatically shrinking in recent years.

One of the biggest reasons why so many Americans are applying for government assistance these days is because there simply aren’t enough jobs for everyone.  Politicians from both political parties have fully embraced the one world “free trade” economic agenda of the global elite, and as a result millions of our jobs are being shipped out of the country.  Big corporations can either choose to pay U.S. workers a living wage with benefits, or they can choose to set up shop on the other side of the globe where it is legal to pay workers slave labor wages with no benefits.  Plus there are much fewer taxes and regulations to deal with typically on the other side of the globe.

As long as this nation pursues this “one world economic agenda”, there will never be enough jobs in the United States ever again.  Chronic unemployment will become the new normal.  Our formerly great manufacturing cities will continue to degenerate into gang-infested war zones.

Apologists for the current system continue to insist that the answer is “more education”, but the truth is that government dependence is even exploding among those with advanced degrees.  The following is a brief excerpt from a recent article on The Chronicle Of Higher Education

People who don’t finish college are more likely to receive food stamps than are those who go to graduate school. The rolls of people on public assistance are dominated by people with less education. Nevertheless, the percentage of graduate-degree holders who receive food stamps or some other aid more than doubled between 2007 and 2010.

During that three-year period, the number of people with master’s degrees who received food stamps and other aid climbed from 101,682 to 293,029, and the number of people with Ph.D.’s who received assistance rose from 9,776 to 33,655, according to tabulations of microdata done by Austin Nichols, a senior researcher with the Urban Institute. He drew on figures from the 2008 and 2011 Current Population Surveys done by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

After reading that, does anyone still believe that “more education” is the answer to our problems?

What we need is more jobs, and lots of them.  Unfortunately, our politicians continue to pursue policies that absolutely kill American jobs.

So the number of Americans that are forced to turn to the government for assistance will continue to grow, as will our national debt.

Sadly, most Americans still don’t realize what is happening.  Most of them are still listening to those in the mainstream media that are insisting that everything is going to be just fine.

For example, the most famous economic journalist in the country, Paul Krugman of the New York Times, recently wrote that the deficit crisis has been “solved”…

True, there are projected problems further down the road, mainly because of the continuing effects of an aging population. But it still comes as something of a shock to realize that at this point reasonable projections do not, repeat do not, show anything resembling the runaway deficit crisis that is a staple of almost everything you hear, including supposedly objective news reporting.

So you heard it here first: while you weren’t looking, and the deficit scolds were doing their scolding, the deficit problem (such as it was) was being mostly solved.

Oh really?

I don’t know how in the world Paul Krugman can get paid to write such nonsense, but the truth is that our government debt problems are only just beginning.

In a previous article, I explained that the unfunded liabilities of the federal government are growing so rapidly that we could not cover them even if we raised the highest tax rate to 100%…

According to Chris Cox and Bill Archer, two men who served on Bill Clinton’s Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform, there is no way in the world that we could raise taxes high enough to pay for all of the obligations that we are currently taking on.  They say that even if we taxed all corporations and all individuals at a 100% tax rate on all income over $66,193,  “it wouldn’t be nearly enough to fund the over $8 trillion per year in the growth of U.S. liabilities.

Yes, Paul Krugman, we do have a spending problem.  Even if Bill Gates gave every single penny of his fortune to the federal government, it would only cover the U.S. budget deficit for about 15 days.  We simply cannot go on spending money like this.

If anyone out there believes Paul Krugman and is convinced that the federal government is no longer facing a massive debt problem, please read this article: “55 Facts About The Debt And U.S. Government Finances That Every American Voter Should Know“.

But if we can’t afford to do all of this spending, then why are we doing it?

Well, it is because there are a whole lot of people out there that are really hurting.  Poverty in the U.S. is absolutely exploding, and the gap between the wealthy and the poor has grown to unprecedented heights.

According to a recent article posted on Economy In Crisis, the bottom 60 percent of all Americans only own 2.3 percent of all the financial wealth in the nation combined.

That is astounding.

If you live in a wealthy area of the country, you may look around and things may look really good to you.  But in many other areas of the country things are worse than they have ever been in the post-World War II era.  For the first time ever, more than a million public school students in the United States are homeless.  That number has risen by57 percent since the 2006-2007 school year.

Can you imagine that?  We have over a million kids that are attending our public schools that do not have a home to go back to at night.

Our economy desperately needs more jobs, but we just continue to lose more of them.  On Thursday, it was announced that American Express is eliminating 5,400 more jobs.  More announcements like this come out just about every day now.  65 percent of all Americans expect 2013 to be a year of “economic difficulty”, and there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to be optimistic about things at this point.

When you lose your job, it can feel like your entire life is falling apart.  The competition for jobs is absolutely fierce, and a lot of workers have fallen through the cracks.  In this rough economic environment, there are millions of Americans that have never been able to put the pieces of their lives back together.  A recent CNN article profiled a 42-year-old woman up in Oregon named Lynette who has had her life totally turned upside down by unemployment…

I’m a single mom with a son in high school.

Three years ago, I was laid off from a job working at a propane company. I had just gotten back on my feet after battling breast cancer, then cervical cancer, but the economy tanked, and I was the first to go.

I am now 42, and the cancer is gone. But it appears my employability is also gone.

She used to work in a position that helped others find government assistance, but now she is the one who has been forced to seek it…

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I worked for the state of Oregon and was the number one service manager for the Department of Human Services. My job was to help low income families find work and get food stamps and insurance. Now, I cannot even get a job at McDonalds, and I’m the one living on social assistance.

Does anyone out there have a similar story to share?  If so, please feel free to share it below…

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The Most Devastating Look At How Barack Obama’s Digital Team Crushed Mitt Romney’s And Won Him The Election

via Business Insider: 

The Obama campaign’s digital operations proved to be a crucial point of success that led to the re-election of President Barack Obama in November. 

Based on a sophisticated effort and larger emphasis on digital and new media, the Obama campaign engaged supporters and raised an unprecedented amount of money through its digital efforts.

How did the Obama campaign become so effective in the digital realm? Engage, an interactive digital political agency in Washington, D.C., recently published a report entitled “Inside the Cave.” It features a 93-page, step-by-step in-depth look at the secrets to the Obama digital team’s success.

We’ve collected 15 of the report’s key topics and published them here.

(Note: A special thanks to Engage president Patrick Ruffini for permission to republish parts of the report.)

 

“The Cave” was the site of the Obama analytics team in Chicago where a group of programmers revolutionized the way that campaigns are run.

Right off the bat, it’s clear that the Obama organization lapped Romney when it came to employee presence online, the number of donors, and the size of the email list support.

While Romney’s campaign beefed up staff, it still was far from enough to compete with the Obama digital and analytics staff.

The team Obama built came from a wide array of startups, tech firms and even particle physics labs.

Here’s where the Obama analytics team delivered: They were able to accurately discover the real effect of early voting and predict with startling accuracy how people would vote.

The beefed-up digital squad had a large effect on fundraising, amounting for the vast majority of campaign revenue.

One single email — with an “I will be outspent” subject line — pulled in $2.7 million alone.

The email pleas went through a significant amount of testing among focus groups to see what subject lines and body text were the most effective at eliciting a response.

Quick Donate was an important feature that made giving easy — it allowed mobile users to give and streamlined the whole process.

From the internal site system alone, the Obama campaign received $250 million from supporters.

Their website was built to last and designed to serve as a useful resource. Traffic to BarackObama.com dwarfed traffic to Romney’s site.

The internal system was vigorously tested constantly to design for unprecedented use. The closest thing the Romney campaign had — known as “Project Orca” — was untested and flopped on Election Day.

The Obama campaign also invested an unprecedented amount in online ads.

Even more, the campaign took a “Moneyball” approach to TV ad buys, looking at metrics that normally went unnoticed to reach a core audience, targeted audience more effectively.

The Obama digital model will endure and serve as the model for any serious campaign to come, outliving phone calls, landline polling and earlier campaign structures.

 

Adele’s Baby Fine: Singer Faces Fine After Failing To Register Baby With British Government (REPORT)

via Huffington Post: 

Adele Baby Fine

 

Adele likely has her hands full after the birth of her first child, but there’s something she forgot to do that’s going to cost her.

The 24-year-old and boyfriend Simon Konecki welcomed a baby boy (whose name has not yet been released to the public) in October, but have failed to register their son within the 42-day legal deadline, reports The Sun.

The “Skyfall” singer faces a £1,000 fine ($1,606 USD) for not having registered the birth of their son with the government. According to the UK government’s website,“all births must be registered within 42 days of the child being born” and filed with documents containing the place and date of the birth, parents names, sex of the baby, parents’ addresses, as well as the place and dates of the parents’ birth, and their jobs.

“Cops are hardly going to be banging on their door tomorrow and it’s probably just an oversight on their part,” a source told the Sun.

Given that the singer sold more than 10 million copies of her album “21” in the United States alone, we doubt she’s too worried about having to pay the fine.

Adele could face a small fine for failing to register her child’s birth with the British government, according to Contact Music.

The “Rolling in the Deep” singer had 42 days to register the baby with authorities. Since that deadline has now come and gone, Adele may have to fork over $1,600 as a result.

Since giving birth in October, the singer has kept details about the little boy away from the prying eyes of the public. Adele seems devoted to keeping her baby out of the spotlight, going as far as to keep the child’s name a closely guarded secret.

The Sun reports the award-winning singer isn’t likely to become the focus of an intense police investigation for failing to register her baby with authorities. A small fine is probably all she will face as a result of the oversight.

“Cops are hardly going to be banging on their door tomorrow and it’s probably just an oversight on their part. Most parents register their baby within a couple of weeks because it’s a nice thing to do – and because there’s a maximum fine of £1,000 if they don’t. There’s loads of reasons why parents are late and millions of couples don’t bother for ages.”

When she isn’t facing a fine for failing to register her baby with the government, Adele is still selling records by the truckload. The Inquisitr previously reported that the singer’s album 21 recently crossed the 10 million mark.

In addition to spending 80 weeks in the top 10, Adele’s endeavor has spent 24 non-consecutive weeks in the top spot. Those sales added up quickly, allowing the singer to join the ranks of such acclaimed artists as Metallica, Christina Aguilera, and Alanis Morissette.

Fans who are worried about Adele facing fines for not registering her baby shouldn’t worry too much about the situation. Chances are the singer will have everything cleared up before long.

US Government Plans To Install Sophisticated Audio Surveillance On Public Buses

via Business Insider: 

The U.S. government is quietly installing sophisticated audio surveillance systems on public buses across the country to listen to conversations of passengers, Michael Brick of The Daily reports.

bus

“With the new systems, experts say, transit officials can effectively send an invisible police officer to transcribe the individual conversations of every passenger riding on a public bus,” Brick writes.

The initiative raises questions about privacy in public as it opens the door for transit officials and law enforcement agencies to listen to conversations without search warrants or court supervision.

“This is very shocking,” privacy law expert Anita Allen told The Daily. “It’s a little beyond what we’re accustomed to. The adding of the audio seems more sensitive.”

Even in light of emerging surveillance technologies such as speech and facial recognition being installed by the FBI, the biometrics analysis of TrapWire, the electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) and GPS location data that the government considers fair game, this certainly seems to raise the bar.

Documents obtained by The Daily reveal that the technology is in the process of being implemented in Eugene, Ore.; San Francisco; Athens, Ga.; Baltimore; Traverse City, Mich.; Hartford, Conn.; and Columbus, Ohio.

In San Francisco the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided a grant that covers a $5.9 million contract to install the surveillance system on 357 buses and trolley cars over four years, with an option for 613 more vehicles.

“This technology is sadly indicative of a trend in increased surveillance by commercial and law enforcement entities, under the guise of improved safety,” an independent security consultant who reviewed the specs of the audio surveillance system told The Daily.

 

Obama Met With Boehner To Discuss The Fiscal Cliff — And Their Aides Used Identical Language To Describe The Meeting

via Business Insider:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama met with Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner on Sunday at the White House to negotiate ways to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” according to White House officials and a congressional aide.

The two sides declined to provide further details about the unannounced meeting. Obama and Boehner aides used the same language to describe it.

“This afternoon, the president and Speaker Boehner met at the White House to discuss efforts to resolve the fiscal cliff,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“We’re not reading out details of the conversation, but the lines of communication remain open,” he said.

An aide to Boehner emailed an identical quote.

The two sides are trying to reach an agreement that would stop automatic spending cuts and tax increases from going into effect at the beginning of the year. Analysts say if that so-called “fiscal cliff” occurs, the U.S. economy could swing back into a recession.

Obama has made clear he will not accept a deal unless tax rates for the wealthiest Americans rise. Boehner and many of his fellow Republicans say any tax increases would hurt a still fragile economy.

Last week Boehner and Obama spoke by phone, a conversation that the Republican leader described as pleasant but unproductive.

The common language used by both men’s aides suggests an agreement to keep details about their discussions private, which could help both of them sell less politically palatable aspects of an eventual deal to lawmakers in their respective parties.

There’s A Government Agency That Actually Saves Jobs And Does A Much Better Job Bringing In Tax Revenue Than The IRS

via Business Insider: 

The headline for AP reporter Daniel Wagner’s new story about the role of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (aka the TTB) is deceptively benign: “Booze, smokes on agenda for quirky gov’t group.”

tequila

But Wagner’s reporting reveals an agency that has found a magic formula for bringing in tax dollars.

The TTB was created in 2003, when the new Homeland Security act split up enforcement duties that previously belonged to the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (aka the ATF).

The new agency took on the ATF’s old civil enforcement duties — collecting taxes, approving labels and standardizing chemical components (like how much air can be in a bottle).

It is staffed by “scientists, rule-makers and trade ambassadors” who create assignment details with names like “Tequila Working Group,” Wagner says.

Quirkiness aside, the TTB is the government’s third-biggest revenue collector, after the IRS and Customs and Border Protection, according to Wagner.

It may also be its best:

In fiscal year 2011, it took in $23.5 billion. “That amounts to $468 for every dollar the agency spent collecting taxes – more than twice the IRS’ ratio,” he writes.

By comparison, the SEC has taken in just $5.9 billion since 2010.

How does the TTB do it?

In part, by looking past some more relatively minor incidents.

“Agency officials say they use scant resources where they can make the most difference, generally on the biggest producers or companies where there is an indication of wrongdoing,’ Wagner says.

For instance, he writes:

…last July, the bureau slashed a tax bill for the multinational agribusiness conglomerate Cargill from $839,370 to $63,000. Cargill failed to report or pay taxes on about 23,000 gallons of nearly pure industrial alcohol that leaked from a rail car.

Available documents show that since 2010, the agency has forgiven at least $25.4 million, he says.

But it appears to have a pretty decent system for deciding when to do so.

Tom Hogue, a spokesman for the bureau and former explosives inspector, says it only agrees to reduce companies’ tax bills “if we are satisfied that the (remaining) penalty is commensurate with the violation and is sufficient to deter future illegal conduct.” In cases where settlements are granted, Hogue says, “they allow us to use our resources to counter non-compliance, instead of tying them up in court.”

The agency also saves jobs, Wagner notes: Mexico had threatened to stop exporting bulk tequila – a commodity that supports 500 U.S. bottling jobs. After the bureau agreed in 2006 to regular meetings with Mexico’s tequila industry, Mexico backed down. The jobs were saved.

How many bureaucrats can say that?

Read Wagner’s full story here >

How Ernest Hemingway’s cats became subject to federal oversight under the Commerce Clause

via Raw Story: 

Screenshot Ernest Hemingway's Cats

Key West has a well-earned reputation as a haven for misfits, outcasts, and free-spirits. The locals don’t even consider themselves part of the United States of America. They refer to the place as the Conch Republic.

So it is more than a bit ironic that Key West is also the location of a knock-down, drag-out fight over the federal government’s power under the US Constitution’s Commerce Clause to regulate… cats.

And not just any cats, either. The cats being subjected to federal oversight are the descendants of the famous six-toed felines raised and cared for by former Key West resident and author Ernest Hemingway.

Mr. Hemingway spent most of the 1930s in Key West completing some of his best work. Now, his former house at 907 Whitehead Street is a museum open to daily tours and the occasional wedding.

It also continues to be home to 40 to 50 six-toed cats that are a living legacy of Hemingway. As in Hemingway’s time, the cats are allowed to roam and lounge at will in the house and on the one-acre grounds.

That’s how the federal government became involved.

At some point several years ago, a museum visitor expressed concern about the cats’ care. The visitor took that concern all the way to the US Department of Agriculture and, literally, made a federal case out of it.

Soon USDA inspectors showed up in Key West. They said that if the museum wanted to display cats it needed an exhibitor’s license as required under the federal Animal Welfare Act. (That’s the same law that regulates circuses, zoos, and traveling dog and pony shows.)

Federal officials advised the museum that it also needed to take action to: Confine the cats in individual cages each night, or construct a higher fence around the property, or install an electric wire atop the existing brick wall, or hire a night watchman to keep an eye on the cats.

The museum was ordered to tag each cat for identification, and add additional elevated resting surfaces within the cat’s enclosures.

USDA officials also advised that the museum would face fines for noncompliance.

The museum fought back, asking a federal judge in 2009 to rule that the USDA did not have authority over the Hemingway cats.

A lawyer for the museum told the judge that this was not a federal issue and that there were better-situated agencies in Key West, Monroe County, or the State of Florida to monitor and regulate the care and feeding of cats in Key West.

The judge disagreed. He ruled that the USDA was well within its authority to regulate the cats.

The museum appealed. In a unanimous decision announced on Friday, the three-judge panel agreed that the USDA does, in fact, have the necessary authority to regulate the Hemingway cats.

The court said the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) has been broadly interpreted by federal officials to authorize regulation of any exhibit of animals that are made available to the public.

There is no dispute that the museum includes scores of cats that are permitted to roam the grounds during visiting hours. Since admission is charged to see the house and the cats are part of the property, the AWA permits regulation of the cats, the court said.

The appeals court also concluded this broad interpretation of the AWA to extend to the regulation of cats in a museum did not exceed Congress’s power to authorize such federal regulations under the Commerce Clause.

The question, the court said, was whether the Hemingway cats “substantially affect” interstate commerce.

The judges said they do.

“The Museum argues that its activities are of a purely local nature because the Hemingway cats spend their entire lives at the Museum – the cats are never purchased, never sold, and never travel beyond 907 Whitehead Street. But the local character of the activity does not necessarily exempt it from federal regulation,” Chief Judge Joel Dubina said in his 13-page decision.

“The Museum invites and receives thousands of admissions-paying visitors from beyond Florida, many of whom are drawn by the Museum’s reputation for and purposeful marketing of the Hemingway cats,” Dubina wrote.

“The exhibition of the Hemingway cats is integral to the Museum’s commercial purpose, and thus, their exhibition affects interstate commerce,” he said. “For these reasons, Congress has the power to regulate the Museum and the exhibition of the Hemingway cats via the AWA.”

Chief Judge Dubina added a concession at the end of the decision.

“Notwithstanding our holding, we appreciate the Museum’s somewhat unique situation, and we sympathize with its frustration,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, it is not the court’s role to evaluate the wisdom of federal regulations implemented according to the powers constitutionally vested in Congress.”

One added irony in the cat case is that Whitehead Street bisects a section of Key West well known for the large number of chickens and roosters roaming freely through the streets.

Five New Government-Backed Energy Projects that Stand Out

via MIT Technology Review: 

Sixty-six new energy research projects were announced on Wednesday. Here are some interesting ones.

The U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E)—one of the few government agencies with solid, bipartisan support in Congress—announced 66 new research projects on Wednesday that will collectively receive $130 million. Here are five projects from the list that stand out.

Liquid fuel from natural gas

The most striking difference between this set of ARPA-E research awards and previous ones is the explosion of natural-gas-related projects, something no doubt prompted by the surge of natural gas production in the United States.

Several projects to receive funding propose to develop technology to inexpensively convert natural gas into chemicals and fuels that are liquid at room temperature. This is something researchers have been trying to do for decades, in part because a cheap way to use natural gas in conventional engines would greatly decrease oil imports. Among these projects is a nearly $4 million award to Pratt & Whitney to develop an approach that would partially oxidize natural gas at high temperatures and pressures in a gas turbine, creating compounds that could more easily be converted to liquid fuel. One of the benefits of the process, the company says, is that the turbine could, at the same time, be used to generate electricity.

A possible solution to the rare-earth crisis

Rare-earth materials are vital to the manufacture of wind turbines, hybrid cars, and consumer electronics due to their powerful magnetic properties. But they are also expensive and come almost entirely from China, which sometimes restricts exports.

Electron Energy, based in Landisville, Pennsylvania, is getting $3 million to develop a new manufacturing process that could greatly reduce the amount of rare-earth materials needed for the magnets. The idea is to seed cheaper materials with tiny particles of rare-earth materials, using the magnetic field from these particles to change the magnetic properties of the surrounding material.

“The magic sauce is knowing how to get the right material with the right atomic structure to propagate the magnetic field,” says Eric Toone, ARPA-E’s director.

Electron Energy is also focused on keeping down the cost of manufacturing the new materials. “It has to be cheap,” adds U.S. energy secretary Steven Chu. “We can hand-tailor this material, building it atom by atom, but that’s not cheap.”

Cheaper superconductors

In a similar project, Grid Logic of Lapeer, Michigan, is receiving nearly $4 million to create cheaper superconductors by using superconducting particles to improve the superconducting properties of other less expensive materials. This could make it more practical to transport power over long distances, helping to enable renewable power like wind.

Wind turbines made of cloth

The bigger the wind turbine, the more efficient it can be. But the size of wind turbines is limited by the challenge of delivering extremely long wind turbine blades, which have to be maneuvered through towns and under power lines to reach a turbine.

GE Water and Power is getting nearly $4 million to develop a new kind of wind turbine blade made of cloth stretched over a frame. The blades could be shipped in pieces and assembled on site, making larger wind turbines more practical.

Halving natural gas use at power plants

If you could burn natural gas in pure oxygen, at extremely high temperatures, you could greatly improve the efficiency of power plants, cutting fuel consumption in half while keeping pollution under control. But the high temperatures could melt the materials usually used in gas turbines.

Pratt & Whitney is receiving $600,000 to apply its experience with liquid-fueled rocket engines to develop a cooling system that could make such turbines practical. It’s one of the smallest awards from ARPA-E, but the impact of cutting fuel consumption in half would, of course, be huge.