On Friday this column noted the predictable result that after lawmakers and central bankers initiated a multitrillion-dollar flood of Covid-related cash, various observers are advancing massive estimates of the amount of money ending up in criminal hands. But it’s important to note that the problem with government wealth redistributions is not just that huge sums stick to undeserving fingers. Such programs can also fail to offer timely assistance to the very people they are intended to help.
Take the example of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), who has been bragging since last year about his success in engineering bailouts for the operators of entertainment venues. Yet somehow this taxpayer money doesn’t seem to be reaching many of the people Mr. Schumer intended to subsidize. Ben Sisario, Stacy Cowley and Julia Jacobs recently reported in the New York Times:
As the emails finally started arriving late last week, some business owners got the good news they had been long awaiting: They would be awarded a piece of a $16 billion federal grant fund intended to preserve music clubs, theaters and other live-event businesses devastated by the pandemic.
But other applicants ran into fresh obstacles — including the discovery that the government thinks they’re dead. It was the latest bureaucratic mishap for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant initiative, an aid program created by Congress late last year that has struggled at nearly every turn to disburse badly needed relief funds.
Last year Mr. Schumer warned that 90% of independent venues might die without emergency funding. Now, according to the Times, the government doesn’t believe that a number of the venue operators are alive:
Bob Hansan, the managing partner of Bobby McKey’s, a piano bar near Washington, received a cryptic email Tuesday afternoon that began: “Your name appears on the Do Not Pay list with the Match Source DMF.”
A few minutes of frantic Googling revealed that was a reference to the government’s Death Master File, a record of more than 83 million people whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration…
Michael Swier, the founder of the Bowery Ballroom and the Mercury Lounge in New York — and a prominent figure in the independent music world — also received notification early Wednesday that he was considered dead, and said that he was beside himself trying to understand how to correct the error.
Is it time to kill a federal program that can’t seem to provide help to the living?
A Biden Nominee’s Radical Past
The President’s pick to lead the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, Tracy Stone-Manning, is often described as an environmental advocate. But her early history in the movement seems to have gone well beyond policy proposals.
Matthew Brown of the Associated Press reports:
As a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Montana, Stone-Manning sent a letter to federal officials in 1989 saying spikes had been inserted into trees in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest. The profanity-laced letter warned “a lot of people could get hurt” if logging proceeded, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press from federal archives.
If loggers or sawmill employees are unaware of a steel spike hidden inside a tree, the results can be catastrophic. In a 1990 Washington Post column, Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta wrote:
George Alexander, a third-generation mill worker, was just starting his shift at the
lumber mill in Cloverdale, Calif., when the log that would alter his life rolled down his conveyor belt toward a high-speed saw he was working on.
It was May 1987, and Alexander was 23. His job was to split logs. He was nearly three feet away when the log hit his saw and the saw exploded. One half of the blade stuck in the log. The other half hit Alexander in the head, tearing through his safety helmet and face shield. His face was slashed from eye to chin. His teeth were smashed and his jaw was cut in half.
Fortunately it appears that nobody was hurt in the case involving Mr. Biden’s nominee. According to the new AP story about the long-ago trial:
Stone-Manning testified against two friends who were convicted in the case, saying she mailed the letter at the request of one of them and to prevent people from getting hurt. She was given immunity to testify and was never charged with any crimes…
At the time of the tree spiking, Stone-Manning was a recently arrived environmental studies graduate student in Missoula. She also worked during that time as an informal spokesperson for the loose-knit environmental group EarthFirst!, whose members gained notoriety in the 1980s for espousing “direct action” such as blocking timber sales to protect the environment.
The Daily Caller’s Andrew Kerr has obtained various court documents from the case and has more on the letter, which did not include Ms. Stone-Manning’s real name:
Stone-Manning told a local news outlet that she mailed a copy of [the] letter that she typed using a rented typewriter “because my fingerprints were all over the original and I was scared.”
The local news story appeared in Montana’s Missoulian newspaper in June of 1993. As for the environmental group Ms. Stone-Manning served as an informal spokesperson, a 1996 article by Keith Bagwell of Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star suggested that the organization changed in the years following a series of court cases:
Earth First! has survived trials and defections of the early 1990s and is evolving into what members describe as a more peaceful, but no less radical, organization.
“Monkeywrenching is not what we do,” said longtime Earth First! member Margaret “Peg” Millet. “Some members have done it in the past, but it’s not what we do now.”
“Monkeywrenching” is the “ecological sabotage” that author Edward Abbey advocated and Earth First! founders adopted as a tactic.
It included such controversial acts as hammering spikes in trees, in hopes of mangling lumberjacks’ chain saws, and burning bulldozers.
At a recent hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Ms. Stone-Manning presented herself as a bipartisan problem-solver. But before she begins overseeing roughly 10% of the land in the United States, senators may have additional questions about her past association with problem-creators.
A Thriving Enterprise
Recently this column noted that the tax-exempt media outlet ProPublica is campaigning for higher rates on actual taxpayers. The organization describes what it calls a “true tax rate,” which is not in law but reflects ProPublica’s belief that some filers ought to be paying more. Perhaps the group can take a moment to study its own Form 990 reports, which tax-exempt groups are required to file with the Internal Revenue Service. For 2019 the filing shows that the organization’s revenues exceeded expenses by more than $10.6 million. What is the true tax rate that ProPublica ought to be paying on this haul?
Not Exactly Thriving
“The Degeneration of Public Administration,” City Journal, Spring 2021
James Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”
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