Inside America’s Corruption Capital – Washington D.C.

Jun 22, 2024 834.2K Views 4.4K Comments

Corruption exists everywhere, but in America, how corrupt have the federal government and the agencies that run our country become? Today, we meet with First Amendment attorney Benjamin Barr to stroll around Washington, D.C., to better understand government corruption, learn how our tax dollars are used, and discover more about how America operates behind the scenes.

► Food truck in the video:

► 🎞️ Video Edited By: Natalia Santenello

► Jules Gaia – Walk Break
► Terin Ector – Cold World (Instrumental Version)

[jazz music playing]
[Peter] Here were are
with First Amendment attorney, Benjamin.
Peter, it’s good to see you again.
Thank you, yeah.
For those that don’t know,
Benjamin and I did a video on Chicago
and I loved it.
I loved your insight
and your take on things so round two.
Yeah, we’re in DC where I used to live.
I lived for about 15 years.
So I know something about the town
I also was a political appointee
at the Federal Election Commission.
I served as council to two chairmen
of the Federal Election Commission.
I’ve worked on soft influence campaigns,
electioneering campaigns,
I’ve worked on constitutional litigation.
I know something about
how the game is played.
-And this is the people’s capital, right?
So there’s enough that
I want to talk about and be fair about
that I think will interest folks
on the left who have very good arguments
and folks on the right
that I know a little better
So I’m happy to jump in.
Okay, so is it fair to say
you’re credentialed, Benjamin?
-I have some credentials, yes.
-Okay, okay.
But you know,
here’s an interesting credential,
$7 trillion, that’s our annual budget
every year in the United States
and somewhere hovering around
$32 trillion is the national debt
Some people say that’s more like 60 or 90.
That there’s some
accounting tricks going on
but we’ll take the
government’s word for it
and say it’s a simple 32 trillion
that we’re staring down.
We’re walking in the direction here
of an iconic scene.
It’s the Watergate Hotel
and Office Complex in front of us.
-Oh, yeah.
-1972, five buglers get caught
in the early morning of June,
and they’re breaking into
the Democratic National
Committee headquarters.
We know some of the common characters
like G. Gordon Liddy.
We’d later find out
that even the president,
Richard Milhous Nixon himself
was implicated in this.
So when people think
about corruption in DC
they often have this sort of visual
and I mention the story of Watergate
because political scientists
tend to think about
the presidency having
weakened greatly after that time.
Americans lost trust
in the Executive Branch.
-Because of that occurring.
-Yeah, sure.
So what comes in to fill in that gap
is the rise of
the more modern administrative state.
What do I mean by that? I mean
your alphabet agency organizations.
So the EPA
that was instituted under Nixon.
Centers for Disease Control,
Health and Human Services.
We don’t know how many there are.
-What do you mean we don’t
know how many there are?
-The federal government doesn’t know.
The federal register, the legal reporter
for the federal government,
when tasked to accounting of this,
the general accountability office said
there’s no official list or number.
‘Cause you ‘member we can make this
really complicated legalese.
We have some
semi-private-public partnerships.
Are those agencies? Are they not?
How downstream are they
and still considered a federal agency?
Informally we know there’s
somewhere around 440 federal agencies.
Just in the last fiscal year 2023 alone
there was over 300 billion with a B,
of improper payments that came out.
So that’s about 2-3%
of the federal budget–
-…that’s poof.
But what’s a few hundred billion
amongst friends?
It just disappeared.
[Peter] And you started the conversation
talking about our federal deficit.
-And expenditures of roughly $7 trillion.
But our tax revenues are hovering
around what, a little over $4 trillion?
I think that’s right.
So we have to, to foot that bill,
we have to print the money, right?
And to print the money devalues the money.
Creates inflationary policy
as we see, yes.
[Benjamin] Even though the city
features corruption,
I tell you what,
the corrupt live pretty nicely.
-And the city looks very nice,
it’s a beautiful place.
As an outsider
just walking around the mall areas
and this neighborhood up here,
Georgetown, it’s beautiful.
Oh, yeah.
We’re gonna be talking about
federal DC government
but local DC government
compared to Chicago, it runs in the black.
-Usually doesn’t have deficit, debt.
I don’t agree with everything
that the city of DC does
but one reason is
they can’t go on large adventures
because congress has oversight
for any broad new steps they want to take
have to be approved by congress first.
I wish that applied to every city
but that’s just my political preference.
[man] Yeah, you can roll inside
just when crossing over the water…
[Benjamin] Excuse us, sorry.
-Oh, nice boat.
Cool in here, they AC it.
Yeah, exactly.
[Benjamin] It’s a nice little break.
[Peter] So you’re saying one of
the reasons these agencies keep growing,
there’s more money going towards them
which we’re gonna get into today, right?
‘Cause I’m very interested in this topic
because everyone’s got
a piece of it to some degree
and they don’t want to see
that go the other direction.
Yeah, we were talking about
budget reform, and debt,
and you were asking the question,
“Is it all over or can we reform this?”
and my indication is that, look,
the American public loves their subsidy.
The middle class gets
a mortgage subsidy, the tax write off.
They don’t want to give that up,
the rich, when they build
luxury ocean front homes
the insurance companies
that provide for that
are subsidized by the federal government.
There are guarantees
so if there’s massive payouts
they know the feds
are going to bail them out.
[jet flies overhead]
[Peter] In very few American cities
does the airport go
almost right into downtown
It’s an irritating factor to me
on housing policy in DC too
One way to make things more expensive
is to build artificial scarcity.
So if you prohibit skyrises,
buildings going upwards
beyond the height of the monument,
the height of the Capital Building,
you’re gonna have less housing
and DC is… I’ve lived here a long time.
It’s a very expensive place to live.
There’s ways to alleviate that
but we have our national pride
and when I talk to both Democrats
and Republicans about that
they almost universally agree that no,
we should keep that
as the highest building.
-I’m on board with that too.
[Benjamin] I am out of line
with probably 95% of America
That’s why I like you.
You’re a contrarian in all
ways, shapes, and forms.
When we get into
these policies and these agencies
I’m gonna let you know America…
-You’re gonna make a lot of friends?
-I’m gonna make a lot of friends.
-America, you asked for this.
-[Peter laughs]
Right, well maybe didn’t ask for it
but have to pay for it.
[jazz music playing]
[Peter] What a beautiful boat ride.
-It’s a good idea, yeah?
-Yeah, it’s great.
[Peter] Take care.
Benjamin, this is beautiful.
-This is new development,
used to be pretty seedy
but they put a lot of money
into the wharf.
-I had no idea before this trip
of all these different parts of the city.
I just knew the mall area.
Yeah, it has its little pockets.
There’s U Street, there’s NoMa,
Union Station, there’s Capital Hill.
Each one has its own character and spirit.
This is sort of the residential
and little touristy restaurant area.
We’ll be getting into
basically just agency after agency.
[Benjamin] So some of the storied
older government buildings there
and we have a little residential pocket
that’s over here as well.
-What a confluence.
So you could live here,
go to dinner there…
-And work right over there.
Now it’s unlikely that
you’re going to do that
because as I mentioned before,
housing prices in DC are astronomical.
So the sort of categories
of people you see
are sort of younger working professionals.
Once people want to get married
or raise children…
If you’re working in a
government agency in particular
you’re not earning enough
to live in a decent place in DC.
But we’re heading to the CDC.
-Okay if I talk a little bit about them?
-Yeah, go for it. Do your thing.
I always say to my audience,
that’s you, my audience,
watch my content,
watch other people’s content.
-Go in with an open mind.
Don’t believe everything you hear.
-Everyone comes from a different angle.
-Including me, no one’s immune from that.
And the beauty of
the information landscape we have is
you have options, you have choices.
I think the number one skill that
needs to be taught now more than ever,
critical thinking skills.
To navigate the flood of information
on the internet.
Now I’ve seen a lot of government
thinking they’re gonna go in the direction
of we need to close down speech,
we need to limit this, limit that.
-Bad move.
-Bad move.
Because then there’s someone
that controls that message, right?
-I’m a free speech attorney.
-Absolutely, that’s your wheelhouse.
Approach every bit of information
as a skeptic.
Which is to say
when you hear something… what?!
Even the most plausible bits
and to really train yourself
into being skeptical on everything
and that develops an analytical mind.
It develops citizens
who are capable of self-governance.
Which is the promise
of our Bill of Rights.
And it takes away power from the elites
who are trying to rob you of moral agency.
That is the individual capacity
to make decisions and choices in your life
and not to seed them to folks,
like what we see here in front of us.
-That building is a cross between
something out of Tashkent, Uzbekistan,
and Geneva, Switzerland.
If those two city’s architectural
movements had a kid, that would be it.
-Some of the old buildings in DC
have a Eastern German vibe to them.
-I dig it though actually.
[Benjamin] For me, understanding DC
is understanding power and bureaucracies,
and less so about the people
because if you talk to…
And I’ve heard this from countless number
of political brokers to bureaucrats,
politicians will be here
for two, four, six years.
I’m here forever.
There’s an entrenched bureaucracy,
an entrenched
shadow political class if you will
and it’s understanding how that operates
more than who is the named
current secretary of the CDC for example.
By the way,
this is the building housing the CDC.
-This is a cool building.
-Oh, that’s the HUD building.
-This is HUD.
[Benjamin] Department of
Housing and Urban Development
is a scandal-ridden organization.
You always have a linkage between
sort of the mortgage banking industry
and this organization.
In the Clinton administration,
Henry Cisneros, for example,
was one of these actors
who was pushing for
every renter should be able
to go out and get a home
and we need to really work on
the sub-prime loan market
and making that more accessible
to more Americans.
Of course that created a real implosion
in the mortgage market in America.
Bankers and banking institutions
that are, again, subsidized
through organizations such as HUD,
then are able to enjoy
more economic success
and when you see
countless leaders from HUD
taking up spots at some of the top
mortgage lending institutions in America
it becomes a suspicious question.
Okay, I don’t know much about HUD.
-There’s a HUD revolving door?
Work here, go into the private sector?
-Relationships have been–
And the policies that occur
seem to be questionable, right?
They seem to favor
mortgage lending institutions
and this is all painted in the name of,
“We want to make housing an American
reality for the low income individuals.”
When that’s usually a message
that seems to be being sold and pushed by
mortgage shops that want
more favorable terms, more subsidies,
more guarantees by the federal government
that if they offer these loans
to this segment of society
that they’re gonna be backed up
and taken care of.
So Americans get excited about this
This is another thing
that they get excited.
We should be looking out
for the working class.
-We should be taking care of them.
But it’s usually big banking institutions
that seem to be
pushing a lot of that narrative.
Okay, let me ask you this though,
If we’re gonna talk about housing,
it’s a real important part
in the American dream.
-It’s becoming harder and harder.
Especially for younger generations.
Like the boomer generation, I mean,
people are gonna call me out here
but you could basically
walk backwards mouth-breathing
and buy a home back in the day, right?
-It was easy compared to now.
When people across the country
see investors coming in
buying up the housing stock
it’s extremely frustrating
I’m not a big regulation guy
but there’s certain regulation we need.
-That’s an example of–
That might be something
HUD should look into, right?
I don’t know if it’s connected to HUD
but it’s something that definitely should
be being pushed by our federal government.
Yeah, certainly on the securities
and exchange side, on HUD’s side.
Because skin in the game.
If you’re in a community
and you own your home,
you’re gonna care way
more about your community
than if you’re renting and might move out.
Yes, absolutely.
-And what do we have here?
-Centers for Disease Control.
It’s a 9 billion with a B,
dollar a year agency.
Public Health Act gives it powers
to do things like inspect
goods at the border, fumigate,
produce best standards about
what to do with infectious diseases.
How to treat them, et cetera.
Most of the agencies that were set up
originally, at least early on
were meant to be advisory agencies.
Provide information
to the American public,
um, “Here’s best practices,
here’s transparencies on this or that.”
Over time they sort of morph
and grow into something more powerful.
Curious fact about the CDC,
any employee that goes to work there
has a 50% chance of sometime in their life
then working for big pharma.
-C’mon, 50%?
-50% of the employees here.
-Who are governed with dictating public
health standards in the United States
will go on to work for big pharma.
-Okay, where you getting that number?
-I can send you links.
-Okay, I’m gonna put the link
in the description.
-I’m happy to give you a lot of data.
-Okay, cool.
You know, revolving door,
we were talking about HUD.
If you look at Merck
and several of the big pharma companies
and their leadership that they send in
at executive levels at the CDC,
that’s pretty amazing as well.
-So the incentive structure is
for many, put your time in
in a government job
you’re gonna get a pension
then down the road potentially–
-You’re gonna get something much better.
-You got the deal with the company
that’s gonna pay you way more.
-Now there’s a one year cooling off period
that applies to most federal agencies.
Once you leave you have to wait one year
to work for a regulated community
that would be subject to the government
body that you were employed for
but here’s a more curious fact
about the CDC,
it’s one of the few agencies where
congress said not only is the agency good
we’re gonna allow you
to create your own non-profit.
So it has a non-profit group on the side.
The CDC Foundation.
Who are its main sponsors might you guess?
-Who Benjamin? Who?
-Big pharma.
So um,
So Roche, the maker of Tamiflu
put several hundred thousand into that.
Who produces informational ads
that you should try to use Tamiflu
or flu prevention medicines?
The CDC.
Pfizer put in over $3 million
for a disease they’re working on.
Who will be producing
informational advertisements about that?
The fine folks at the CDC.
So that’s the strange
conflict of interest.
It’s given rise to people saying that
all the disclaimers the CDC puts out
saying that this is independent advice
and is completely impartial
probably should be removed.
It’s strange to have the financial backing
of an industry and community
that you regulate financially support…
[laughs] I have…
A call from the CDC?
Maybe we touch on
something more controversial.
And we saw at least there was one
public statement from
former secretary Walensky
that the US should have done better,
could have done better
in its COVID response.
-At this point in time shouldn’t it be
like okay, here’s a moment of reflection.
We should stop.
It was a chaotic time. It was a wild time.
Now what worked, what didn’t?
What was beneficial,
what wasn’t and learn from it, right?
To me, many of these issues,
I don’t know if it’s the media cycle
or just how human minds work.
It’s like the treadmill of events
keep coming at you
and rear view mirror is not
being looked at too closely.
-Something as serious as this…
We should all sit down,
doesn’t matter the political party.
Like okay, what did we get right,
what did we get wrong?
-National deliberation.
And for those that are watching
from this institution…
I know one thing too, there are
many good people working in here
and all these institutions,
the last thing I wanna do
is put every individual under the bus
’cause that’s not fair at all.
But the inertia
that something this big takes on
can lead more to a negative
or more to a positive, right?
-For society?
And we need to learn about
what direction things are going
and recalibrate if need be.
-Fair to say?
-Fair to say.
Speaking of that, that’s why
we have the rule of law in America.
James Madison said
we’re a country of laws, not of men.
We’re governed by
not a charter of good intentions
but of actual Bill of Rights and rules
that government has to follow.
Thomas Jefferson didn’t sign
a declaration of fuzzy feelings.
He signed a Declaration of Independence,
and that comes to
Center for Disease Control.
They’ve been on the losing end
of litigation most recently.
When you hear about the moratorium
for rental evictions during COVID…
-Oh, yeah.
-I did a story on that actually.
-It wasn’t HUD.
It wasn’t a variety of other actors.
-It was this body…
-No way, I didn’t know that.
…who said if you force people
out of their homes
they might travel with COVID.
That creates a public health emergency
and we have the power to regulate that.
Now that was shut down
by the Supreme Court soundly.
Which said you have to find power
spelled out in the Public Health Act.
The A, B, C, and D,
and you can act within these ares,
but once you get far afield of that
you absolutely can’t do that.
Imagine having a government body
that no matter how tangential it could
relate something to public health
it had the power to control your life.
That would be a tyrannical power.
Let’s cross here.
This is fascinating.
I’ve never been over here.
-These buildings are massive.
[Peter] This is straight out of
Dnipro, Ukraine.
[Benjamin laughs] We’re looking at
the Holiday Inn.
-[both laughing]
-[Benjamin] A very dated Holiday Inn.
And next to it is FEMA.
So on the back side of this is FEMA,
Federal Emergency Management.
-Okay, FEMA is an interesting one.
-I was just in Lahaina, Maui.
Where the fires went through.
Still charcoal.
And the citizens are
not happy understandably.
They feel like the feds have just sort of
left them out there to deal with it
and the cameras
aren’t paying attention anymore
because one of those events
when the fires are coming though–
Yeah, it’s exciting.
-Those are the fireworks on camera.
And then eight months later
not many people are paying attention
and they’re just like,
“What’s going on out here?”.
I mean it’s state bureaucracy
is pretty deep, coupled with the feds,
coupled with all these organizations
and it’s messy, and it’s a slow thing,
but at the same time if government
wanted to move quick on it, they could.
-They don’t have an interest it seems.
-They could.
I recall the story being during
Hurricane Katrina that…
I don’t know if this is true
I just remember the reporting.
That it was Walmart
who got there first on the ground
well before any federal actors were there.
Who was first on the ground
were the locals in Molokai.
The island over without a traffic light.
-Super cool people, hunting deer,
bringing them over on boats.
Those were the first people there.
That’s people helping people
without a bureaucracy.
So you’re from Des Moines, Iowa.
Just flew in for the FEMA meeting, right?
Perhaps they put you up
at the Holiday Inn.
You age three years in three days.
-With the drapes.
-Maybe that’s a public health emergency.
-If those drapes could speak…
All right, we’re being a**holes
at this point, Benjamin
-Well you’re in a city that welcomes that.
It’s easy to poke around
as free agents here.
We need institutions.
I’m not one of those,
“We don’t need any institutions” types.
-You need strong institutions.
You need sober institutions
to run a country well, right?
[Benjamin] The genius of Federalism
is that we should have, in theory,
laboratories of democracy.
Where states can test
different approaches to governance
and we can learn from one another.
-Nobody at the CDC is smart enough.
I agree there’s very good people,
very good intentioned, very smart,
but they’re not smart enough
to be able to figure out what that is.
You allow states to experiment
and we’re losing more and more of that
through overarching federal government,
though more of these sorts of agencies.
You allow states to experiment
and you come up with more innovative
better policy solutions.
That’s what I’m in favor of.
[Peter] Yeah, because we did have
that benefit in the United States
during COVID if you’re
a laptop jockey like me…
-I could move easy, right?
And living in Florida was
a completely different reality
than living in California.
There was all of this fallout
that took place
that took some time to identify
but one that burned in my memory was
schools were closed in San Francisco
for 18 months, public schools.
You had the tents on the sidewalk,
the playground was closed,
the kids were walking
between the traffic and the parked cars
because they couldn’t go
down the sidewalk,
parents were at work…
-You know, I’m talking the Tenderloin.
-Yeah, I’m familiar.
-This is the poor neighborhood.
They’re on drugs or working super hard.
One of the two there.
And these kids are
just sort of out to fend for themselves
but the kids in private school,
the governor’s kids
are getting an education.
So the hypocrisy I saw was disgusting.
-It was gross.
And then they say
they care about their safety,
and their betterment,
and all that, which was BS
because if you looked on the streets
for three seconds you’d be like,
-“This is so wrong.”
-You saw the results, right.
Then in Florida the kids
were out of school for a very short time
and they just took
a lot less of a hit to the brain I think.
As far as social interaction,
playing sports.
We’re just starting to learn about
these negative impacts in the science.
-How far behind kids are.
-You think here’s where the chips fell.
What worked, what didn’t?
What hybrid model
can we use for next time?
-What makes sense?
And we have,
from what I’m seeing, zero of that.
And this was just helicoptered in
from Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
[Benjamin laughs]
-Sackler gallery, don’t tell me
that’s from the Sackler family.
-Yeah, the pharmaceutical family.
It’s right here.
-That is unbelievable.
For those that don’t know,
the opioid catastrophe…
What was that,
end of the ’90s, early 2000s?
-Really hit Appalachia hard.
I was up there last summer.
There were towns there
where half the population
is face down in the dirt on drugs.
Like small towns.
It’s like people are working very hard
or they’re on drugs.
-That’s what I found.
That’s the guy behind Purdue Pharma.
-It is, yeah.
I mean they settled for the opioid suit.
-They settled out?
But I’m sure they still made
a ton of money.
Yeah, they’re still doing…
They can buy museums.
[Benjamin] We have
a gigantic set of buildings here.
This is the United States
Department of Agriculture
coming in with an annual budget
of 380-some billion, with a B,
dollars a year.
With over 100,000 employees.
Now I’m not gonna touch on its
more noble purposes.
which is to say food stamps and SNAP
which is food subsidy programs
for the poor
but the other big arm of business
that this entity is engaged in
is corporate welfare
and it does it very well.
When we think about farmers in America
we probably have a vision
of the poor family farmer
struggling to make ends meet.
-The small farmer?
-And how nice it is that we have
these enlightened folks
to be able to send checks and maybe
help them out from time to time
with things like crop insurance,
subsidies for growing
or not growing certain types of products.
But the average farmer
who is a recipient of aid from USDA
has a net wealth
nine times that of the average American.
A usually successful business.
Farming has largely gone to agro-business
and agriculture, agrocorporations.
The top 10%, top 10 wealthiest
producers in agriculture
reap about 66% of the federal subsidies
that come through the Farm Act.
-This is continuing on?
-This is all Department of Agriculture.
It’s got its own city here.
-All the way around there?
Basically what happened was, again,
in another time of emergency
during the Great Depression
under FDR, President Roosevelt,
we decided that we could scientifically
sort of decide how much production
farmers in the United States
should be engaged in.
It sounds like a Soviet style
planning economy because it was.
This a famous Supreme Court case called
Wickard v. Filburn
that challenged that authority, right?
This was at a constitutional crisis
in the United States.
Because all these New Deal programs
like ones that told farmers
what they could produce
and what they couldn’t
were declared unconstitutional
until federal…
FDR threatened to pack the court
and put on enough of his own justices
to find these to be constitutional.
So the next year, 1937, it’s called
the judicial revolution of 1937,
all of a sudden the Supreme Court
starts saying,
“These are fine exercises
of federal power.”
“Commerce clause is fully satisfied here.”
and so you had far reaching programs
that would pay farmers not to grow things,
to grow things,
to set certain amounts aside
so that these smart folks,
the 100,000 of them
could decide exactly how much corn
should be grown, exactly how much ethanol,
how many soy beans, et cetera.
It’s a racket.
Smart, large, agricultural corporations
then also figured out
how to siphon money out of this
to do things like…
The cotton producers
have taken hundreds of millions
to pay for Indian reality shows in India
to promote the sale of US cotton.
That’s US tax payer dollars,
several hundred million to pay for that.
-Indian reality shows?
-Indian reality show.
What do you think about raisins, Peter?
You a raisins fan?
-I used to be more into raisins,
not so much these days.
All right, well these guys
that we just walked from, the USDA…
We’re gonna walk this way in the mall.
They’re big into raisins, all right?
This is one of the cases
they recently lost.
It was a raisin set aside program.
Remember there’s 100,000 folks there,
they’re very smart
and they know better than you
about how many raisins should exist
in America at any given time.
They got formulas, they got algorithms.
So what they did was told farmers
anyone raising raisins
in the United States,
we have our mathematical algorithm
and we’ve determined
that you have to give us
3% of the raisins.
We’re not gonna pay you for it.
You have to give us 3%
of your raisins one year,
might be 12% next year, et cetera,
and then at some point we will sell them
and you’ll get a check,
and one fella, Mr. Horne,
got rather tired of this practice,
and he set his own raisins aside
in his own farm.
-And he wrote them a nice letter.
And the USDA returned
with a $750,000 fine against Mr. Horne,
and he challenged that all the way
to the United States Supreme Court.
We have a Fifth Amendment
that has what’s called a takings clause.
Government cannot take property
without compensating you.
-And he won that case.
-That’s great, so courts are working.
The courts are working, absolutely.
That’s why I love doing
constitutional litigation.
I love bringing government bodies
back to the people,
back to the original purpose.
-It’s like a Journey song,
it just keeps going, and going, and going.
It’s an empire, okay?
“This is the people’s department.”
is what President Lincoln said.
“It is the people’s department.”
-We also run agricultural
forced speech programs.
So a lot of industries through the USDA,
you have to contribute,
you’re forced to contribute
a certain amount of money.
There was a mushroom case
where mushroom producers
had to give however much money
every year to Uncle Sam, the USDA.
And they would produce these ads
to let Americans know how important
mushrooms are in their diet
and some mushroom producers said,
“I think I’m perfectly capable
of doing my own advertising.”
“I don’t need the fine folks at the USDA
to do so, smart as they may be.”
That was a free speech case
that invalidated that program
’cause the government can’t force people
to carry a message they disagree with.
Even if you suspected we might
have had problems, for example,
during the Great Depression
or in other emergency periods
maybe we need to step back and say,
“Are we still in that emergency?”
and are they the right people?
The budget and number of people in there
are growing every year?
So in all these institutions
we’ve passed so far today
the number of people and dollar amount
is growing every year?
Continues to go up, yes.
Here’s another fun one,
here is an institution, if we go back
to the CDC that we started at,
every year they spend $60 million
a year telling America,
“Don’t go and smoke.”
“It’s bad to smoke, you’re gonna die.”
Hold on, then we come over here
to this institution,
they spend the exact amount of money,
$60 million, subsidizing what?
Tobacco production in the United States.
-Go and smoke, go produce that tobacco.
Say it ain’t so, Benjamin.
We have arms of the federal government
that don’t talk to one another,
they’re not aligned,
they’re spending tax payer money
in a schizophrenic
and directly contradictory way.
That’s gotta stop.
[Benjamin] Big sophisticated
business interests
figured out how to take public sentiment
and turn it into a government program
that you, the American at home, loves,
but which benefits
their bottom dollar pocket.
An example of this is dated,
it goes back to the 1990s
when a group of trial attorneys
and attorney generals
across the United States sued big tobacco
with the theory of
we’re gonna get tough on these guys
and they created what was called
the Master Settlement Agreement.
Big tobacco,
the four largest tobacco producers
would have to place large sums of money
and make payments to the states
who participated in this.
They would be subject to ongoing
payments for their health programs.
But as a reciprocal treat
that the big tobacco got
was that it created
these boundaries to competition.
So any new company
that wanted to be a tobacco competitor
would have to post
millions of dollars of bonds
in every state they wished to operate.
So it made it made it nearly impossible
for new entrants to come in.
They also made it so they could
share information about pricing
and be able to raise prices unilaterally.
Which would otherwise trigger
anti-trust concerns.
But it was sold as this package to America
about we finally won.
We did it.
We put big tobacco in its place
and big tobacco’s sitting on K street here
with their team of lobbyists,
and political influencers, and PR guys,
and they’re laughing ’cause they
figured out how to sell a package
to the American people
that I think is corrupt
but which America celebrated
and they think of as
still a good thing to this day.
Now this happens all the time in DC.
There’s astroturfing firms.
DCI Group is a famous one in DC.
Where you create fake support for
a particular emotionally charged issue.
You get people looking in that direction.
You shut down an economic competitor
around emotional issue X
and this company’s stock price
is just soaring.
-What did you call that?
-The American population
is constantly getting astroturfed?
And I suppose it goes back to
your original position
about the need for
analytical reasoning in schools
and teaching people to do the, “Huh?”
That when you hear these campaigns,
when you hear promises about,
“We’re gonna finally shut down
this particular bad group or the like.”
There’s a big chance that the competitor
to that bad group is the one funding it
and they’re just wanting
to double their market size
and you should be
suspicious about that.
[ice cream truck music playing]
[Peter] So walk us through this
a little bit.
What’s going on up here?
This is a building most everyone knows.
Everyone knows what goes on there.
This is the house that sends
$1.2 million a year
for the California Prostitutes
Education Program.
It’s one that allocates funding
of several hundred million dollars a year
for all the agencies we saw
so that each one can have a PR firm
or a public relations officer managing
image and finessing that for the public.
Um, it’s one that engages in questionable
spending for most Americans.
There’s a lot of talk.
We were just talking about popularity
of congressmen and the like
and two of the issues
that you raised with me were
one, why are congressmen
getting so wealthy?
And two, what about trading
and those sorts of issues?
-And so I think when you look
at insider trading
there’s been academic studies
that have shown there’s curious results
about what happens when congressmen
are involved in this particular process
and how they have
abnormally high rates of return.
-Very suspicious.
And so in 2012 congress passed
the stock reform
and that requires some level of
transparency for trades that they do.
Sure, yep.
The problem is that
it probably didn’t go far enough
and doesn’t have effective enforcement.
So within 48 hours of a trade
they have to file information
that’s publicly disclosed.
But 48 hours on the stock market
is an eternity.
Yeah, okay.
So hours matter, sometimes
minutes matter on a stock market.
So 48 hours seems too long
to be effective.
Also the fines are usually…
The customary fines are $200
for a violation
and the House Ethics Committee,
the foxes guarding the fox hounds
watching the chickens here.
Foxes guarding the foxes
are usually prone to waive that fee.
So you come before
the House Ethics Committee,
they say you didn’t file your form,
next time we’re gonna get you
with $200 for that million dollar trade.
-…that you didn’t report.
-Oh, yeah.
So it seems very ineffectual.
From ’20 to ’22 there was a big push for,
“We can get this done.”
We had a Democratic control of the House,
strong people asking.
Not a word.
-The American people want it.
-American people, bipartisan,
left, right, center, everyone wants it.
-Nancy Pelosi has come out
strongly opposed to this
and strange words she added, she said,
“America is a free market system.”
and that “Congressmen are people too
and they have rights.”
Right, okay.
So what would change that?
-This is my simple fix…
Pay congress members a million plus.
You’re gonna bring in
bright people, right?
But the one caveat
that you can’t do stock trading.
You can do S&P 500 or whatever,
you know, the basics.
But you can’t pick individual stocks
and wouldn’t that alleviate
a lot of that problem?
I think it would help.
So that’s what we call the Singapore model
in terms of thinking about ethics reform.
Singapore has historically
low levels of corruption
because they pay their public servants
extraordinarily well.
That’s just a reflection of if you’re
taken care of in the place you work at
you’re energies and devotion
are gonna be there.
And so if you’re at the Department
of Defense you’re not thinking about,
“Boy, how do I get on
the board of directors at Raytheon.”
-Yeah, exactly.
-It eliminates that problem.
Now the reform we’re looking at
doesn’t go that far.
The newest reform says
what we should do is one of two things.
Either ban it completely and eliminate it
or two, mandate the use of blind trusts.
Now several congressmen
and senators already do this.
Put the money into a blind trust
and have someone else
professionally manage it
and when they leave office
they can see that again.
-Okay, gotcha.
-That seems to strike a balance as long as
the blind trust is really blind.
I have difficulty believing
sophisticated smart actors
aren’t going to have a way to figure out
a way to manipulate that
but that’s what’s on the table
right now in terms of real deals.
They’re getting paid, what,
$160,000, $180,000?
Yeah, I think it goes up to 190
for Speaker of the House.
Okay, so you have a home where you live,
you gotta live here somewhere.
You have a family with kids
flying back and forth.
They have to foot the bill
on the flights or no?
-No, travel’s taken care of.
But still that’s not much these days
if you’re here all the time,
running two homes.
And you have several people
who elect to have cots in their office
-…and they’ll sleep in their cots.
-Some are sleeping in there?
-Yeah, yeah.
It’s a very… ‘member it’s like I’m not
prone to agree with them on many items
but there’ve been proposals to create
basically dormitories for congressmen.
-Okay, that’s not sustainable though.
Maybe in the honeymoon period, the first
couple years you’re okay with that
but after a while
you’re gonna get sick of that, right?
As a congress member?
Let me go back to framer’s view here
and Washingtonian view of DC.
-This isn’t a place
we’re supposed to be here very long.
You should come serve the public
for a certain amount of time
and you should leave.
So I don’t want them getting comfortable.
Let’s make it
an ugly dormitory, really cold…
-Yeah, but if you don’t
want the revolving door
with good opportunities afterwards
why are they gonna put so much effort
into going here for a few years
and then have to start over with whatever?
I think the better reform
on that sort of angle
is looking at systemic changes.
So term limits
like we have for the president.
Term limits for staff, for bureaucracy.
So the money’s gotta be good.
So if they’re in those four,
or eight years, or whatever it is…
Absolutely, take care of them
during that time.
They can leave
and not be stressing that the year after.
Because if the money’s not good the whole
time they’re in there they’re thinking
how am I gonna make money from this
opportunity and not serve the country?
Mm-hmm, and you have to have some
honest appreciation for that
because any human being in that situation
is going to work through
that same calculus
and other things we should think about are
cooling off periods
that we have we mentioned before.
Folks at CDC and other areas,
how quickly they jump.
Right now it’s about a year
cooling off period for most agencies
for folks to go to regulated industries.
We could expand that
to three or five years,
a year, you still have valuable
information that you’re gonna share.
Say with a pharmaceutical company
or an auto producer.
Put in a five year moratorium,
three year moratorium,
it becomes much less valuable and creates
less of that perverse incentive.
Yeah, but we wanna change the system
so the Mitch McConnells and Nancy Pelosis
can’t basically be
paintings on the walls in these places.
Well the problem is that this body
loves all the agencies that we just saw.
-Right, everything that’s over there.
-What they can do is say instead of
getting into the details of a law
and passing something controversial,
they do something that sounds really good
like the Patriot Act
or the powers to the agency
we’re about to go see, the DHS,
and then they put the responsibility
on those bureaucrats
and those faceless blobs
to go out and do it.
It’s an ingenious system ’cause they
don’t take as much of the heat.
They can say, “We meant for
that Patriot Act to work really well
and the DHS spying on Americans
and pulling up their cell phone,
we would have never authorized that.”
And so to me, yes,
I understand the focus is here.
I think a greater threat is found
in the alphabet agencies.
With the people
that nobody really knows who they are.
As the far right would say,
the deep state.
Freedom of Information request
does not apply to Congress.
A variety of subpoenas
do not apply to members of Congress
that apply to every other
ordinary American on the street.
Up until recently
several of the civil rights provisions
had no application here.
They can freely discriminate
while the rest of America can not.
So they have a history of passing laws,
building out exemptions,
and then later it catches up,
later it applies.
So a simple fix to that
is to prospectively say anything
that does apply to Americans in general
should also apply to Congress members.
What percentage
of Congress members do you think
go in with excellent intentions?
Good intentions,
they care about the country,
they want to do good
for the people living here?
-Oh, I think just about everybody.
-Really? Okay.
-So if you want to play baseball
you have to go by the rules of the game
and eventually you have to go
by the rules of the game here?
DC is a city of deal making.
It’s a city of a political machine
that knows how to operate
and make deals happen.
So if you believe that this city
and this capital has the wisdom
to enact all the sort of policy
we’ve already talked about,
if you really want that to happen
then you have to allow
these back room deals
that most Americans
don’t care for to occur.
Civil Rights Act in 1964,
it’s an important anti-discrimination law.
-Can’t hire on gender or race.
And ended segregation in public schooling.
That was an important
defining moment in American history.
Lyndon Johnson,
a wheeling, dealing sort of guy
figured out this wasn’t passed because
members of Congress were good people
and out of the goodness of their hearts.
He found one moderate Republican
and figured out,
“How do I buy this guy off?”
in average vernacular.
He went to a Congressman in Indiana,
a moderate Republican and said,
“You know what, I’ve got a NASA
installation we’re in Purdue University.”
and his vote switched.
So this is earmarking, right?
And earmarking, we banned for a period
because people thought it was
this awful bad inside deals
but as it turns out a lot of good things
actually happen through earmarking
in these kind of negotiations.
So when you have a capital that sits over
so diverse and so complicated a society
where you have doctors,
and lawyers, you have unions,
you have environmentalists,
you have energy producers,
you have to expect that there’s a
really hard compromise that has to occur.
It occurs in the back rooms
and there’s actual need
for that space for that to happen.
President Lincoln during the Civil War
said the same thing.
If you look at war spending records
they’re very suspicious at the time too.
Giving out larger sums of money to folks
who are willing to sell ammunition
to friends and family.
Patronage jobs for folks who
otherwise might not have joined the Union.
Important and defining moment
in American history.
Political machines helped that happen.
Now in my purest form, I think this is
all oversize and way to large
and we need to go back
to the original rules
but most of America
doesn’t agree with me and my radical…
So if we’re here and we’re doing that
you have to allow some of that to happen.
Understood, okay.
And when you take a country
like the United States,
’cause I’m all over it with making videos,
Saint Lawrence Island, Alaska,
Molokai, Hawaii, Southern Louisiana,
different universes.
The differences of those areas
are the differences
of sometimes European countries.
Slovenia and Northern
Italy have more in common
than Saint Lawrence Island, Alaska
and Southern Louisiana.
But as this center here grows
as these guys get more power
and the agencies start to surpass
traditionally local and state powers
we lose that experimentation.
-We lose the ability and the dynamism.
-The reflection and the transparency.
We need all of those components
to make it work, right?
Yeah, one other radical thing
that’s talked about in academic circles
and this is on the left and right,
a national divorce.
Do we have a representative democracy?
Probably not based on the number
of constituents per congress member.
That sounds pretty simple
but here’s the deal…
No, it’s not simple.
You have a blue state and a red state,
doesn’t mean the whole state’s
blue or red, right?
It doesn’t even mean the town, it
doesn’t even mean your neighbor.
So this division that’s cooked up
through the national divorce argument,
from what I’m seeing
there is way less division
than we are shown online or on television.
As in nobody cares if their UPS driver
is Republican or Democrat.
There’s no deep vested hatred.
It’s not the Balkans,
it’s not Albanians versus Macedonians,
you’re grandfather killed mine.
I don’t feel it.
I think it works really well online
as a tag line for someone to click on.
For mostly people
that sit behind computers
and navigate culture
from behind computers.
-Which is the majority of people.
-Yeah, yeah.
But if you’re out around the country
in these different bubbles
in these different places
90% I’d say are on the same page
with most things.
There’s the arguments–
There’s more that draws us
together than separates us.
100%, and we’re also
way more reliant upon one another
than we even realize.
For example, you can say, “Hey, I don’t
like middle America for this or that.”
If you’re here in DC,
say a person saying that.
Okay, what about your food?
What about your energy, right?
You can be in rural America and be like,
“F the city people, they all suck.”
Okay, what about your telecommunications?
You know, how well
Amazon works in your home town.
-You know what I mean?
-Everyone’s relying on one another.
-We need the oil from Louisiana, right?
And so we’re all interconnected.
Just not in a direct way
that you see on the surface every day.
That’s my long rant
on the national divorce.
I think it’s a good rant
and it’s actually why
I love doing work in
freedom of speech, freedom of association.
It’s about those rights
of coming together.
-People sharing information.
People amplifying their voices
and views, it’s a beautiful thing.
[fountain spraying]
[Peter] Nice food truck.
-Did you build this?
-My dad did.
-That’s the coolest food truck I’ve seen.
-Thank you, sir.
Good work. What kinda food?
What kinda food? It’s Jordanian cuisine.
-So basically we have gyros…
-Oh, yeah.
[Peter] There you go.
Oh, you just closed down, look at that.
-Not like these other trucks.
-The full monty, look at that.
-But you’re closed for today, right?
-Yes sir, but did you want anything?
I don’t mean to fire things
up and make you cook
but I just want to show your
truck ’cause it’s awesome.
[Peter] All the best.
I always love promoting
small businesses, you know?
If you can drive people to a business…
Didn’t try the food
but check this place out you guys.
I’ll leave that link down below.
[Benjamin] We’re in front of
the Department of Homeland Security, DHS.
Agency, department that has the budget
of 37 American states in a year.
$100 billion.
And has been routinely found by Congress
to lack any sort of serious
internal disciplinary oversight.
So the number of folks who
don’t show up for work, show up late,
sleep while at work, is incredibly high.
How do you have this info?
This has been though
Office of Inspector General reports
that have been issued.
And this has also been
in Senate proceedings.
-Again, put it in the material below.
The Customs and Border Division
is one that has the most arrests
of any federal executive agency
for corruption,
for bribery, for extortion.
At one time one Texas field office
of the Custom and Border Patrol
had 80 corruption cases
going on at one time.
This speaks to the issue
that we mentioned earlier
about stemming corruption.
And that’s the Singaporean model
about paying people correctly.
I bet if you’re paying
Customs and Border agents
a healthy wage that reflects the risks
and the demands of the job
that you’re not gonna see what we do see.
Like we have video tape
of Custom and Border Patrol agents
waving cartel across the border.
We’ve seen Custom and Border Patrol
agents loading marijuana onto trucks.
So Customs and Border Protection,
I’ve spent a fair amount of time
with those guys
down at the border in Texas, Arizona.
Lot of them, really good people
are in what they’re doing.
I just don’t want to
put them all under the bus.
-It’s a small percentage, right?
-Yeah, no…
But apparently it’s a small percentage
but the number of corruption rates,
bribery, arrests, and the like,
much higher than anywhere else…
-…in any other federal agency.
I have compassion to say if you’re
working a hard job and you’re underpaid–
That is a hard job.
I have some human compassion for that.
I think they should be paid better.
The policies right now,
a lot of those people feel broken.
Because they can’t necessarily
do their job like they could before.
Yeah, so it’s the same agency…
It’s the newest federal agency, right?
It was created after 9/11 and it’s design
was to take 22 separate agencies
bring them together,
make them more efficient.
I’m not sure that it did that ’cause
they seem to have different protocols.
They don’t communicate
with one another very well
But it’s an agency that’s sent
over $4 million to the states
to help house illegal aliens.
It’s done that.
It’s spent over $100 million
for electric cars it never put to use,
and it’s engaged in other examples
of questionable spending.
Problematically, what we’ve learned
about its data collection practices
I think sends a chill
for creating a police state in America.
We know from good work
from the American Civil Liberties Union
that they go out to data vendors
and they buy cell phone use patterns
of Americans because
they can’t seize that material.
The Fourth Amendment protects that
as an unreasonable search and seizure
but if they buy it then
all of a sudden it becomes permissible.
What we’ve also learned,
they’ve gone further.
We learned last year
they’re not just buying cell phone data,
they’re getting all the social media
information they can
that Americans are engaging in.
Again, not seizing it, buying it.
‘Cause it’s available on markets.
They just buy it directly
from the social media companies?
From third party vendors who do this.
Who buy it from these companies, right?
-They hold those.
And so that’s sort of the chilling thing.
We know they’ve put agents
into Black Lives Matter,
into Muslim communities,
and while I don’t have affinity
or belong to any of those groups
they have the same civil liberties
as any other American
and I certainly don’t, without a warrant,
want agents out in the field
investigating any group.
Whether it’s the NRA
or Black Lives Matter.
-That’s chilling.
-That’s been proven?
The ACLU has shown work on that
through their Freedom of
Information requests and litigation.
-Interesting, wow.
-So it’s a chilling organization.
It’s one I think is
an anathema to the Bill of Rights.
It’s something that
we shouldn’t be doing to America.
This isn’t a police state.
We don’t have Stasi.
We don’t track what people say,
what people think,
or how they’re interacting
or “liking” on Facebook or Twitter.
And so serious reform should come to DHS.
-So what would their argument be
for implementing those policies?
Red, white, and blue, it is prevention
against terrorism.
Ever since 9/11 it’s wrapping up
polices that violate the letter
or spirit of the Constitution
in a sense of we gotta feel protected
and that Uncle Sam
is the best one to do that predictably.
So if we have cell phone records,
if we have social media… data,
we can see who’s involved in
radical Islamic groups
or in White nationalist organizations
and maybe we can predict and stop
the next terrorist attack
but we sacrifice so much of this–
But there are also people in there
that are, for example,
there’s a lot of fraud
going on with elders.
-Easy targets, easy victims.
I met one of these guys.
Really good guy, loves his job.
He’s helping to stop
the fraud that takes place.
I’m sure there are a few small functions
of DHS that are beneficial
and certainly I’m not opposed
to things like FEMA.
That’s part of DHS.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But I am against a police state.
I am against organizations
roving and spying on Americans
of any ideological persuasion
and I think liberty and freedom of speech
is always the better option
rather than prevention due to fear.
Government shouldn’t have
a fear of its citizens.
It should earn the trust
and respect of its citizenry
and citizens shouldn’t fear that when
they go to their next gun rifle club
or their next Black Lives Matter meeting
that there’s going to be
a secret agent hiding in there
recording what they’re
doing and what they’re saying.
-That’s awful.
That’s the beauty of this country
is that we’ve had those rights.
It goes back to Alexis de Tocqueville.
It’s very important that Americans of
different sorts get together and we talk.
That the rich and poor meet,
the Blacks and Whites,
Islamisists and Christians.
That we all flow
and get an understanding of each other.
That’s not through
a governmental interface.
That’s doing the hard work of getting
to know your neighbor in your community
and that affects everything
reciprocally through the country.
Education, critical thinking,
and was it Kennedy who set up Peace Corps?
I think that’s right.
I think there should be
a domestic version of that.
Maybe Peace Corps
is domestic like that too but
an enhanced one.
Okay, now we’re talking
government agencies, sorry ’bout that.
You can’t get me to buy off on this
but I appreciate the sentiment.
Some organic program that sends
the kid from Southern Louisiana
out to Hawaii.
Sends the kid from Hawaii out to Nebraska.
This is such a big country with so many
different values and types of people,
most of us are in our bubbles,
and for them to be
exposed to different things,
I think that would help
the country immensely.
I’d love to see a group
of well-healed donors get together.
-And you know what would be great?
-Couple folks on the right, on the left.
-Sure, yes.
Say we have our own
discussions and debates.
Let’s make this opportunity available
for the Appalachian poor kid.
-For the poor kid in the Bronx.
And let’s fund America’s youth summit
or something and they pour in
-…several hundred million to make that–
-I’m on board with this.
-So that’s a challenge.
-Not DHS to make that happen but…
No and that’s the beauty
of living in a free society
is you call on the elites,
you call on the successful.
So whether it’s Mark Cuban listening,
Elon Musk, whoever it may be,
folks think about this.
This is a way that you heal
torn fabrics in society.
-It doesn’t start from up high.
It comes from everybody and the rich
in society have a part to play in that
just as the poor do.
-And if you start young.
Summer programs, that inner-city kid
going to Appalachia, vice-versa,
that bridges understanding and makes
everybody’s life better I believe.
So we’re gonna go to dinner
in a little bit, meet your wife.
You got it.
Talk a little bit more
Have a broader discussion about DC.
-She has some interesting insight?
-Yeah, yeah. That should be fun.
[jazz music playing]
[Peter] Here at Cafe Leopold
with Benjamin’s better half.
Is that fair to say?
-That’s right.
You’re on a similar page let’s say
with this corruption topic, right?
Sure. Yeah, our political values align.
-Okay, so you have some experiences
that took place here in DC
we were talking about off-camera.
I went out of my way after college
to get out of the DC grind
because what I experienced
trying to find
work experience in college
was pretty… frightening.
I was going for a degree
in public health, health policy.
I was looking for summer jobs
that had certain alignments to that
just to get the sense
of what the industry’s like.
Medically-based, how we can help people,
keep people healthier, all that jazz.
And so an opportunity came up
to work at NIH
which has its main campus
not technically in DC
but just over yonder
in Bethesda, Maryland.
You know, they basically
border each other.
So I get there and there’s
not a lot of relevant information
to what your day to day job is.
Like all of these different
sub agencies are combining,
different specializations are combing.
“Oh, you’re coming
to work at NIH, get hyped.”
And so I would say 50% plus…
And this was well before COVID.
50% plus of that orientation was talking
about how cool the director of NIH was.
At the time that was Anthony Fauci,
he’d been there since the ’80s.
And it was like his whole CV
and we’re so lucky to have him
and like this guy is basically
making the world a better place.
And it wasn’t a lot of
relevant information about
here’s some really great things
NIH is doing specifically
or here’s what day to day life is like
working as an employee of NIH.
It was mostly like let’s hype up this guy
as kind of a messiah-like figure.
And I was turned off by that.
It wasn’t something I had experienced.
I’m not a big believer in,
oh, bow down to this CEO, you know?
In the end it’s just a man
and they have faults
just like anybody else.
So that was like my start to it
and then you get into the actual office…
And… [laughs]
How do I put this?
How can we do the least amount of work
with as much time as possible?
And that’s not my style.
I like to bang things out and keep going.
I want to keep that energy alive.
And so I got a months work of work
and I was done in a couple days.
You know, it was grants management.
So we’re processing all this stuff
and basically they’re like,
“Well it comes in when it
comes in, twiddle your thumbs.”
So I found out later on I’ve got a friend
who’s more senior in
the grants management division of NIH now.
I found this years later.
And they told me that basically
at his level in the organization
if you over perform,
if you do too much work,
you submit it all at the same time,
you’re gonna get penalized.
-You’ll get a bad performance review.
-By who?
Uh, so whoever your superior is
who does the performance reviews.
They’re going to rate you poorly
and that affects your GS elevation.
-So if you wanna–
-Uh, how do you explain that?
-Federal payment scale, GS1 to GS13.
What jobs you can apply to next.
And he’s fairly senior
within this organization.
So I don’t want to say who it is
but what he does at this point
is he does all his work in one week
and he’s mostly remote
and then he submits it one week at a time.
[Peter chuckles]
Which is great, yeah, I mean–
So what’s he doing
the other three weeks every month?
He recently got a dog that he really likes
and hang out with the dog. [laughs]
I ran out of work. I would ask
for things to do, nothing could happen.
So in the end I bought…
You know, you’re not supposed
to use your work computer
for non-relative purposes.
So I bought a tablet
and started watching videos on it
because there’s nothing to do all day.
Literally nothing.
You know, I would start walking
up and down the stairs five times.
-So in your office at NIH…
-Yeah, there was nothing to do.
For like weeks at a time.
I probably worked 10% of the time.
-Okay, would there be a part,
’cause it’s a massive organization,
different departments or whatever that
are doing things totally different or no?
It’s hard to know
because it’s a huge silo effect there.
You don’t interact with other people,
you need pass codes
to get onto different levels
You don’t see anybody else working there,
it’s very creepy.
-No company parties?
But there was a few levels I was
allowed on and here’s just an example of…
I think Ben probably talked about this
on his tour, I don’t know for sure
but we know each agency has a budget
that’s given to them
by Congress every year
and if they don’t spend all of that budget
they’re at risk of losing
some of that in the next year.
-Use it or lose it.
-Yeah, use it or lose it.
So imagine going up to the printers
of which there’s probably like,
eight different printer sections
on each level
of this multi-level high rise building.
Think wall to wall
stacked reams of paper, five deep.
Because they’ve overbought
all these office materials.
Anything they can purchase in bulk,
they’ve done.
-Oh, so they just want
to tap out that budget…
-Has the budget ever gone down?
Let’s just say at NIH for example,
is it up every year consistently or…
I would suspect
the answer is a continual trend.
-I don’t have that on me right now.
So mass-buying projects.
Where you can see this wherever you go,
just excess being spent on things.
Lots of employee amenities
that in my opinion were excessive.
Like a really high end gym.
A food court with
all these different options
that you might see in
a really high end museum.
-What’s the pay like?
You’re talking about different tiers
but what’s the pay like?
-This was years ago.
So it was definitely well above
minimum wage at the time
for somebody with
like entry level experience.
I would guess at that point it was 15
but that was huge bump
from minimum wage
and that was entry level first GS.
I waited out the summer
and there was an offer to stay.
Like if we could part-time.
No. No, I couldn’t do it.
It would have driven me mad.
It was against my morals
to be supporting somewhere
that was knowingly wasting my tax dollars.
I just… I couldn’t do that.
It felt wrong.
It felt to be there,
it felt wrong to the American public
-When does somebody get a pension?
Say if you stayed in that job,
how long before you get
a pension or retirement?
That’s a good question. I think it’s
10 or 15 years, is that right?
I think federal government pensions
vest around the six or seven year mark.
-Oh, that’s way lower.
This is a world
I have zero understanding of,
and DC, for most Americans,
it’s just this far off place.
You know what Capital Hill looks like
and the Mall area but that’s about it.
To understand
the chess board inner-workings,
the mechanics of how this beast operates
is really hard to understand.
And today is just a lot of talk,
a lot of overview, I have more questions
than answers.
And I feel like there’s about
six different areas you can deep dive on
of what we talked about
from HUD, to CDC to…
Yeah, can’t cover it
in a short amount of time.
-Yeah, impossible.
-I’ll just note with…
To piggy-back on what Shanna said,
I was a political appointee
with the Federal Election Commission
serving two chairmen
and on my day of orientation
I was told in training
when you go out and travel,
go to conferences,
we go to political party conventions,
make sure that you’re
maxing out your per diem.
So you get, from the tax payers,
you get a certain amount of many
you get to spend per day
and their instructions,
they were very emphatic about it,
120 a day or whatever it was at the time,
make sure you’re maxing that out
’cause you don’t get any more
and you have to return
what you haven’t spent
So go have fun, and go do…
And I stopped her ’cause I was
a political appointee.
and I said, “I’m sorry, this is contrary
to the public trust that we have
in this organization.”
“No, you should be trying to spend
the smallest amount of money
and saving tax payers money on this.”
So it’s its own bubble,
its own little silo.
It’s divorced from the fact
that there are hard working Americans
who are earning money
and losing money to these entities.
They’re divorced
from that reality in some way.
[Shanna] Thank you.
-Thank you.
[Peter] The schnitzel?
I grew up in Wisconsin, gotta do schnitzel.
All right, we have the roasted chicken
-Shanna, french fries with a fork?
-That’s right, as always.
How is everything, guys?
-Yeah, very good steak.
So just to get back to the topic…
They don’t see it as our money,
everybody around here’s money,
they see it as government money
and it’s just a free for all,
we throw it out like candy,
and that’s gross.
-You mean it doesn’t come
from the government?
-Right, it’s our money
and it’s always more. It’s never not more.
-So you’re saying taxes
aren’t going down any time soon?
-[laughs] Never.
[Peter] A-Z, lowered
its state income tax last year.
-2.5% flat tax.
You don’t see that with a government
that keeps asking for more.
Who keeps trying to extend
the reach of what they can do.
They don’t want to let go of that control.
Every dollar they get more
is another thing that they
can interact with in our lives.
The way they can exert control over
how the American population lives their
lives, how they think, how they feel.
That’s what they want.
The author C.S. Lewis
had a great quote, paraphrase,
“I would rather be harassed and bothered
by a highway barron than
by a moral busy body.”
Because the highway barron
at least knows an end to his cupidity.
He knows that his evil acts
must end at some point.
The moral busy body has no sense of that
and will keep inflicting tyranny
for your own good till complete ruin.
[Peter] All right guys,
so went over a lot today.
There’s a lot to take in,
a lot for people to think about.
I will say from my work
traveling the country
there is a bit more friction
or grumpiness let’s say,
that’s a nice way of saying it
towards Washington
and how money is being spent.
-What can people do?
So I have two things.
I fully agree with Peter’s sentiment
that a little bit of skepticism, eh?
What’s that? Asking some deep questions
and not believing that utopian reform
being sold to you is going to help,
would deeply help this country.
But that’s up to you, America.
And two, for those of us who get to work
in the area of Constitutional litigation
and I’m just privileged
and happy to be able to do that,
I’m gonna keep holding
government accountable.
I’m gonna keep shrinking
their scope of authority.
I’m gonna hold them accountable to
abuses on behalf of American tax payers.
That’s my calling in life, happy to do it.
Thank you for talking with us.
Yeah, and it’s beautiful you’re saying
the courts are holding up these days.
From your perspective.
I think they’re doing a very good job
limiting abuses and keeping them
to their constrained powers
and not everyone may like that
but if you’d like to go
amend the Constitution, if you’d like to
create a more expansive
federal government get on it, folks,
and convince your fellow Americans.
-I’m a skeptic of that proposition.
-All right.
Guys, thank you so much.
Shanna, thanks for adding in at the end.
Shanna put this together.
So you get the credit.
And thanks guys, for coming along.
Until the next one.
[jazz music playing]

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