Audit the Pentagon Coalition: interview with Rafael DeGennaro

Michael and Rafael DeGennaro, Director of the Audit the Pentagon Coalition, talk about the need to audit the Department of Defense.

DeGennaro has lead the Green Scissors Coalition to cut wasteful spending and subsidies, co-founded and served as President of Taxpayers for Common Sense, and was a leader in the Read the Bill movement.

Recently, DeGennaro has turned his attention to the Department of Defense.  Although Congress has the budget power, and has passed a law requiring audits for all federal agencies, the legislature seems to have ignored the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 for the past 24 years with respect to the Pentagon.  The Department of Defense is the only major federal agency that hasn’t complied with the law.

The Pentagon has had a five-year plan for the past 15 years to perform an audit.  To date, it has never followed through.

DeGennaro’s coalition advocates two principles:

1)  Immediate financial consequences for any agency unable to pass an audit or is un-auditable.

2)  We should hold each part of the Pentagon accountable on its own merits.  For example, if the USMC passes an audit, but the USAF does not, then the budget for the Marines should remain untouched while the Air Force should suffer a penalty.

The Audit the Pentagon Coalition includes groups like the Independent InstituteAmericans for Tax Reform  the R Street InstituteTaxpayer Protection Alliance  Ralph NaderCode Pink.

While the Coalition is fighting for enforcement of and compliance with an existing law, its director, DeGennaro, applauds the efforts of Representatives Barbara Lee (D), Michael C. Burgess (R), Jan Schakowsky (D), and Dan Benishek (R), who introduced HR 5126.  The Bill, the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014, would impose a 0.5% budget penalty on any un-auditable agency while protecting certain employee pay and benefits and granting flexibility to agency heads to determine where to trim budgets.

Visit http://auditthepentagon.org/ to learn more and be sure to check out the group on twitter @auditpentagon.

ACLU’s Laura Murphy on Criminal Justice Reform, Libertarian Movement, and the Surveillance State

This week, Laura Murphy, Director of the Washington Legislative Office for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Photo Credit - ACLU

Photo Credit – ACLU

Ms. Murphy grew up in a politically active family that advocated citizen action.  After campaigning, working on Capitol Hill, lending her talents to several elected officials, working for several different ACLU offices, she was offered the position of Director of the Washington Legislative office in 1993 and was the first woman, African America, and has been the longest serving Director of the DC Legislative Office.

Almost 46,000 individuals are behind bars for non-violent drug offenses and can now apply for clemency.  While there is a strong libertarian movement questioning the war on drugs, many state legislatures grapple with the budgetary implications of an expanding prison population.  Furthermore, many religious movements are advocating redemption.  There are also those who express concern that that the application of justice with respect to the war on drugs comes down with disparate representation regarding minority groups.

Ms. Murhpy’s observed major changes in the Republican Party since 2008.  Whereas the the party once ostracized members who challenged party orthodoxy, it now seemingly welcomes more dissent under the big tent.  The Democrats, Ms. Murphy observers, have some serious hawkish elements.

Lately, the ACLU has been at the forefront of the battle against the unprecedented surveillance by government agencies like the NSA, the use of torture by the CIA, and overreach by law enforcement agencies.

Individuals concerned with government overreach and encroachment can sign up for action alerts from the ACLU and like organizations.

Derek Khanna on Real Free Market Policy

Michael and Derek Khanna, Yale Information Society Project Fellow, talk about Derek’s Piece in the American Conservative called The Party of Innovation.

The article encourages the Republicans to embrace what Khanna calls “real free market policies” to foster in a new revolution in tech in the American marketplace.  Khanna advocates free markets as a path toward economic growth.  He encourages big “disruptive” innovations, like Tesla stirring up the automative industry, and Uber challenging the taxi establishment.

Khanna tells the tale of Outbox, a start-up that offered a service digital scanning and email paper mail for consumers.  Eventually, as they grew, the Post Office stepped in and quashed the start-up.

23andMe was a company that analyzed DNA for $100 and told individuals what their genome indicated.  They got a letter from the FDA saying that they were diagnosing people and needed to cut it out.

Derek saw how mobile phones were tethered to carriers as a slap in the face of the free market.  Some legal barriers arose to prevent consumers from switching handsets between carriers.  Copyright, it seems, has been used to stifle innovation, so Khanna is fighting to make sure these kinds of rules aimed at protecting content creators aren’t used to stifle innovation.

John Cappel on Overseas Contingency Operations

This week, John Cappel joins Michael to discuss the Overseas Contingency Operations budget.  Cappel work on Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense (BFAD) at the Stimson Center.  John and his colleague, Russel Rumbaugh, just put out a report “A Step Backward, or More to Go? FY15 Overseas Contingency Operations Request.
The Stimson Center focusses on global security challenges, and Cappel and his colleagues in BFAD look into where the money is actually going.

Cappel explains how OCO, or Overseas Contingency Operations, contains budget requests that are like supplemental war budgets.  Historically, supplemental budgets often arose in response to some kind of unexpected event, like a natural disaster or some kind of military conflict.  In the past, these supplemental budgets gave way to budgets that took into account the actual conflicts and the supplemental budget requests went away.  The OCO, however, has been around for a long time now.

Supplemental budgets are designed to address things that you can’t plan for.  Cappel contends that because there are caps on the base discretionary budget that apply both to the DoD and non-defense programs.  OCO lives outside the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act to allow the DoD to circumvent the caps.

OCO, which has related to Afghanistan in the past, now is a $58.6 billion request which includes $11 billion for operations and security for the forces in Afghanistan.  There are, of course, support costs, but now there are other things in the OCO request like the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, which is indirectly tied to our operations in Afghanistan, doesn’t appear to belong in the OCO budget.

Many feel that the OCO budget has become a bit of a slush fund.  DoD, for its part, is beginning to shift some of the OCO-type requests into the general budget.

The OCO Budget also has requests for $5 Billion for the Counterterrisom Partnership Fund (CTPF) with $4 billion for DoD and $1 billion to the Department of State.  There’s also the European Reassurance Initiative with a price tag of $1 billion which mostly goes to DoD.  Cappel refers to both as “head scratchers.”

There’s a lot less Congressional oversight on these kinds of OCO requests than if they were part of the regular budget requests.  However, administration said in 2012 that it would cap total OCO funding over 10 years to $450 billion.  OCO will probably stick around until Congress takes decisive action.

To read more about John Cappel and his work at the the Stimson Center, visit the Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense section of the Stimson Center’s Website.

Coalition to Reduce Spending on U.S. Debt and Fiscal Responsibility

Jonathan Bydlak and Rebekah Johansen of Coalition to Reduce Spending join Michael to talk about their organization.  The Coalition attacks spending like Grover Norquist‘s Group, Americans for Tax Reform, attacks taxes.  The group offers candidates a pledge which promises not to increase spending without an offset elsewhere. Senator Ted Cruz, South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, Georgia’s Doug Collins and Paul Broun, and Ohio’s Steve Chabot have signed the pledge.

The group discusses spending trends, how wars impact spending, as well as mechanisms to keep spending in check.  They also talk about the Budget Control Act (BCA) caps and Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) cuts.  Bydlak and Johansen applaud members who are beginning to turn to these as avenues to curtail spending and programs ripe for cutting.

The Coalition advocates for a holistic approach to spending rather than a partisan approach where the left refuses to examine entitlements while the right views the defense budget as sacrosanct.  However, it seems many new conservative house members are more open to the idea of putting Pentagon programs on the chopping block when these projects fail to deliver objectives or become white elephants.

Coalition to Reduce Spending advocates an approach that would keep the government spending within its means.  They realize that the government spends money.  They just encourage the government to take a flexible approach that allows it so spend money, but just asks that an increase in a budget for one program or project be met with an offset from another program or project.  Visit Coalition to Reduce Spending to learn more.

Part 2: Dee Coulter on the Original Mind

 Michael and Dee Coulter, author of Original Mind, follow up with their previous gab session.  Coulter explains the importance of sleep and water consumption, and other things we can do from a physical and physiological perspective to lead more balanced and calmer lives.

Turns out that if we don’t carve out calming time and get enough sleep, we have a bias against new activities.  What we do to our bodies with respect to food and nutrition, water consumption, and even relaxation exercises, has an impact on how we perceive and interact with the world.  Since we spend so much time indoors and in front of screens, we should take a break from technology for a while and just go outdoors to give our minds a change of scene.  (Seems like poet Walt Whitman had that idea.)

Coulter emphasizes the importance of language and cognition with respect to impulse control and delayed gratification.  Children have a different relationship with language than adults which often leads to parental inference relating to defiance whereas the child doesn’t fully understand a negative imperative.

Coulter advocates a morning meditation ritual to cleanse ourselves of yesterday’s stress.

Learn more at Dee Coulter’s site.

Wendy Jordan Talks Turkey about F-35 Lightning

Wendy Jordan, Senior analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense, talks “turkey” about the F-35 in her new report, “The Unaffordable F-35.” The report comes completely from unclassified, open sources.  Jordan emphasizes that the report examines the F-35 project from the perspective of taxpayers.  The report doesn’t get into the capabilities or technology of the project, but rather if it is a logical expenditure from a taxpayer’s perspective.

Jordan swoops into the history of joint fighters, including the TFX program — fighters developed for and intended for multiple branches of the armed forces.  The TFX program fell apart as a joint program because the Navy and Air Force have very different fighter requirements, like the Navy’s need of carrier take off.  The Air Force ended up purchasing the F-111 Aardvark for itself.

The F-35 is sort of a successor project.  Again, you have all the branches in the mix to develop a fighter craft for the next generation.  Since each of these branches of the military all have their own requirements for a fighter aircraft, the project is very complicated and has had several overruns.

(photo credit - Taxpayers for Common Sense)

(photo credit – Taxpayers for Common Sense)

Jordan contends that the revolving door of the Pentagon bureaucracy militates against a cohesive and coherent approach to development and acquisitions projects on the size of the F-35 program.  Each successive generation of Pentagon decision-makers feels itself more capable than its predecessors of managing a project like the Joint Strike Fighter and has high hopes of achieving cost-cutting economies of scale.  To date, such an approach has never worked.

In 2001, it seems, the GAO did a baseline total program cost estimate – development, procurement, etc. — and the total cost of the program, they found, absent personnel, would be $233 Billion.  In March of 2012, the GAO’s baseline was changed to $395.7 Billion.  That’s a $162.7 billion dollar difference over around 11 years.  The underlying assumption was that the IOC, or initial operational capability, was that the Air Force would have the F-35 in Fiscal Year 2005.  The USMC thought they’d get theirs in FY2006, and the Navy in FY2008.  This March, in the President’s Budget Request, the USAF has revised its numbers to FY2016, the USMC in FY2015, and the US Navy to FY2018.

What was done in those additional 11, 9, and 10 years?  Redevelopment.  Jordan and her colleagues found that at least $39 Billion has been spent above what was believed to have been development costs.  Why?  The services have changed requirements.  This has been true of every high tech weapons development.  Because technology evolves over the lifecycle of a project, any long-term endeavor requires updates in requirements.

Are we, as taxpayers, doomed to shoulder the costs of such projects forever?  Who knows?!  However, alternatives exist.  Perhaps there is hope. (read more in the report).  Some of the planes, such as the EA-18G Growler, are meant to be replaced by the F-35.  Turns out a lot of the planes doing things the F-35 is meant to do, are still pretty darn good.  Like the modern variants of the F-15 and and F-16, the F-18 Super Hornet, and the F-22.  Looks like the USAF could buy all its currently planned to modernize the fleet for $4.2 billion, but they want to spend all their money on the F-35.

What can you do?  Call your senator.  Urge him or her to put money into the currently available and currently deployed, less expensive technology.

Space: The Free-Market Frontier. Interview with Edward Hudgins

Michael and Edward Hudgins (of the Atlas Society) get together to talk about SPACE and his book, Space: The Free-Market Frontier.  Hudgins explains government boondoggles related to space stations, space regulation, rocketry, and rocket manufacturing supply chain issues … like depending on Russian manufacturers for all sorts of equipment. He’s even done stuff with Buzz Aldrinwho walked on the moon (and memorably shouted at it with Liz Lemon).

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Photo Credit (Atlas Society)

Hudgins, who spent his childhood fascinated with Space and Astronomy, interned at Goddard Space Flight Center and got to follow the first moon landing from a major space center.  Since then, Space has been a passion for him.

Hudgins put together his book with the Cato Institute after a conference he designed on the Free Market and Space.  Hudgins has been working on the free market in space and space travel for some time now.

He points to the deregulation of the air lines that lead to lower prices for consumers.  Despite the deregulation of many industries and sectors, the government maintained a monopoly on space.  However, persistent and innovative entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk of SpaceX, have challenged government monopoly on a practical scale and have revealed commercially available solutions, like a manned capsule to put humans into space.

Hudgins applauds entrepreneurs, innovators, and organizations, like Musk, Robert Bigelow (Bigelow Aerospace), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic), Orbital,  and individuals and organizations promoting innovation and development like Peter Diamandis and his X Prize Foundation.

He advocates for allowing human innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish without government regulation and restriction. He encourages free, open-market solutions to space travel to make it more affordable and practical for everybody.

Hudgins has books available at Amazon.com and other retailers.

Dr. Kenneth Ford on the Ketogenic Diet and Human Performance

This week, Michael speaks with Dr. Kenneth Ford, founder and CEO of the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (where Skynet comes from.)  Robb Wolf, who facilitated the introduction, has worked with Dr. Ford on issues related to the ketogenic diet.

Dr. Ford studied philosophy before joining the U.S. Navy before returning to graduate school to study computer science with an interest in Artificial Intelligence.  From early on, Dr. Ford wanted to better understand how our brains give rise to our minds and consciousness.

Dr. Ford’s work for the Defense Science Board (upon which he served until May of 2014) exposed him to cutting edge research on the burgeoning research area of ketones and ketone esters.  He became interested in their performance aspects and co-authored a paper for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists with Clark Glymour called “The Enhanced Warfighter” in the first part of 2014.

A ketognic diet, helpful for children with epilepsy and individuals who suffer from neurodegenerative disorders, Dr. Ford explains, moves one from a glucose-based metabolism to a fatty acid and ketone-based metabolism.  This has a whole lot of benefits involving all sorts of body processes.

We produce ketone bodies as a result of an evolutionary adaptation that grants us an inherent ability to produce three ketones which is helpful when our our brains were starved of glucose during famine times.  These three ketones, Acetoacetateacetone, and beta-hydroxybutyrate.

One way to become ketognic is to significantly cut down on carbs, since the glucose in something like fruit can kick your system back to the non-ketogenic way of operating.

While glucose is good for short bursts of energy, ketones allow for enduring performance.  There are a series of potential benefits for endurance athletes, special operators, and individuals who work in high and low oxygen states.

DARPA and the National Institutes of Health collaborated to fund research to ” research to “develop a ketone ester that could enhance physical and cognitive performance” for members of the special operations community.

They also talk about Dr. Ford’s work with NASA research on machine autonomy, humans in space, and what excites Dr. Ford about upcoming developments and new areas of research..

Dr. Ford’s books are available at Amazon.com and other retailers.

Learn more about IHMC at http://www.ihmc.us