Brazils $900 million World Cup stadium is now being used as a parking lot – Vox

Brazil spent about $3 billion building 12 new or heavily refurbished stadiums for last year’s World Cup. Officials promised these taxpayer-funded venues would continue to generate revenue for years, hosting concerts, pro soccer games, and other events.

But as Lourdes Garcia-Navarro at NPR reports, most stadiums are failing to generate much revenue at all. The most expensive one, in Brasilia, is most regularly used as a site for a municipal bus parking lot.

One big problem is that several of the stadiums — including Brasilia’s 72,000-seat, $900 million venue — were built in cities where there are only minor league pro teams that don’t draw large crowds. This was done so World Cup games could be spread across the entire country, instead of just the southeast, where most of the top pro teams play. It’s as if we built gleaming new stadiums in Montana and Alaska for hosting a World Cup in the US.

In Brazil, this plan has left some pretty useless, expensive facilities scattered across the country, because these minor local teams don’t sell enough tickets to make playing in the fancy (and expensive-to-maintain) stadiums worthwhile. The rainforest city of Manaus, for instance, is home to a $600 million stadium that was used for exactly four World Cup games. The pro team there currently plays in much smaller training centers, because it’d lose money if it tried to rent out the big stadium.

Many cities have been selling the stadiums to private companies that try to squeeze a bit of revenue out of them, but it’s not easy. In Natal, the NPR story reports, a company bought the stadium, but has made little money renting it out for children’s birthday parties and weddings, and the facility is now for sale once again.

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American billionaires on welfare: Cliven Bundy, Ted Turner and other ranchers stealing your tax dollars – Vickory Eckhoff, AlterNet Friday, Mar 27, 2015 01:30 AM PDT

A federal grazing program allows the .1 percent to collect gov’t subsidies. Here are some of the biggest culprits

American billionaires on welfare: Cliven Bundy, Ted Turner and other ranchers stealing your tax dollars

Cliven Bundy  (Credit: Reuters/Steve Marcus)


This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


Americans love ranchers: Gritty ranchers, mom-and-pop ranchers, renegade ranchers — especially those who raise livestock on the vast open prairies of the West through a mixture of hard work and rugged independence. But there’s another side to the ever-popular rancher mythology— a side the media doesn’t cover and the public never sees. The Koch brothers, Ted Turner, the Hilton family and nine other powerful ranchers share an uncommon privilege: giant public subsidies, unknown to U.S. taxpayers.

It’s the other side of the Cliven Bundy story, the other side of the Wright brothers saga—the bronc-riding, ranching family at the center of the New York Times photographic essay published this March.

That “other side” of those stories is the federal grazing program that enables the Wrights to run their livestock on public lands for cheap; allows ranchers to have thousands of protected wild horses removed from public lands at public expense. It’s also the program that earned Cliven Bundy the title of “welfare rancher.”

Bundy didn’t earn it by failing to pay his grazing fees. The welfare rancher label applies to all ranchers who hold permits to graze the vast public spaces of the West, both delinquent and not. It includes the Wright brothers; the ranchers in Iron and Beaver counties in Utah complaining that wild horses eat too much; and 21,000 others.

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The anxieties of the GOP majority – By Alex Isenstadt and Kyle Cheney 11/23/14 8:00 AM EST

House Speaker John Boehner, in a press conference held Nov. 21, 2014, responds to President Obama's decision to invoke execution action towards immigration reform.  (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

It was a quiet meeting on the eve of a political explosion.

At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 30 or so members of the 2012 GOP freshman class of the House of Representatives gathered in a conference room in the Capitol Visitor Center for what’s become a monthly conclave. For the junior representatives, this was a chance to get some face time with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Everyone knew that the next evening, President Barack Obama planned to deliver an in-your-face rebuke to Boehner, who’d warned the president not to “play with matches” and act on his own to suspend deportation of millions of immigrants.

All of those gathered had reason to be angry: Here was the president pretending, absurdly, that he hadn’t just had his butt whipped in the midterms, and defying the biggest GOP House majority-to-come in more than 80 years. Almost exactly a year before, some in the room had been among the most vocal Republicans pushing for a government shutdown as a legislative strategy against Obama.

But now came a stern message from Boehner: The GOP shouldn’t take the bait this time. And as discussion moved around the table, there was little desire for another shutdown, even from the conservatives, over the president’s executive action on immigration. No one wanted to let Democrats off the mat and hand them a political win — especially not now, barely two weeks after the GOP’s historic midterm victory. “There was definitely a sense that they didn’t want to do that [the 2013 shutdown] again,” said an aide to one of the participants.

(Also on POLITICO: Rise of the Rust Belt Republicans)

Outwardly, Republican rhetoric toward the president hasn’t softened much, especially since Obama’s speech Thursday night. The consistent meme is that he is behaving like an unconstitutional monarch.

“The president has taken actions that he himself has said are those of a ‘king’ or an ‘emperor’ — not an American president,” Boehner said in a statement the morning after the speech. “With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek. And, as I told the president yesterday, he’s damaging the presidency itself.”

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Social Security’s outdated records systems invite disability fraud: IG report – By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times – Sunday, September 14, 2014

Social Security’s disability payments systems are so old and dependent on handwritten records that it makes it difficult to weed out fraud, an inspector general concluded in a major report last week that said the agency doesn’t appear to be taking the issue seriously.

Handwritten records can’t be screened electronically, which means the agency can’t easily spot doctors who are approving a large number of applications — a key indicator of potential fraud, investigators said.

SEE ALSO: Lawmakers urge broad snooping powers for Social Security Administration

Even when the agency does find overpayments, it doesn’t automatically cancel them, meaning the agency ends up knowingly paying erroneous claims, the inspector general said in its investigative report, released Friday.

“The agency’s outdated and unintegrated systems and policies have not been able to prevent or easily identify widespread fraud schemes,” investigators concluded.

The Social Security Administration regularly dismisses accusations of widespread fraud, saying the rate is less than 1 percent a year. But investigators dispute that number and say the agency is turning a blind eye to its vulnerabilities.

SSA should not downplay large-scale fraud; it must acknowledge that the threat of another massive scheme is real and that criminals will always look for the next vulnerability — poking and prodding until they find a weak spot in the system to attack.”

The disability system has come under intense scrutiny following major fraud cases in New York City, Puerto Rico and West Virginia. The West Virginia case involved a Social Security administrative law judge who, congressional investigators say, conspired with a lawyer to approve hundreds of bogus cases.

As of this spring, Social Security still hadn’t gone back to review that judge’s cases to try to revoke bogus claims, members of Congress said.

The New York City case, meanwhile, involved retired police officers and firefighters who were coached on how to file bogus claims.

If the agency had an automated analysis tool in place, it could have caught up to 90 percent of the fraudulent claims from New York, West Virginia and Puerto Rico, said Rep. Sam Johnson, the Texas Republican who requested the inspector general’s review.

“Crime pays in the disability world because Social Security has failed to stop fraud by taking such steps as modernizing its systems, its penalties or its rules on who can work in today’s modern era of medicine and technology,” Mr. Johnson said.

In a statement responding to the report, Social Security said it tries to take a zero-tolerance policy toward fraud.

“It is regrettable that people will try to take advantage of Social Security programs; however, that is the reality. Thus, all Social Security employees receive comprehensive and extensive training on fraud detection,” the agency said.

The agency also repeated the 1 percent fraud rate statistic, but the inspector general called that misleading.

Investigators said SSA is only counting the 1 percent of cases that were referred for prosecution for potential fraud in a 2006 sample. But in another 18 percent of cases from that sample, beneficiaries were overpaid or had their benefits stopped because they weren’t eligible — each of which could be evidence of fraud.

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A Year in Review: $73B of fiscal waste identified for the taxpayer – By Phillip Swarts-The Washington Times Thursday, July 10, 2014

This week marks the first anniversary of the Golden Hammer appearing in The Washington Times.

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at Jul 11, 2014 2.47

In all but one of the past 52 Friday newspapers, there has been a new example of the government’s waste, fraud and abuse of money. The exception was Christmas, when we cataloged some of the government’s holiday-related spending instead.

We thought we’d take a step back and see what that’s meant for the taxpayer. After all, the Golden Hammer has been awarded to more than two dozen federal agencies, offices, departments and organizations.

The grand total of fiscal waste identified: a whopping $73 billion. To be exact, $73,314,247,000.

The largest area at risk — and the area that made up more than half of the total worth of all the Golden Hammers — remains Medicare and Medicaid. So-called “entitlement spending” — health care and pensions — takes up half of the U.S. budget each year.

And one of the largest single locations for potential waste is Afghanistan, where the U.S. has spent more than $100 billion helping to rebuild the country. Unfortunately, a lot has been lost to corruption, miscommunication or a simple misjudgment of what the Afghan people need.

The importance of fiscal oversight was illustrated Wednesday, when it came to light that the White House had planned to give its bowling alley some green-friendly repairs — not necessarily an urgent need in an era of budget belt-tightening.

But after The Washington Times and other news outlets reported the story, the decision was suddenly reversed, and it looks like the money won’t be spent after all.

It’s another reason to always keep a close eye on how your tax dollars are being spent. Here’s some government waste over the past year, from A to Z.

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Candidates in Maine, Nebraska, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., Challenge Republicans and Democrats Alike – Linda Killian 07.05.14

Meet the non-partisan candidates changing American politics


Innovate. Disrupt. Solve problems.

This mantra of the hi-tech revolution has brought fundamental change to virtually every area of American life except one—politics. America’s polarized politics are mired in a dysfunctional and increasingly unpopular two-party system that has failed to address this nation’s major challenges and threatens its future.

The approval rating for Congress—which just had its least productive year since at least the early 1990s—is at a historical low of roughly 13 percent. Less than a third of Americans have confidence in President Barack Obama’s leadership and voters have an even dimmer view of his Republican opponents. More than 40 A recordpercent of Americans now identify as political independents, a larger number than either Republicans or Democrats.

And this anti-partisan trend has not gone unnoticed by aspiring office holders..

In 2014, a number of political entrepreneurs who want to change the system are running as independents around the country. From Maine to Nebraska to Washington, D.C., they are making the case arguethat voters need to look beyond the two parties and try something different to fix American politics.

Jeff McCormick, the founder of the high-tech investing firm Saturn Partners, says he’s applying the same principles that have allowed his company to thrive to an independent campaign for governor of Massachusetts.

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Mushroom cloud of inaction: Nuclear agency slow to fix security lapses – By Chloe Johnson-The Washington Times Wednesday, July 2, 2014

From the 2004 loss of security keys at the Los Alamos nuclear research lab to a Catholic nun’s 2012 break-in at a similarly sensitive facility in Tennessee, theEnergy Department’s handling of nuclear materials has been plagued by security lapses. And there is little evidence that any lasting improvements are being made.

For at least the third time in a decade, the investigative arm of Congress this week faulted managers inside the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration for failing to take meaningful action to address long-standing safety issues.

SEE ALSO: Air Force offers bonus pay to draw better nuclear leadership

In fact, Government Accountability Office investigators concluded that some of the actions NNSA managers took to cut costs have worsened some security vulnerabilities.

The woeful record and repeated warnings have exasperated the country’s leading voices on nuclear safety, such as Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor and Clinton administration energy secretary who presided over the department when Congress created the NNSA 14 years ago.

“I think this should be abolished, but it probably won’t be because it challenges the turf of some members of Congress,” Mr. Richardson said an interview Wednesday with The Washington Times. “I fought very strongly against it.”

“I think this should be abolished, but it probably won’t be because …
more >

The Energy Department has been conducting nuclear research for decades, but Congress consolidated the nuclear security responsibilities under the NNSA in 2000. Since then, the agency has become a poster child for bureaucratic bungling and clumsy security.

Congressional testimony reviewed by The Times included blunt assessments calling the NNSA security practices inadequate and wasteful.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Sandra Finan, who investigated the NNSA in 2012, said the agency had a “check-the-box” mentality.

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Trashed: U.S. Gear in Afghanistan to be Sold, Scrapped – By Paul D. Shinkman June 4, 2014

Billions worth of equipment will be left in a country with a legacy of foreign invasion.

U.S. military vehicles seen in a row.

Much of the U.S. military equipment currently in Afghanistan will be destroyed or disposed of by 2016.

About half of the U.S. military vehicles still in Afghanistan – worth billions of dollars – aren’t coming home, and instead will be destroyed or otherwise disposed of by 2016, officials say. An even higher percentage of the rest of the remaining equipment also will be scrapped or left behind.

U.S. troops received their marching orders last week for their final years in Afghanistan: President Barack Obama said 9,800 will remain in the country after the end of 2014. Half of those troops will come out by the end of next year, followed by the remainder by the end of 2016. The only military personnel enduring past then will be the “normal military presence” at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, working on foreign military sales and assistance.

There is roughly $36 billion of U.S. military equipment currently in Afghanistan, which in its used state is now worth about $8 billion. Of that, only $3 billion to $4 billion worth will be shipped out of the country, largely by air, and on to foreign ports for the return journey home. The rest will be destroyed, given away or perhaps sold.

The total cost for moving all the equipment is as much as $6 billion.

“A lot of the cargo will come out and be reset to be used by the Department of Defense,” says Army Col. Glenn Baca, operations chief for the Military’s Surface Deployment Distribution Command. Some of the equipment will return to military depot yards to be refurbished and redistributed to Army or Marine Corps units. “Then there is some equipment that is in excess to the U.S. Department of Defense’s needs.”

An older MRAP model designed for Iraq.

An older MRAP model designed for Iraq.

Those supplies, vehicles or pieces of gear are either worn out or technologically outdated. Some will be given to the Afghan government or put on the market for foreign military sales. For example, about 150 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, are to be sold to the Croatian government. All foreign militaries are responsible for shipping the equipment they purchase, Baca says.

There were about 20,000 vehicles in Afghanistan when the drawdown efforts began. Roughly half are still there: 5,000 to 7,000 will be brought back to the U.S. this year, and roughly 5,000 will be disposed of or left in Afghanistan by 2016.

The drawdown remains dangerous work. Military intelligence indicates the number of attacks against outbound shipments has stayed within “historical norms,” Baca says, despite the total number of troops in Afghanistan shrinking from more than 100,000 to its current level of just 32,800.

“We haven’t had one security instance which has inhibited our ability to move,” he adds.

Ending the war footing in Afghanistan represents a herculean effort for logistics teams aiming to pull out or otherwise dispose of all the equipment in landlocked Afghanistan, which at its peak in 2011 was home to 101,000 U.S. troops. U.S. News visited a string of closing forward operating bases and airfields last summer.

[ALSO: Who Will Be Obama’s Next VA Secretary?]

“It’s almost like cleaning out a basement,” Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Jason Lamoureux, a terminal manager at Bagram Air Field, said last July. “There’s some ugly stuff coming through.”

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Many of the thousands of reports mandated by Congress will only gather dust. – Written by David A. Fahrenthold Published on May 3, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at May 4, 2014 1.46

Every year, as required by law, the U.S. government prepares an official report to Congress on Dog and Cat Fur Protection. The task requires at least 15 employees in at least six different federal offices.

First, workers have to gather data about the enforcement of a law banning imports of fur coats, furry toys or other items made from the pelts of pets. How many shipments were checked? How many illegal furs were found?



Second in a series examining the failures at the heart of troubled federal systems.

The data are written into a report, passed up the chain of command and sent to Capitol Hill.

And then nothing happens.

Although it was Congress that demanded this report in a 2000 law, the legislators who pushed for it are gone. The debate over imported pet fur has waned. Congress lost interest. Of the seven committees that still get copies of the report, none reported finding it useful.

Still, the law lives on, requiring a bureaucratic ritual that has become a complete waste of time.

“I said: ‘Look, let’s just not send it. Let’s just not send it this year and see if anybody asks for it,’ ” said Michael Mullen, a former official at Customs and Border Protection, which handles the report. Mullen said his bosses always said no. “Is that thing still being sent in?” Mullen said, laughing. “Oh, God.”

This is a story about how Congress built a black hole.

It started out with a good idea. Legislators wanted to know more about the bureaucracy working beneath them. So they turned to a tool as old as bureaucracy itself — the interoffice memo. They asked agencies to send in written reports about specific things they were doing.

Then, as happens in government, that good idea was overused until it became a bad one.

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