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21 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 139] Why doesn't anyone want to join the police?
On this, the final episode of the Watchdog Podcast, hosts Eric Boehm and Matt Kittle take a look at the recent tragedy in Dallas and ask if attitudes towards police are changing across America. One sign that they are: police departments say they are having a difficult time recruiting. Following 9/11, there was a shift in how Americans viewed police and other first responders, but that era of good feelings seems to be changing as the national view of police has shifted again in the wake of events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and more recently the seemingly-unnecessary shootings of black men in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. As Kittle reported this week, the number of police applicants are down more than 90 percent in some cities. “You can get shot at for $40,000, or be home with your family for $60,000,” Seattle police recruiter Jim Ritter recently told ABC News. The extent to which police have been militarized over the past decade certainly hasn't helped the relationship between Americans and law enforcement. If police are having a hard time recruiting, maybe that's because they are no longer viewed as part of the community but rather as a branch of the military. In the end, though, police should be held accountable when they cross the line and the vast majority of cops who do good work deserve their place of honor in the community.
38 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 138] Accountability, deception and Hillary Clinton
If some Americans emerged from this week wondering if everyone is truly equal before the eyes of the law, forgive them. Eric Boehm and Matt Kittle try to make sense of the week in politics, including the FBI's recommendation that Hillary Clinton should not face criminal charges despite a long history of reckless behavior with sensitive and classified government information. Would a standard employee of the federal government get such treatment if they had done the same things? Would the politically damming words of FBI Director James Comey have ended the campaigns of other politicians? And, as Kittle points out, Clinton's reprieve comes in the same week that we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act -- drawing a clear contrast between the open and accountable government promised by that law and the reality of what we get from political elites. Then, even though Texas has recently cut back on subsidies for film and television productions, some cities are trying to throw more taxpayer dollars at Hollywood. Texas Watchdog's Mark Lisheron joins Boehm to discuss how lobbyists are trying to sell Austin and San Antonio on idea of boosting film subsidy programs, even though the benefits of that spending is questionable at best. All that, plus our Nanny State of the Week and Picks of the Litter, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
26 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 137] 240 years after The Declaration, are we more free than ever?
It's been 240 years since that fateful July when The Declaration of Independence was crafted in Philadelphia. America is still here, all these years later, and in many ways the country is all the better for its age. But are Americans more free today than we were back then? It's not an easy question to answer, for sure, but we're going to try. Matt Kittle and Eric Boehm take a look at that question on this special Independence Day edition of the Watchdog Podcast. Sure, there's an overbearing and growing regulatory state. There's a seemingly endless bureaucracy and our elected leaders too often seem more interested in helping their friends (and themselves) than they do about the founding principles of America. On the Left, we have calls for outright socialism (an entire philosophy that has not endured as long or as well as America has, it's worth noting). On the Right, we have calls for the election of a strong-man who promises that government can be the answer to all problems, if only it were the right government. In the whole, though, Americans have plenty to be happy about and thankful for on this Fourth of July. Our union is more perfect and respects the rights of all people to a greater extent than it did when those founding documents were written. We have a pluralistic and federalist system that allows for individuals to make their own choices and to make the most of their lives. We're not always free, but we're still free and we should celebrate that.
29 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 136] Airbnb, The First Amendment and Philly's tax on soda
Philadelphia became the first major city in the country to pass a tax on soda, and New York is trying to make it illegal to even talk about renting your apartment on Airbnb. Those two East Coast locales are the focal point for this week's edition of the Watchdog Podcast. First, host Eric Boehm and Watchdog's top First Amendment reporter, Matt Kittle, sit down to discuss the new rules for room-sharing in New York. A bill approved by the state Senate this week would make it illegal to list your home or apartment on websites like Airbnb, but that seems like a pretty clear violation of homeowners' right to free speech. Then, Evan Grossman of the Pennsylvania Watchdog sits down with Boehm to talk about the soda tax in Philadelphia. The new 1.5 cents-per-ounce tax is supposed to help pay for a massive expansion of pre-K programs in the city, but most of the money is actually going to be spent on other things. And it will be easy to avoid paying the tax, Grossman reports, because all you have to do is head out to the suburbs before grabbing that can of Coca-Cola. All that, plus our Nanny State of the Week and our Watchdog Picks of the Litter, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
39 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 135] It's officially Trump vs. Clinton in November;
With the presidential primary season officially in the rearview mirror, it's time to look ahead to the least exciting presidential election in recent memory: Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton. On this edition of the Watchdog Podcast, hosts Eric Boehm and Matt Kittle sit down to discuss the final stages of the primary process and the latest developments in the ongoing awkward relationship between Trump and Republican officials who are trying to support him without giving approval to the things he says. The most concerning thing of all is Trump's tendency to use his position atop the Republican ticket to advance a personal agenda -- most recently on display in his comments about a federal judge who is handling the Trump U case, but also in his comments about "opening up" libel laws to go after journalists. For Clinton, it was an historic week where she became the first woman in U.S. history to lead a major party's presidential ticket. She doesn't have the same sort of baggage as Trump, but her own problems -- a lack of likeability and questions about her time as secretary of state -- will continue to dog her heels into the general election season. Then, Kittle discusses the newest revelations in his investigation into the administrative judges in the Social Security Administration. As the allegations of misconduct and retaliation mount inside Social Security disability claims review offices, new charges of “pervasive” sexual harassment, bribery and nepotism are coming to light at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, he reports. All that, plus the federal government's new rules for payday lending and a look at the expensive plan for light rail in San Antonio, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
36 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 134] The mess at the VA still hasn't been cleaned up
The problems that continue to plague the Veteran's Affairs administration are probably the best argument that anyone could make against a single-payer healthcare system. As Watchdog's Eric Boehm and Matt Kittle discuss this week on the Watchdog Podcast, anyone who advocates for a single-payer, government-run healthcare system has to answer for the systemic problems at the VA, where long waiting lists and bureaucratic incompetence are commonplace. Whistleblowers who try to correct problems have been ignored or, worse, punished for speaking out, and people have literally died because of the lack of accountability in the system. If this is how a government-run healthcare system works for America's veterans, how bad would it be for the average Joe and Jane? Kittle has seen the mess first-hand, in his extensive coverage of the unfolding crisis at the VA facility in Tomah, Wisconsin, where an investigative report recently exposed wide-ranging painkiller over-prescription like the “toxic cocktail” believed to have killed a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran, Jason Simcakoski. Before he died, Simcakiski tried to get the attention of top VA officials and members of Congress, but no one was listening. People familiar with the Tomah facility have called it "Candy Land" because of the tendency for doctors there to over-prescribe medications. After a hearing in Tomah this week, Kittle says some members of Congress believe the entire VA system needs to be overhauled, and perhaps even privatized. We'll have all the details on the VA scandal -- along with our Nanny State of the Week and Picks of the Litter -- on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
34 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 133] What can be learned from Trump's victory?
Donald Trump has locked up a majority of the delegates. He will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. Now what? On this edition of the Watchdog Podcast, we explore that question with Nathan Benefield, research director of the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There's many lessons to take from Trump's victory, says Benefield on his personal blog, but one of the make take-aways is to notice that, at the national level, voters aren't deciding based on principle, but rather supporting candidates' personalities. That true even when it comes to the anti-establishment fervor that is running high this year. If that anti-establishment feeling was based on principle, the should have been other upsets outside presidential primaries this year, but there simply weren't -- for example, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, the son of a former congressman who was recently caught having an affair with a airline lobbyist while he was writing legislation for the airline industry, easily won his primary while Trump won in the same district. So how should conservatives respond to this phenomenon? Benefield says a renewed focus on state government and local issues -- rather than putting all eggs in a presidential basket -- would be helpful. Then, we take a look at Pennsylvania's confusing and outdated liquors laws, which will be suspended for four days while the Democrats hold their national convention in Philadelphia this summer. The laws that residents of Pennsylvania have to live with every day won't apply to the super-delegates who come to town for a big party this summer -- and the hypocrisy of all that might, maybe, just be enough to get state lawmakers to change the system for everyone else, too. Also, why are officials who covered up problems at the Veterans Administration getting promotions? And Mississippi's top education official is the nation's highest paid, but is she worth all that? All that, plus our Nanny State of the Week and our Picks of the Litter, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
26 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 132] Google's influence in the White House; Philly put convicts on buses with kids
Top lobbyists and executives with Google have no trouble getting a meeting with President Barack Obama. A review of White House visitor logs shows that Google's top men and women in Washington are regular visitors to the White House -- they have been dropped by on a weekly basis since 2009. All those visits mean Google has plenty of influence over tech policy, and who knows what else. Watchdog's Johnny Kampis is the author a series of articles examining the political influence of everyone's favorite search engine, and this week his sits down with Eric Boehm to talk Google's frequent White House visits and what else the company is doing in Washington. Then, Evan Grossman stops by to talk about the stunning new audit of the Philadelphia School District. One of the findings: the district is not conducting background checks on school bus drivers, and has allowed some convicted criminals to drive kids around the city. Also: Do the Texas Rangers really need another taxpayer-funded baseball stadium? And what's the deal with the Obama administration's new overtime work rules? All that, plus our Nanny State of the Week and our Picks of the Litter, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
30 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 131] Donald Trump wins the GOP race; Puerto Rico could get a bailout
A federal bailout could be the only thing to keep Puerto Rico from going bankrupt. But the costs of a bailout -- not just the literal monetary costs, but the dangerous political precedent that would be set -- could be huge, says Watchdog's Jason Hart. With many states running up unsustainable levels of debt on things like public pensions and social programs, a bailout for Puerto Rico could be a sign that unsustainable spending is nothing to fear because the feds will come to the rescue. Meanwhile, Republicans hoping that someone would come to the rescue and stop Donald Trump from winning the party's nomination and now coming to terms with the fact that it won't be happening. Watchdog's Matt Kittle sits down with host Eric Boehm to talk about the final stages of the nominating process and what comes next for the party that now has Donald Trump, incredibly, as its standard-bearer. All that, plus a look at why Austin, Texas, gave Uber the boot and our Nanny State of the Week, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
29 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 130] Blowing the whistle on the Social Security Administration
It's a story that's become all too common: government official brings a problem to his supervisors, government official gets told to shut up and go away, supervisors get promoted and the problem doesn't get solved. Ron Klym blew the whistle about problems at the Social Security Administration's Milwaukee office, getting the attention of media like Watchdog and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin. In return, he says, he's been punished by his superiors. Klym sat down with Eric Boehm to discuss what he says is a serious civil rights issue at the SSA, where some people who might qualify for disability benefits are waiting more than 800 days for the office to make a determination about their status. That's just too long, he says, and it seems like officials in Milwaukee are unfairly deciding who has to wait that long -- residents of rural Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have been victimized the most. In a scandal that sounds eerily like what happened at the Veteran's Administration recently, Klym says SSA officials have been shuffling paper to make waiting lists look shorter than they really are. Then, why is Chicago ignoring Airbnb hosts as it writes new rules that could affect them? And why should states be keeping a close eye on whats happening in Puerto Rico? All that, plus the Nanny State of the Week, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
37 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 129] "I dont think you could design a worse public polcy if you tried"
Clark Neily thought he had seen government at its worst. Then he started working on civil forfeiture cases. Neily, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, sits down with Eric Boehm on this week's edition of the Watchdog Podcast. They discuss the recent civil forfeiture case involving Eh Wah, a Texan who had $50,000 seized by Oklahoma police in February of this year. When the case made national headlines this week, the police quickly reversed course and returned the money they had taken from Wah. The case highlights some of the absurdities of civil forfeiture. Wah was never charged with a crime, and no drugs were found when police searched his car. But under the often-abused rules that govern civil forfeiture, the police were able to take his money anyw
32 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 128] Pennsyvania's odd delegate rules highlight key GOP primary battle
After a big win in New York, presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton turn their attention to Pennsylvania and other northeastern states that hold their primary elections on Tuesday. Pennsylvania is probably the most important of the bunch -- Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Bill Clinton all campaigned in the state this week. Host Eric Boehm and special guest Nathan Benefield from the Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation sit down to discuss the keys to the Keystone State. Can Trump win again or will Cruz be able to use the state's odd delegate rules to his favor, as he has done in other places. There are elements of the state's electorate that will give each Republican candidate reason to believe he can win there. And with Republicans gaining more voters in recent years, is there anything that could turn Pennsylvania (which has backed every Democratic presidential candidate since 1988) into a red state in November? Then, why is the EPA cracking down on amateur car racing in Texas and elsewhere? All that, plus the Nanny State of the Week, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
39 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 127] Banning travel to Mississippi and North Carolina doesn't make much sense
Since the passage of anti-LGBT laws (or "religious freedom laws," if you prefer) in Mississippi and North Carolina, a number of other states have banned government travel to those places. The bans are symbolic, but do they actually serve a purpose? Watchdog's Bruce Parker joins Eric Boehm on this week's edition of the podcast to discuss the travel bans and their apparently uselessness. Vermont is one of four states to ban officials from traveling to Mississippi since the state passed its religious freedom law last month. It's probably not going to hurt Mississippi all that much: Vermont spent a mere $500 on travel to the state last year. To the extent that these bans have any impact at all, they will hurt small businesses -- not the state's bottom line. Then, Todd Gaziano sits down to chat about the Pacific Legal Foundation's fight against the EPA's latest overreach. Gaziano is the executive director of the PLF's Washington, D.C., office, where attorneys recently had oral arguments before the SCOTUS in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers V. Hawkes case. The case will determine whether Americans have the right to appeal to a court when the EPA issues a wetlands determination. All that, plus the Nanny State of the Week and our Picks of the Litter, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
38 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 126] Trump goes down in Wisconsin; Garland is an authoritarian, not a moderate
Is Wisconsin the beginning of the end for Donald Trump's presidential ambitions? Or was the Badger State just a bump in the road? Only time will tell, but one thing is clear: Trump got thumped in Wisconsin on Tuesday night. Ted Cruz won 48 percent of the vote and collected 36 of the state's 42 GOP delegates, leaving just six for The Donald. Eric Boehm and Matt Kittle take stock of Cruz' victory in Wisconsin and look ahead to the next big primary in New York. A win there for Trump could erase the bad loss in Wisconsin, but it is now looking less and less likely that anyone will head to the Republican convention with a majority of the delegates. Then, Kittle and Boehm discuss Merrick Garland, the man selected by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Though Garland is positioned as a moderate who has sided with conservatives and liberals at different times during his judicial tenure, he might be better described as
34 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 124] John Kasich won Ohio, now what?
Ohio Gov. John Kasich won the primary election in his home state on Tuesday night. That's the bare minimum that can be asked of a presidential candidate -- ask U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio about that -- but Kasich is hoping that his first win might be the start of something special for him. Jason Hart, a national reporter for Watchdog who lives in Ohio, says it would indeed take something special for Kasich to have a chance at catching Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for the GOP nomination. It's almost mathematically impossible for him to finish with the most delegates, but with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Kasich might be hoping for a little more home cooking in August. But Kasich's whole campaign has been a Cinderella run. He entered as one of many governors running for president, and has unexpectedly outlasted Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rick Perry and Scott Walker. Also this week: A look at Sunshine Week, and the always-important issue of government accountability and transparency. Matt Kittle sits down to discuss an Open Records victory in Wisconsin. All that, plus our Nanny State of the Week and a Sunshine Week edition of Picks of the Liter, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
44 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 123] John Kasich, the Ohio primary and his chances of being the GOP's VP pick
John Kasich is running in last place in the Republican primary field, but, hey, at least he's still running. The last of what was once a crowded field of current and former governors, Kasich is betting the farm on his performance in his home state of Ohio, where voters go to the polls on Tuesday. A victory in the state's winner-take-all primary could give him a boost -- though winning the nominating is likely still out of reach. On this edition of the Watchdog Podcast, Eric Boehm sits down with Ohio-based Jason Hart, Watchdog's national labor and health policy reporter, to talk about Kasich's campaign and his record as governor. Though candidate Kasich likes to talk about balancing the budget, his record in Ohio includes his long-term budget-busting decision to accept Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. Since Kasich likely can't win the nomination, why is he staying in the race? As Boehm and Hart explore, there's two reasons: he's soaking up delegates that might otherwise go to front-runner Donald Trump and he's potentially making a play to be the vice presidential candidate (Ohio is kind of important in the general election, after all). That might be a mistake for Republicans, says Hart. Then, could lawmakers in Wisconsin undo some of the recent John Doe reforms? Why is Texas spending $100,000 to build a toilet? And how is Medicaid causing bigger problems for hospital's accounting of uncompensated care? All that, plus the Nanny State of the Week, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
43 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 122] Donald Trump and the power of magical thinking in politics
Donald Trump won a series of big victories on Super Tuesday, but suffered a handful of setbacks this week too. He won seven of the 11 states that held primary elections or caucus on Tuesday night, but Ted Cruz surprised by winning three states. Then, Trump was attacked by former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Thursday morning and turned in a poor debate performance on Thursday night. Host Eric Boehm and Matt Kittle recap the big week in politics and ask an important question: what does Trump's mostly-successful campaign say about America? One theory, offered by Samuel Goldman at The American Conservative, says that Trump is really just a symptom. The disease, says Goldman, is erosion of civic associations and the loss of local government control. By putting the feds in charge of more and more things, we've created a system where politics is largely "magical" in the eyes of many people. Why should we be surprised, then, when they elect a man who promises to pull all the strings out from behind the curtain? Then, why is a city attorney in Denver getting paid -- and getting pay increases -- while he's been on investigatory leave? And why are city officials in Amarillo, Texas, planning to spend $70 million to build a baseball stadium for a nonexistent team? All that, plus our Nanny State of the Week, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
24 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 121] Illegal haircuts in Idaho and hypocrisy in the New York Times
In the two weeks since the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, we've heard a chorus of chants from the left about the need for Republicans to do their jobs and rubber-stamp President Barack Obama's future pick for the vacant seat on the bench. But just a few years ago, Democrats and liberals in the media were taking a different point of view. Matt Kittle sits down with Eric Boehm to discuss how things change when the shoes are on the other feet. Then, Dustin Hurst from the Idaho Freedom Foundation stops by to explain why the state government in Idaho is spending $150,000 to hire more inspectors who will target illegal barbershops and makeup studios. The state's Board of Cosmetology apparently has nothing better to do. All that, plus a look at how Colorado taxpayers are supporting lobbyists for state and local governments, and our weekly Nanny State segment on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
43 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 120] Deceased, dying and should be killed: Antonin Scalia, Jeb Bush's presidential hopes and high-speed rail
The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has thrown the Supreme Court into the middle of the 2016 election cycle. With Republicans in the Senate promising to block any nomination made by President Barack Obama, the upcoming presidential election and several major Senate elections are taking on a new dimension. Key races in Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will determine whether Republicans can maintain their four-seat majority in Congress' upper chamber. Matt Kittle and Eric Boehm sit down to chat about Scalia's monumental contributions to the Court -- in terms of legal history and pure entertainment -- and to look ahead at how his death will shape this year's elections. In case you need more evidence that we're witnessing a historical election, consider this: it's the first presidential election year since 1916 in which a sitting SCOTUS justice has passed away. As for the presidential election, Jeb Bush's campaign is looking less and less viable in the days leading up to the South Carolina primary election on Saturday. In a state where the Bush dynasty has long, strong ties, he's polling way, way behind the leaders. Is it time for him to shut it down? Then, Mark Lisheron, a senior reporter for Watchdog, sits down with Boehm to talk about the folly of high-speed rail in his home state of Texas. Officials there have been trying, unsuccessfully, to build a rail line between Houston and Dallas for decades. All that, plus our Nanny State of the Week and Picks of the Litter, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
37 minutes | 5 years ago
[Ep 119] Donald Trump is a pro wrestling villain; Pennsylvania's budget fight goes to round two
Donald Trump is the most successful pro wrestling villain in American history. Or, at least, he's the first pro wrestling villain to get this close to the White House. Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy at the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, joins host Eric Boehm on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast to talk about Trump. An avid pro wrestling fan, Benefield says Trump is playing the part of the "heel." In the parlance of pro wrestling, that's a bad guy who mocks everything and everyone while winning his way to the top. The audience is supposed to hate the heel, but that only makes him more popular. Sound familiar? Borrowing from the professional wrestling playbook, Trump has run a campaign full of insults, smack talk and bluster. Most Republicans don't like him, but that's only made him more popular with his band of supporters and, so far, there's no sign of a "hero" who can rise to the occasion and knock out the "heel." Then, Benefield and Boehm take a look at the on-going budget dispute in Pennsylvania. With last year's budget still somewhat unfinished, Gov. Tom Wolf pitched his proposal for a 2016-17 budget this week. He wants more taxes and higher spending, but the real problem is Pennsylvania's long-term budget deficit. In other news: Wisconsin celebrates five years since the introduction of Act 10 and Virginia considers major reforms to its licensing system for health care providers. All that, plus the Nanny State of the Week, on this edition of the Watchdog Podcast.
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