About $16 Muffins

We try not to use this Blog as a bully pulpit. After all we are here to talk about expat living in Mexico. The fact is we are formerly from the United States. We remain citizens there.

We call Mexico home these days – not the other way around.

Some days this has more meaning than others. In yesterday’s news was a story about the U.S. Justice Departments (DOJ) mismanagement relating to ridiculous expenditures.

OK so what else is new?  But even at that this stuff just seems to be over the top.

We have not been a fan of Eric Holder, the current United States Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice. Holder was appointed by President Obama in 2009.

Holder gave a speech on race relations in February, 2009, during Black History Month, in which he called the United States “A nation of cowards” on racial issues.”

He continued, “Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we average Americans simply do not talk enough with each other about race.”

The speech caused some controversy.

Obama rebuked Holder’s comments, saying that “I think it’s fair to say that if I had been advising my Attorney General, we would have used different language”.

Indeed!

It would appear appointing a black man, the first ever U.S. Attorney General, with a chip on his shoulder might not have been the wisest move.

So on Holder’s watch in conjunction with his predecessor Michael Mukasey the Department of Justice mismanaged huge sums of tax payers’ dollars as depicted in yesterday’s story:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the U.S. government grapples to find ways to trim the bloated federal deficit, a new report suggests officials might start with cutting out $16 muffins and $10 cookies.

“We found the Department (of Justice) spent $16 on each of the 250 muffins served at an August 2009 legal conference in Washington,” said a DOJ Office of Inspector General report released on Tuesday.

The DOJ spent $121 million on conferences in fiscal 2008 and 2009, which exceeded its own spending limits and appeared to be extravagant and wasteful, according to the report that examined 10 conferences held during that period.

The review turned up the expensive muffins, which came from the Capital Hilton Hotel just blocks from the White House, as well as cookies and brownies that cost almost $10 each.

The department spent $32 per person on snacks of Cracker Jack, popcorn, and candy bars and coffee that cost $8.24 per cup at another conference, the report said.

The DOJ also spent nearly $600,000 for event planning services for five conferences, the document said.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said most of the gathering were held when there were no strict limits on food and beverage costs, adding the DOJ had taken steps since 2009 “to ensure that these problems do not occur again.”

Word of the agency’s extravagant spending drew a swift response from Capitol Hill.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee which has oversight of the Justice Department, said the report was a blueprint for the first cuts that should be made by the “super committee” searching for at least $1.2 trillion in savings.

“Sixteen dollar muffins and $600,000 for event planning services are what make Americans cynical about government and why they are demanding change,” Grassley said in a statement. “People are outraged, and rightly so.” (Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
Thomas Jefferson

 

Sixteen bucks for a muffin! We have been complaining about very large, delectable muffins from Chedraui’s bakery escalating in cost from 4 pesos to more than 6 pesos over the last few years. That is 29 cents US rising to 43 cents U.S. You might imagine how silly we feel about that.

Experience has shown that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
Thomas Jefferson

Six hundred thousand taxpayer dollars went into the planning of five DOJ conventions – just the planning! During 2008-2009 ten DOJ conferences cost $121,000,000.00.

$12,100,000.00 per conference on average; it seems the United States has truly gone mad.

But, where is the anger of the citizenry. Is this just another $700 toilet seat or expensive hammer, government waste story? Will anyone get mad after reading the Reuters article?

We who paid in social security payments our entire working life, along with companies we worked with matching those payments, are now being told the retirement money is running out. We kept our end of the bargain (forcibly – but kept). Now we are made to feel guilty for getting some of our investment back because the bean counters miscalculated or dare we suggest a lot of money controlled by the government has been mismanaged.

A deal is a deal as far as we are concerned.

When will U.S. citizens say, “Enough is enough!”

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.
Thomas Jefferson

Later we will report on the ‘free’ new license plates that we all must get for our Mexican plated cars here in Veracruz. Hang-on and Stay Tuned!

  • Fred

    You’re kidding right?  I would think you would have more important things to be upset about as a resident of the State of Veracrz.

  • blog

    I find wasting millions of dollars appalling – ignorance and apathy is how they continue to get away with it. Of course there is no shortage of thievery, mayhem and murder to divert our concerns,

  • Rckrhsn

    This is Hilton’s statement and my past history of arranging breakfast meetings, this appears to be the going rate for most hotel  “continental” buffet breakfasts, plus room rental.  http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2011/09/23/hilton-disputes-16-muffins.html

  • BobH

    You’d think that for $120k you could hire an event planner who could find cheaper muffins.

    The basic problem is that there is no incentive to save money in a government enterprise. In a private business the person who ordered $16 muffins would be at minimum reprimanded, and fired if it happened again. I’m sure no one suffered or will suffer any consequences for this.

  • Glenn

    I’d complain to my Congressperson… but I’m certain he/she really enjoys $16 muffins.

    Give the Social Security trust fund to the super rich…the money will trickle down and make everyone wealthly.   Also, the Pentagon  needs their share to support worldwide military bases and ever continuing war. 

  • blog

    In my world and most $16.00 for a muffin is ridiculous – of course that was only an example – the 600,000 spent on just planning 5 conferences is pretty much beyond even the $16 a muffin scenario.

    The only reason the Hilton can get away with those muffin prices is because of expense accounts; and most picked up by taxpayers.

  • blog

    Bob – sadly I agree. Knowing that I can right now buy 40 delicious muffins for the price of one at the Hilton still angers me.  Photo of the very muffins of which I speak here:

    http://www.vivaveracruz.com/blog/?p=1380

  • blog

    I computed one day that if the amount of money I have paid into social security was conservatively invested that it would be worth more than a million dollars right now. At the rate they are paying me social security that would cover 72.5 years of payments to me. I would be what 136 years old when that dough was exhausted – were they to not keep investing it over those years. How do they figure there wasn’t enough money paid in to cover the cost of payments?

  • Fred

    Easy to bash the government – there is some truth to it but things are not black and white. 

  • blog

    “Easy to bash the government…”
    It is easy – isn’t it. I wonder why?

    Another quote from the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States:

    “Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.”

  • Croft Randle

    “Personal Finance Experts” up here in Canada are now starting to suggest that we can no longer depend on an income for life from the Canada Pension Plan (our SS). The problem was of course that the payments we made were not put into an actual fund but were placed into general revenue. This was used for day to day government operations including the Canadian equivalent to $16 muffins. 

    We have income from more sources than the CPP so of course we will survive and will soon be enjoying some of those Chedraui muffins!

  • blog

    Ouch! Always a possibility on both sides of that upper border amigo. Looking forward to your being down here. We’ll warm up some muffins ;-)

  • Fred

    Easy to bash – it is safe to do so.

  • Fmk

    It takes all sorts of gullibility to believe the DOJ paid $16 per muffin.  But it does make a fun story.

    http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/09/great-16-dollar-muffin-myth
     

  • blog

    If we accept the explanation of lumping a number of items costs into one representative ‘Muffin Fee’ as a billing practice – well – come on! How stupid is that?  Can you imagine if I were to have a write off or hundreds of $16.00 muffins on my tax return for my company – yikes! Was Continental Breakfast too complex for the Hilton and government bookkeepers?

    Once upon a time I was the vice-president of a multimillion dollar company. The amount of time and money that was spent to accurately report to the IRS the costs and income of that company was huge. We had to value our product at various stages of development, pay taxes on all stages of inventory and report profits we hadn’t even collected etc. They examined our expenses with a magnifying glass.

    We paid independent and in-house accountants a lot of money just to find a few missing pennies on a balance sheet (do you know what one of those is?)

    The bottom line is the kind of accounting that the DOJ does would be totally unacceptable to satisfy the IRS.  I could care less how the Hilton attempts to wash away the issue. These and other points need to be answered.

    A DOJ Office of Inspector General report came up with these absurd costs – not me. If the explanation was as simple as that of the Hilton – than why are we even having this conversation?

    That report concluded, “The DOJ spent $121 million on conferences in fiscal 2008 and 2009, which exceeded its own spending limits and appeared to be extravagant and wasteful, according to the report that examined 10 conferences held during that
    period.

    Was their finding based solely on $16 muffins – no!

    “Word of the agency’s extravagant spending drew a swift response from Capitol Hill.”

    Wouldn’t Capitol Hill already be apprised of the simple answer made by the Hilton? If they did not look that far and even added fuel to this fire would not they be culprits, complicit in the stupidity of over reacting?

    If the government is allowed to slush multiple expenses into the cost of a muffin –
    well how is anyone supposed to logically follow their spending habits? We keep
    being told it is you the citizen that must care enough about your government to
    ask the right questions and demand the right answers.

    More importantly many refuse to address questions that I have asked repeatedly regarding the MUCH larger expenses like $600,000 to plan five conferences; or 12,100,000 average expenditure for 10 conferences.

    One might suggest that the muffin caper is a mere smoke screen to divert the more heinous misappropriation of funds wrapped in those huge numbers?

    Do you really think that the Hilton explanation should put this matter to rest. That the DOJ and their cronies can point fingers at the questioners calling them ridiculous
    when they supply that kind of expense accounting – IF in fact it is just a miss-titled expense; and the jury is still out on that.

    Senator Grassley said in a statement. “People are outraged, and rightly so.”
    Did he make this statement due to people simply over reacting to $16 muffins –
    I think not.

    Then might I ask why there is a Congressional inquiry on these costs if it is as simple as explaining away the muffin expense? There are tens of thousands of people looking for better answers than what the Hilton and the DOJ have supplied.

  • Fmk

     You can’t possibly be this naive about the way of Washington, can you?  “Capitol Hill” didn’t respond – Republicans who work on Capitol Hill and who may have some ulterior motive in making the Democratic attorney general look bad responded.

    I’ll concede that if the DOJ were  in fact paying $12.1 million per conference, that would be kind of outrageous.  But since the report clearly states that the $121 million was the cost of 1,832 events, not ten, (which, and feel free to check my math on this, comes out to about $66K per), I’ll put my pitchfork and torch back in the closet for now. 

    It does make for a fun story, though.  Like most myths. 

  • blog

    “You can’t possibly be this naive about the way of Washington, can you? 
    “Capitol Hill” didn’t respond – Republicans who work on Capitol Hill and
    who may have some ulterior motive in making the Democratic attorney
    general look bad responded.”

    You are pretty much splitting hairs here – and apparently like to spice up a conversation with inane accusations that I suppose are to get me excited with a comment about how unaware I might be.

    “Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as
    to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances. ”
    Thomas
    Jefferson

    I didn’t read the report. Thanks for the information of the actual number of events (seems like a lot of conferences (events). You avoided addressing my comments about the poor accounting – or did the answer to that fall under how naive I can’t be.

    I guess we can put all this off on Reuters for a sensational report of little consequence at the end of the day.

    I am going to spend my afternoon watching Puebla and Santos play futbol.

  • Fmk

    A sensational report of little consequence.  Couldn’t have said it better myself. 

  • Kelsi

    Every time I hear the words “fiscal responsibility” come out of a politicians mouth, I want to smack them.

    (Glad to see you’re posting again, Senor C … I missed ya!)

  • blog

    Transitioning from north of Rio Bravo was keeping us busy – we are glad to be back – thanks

  • Steve Cotton

    Nice post, amigo.  I have listened to all of he political spinners try to justify this little gem.  It still boils down to the same thing.  When you do not need to earn the money you spend, you will spend it wastefully.  And it is why government will never be as efficient as the private sector.  That applies to DOJ, the pentagon, social security, and health care. 

    But it is one reason I enjoy living in Mexico.  Even though the federal government is still acting as a highwayman with a large portion of my income, I can go my merry way.  Here’s the deal, though.  You need to be there to remind me that the thieves are still at work.