Federal Prosecutors Drop All Charges Against John Edwards After Spending Millions Of Taxpayer Dollars On Investigation And Botched Trial In US District Court

June 13, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Federal prosecutors dropped the remaining charges against former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Wednesday, less than two weeks after his corruption trial ended in an acquittal and mistrial.

The Justice Department had accused Edwards of using nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to keep his pregnant mistress under wraps as he mounted a second presidential bid in 2008. But after more than 50 hours of deliberation, a North Carolina jury acquitted him on one of the six counts against him and deadlocked on the other five.

Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said prosecutors respect the judgment of the jury and would not bring the case to trial again.

“We knew that this case — like all campaign finance cases — would be challenging,” Breuer said in a written statement on the decision. “But it is our duty to bring hard cases when we believe that the facts and the law support charging a candidate for high office with a crime.”

Overheard on CNN.com: ‘Being a slimy dirtbag doesn’t equal being a criminal’

Edwards’ lawyers said in a statement, “We are confident that the outcome of any new trial would have been the same.”

“While John has repeatedly admitted to his sins, he has also consistently asserted, as we demonstrated at the trial, that he did not violate any campaign law nor even imagined that any campaign laws could apply,” they said.

Edwards, 61, won a U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina in 1998. He ran for president in 2004, when he ended up as the Democrats’ nominee for vice president, and again in 2008, when he dropped out of the reace after a poor showing in the early primaries.

Jurors: Evidence elusive in Edwards case

In August 2008, he admitted to an affair with onetime campaign videographer Rielle Hunter, but denied paternity of the daughter she had given birth to six months earlier. He eventually acknowledged paternity, and after the May 31 mistrial, he talked about “my precious Quinn, who I love more than any of you can ever imagine.”

Prosecutors argued that Edwards took $925,000 from two high-powered donors to pay for Hunter’s living and medical expenses, travel and other costs to keep her out of sight while he sought the presidency — contributions that amounted to illegal, undisclosed campaign donations. Former Edwards aide Andrew Young testified that he allowed Hunter to move in with him and his wife at Edwards’ request after newspapers began looking into a possible affair within the Edwards campaign.

Edwards’ lawyers argued he was guilty of being a bad husband to his wife, Elizabeth, who died of cancer in 2010, but had committed no crime. They also told jurors that Young, the government’s star witness, used the contributions for his own gain.

Edwards charges: The rundown

“As we stated in our motions and arguments,” his lawyers said Wednesday. “It should be addressed, if at all, by the Federal Election Commission, which our evidence showed seems to have agreed with our views on the law.”

Appeared Here


US Marshals Still Burning Taxpayer Dollars In Effort To Find The Three Inmates Who Escaped From Alcatraz Prison 50 Years Ago – Publish Make-Believe Composite Photos

June 12, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – It is one of the most famous escapes in the history of U.S. prisons, and even though the case has long since gone cold, the U.S. Marshals Service continues to search for three inmates escaped from Alcatraz in 1962.

Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the only successful escape from Alcatraz. The facility was closed down in 1963 and is now a world-famous tourist attraction.

No traces were ever found of Frank Morris and brothers Clarence Anglin and John Anglin who successfully busted out of “The Rock” with a rowboat made of raincoats.
Getting off the island was one thing, but whether they made it across the difficult waters of the San Francisco Bay at night is quite another. The question has been the subject of speculation for a half century.

No trace of the three was ever found. They remain unaccounted for.

“No matter where the leads take us, or how many man hours are spent on this historic case, the Marshals Service will continue to investigate to the fullest extent possible,” said David Harlow, assistant director, U.S. Marshals Investigative Operations Division.

The U.S. Marshals on Monday released age-enhanced composites of the three men in the event that they are still alive. Frank Morris would be 85 years old, Clarence Anglin would be 81 and John Anglin would be 82.

The escape since 1962 has become the stuff of legend.

Clint Eastwood played Morris in the 1979 movie “Escape from Alcatraz.”

And Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of the Discovery Channel program “Mythbusters” determined a successful escape was certainly plausible. In 2003, they recreated the escape, right down to the raincoat rowboat and were able to navigate across the Bay from Alcatraz to Marin Island.

The U.S. Marshal Service took over the lead in the investigation from the FBI in 1979. Officials said that since that time, Since that time, countless deputy U.S. marshals have worked the case and investigated thousands of leads in almost every state in the country and a few foreign countries. The agency has also from time to time reached for through the media.

The elaborate escape plan was the result of more than one year of planning and included the design of a life raft and life preservers fashioned from more than 50 raincoats, the fabrication of lifelike dummies to ruse guards on night bed checks and enlarged ventilation holes in their cell walls, which they used spoons to create and concealed with cardboard replicas of vent covers.

On the night of June 11, 1962, the three escaped through the vents and made their way to the northeast part of the island, where they inflated the makeshift raft and three life preservers and slipped into the water.

Varied reports stated that the inmates either drowned or made their escape via nearby Angel Island.

A fourth inmate, Allen West, was involved in planning the escape, but he never made it out of his prison cell.

The known details of the escape were provided by West during several interviews.

The possibility of survival steered investigators to unusual and detailed leads to suspected whereabouts of the escapees. One example occurred in 2010, when an unmarked grave, claimed to be that of an escapee, was exhumed but failed to offer positive identification.

The Marshals intend to continue pursuing the escapees until they are either arrested, positively determined to be deceased or reach the age of 99.

“The ongoing U.S. Marshals investigation of the 1962 escape from Alcatraz federal prison serves as a warning to fugitives that regardless of time, we will continue to look for you and bring you to justice,” said U.S. Marshal Don O’Keefe of the Northern District of California

The U.S. Marshals have a long history of successfully tracking, locating and apprehending prison escapees. In August 2011, Frederick Barrett, a convicted murderer wanted in Florida for escape, was apprehended after 32 years on the lam. He was found hiding in a remote cabin in the mountains of Colorado.

Appeared Here


Obama Official At General Services Administration Tried To Keep Report On Massive Waste At Las Vegas Nevada Conference A Secret

June 6, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – A top administrator at the General Services Administration who worked on President Obama’s presidential transition team sought to keep secret the agency report that uncovered massive waste at a lavish taxpayer-funded GSA conference in Las Vegas, records show.

The 2010 conference, which cost $823,000 and featured a mind-reader, clowns, magicians and a red-carpet party, forced the ouster of several top GSA officials after the agency’s Office of Inspector General released its findings in April.

But months earlier, as word of the report was circulating among GSA officials, Ruth F. Cox, the agency’s regional administrator for several Western states, contacted a colleague in Washington asking what could be done to shield the report from public view.

“Is there something we can do to prevent another potential embarrassing episode from unfolding and keep this report from being made public?” she asked in an email obtained by The Washington Times.

Ms. Cox also expressed concern that the inspector general’s report was not entirely correct, though officials now say her comments were made before she saw the final report.

“We don’t need another $16 muffin public allegation that is eventually proven wrong and the damage is already done (and exacerbated by making a false allegation),” she wrote in an email she deemed “highly confidential.”

Ms. Cox was referring to a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which reviewed conference expenditures and later retracted one widely publicized finding concerning muffins initially reported to have cost $16 each.

Adam Elkington, an agency spokesman, said Tuesday that Ms. Cox made the comments in the email before the release of the inspector general’s report and before “having any knowledge of the findings.”

“GSA, including Ms. Cox, is appalled by the missteps highlighted in the IG’s report and have taken disciplinary action against those responsible, accepted all of the IG’s recommendations and continue to take steps to ensure this never happens again,” Mr. Elkington wrote in an email to The Times.

“We welcome oversight and will continue to be guided by the highest level of transparency. GSA’s new Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini initiated a top-to-bottom review of our agency’s operations. GSA remains committed to eliminating excessive federal spending and promoting government efficiency.”

In the email, Ms. Cox also referred to Jeffrey Neely, former acting administrator for the region, who played a key role in organizing the conference and was seen on video boasting about how much fun the federal workers were having in Las Vegas.

“I know Susan is not happy that Jeff received a relatively high performance evaluation and bonus given what transpired with the Western Regional Conference, but my concern at this point is not Jeff but the agency and the administration,” Ms. Cox wrote. “Making this public to punish Jeff with a side effect of unnecessarily exposing the agency doesn’t make sense to me.”

In her email, Ms. Cox also said she shared concerns within the agency about Mr. Neely, who was facing scrutiny because of his agency-funded trips to Hawaii and other Pacific destinations.

The correspondence reflects early recognition within GSA about the potential impact of public disclosure and embarrassment for the administration. Officials were right to be concerned. Among those forced out in the wake of the scandal were former GSA Commissioner Martha Johnson; a top adviser, Stephen Leeds; and Robert Peck, chief of GSA’s Public Buildings Service.

Appeared Here


84 GSA Employees Got $1.1 Million In Taxpayer Funded Bonuses While Already Under Investigation For Wrongdoing Or Misconduct

June 4, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – An ongoing congressional investigation reveals $1.1 million in bonuses were awarded to 84 employees of the General Services Administration since 2008 — while the inspector general was probing these individuals for wrongdoing or misconduct.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is heading the investigation, said the overall number of employees receiving bonuses while under investigation is likely to be “far higher” since not all information for current investigations is now available, according to a release from the senator.

Of the 84 GSA employees, each received an average of eight bonuses, totaling $13,000.

One program officer received more than $38,000 in bonuses since 2008, despite being reassigned for abuse of authority. Another employee, a GS-14 level supervisor, received more than $20,000 in bonuses, even after being reprimanded for interfering with an IG investigation, according to the release.

“It doesn’t pass the smell test to be awarding huge bonuses in taxpayer dollars to officials who are being investigated, or have already been found responsible, for fraud and waste of those very taxpayer dollars. That’s why I’m not letting up on our fight for accountability in government,” McCaskill said in the release. McCaskill is the chairman of the subcommittee on contracting oversight in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The GSA has no policies to freeze bonuses to employees under investigation by the IG, according to the release.

The scrutiny of GSA came most heavily starting in April after an investigation by the IG revealed the agency spent more than $823,000 on a Las Vegas conference in 2010. Among the employees investigated was Public Buildings Service Region 9 Commission Jeff Neely, who received a $9,000 bonus despite being under investigation.

In a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, McCaskill asked for information from 2008 to 2011 on bonuses awarded to all federal agencies, “including what actions OPM could take to ensure that bonuses that would otherwise be awarded to federal employees under investigation by the Inspector General are withheld pending the resolution of the investigation.”

McCaskill gave OPM a deadline of June 20 for the federal employee bonus information.

Appeared Here


Waste: State Department And US Navy Pissing Away Taxpayer Dollars Looking For Amelia Earhart Aircraft That May Or May Not Have Crashed In Pacific 75 Years Ago

June 3, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – One of the most enduring mysteries of the annals of aviation, is what happened after Miss Earhart last radioed from her Lockheed Model 10E “Electra” that she was unable to locate an airstrip for landing.

The accepted wisdom was that Earhart’s aircraft had simply run out of fuel and crashed into the ocean on July 2, 1937, as she searched for Howland Island.

Howland was the final refuelling stop before flying on to Honolulu and completing the journey by touching down in Oakland, California.

An expedition that will set sail from Hawaii on July 2, which marks the 75th anniversary of the last message by Phoenix International, the US Navy’s primary source of deep ocean search and recovery expertise, will map a former British possession that has been indentified as the most likely crash site.

A team of enthusiasts from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (Tighar) has drawn up the plans for the expedition, which is backed by the US State Department.

It will use high technology, including multi-beam sonar, to inspect a steep and craggy underwater mountainside on the western reef slope of island of Nikumaroro, a former British colony that is today part of the republic of Kiribati.

“Our objective on this expedition is to conduct a thorough search of the area we judge to be most likely to contain wreckage from the Earhart Electra,” said Tighar.

While much of the aircraft is likely to have been lost in the intervening years, researchers believe some key components – such as the Pratt & Whitney engines – could still be where they sank 75 years ago.

“Any man-made objects found will be photographed and their location carefully recorded,” the group said. “No recovery of objects will be attempted unless necessary to confirm identification.#”Should identifiable wreckage from the Electra be discovered it will be documented as thoroughly as possible in situ so that a separate expedition can be equipped with the appropriate means to recover and conserve the materials.”

If the aircraft had sufficient fuel to reach Nikumaroro, which was at the time the uninhabited British possession known as Gardner Island, it could have landed on reef flats before being washed over the ledge.

Earhart and Fred Noonan, her navigator, could have survived on the island for a time, but eventually succumbed to injury or infection, food poisoning or thirst.

The theory is supported by British colonial records in Fiji reporting the discovery of the partial skeleton of a castaway who perished shortly before the island was settled in 1938.

The bones were found in the shade of a tree in a part of the island that fits the description of the encampment that Tighar has been excavating.

The site is dotted with the remains of small fires on which meals of birds, fish, turtle and even rat were cooked.

Previous research trips have turned up parts of aluminium skin from an aircraft, plexiglass from a cockpit, a zip made in Pennsylvania in the mid-1930s, a broken pocket knife of the same brand that was listed in an inventory of Earhart’s aircraft and the remains of a 1930s woman’s compact.

Ric Gillespie, executive director of Tighar, says they still need to find incontrovertible proof that Earhart on Nikumororo – the “smoking gun.”

This expedition apparently offers the best chances of that yet, with new forensic evidence of a photo that may show part of the aircraft on the reef sufficient to convince the US government to support the project.

Appeared Here


Millions Of Tax Dollars Down The Drain In Half-Assed Investigation And Prosecution Of John Edwards – Was More About Headlines Boosting Former Prosecutor George Holding’s Run For Congress

June 2, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Does John Edwards deserve to go to prison? The jury has decided, and he’s walking.

Whatever we may think of the Edwards trial, one thing is certain: the prosecution was a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money on a non-crime. Who cares if a billionaire wants to give a multimillionaire some money to hide his mistress (who pays taxes on the gift)?

The prosecution of Edwards was never so much about Edwards as it was about George Holding.

Wait — who is George Holding? And why should we care?

After winning a recent primary, Holding is likely the next congressman in the 13th District of North Carolina. He initiated the prosecution against Edwards while he was a U.S. Attorney. But he didn’t argue the case in court. Instead, after receiving a year’s worth of headlines (and Republican praise) for charging Edwards, Holding resigned from the case to run for Congress.

Maybe Holding understood the weakness of the case, which rested upon Edwards’ failure to report the money billionaire heiress Bunny Mellon and another wealthy donor gave to him to help hide his mistress. The problem is that if Edwards had reported contributions and then used them for personal expenses, he would have been guilty of a crime, since the Federal Election Commission bars spending official campaign funds on personal expenses. Therefore, according to Holding, Edwards was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.

To prove his case, Holding had to show that Edwards knowingly broke the law. But if neglecting to report the gifts as campaign contributions constituted a crime, yet reporting such gifts as contributions would violate existing law (by implying that Edwards converted contributions to personal use), then it is impossible to prove Edwards knew he was breaking the law, which would be necessary for a conviction.

That’s not very good legal reasoning on which to rest a case — especially a case unlike any other that had been successfully tried. And since Holding had access to all the available evidence and knew that no witness and no recordings would suggest that Edwards knew he was breaking the law, it is difficult to see how Holding thought he might win, other than hoping that jurors disliked Edwards so much they would convict him.

Or maybe Holding wasn’t all that concerned with the legal reasoning. Perhaps he realized that, win or lose, he’d already gotten enough mileage from the case to realize his political ambitions. By the time he indicted Edwards, the well-connected Holding knew that the newly Republican state legislature had drawn a safe district he could win, if only he could get out of the primary. And what better way to appeal to Republican diehards than prosecuting the smarmy, liberal trial lawyer John Edwards? Holding certainly received his reward last month when he won his congressional primary.

The public generally associates politicians with the pursuit of ambition and power. Too often, investigators act from similar motives. Law enforcement officials seek to justify long, expensive investigations into high-profile targets by stretching the law to win convictions and mount the biggest scalps on their walls.

The former head of the St. Louis FBI who investigated me for a campaign finance violation years ago said of his job: “I love the chase. [It] was fantastic. It was me against them. And the smarter they were, the richer they were, the more I enjoyed catching them.”

But justice isn’t about investigators’ adrenaline rushes or personal advancement. It’s about the common good. If the central goal of prosecuting “corrupt” public figures is to remove them from public life, then the Edwards prosecution is a clear case of overkill. He is a walking punch line, unfit to run for dog catcher. Why should prosecutors spend millions of dollars and years of time targeting him with novel legal theories?

I am familiar with Edwards’ predicament. During my 2004 congressional campaign in Missouri, I approved a meeting between two aides and a man who wanted to send out a postcard highlighting my opponent’s dismal attendance record in the state House. In the immediate aftermath, our campaign denied any involvement in the mailing, and then when faced with a Federal Election Commission complaint which gave us a chance to come clean, we maintained our denial. Five years later, through an unlikely set of circumstances culminating in my best friend’s wiretap, I ended up in prison for a year.

As a current taxpayer who spent a year loading trucks at a prison warehouse, eating food for which you, dear reader, paid, I can tell you two things. First, I did not want to pay to house, feed and clothe multimillionaire lawyer John Edwards. Second, the only person in this sordid mess whom prosecutors should have considered indicting is someone who was already granted immunity. That’s right, Andrew Young, who defrauded the 99-year-old Bunny Mellon by siphoning (or, more precisely, stealing) hundreds of thousands of dollars to build his dream house.

Of course, prosecuting Young wouldn’t have gotten George Holding all the publicity that prosecuting John Edwards did, and it definitely wouldn’t have gotten him to Congress.

Appeared Here


Hope & Change: Obama Has Outspent Last Five Presidents – COMBINED

June 1, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – President Obama has shelled out more in federal spending than the five presidents that came before him.

A new chart by the Comeback America Initiative (CAI), a non-partisan group dedicated to promoting fiscal responsibility by policymakers, shows federal spending by president as a percentage of GDP, and it doesn’t reflect well on Obama.

“There has been a dramatic increase in spending under the Obama administration,” David Walker, Founder and CEO of CAI, told Whispers. “Most of it is attributable to year one of his presidency and the stimulus… but President Obama has continued to take spending to a new level.”

Federal spending was close to 20 percent under the Carter administration, dropped to 18 percent under Clinton, and is currently at an incredible 24 percent of GDP. According to the Congressional Budget Office, federal spending may hover around 22 percent for the next decade.

Federal spending is also higher this year than any year since 1949. The last time spending was higher—in 1946, it was 24.8—the country was just coming down from the exorbitant rates of spending during World War II.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would cut federal spending down to just 17 percent of GDP.

President Obama is facing some heat over the economy Friday after a depressing job report showed the jobless rate climbed to 8.2 percent in May.

Appeared Here


US Justice Department Pissed Away Taxpayer Dollars Investigating And Prosecuting Edwards Case – Jury Acquitted On One Charge, Hung On Remaining Five

June 1, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC — A knowledgeable law enforcement official said Thursday it is unlikely that the Justice Department will retry John Edwards.

The official made the comment after the campaign finance fraud case ended in a mistrial.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity about an issue that will undergo much review inside the government in the coming days.

The case ended with the jury unable to decide whether Edwards used money from two wealthy campaign donors to hide his pregnant mistress while he ran for president and his wife was dying of cancer.

The case was considered by some legal experts as difficult to prosecute, revolving as it did around the arcane world of campaign finance law. Edwards’ attorneys said prosecutors didn’t prove that Edwards knew that taking the money violated campaign finance law.

Jurors acquitted Edwards on one charge and deadlocked on the other five.

Appeared Here


After Tornado Tuscaloosa Alabama Is Pissing Away Federal Disaster Funding On Streets, Low Income Housing, And 6 Mile Walking Trail – $3 Million of $16.6 Million Would Go To Loan Programs For Homeowners And Businesses Displaced By Storm

May 28, 2012

TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA – City officials in Tuscaloosa are making plans for how to spend $16.6 million in federal disaster relief funding it’s getting in the wake of the deadly tornado that struck in April 2011.

The Tuscaloosa News reports the City Council is scheduled to vote next week on eight projects proposed to receive the money.

Several council members have endorsed Mayor Walt Maddox’s plan to put $11.9 million into improving streets and low-income housing projects. The mayor’s plan also includes projects to help development of a City Walk recreational trail that would trace the tornado’s 5.9-mile path of destruction.

Another $3 million would go to loan programs for homeowners and business owners displaced by the storm.

Appeared Here


Arizona Taxpayers Spend $125 Million Each Year On Students Who Don’t Exist

May 27, 2012

ARIZONA – Taxpayers in Arizona spend $125 million each school year funding more than 13,000 students who don’t exist at public schools.

That’s because the state school system uses an antique budget approach that causes taxpayers to overpay, says a new report, “Ghost Busters: How to Save $125 Million a Year in Arizona’s Education Budget,” by Goldwater Institute education director Jonathan Butcher.

The system pays for some students twice, Butcher says.

Here’s how it happens.

Arizona schools are funded based on the number of students who attend each school in the prior school year, Butcher’s report says. However, when a student transfers out of one school and into another, the school getting the new student can apply for funding for that student in the middle of the year, he says.

But the schools don’t talk to each other, nor share funds, nor computer systems, it seems. So that results in the two schools double filing for — and getting double the taxpayer money for — the same student. This budget snafu costs taxpayers $125 million each school year, according to Butcher’s estimates.

Arizona taxpayers “are literally throwing $125 million school funding dollars into a black hole,” says Butcher in a statement. “More money would be available for all schools if we weren’t paying for ‘ghosts.’”

The phantom students are doubly painful, because “two years ago, Arizona voters passed a temporary sales tax increase to protect schools from budget cuts during the recession,” his report notes.

Taxpayers would not have been hit with higher sales taxes if the state officials would do their jobs and get on the stick.

“Do we really need to raise taxes on families when we are paying for thousands of empty desks?” asks Butcher. “We should re-direct the money that is double-paying and fill whatever gap schools may have.”

But Arizona taxpayers may get a crack at this issue again in the coming November ballots, since this tax is scheduled to expire in 2013, he notes.

Butcher also says there’s an easy fix to the problem.

Instead of being lazy and funding schools based on the prior year’s enrollment figures, Butcher suggests that “school funding should be based on current enrollment, he says, given that Arizona’s 524 charter schools are already funded this way.

“We already have a model for how this funding structure would work. We do it like this for charter schools,” Butcher says in his statement. “They are funded on current student counts and adjust according to the increases and decreases in their student populations. All we’re asking is that all schools be funded like charter schools.”

This simple fix, Butcher adds, would save taxpayers millions each year.

Appeared Here


Pending Fiscal Crisis – Tax Increases And Spending Cuts On The Near Horizon – Congress To Decide How US Can Best Continue Spending Money It Doesn’t Have

May 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – For Congress, the outlines of the pending fiscal crisis are clear: Don’t do a thing, and watch the economy slip into a double-dip recession early next year. Or cancel the looming tax increases and spending cuts, watch the deficit rise, and push the government ever closer to a European-style debt crisis.

That decision was put in stark terms Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office, which in a new analysis said the economy will plunge into a recession early next year if Congress lets taxes rise and spending be cut, as called for under the law.

But if Congress changes the law to keep taxes low and spending high, it could add more than half a trillion dollars to the deficit in 2013, marking a fifth straight year of trillion-dollar deficits and risking the patience of the country’s creditors.

The CBO numbers come just as the debate is heating up on Capitol Hill over how to handle the looming “fiscal cliff,” which Congress created by continually pushing off tough decisions on both taxes and spending.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, signaled Tuesday that he will allow the automatic spending cuts called for in last year’s debt deal to go into effect — culling billions of dollars from defense and domestic spending — unless Republicans agree to allow taxes to increase on at least some taxpayers.

“If Republicans want to walk away from the bipartisan spending cuts agreed to last August, they will have to work with Democrats to replace them with a balanced deficit-reduction package that asks millionaires to pay their fair share,” Mr. Reid said.

Republicans remain adamant that the lower income- and investment-tax rates passed in 2001 and 2003 under President Bush, and extended in 2010 under President Obama, must be extended again.

“No economy can sustain such a hit without being hurled into recession,” said Sen Orrin G. Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax policy.

One thing both sides say they agree on, however, is the need to act now.

Last week, House Speaker John A. Boehner kicked off the conversation, drawing a line in the sand in saying that he won’t allow another increase in the federal government’s debt ceiling unless it’s matched dollar-for-dollar with future spending cuts — just as the 2011 debt deal was.

Mr. Boehner also signaled he was open to ending some special tax breaks, as long as the money was used to bring down tax rates for everyone. He acknowledged there would be some who would pay more and some who would pay less.

But Democrats said much of the extra money the government would generate by closing those loopholes should go to funding the promises already made on spending, such as Social Security, Medicare and regular domestic spending.

The government was projected to see a large surplus at the end of the Clinton administration, but several economic downturns, two wars, several rounds of tax cuts and trillions of dollars in new domestic spending erased the surplus and have left the government deeply in debt: $15.715 trillion as of Monday.

And for the past three years, as political gridlock has become the rule in Washington, lawmakers have put off decisions on cutting spending or raising taxes, leaving everything to bite at the beginning of 2013.

The list of expiring laws reads like a taxpayer’s worst nightmare: The alternative minimum tax would bite ever deeper, last year’s 2-percentage-point payroll-tax cut would disappear, business-investing tax breaks would end, and almost all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts would expire. Meanwhile, some tax increases from Mr. Obama’s health care law are slated to begin biting in January.

Appeared Here


Berkeley California Police Chief Michael Meehan And As Many As 10 Police Officer Searched For Chief’s Son’s Stolen iPhone

May 23, 2012

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA – Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan, already under fire for sending an officer to a reporter’s house after midnight, ordered police – some on overtime – to look for his teenage son’s stolen cell phone in Oakland, authorities said Monday.

Officers did not file a police report about the January incident, “an oversight that came to our attention when researching your questions,” said police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, a department spokeswoman.

On Jan. 11, Meehan’s son reported that somebody stole his iPhone from his locker at Berkeley High School. The phone was equipped with tracking software. The chief showed his own phone to the property crimes sergeant, who deployed his team and drug task force officers to look for the missing phone, Kusmiss said.

The signal stopped updating the phone’s position near 55th Street and San Pablo in North Oakland. The phone wasn’t found.

“It is common for BPD officers to actively investigate an in-progress tracking signal from a stolen electronic device,” Kusmiss said.

But many officers have been grumbling about the incident, and a source said Meehan himself took part in the search, which at its height involved as many as 10 officers. Kusmiss said four detectives were paid overtime for two hours each.

Meehan has declined to comment on the incident.

The chief has been embroiled in a controversy for sending Kusmiss to a reporter’s home after midnight in March to press for changes in a story about the Feb. 18 bludgeoning death of a Berkeley hills resident.

Meehan is being investigated by a San Francisco law firm at a cost to Berkeley of up to $25,000. The city is also paying up to an additional $24,000 to a public relations firm to review how the police handle media relations.

Appeared Here


Lawmakers Look Into 9th Federal Circuit Court Of Appeals Plan For $1 Million Maui Hawaii Getaway At Taxpayer Expense

May 21, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – On the heels of the scandal surrounding one government agency’s lavish Las Vegas conference, federal judges in the western U.S. circuit are catching flak from Congress for a planned Maui getaway that could cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

The Maui meet-up is scheduled for August under the banner of the 2012 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, and will include judges, attorneys, staff and “special guests” from various federal courts spread across nine western states — including judges on the California-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While in Hawaii, the guests are scheduled to stay in the upscale Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. And they’ll have the chance to kick back with an array of recreational activities — sport fishing, golf, paddle-board lessons, yoga, Zumba, even a floral design workshop.

The official website for the conference stresses that “government funds are not used for any recreational or sporting activities.”

But Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in a letter to Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, called the activities “unrelated to the business of the court” and questioned whether the Ninth Circuit really needed to ship everyone out to the islands — a trip that incurs substantial costs in travel and lodging alone.

“The programs read more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice,” they wrote. “We are concerned about the overall cost of this conference and do not believe that discussions about the administration of justice would be less successful were they held somewhere other than a spa and resort in Hawaii.”

A statement from the senators estimated the trip could cost more than $1 million — pegging the cost of accommodations alone at more than $500,000. That factors in room rates of between $230 and $250 per night for four nights.

The government also provides a per diem — according to the conference website, this per diem starts at a base level of $289.

The hotel itself is situated on Kaanapali Beach, in the northwestern corner of the island on the outskirts of the island’s lush rainforests. The resort features a full-service spa, a salon, 1,800 feet of beachfront property, two pools with waterfalls, a rope bridge and an outdoor whirlpool.

The GOP senators, in their letter, fired off a slew of questions for the Ninth Circuit about the cost of past conventions and the rationale for the upcoming one. They referenced the scandal over the General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas, which cost taxpayers more than $800,000.

“Technology is so advanced that people are earning college degrees online and soldiers serving halfway across the world use Skype with their families at home,” Grassley said in a statement.

“Likewise, a judicial circuit court should be capable of using technology to share information without requiring a trip to an island paradise. It’s especially tone-deaf to plan a pricey conference after the GSA debacle. The taxpayers can’t sustain this kind of spending, and they shouldn’t have to. The court should re-examine whether this is the best use of tax dollars.”

A representative with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has not returned a request for comment.

Appeared Here


Judges, Lawyers, And Staff From Ninth Federal Circuit Take Hawaii Vacation At Taxpayer Expense – Over A Million Dollars Down The Drain

May 20, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, federal district and bankruptcy courts in nine Western states and two Pacific island territories, along with lawyers practicing in those courts, and court staff, will gather at the luxurious Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa from August 13 – 16, 2012 in what looks like a less than valiant attempt to ensure American justice is being served…at a cost to taxpayers of approximately one million dollars.

From tennis courts to the caddy shack and luau experience, justice will be served in a manner many Americans never get to experience. Breitbart News has reviewed a letter from the offices of the Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions, and the offices of Senator Chuck Grassley, the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with several detailed questions they want answered by the Ninth District.

The letter cites the 2010 version of the Ninth Circuit’s annual judicial conference that cost taxpayers over $657,000 in travel costs alone, along with $860,000 in combined travel costs for the Ninth Circuit’s 2008 and 2009 annual conferences in Monterey, California and Sun Valley, Idaho, respectively. It also provides evidence of the Ninth Circuit’s awareness of the Government’s budget challenges in the face of a still suffering Obama economy, going on to challenge why the Ninth Circuit seems determined to go on spending large amounts of money on plush conferences, when a more prudent approach could provide the same value for professional purposes.

The Senate’s latest effort doesn’t appear to be just a bit of politically motivated PR of some form. The Ninth District is considered by many to be the most liberal of all U.S. Court Districts, with 64% of sitting judges having been appointed by Democrats–the highest of all the districts. Many also consider the district as having the highest rate of being overturned by the Supreme Court. Research by Breitbart News suggests other districts are making efforts to cut back, while the Ninth District appears to have maintained a Party on, dude! attitude when it comes to putting on its judicial conferences.

As in past years, the Ninth District seems content to leave taxpayers on the hook for whisking many judges and aligned judicial professionals off to an exclusive destination, so that they might also enjoy “yoga, surfing lessons, stand up paddle board lessons, Zumba (a Latin-inspired dance program), a tennis tournament, a day trip and tour of Upcountry Maui, a Gemini Catamaran snorkle trip, and an activity called ‘The Aloha Experience.'”

That list from the Senate letter appears to have been taken directly from a flashy webpage that functions as a brochure of sorts for the expedition. All of the activities would be subsidized, or paid for by tax payers to some extent, despite a claim at bottom that “Government funds are not used for any sporting or recreational activities”.

What happens in Maui may stay in Maui, but one still has to get there and back, while salaries also have to be taken into account. That was pointed out in a previous report on the Ninth Circuit’s 2011 conference by another news outlet. In 2011, they claimed, “a minimum of $700,000 will be spent on salaries of the 267 judges in attendance, which range from $164,000 to $223,500” for last year’s event. They also reported that each judge was eligible for a $391 per day stipend for hotel and food costs, that could total $417,600 over last year’s four day Ninth Circuit conference.

Meanwhile, independent research by Breitbart News suggests some, if not all other districts, are taking a more prudent, responsible approach in hosting their annual conferences this year. The Eighth Circuit seems to be taking a more modest approach with a three day event, if this is representative: “The judges of the Eighth Circuit invite you to join them August 8 – 10, 2012, at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown for the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference.”

The Seventh Circuit appears to team up with the District’s Bar Association for a 3 day conference in Chicago, at first glance, at least appearing to be far more down to business oriented. The main site for the Sixth District’s 2012 annual conference is here. It lists a number of what it calls “social” events in this linkable document, and the Sixth Circuit doesn’t appear to have the fancy website, though it looks inviting enough, without going to the length, or approach of the Ninth District, relying instead on typed documents in pdf form to present relevant information.

While deadline prevented Breitbart News from doing an exhaustive analysis of all the districts, there does appear to be a glaring contrast between the Ninth Circuit’s approach and that of many other districts, as pointed out in an August 2011 write up by U-T San Diego, done while the Ninth Circuit was presumeably educating, as well as entertaining and serving justice and itself in grand style–some part of it at taxpayer expense–at the La Costa Resort & Spa with “400 lush garden acres near the beach in Carlsbad, CA–but miles away from the pressures of the world” according to this report.

CARLSBAD — Hundreds of federal judges from nine western states are gathering at the La Costa Resort & Spa this week for the annual 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ Judicial Conference.

The event is costing $225,000 to put on — funded with $50,000 of taxpayer money and $175,000 in payments from attorneys who are charged to attend.

In addition, The Watchdog estimates a minimum of $700,000 will be spent on salaries of the 267 judges in attendance, which range from $164,000 to $223,500.

A conference session Wednesday afternoon highlighted the impact of judiciary budget cuts.

While federal law permits the conference as a means for improving the justice system, some circuits have started canceling or curtailing the conferences, citing budget woes.

Three of the 12 federal court circuits — the ones in New England, the Rocky Mountain states and some mid-Atlantic states — have canceled their next judicial conference, The Watchdog found in a survey.

Others aim to keep costs low by holding conferences at lower cost venues. For the Washington D.C. Circuit, that means Farmington, Penn., where they can stay in $110 per night accommodations.

They may not always get the law right, given what many view as the Ninth Circuit’s high rate of being overturned, but it appears as though they can do a mean “Zumba” and have some darned good tans, while not exactly starving themselves as many Americans continue to look for work in President Obama’s down economy.

In background discussions for this report, the offices of Senators Sessions and Grassley seemed determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on in the Ninth Circuit in this regard. No doubt conservative media and new media outlets will be spanking the bottoms of some mostly liberal judges on conservative blogs and other venues, perhaps as they should, while this story unfolds this week.

Appeared Here


Two Week Investigation And Raid By Reedsburg Wisconsin Police Yields 7 Grams Of Marijuana

May 19, 2012

REEDSBURG, WISCONSIN – A Reedsburg man was arrested Thursday on drug charges, after marijuana and paraphernalia allegedly was found in his home.

Richard McCabe, 46, was tentatively charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to a Reedsburg Police news release.

Officers executed a search warrant at his home on Lucky Street in Reedsburg at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, after conducting a two-week investigation.

Alleged items found were a quarter-ounce of marijuana and materials used to weigh, package and smoke narcotics, the release said.

Appeared Here


Former Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri Pissed Away $75 Million In Taxpayer Funds On Video Game Venture That Included Baseball Pitcher Who Liked Video Games But Had Never Made One

May 18, 2012

RHODE ISLAND – In the final months of two mostly unmemorable terms in office, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri boasted about his little state’s big splash – stealing former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and his nascent video game company from Massachusetts.

“This is a risk worth taking,’’ said Carcieri, a Republican, announcing the 2010 deal that lured Schilling’s company, 38 Studios, to Providence, and put Rhode Island taxpayers on the hook for up to $75 million in guaranteed loans to an athlete who liked video games but had never developed one.

“I think the governor had stars in his eyes, the whole idea of playing ball with a baseball player intrigued him and others,’’ said Republican state Representative Robert Watson, former Rhode Island House minority leader. “And I think they got blinded by that celebrity.’’

What Carcieri and supporters saw as the seed of a glittering new business sector for Providence, which has struggled for decades to replace jobs lost with the decline of its jewelry industry, now seems to be crashing down.

After missing a $1.1 million payment May 1 and a personal plea from Schilling for more public assistance this week, 38 Studios has said it does not not have enough money to pay its employees. On Wednesday, the state economic development official who oversaw the loan guarantees resigned abruptly. In a bizarre twist, at one point Thursday, company representatives hand-delivered a check to the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, apparently to cover the late $1.1 million payment, but then later said the company had insufficient funds to cover it.

The precise cause of 38 Studios’ current trouble is unclear; its latest negotiations with the economic development agency are confidential. But what is clear is that Schilling steered the company through a feverish hiring spree and into a high pay-off – but high-risk – realm of the gaming industry that requires enormous start-up money.

“It’s a vibrant market, but it’s a fairly risky market,’’ said Barry Gilbert, vice president of Strategy Analytics, a Newton consulting firm that advised the Rhode Island agency during its negotiations with 38 Studios. “To be successful in the space requires superb timing, superb management, superb talent, and a good dose of luck.’’

The economic development agency’s board is scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss any action the state could take to protect its investment.

In the beginning, Schilling’s company was aimed at Massachusetts, and his star power fueled it. He founded it on Aug. 28, 2006, as Green Monster Games LLC, a reference to the landmark left-field wall in Fenway Park, where Schilling became a legend after the 2004 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. He later changed the name to 38 Studios LLC, a reference to his Red Sox jersey number. The company’s original office was in Maynard.

Schilling was not chief executive of the company. His title was founder, chairman, and executive visionary.

He had massive ambitions. The company promised each of its original 37 employees a bonus of $1 million if 38 Studios reached $1 billion in value, a huge stretch for a start-up. By comparison, Warner Bros. agreed to pay as much as $160 million for Turbine Inc., one of the Boston area’s largest established video game companies.

Schilling has long been interested in gaming. As a baseball player, he collaborated on “massively multiplayer online’’ games – called MMOs – with Sony Online Entertainment. His office in Maynard was filled with decorative swords, a sign of the fantasy world his new company planned to create. From its infancy, 38 Studios imagined it would elbow into a multibillion-dollar market filled with games such as Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft, which boasts millions of fans.

MMOs are hugely elaborate and expensive, with the potential to become either blockbusters or giant busts, analysts say.

Because the games are so expensive to produce, strong funding is critical. “It does take hugely deep pockets,’’ said Gilbert, the consultant. Schilling claimed he personally invested as much as $30 million in the venture. Schilling also personally guaranteed a $2.5 million line of credit that 38 Studios took out in 2010, which the company repaid with a portion of the proceeds it received from Rhode Island.

Schilling had originally hoped to launch the game’s first product in 2010. But he immediately hit trouble raising money. He shocked venture capitalists with an audacious pitch for $48 million – far more than gaming companies typically receive in an initial round of funding. In addition, Schilling was reportedly reluctant to give up much stock in exchange for funding. Flybridge Capital Partners and several other Boston area firms passed on 38 Studios.

“More than one VC who has met Schilling has come away with the impression that an investment would require quite a bit of ‘babysitting,’ ’’ noted a trade publication, Private Equity Week, at the time.

Schilling estimated he might need more than $100 million to complete the multiplayer game, code-named Copernicus.

In March 2010, Schilling finally found his cash cow. After Schilling met Carcieri at a fund-raiser, state officials began quietly talking to Schilling about relocating 38 Studios to Rhode Island.

In April, Democratic leadership in the Rhode Island House brought forth a supplemental budget that included $125 million in loan guarantees for job creation, Watson said.

“I had heard rumors that both the governor and House leadership were desperate to cut a deal with Schilling,’’ Watson said. “Nobody was admitting to anything at the time. Frankly, Keith Stokes [director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp.] and Governor Carcieri’s office were full of obfuscation, camouflage, and possibly outright lies.’’ Watson said he opposed the program as “a scandal waiting to happen.’’

When the proposal came back for more debate in May, Representative Laurence Ehrhardt, a North Kingstown Republican, was ready with an amendment that would cap at $10 million the loan guarantee available to any one company. Loan guarantees would mean the state would be obligated to pay if the company defaults.

As debate began on the House floor, Ehrhardt got a note that someone wanted to see him in the hall, he said. It was Stokes, the economic development director.

“He had learned of my amendment and made a personal request that I not submit it,’’ said Ehrhardt. Stokes never mentioned Schilling, suggesting only to Ehrhardt that the cap would “cause some difficulties with some negotiations they were having. But nothing more specific then that.’’

Under the terms of the loan, 38 Studios must pay $5.3 million in interest this year, and $12.7 million in interest and principal every year from 2013 to 2020.

Schilling’s company released its first effort earlier this year, a role-playing video game called Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It was well-reviewed and has sold about 1 million copies at about $60 each, according to market research company VGChartz.

Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, criticized the deal with 38 Studios as a candidate in 2010. He has been cool to Schilling’s request for more public assistance, though Chafee has said it is in the state’s interest to find a way to save the company.

Other opponents blasted the deal on Thursday, and warned against any more taxpayer dollars for Schilling’s company.

“We got hoodwinked; we got played,’’ Watson said. “How many millions of dollars does Curt Schilling have? He can’t write a check? It’s Rhode Island that is supposed to provide the money? I think not.’’

Stokes, who resigned late Wednesday, had little to say about the unraveling deal with Schilling, insisting the economic development agency’s negotiations with the company remain confidential. He would not directly address whether the agency gave proper oversight to the state’s investment in 38 Studios.

“I really can’t comment on the nature of the transaction,’’ he said. “I can give you my favorite William Faulkner quote, which is: ‘All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection.’’’

Appeared Here


Federal Government Handed Out Nearly A Half Billion Dollars In Bonuses Last Year

May 17, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The federal government paid at least $439 million in employee bonuses last year, down $43 million since new austerity restrictions were announced.

The largest merit awards went to senior executives in Washington and air traffic controllers, an Asbury Park Press investigation found. The highest award, $62,895, went to 16 employees from agriculture to NASA.

The $439 million in bonuses may be a staggering amount — enough to buy the former New Jersey Nets, valued at about $357 million by Forbes magazine — but it represents just 0.4 percent of the $105 billion in salaries for most of the government’s civilian employees. In 2010, at least $482 million was paid in bonuses, according to federal data.

“This is the same president that criticized the banks for distributing bonuses when they were under — some of them involuntarily — government support,” said Grant Cardone, of Los Angeles, a regular commentator for Fox Business News. “Federal employees are already overpaid and coddled with pensions and a variety of benefits…. How many roads could have been fixed or people put to work with this money?”

Bonuses have long been part of the federal pay structure as a way to motivate employees and to reward good work, government labor experts have said.

Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for the Office of Budget and Management, said “the Administration eliminated bonuses for all political appointees, directed agencies to adopt more rigorous personnel management processes, and set a cap to reduce spending on awards for career staff, saving taxpayers an estimated $200 million this year alone.”

The caps and freezes will “save taxpayers over $3 billion by the end of this year and more than $60 billion across the next decade,” she said.

Appeared Here


West Virginia Pissed Away $24 Million In Stimulus Funds Purchasing 1,064 High Power Cisco Routers For Small Libraries, Schools, And Health Centers – Each Designed For 10’s Of Thousands Of Users, Some Serve Just A Single Computer

May 16, 2012

CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA – Nobody told Hurricane librarian Rebecca Elliot that the $22,600 Internet router in the branch library’s storage closet was powerful enough to serve an entire college campus.

Nobody told Elliot how much the router cost or who paid for it. Workers just showed up and installed the device. They left behind no instructions, no user manual.

The high-end router serves four public computer terminals at the small library in Putnam County.

“I don’t know much about those kinds of things,” Elliot said last week, before politely leaving to help an elderly patron select books. “I just work here.”

The state of West Virginia is using $24 million in federal economic stimulus money to put high-powered Internet computer routers in small libraries, elementary schools and health clinics, even though the pricey equipment is designed to serve major research universities, medical centers and large corporations, a Gazette-Mail investigation has found.

The state purchased 1,064 routers two years ago, after receiving a $126 million federal stimulus grant to expand high-speed Internet across West Virginia.

The Cisco 3945 series routers, which cost $22,600 each, are built to serve “tens of thousands” of users or device connections, according to a Cisco sales agent. The routers are designed to serve a minimum of 500 users.

Yet state broadband project officials directed the installation of the stimulus-funded Cisco routers in West Virginia schools with fewer than a dozen computers and libraries that have only a single terminal for patrons.

“The routers have a lot of power,” said Karen Goff, executive secretary of the West Virginia Library Commission. “Because the routers are so big, our tech guys had to build shelves for them. The libraries had no other place to put them.”

Morgantown-based WVNET, the state government Internet services agency, uses six Cisco routers with similar capacity to serve all state agencies and public universities.

West Virginia Homeland Security chief Jimmy Gianato, who’s leading the state broadband project, defended the $24 million router purchase last week, saying the devices “could meet many different needs and be used for multiple applications.”

“Our main concerns were to not have something that would become obsolete in a couple of years,” Gianato said. “Looking at how technology evolves, we wanted something that was scalable, expandable and viable, five to 10 years out. We wanted to make sure every place had the same opportunity across the state.”

‘Grossly oversized’

In July 2010, a West Virginia Office of Technology administrator warned that the Cisco 3945 series routers “may be grossly oversized,” according to an email obtained by the Gazette-Mail.

The administrator asked state officials to postpone plans to spend $24 million on the routers so he would have time to evaluate the proposed purchase.

Five days later, state officials signed the $24 million contract with Verizon Network Integration to buy the Cisco routers.

Verizon delivered an additional 100 routers to the state for free. West Virginia officials never asked for the additional equipment — valued at more than $2.26 million.

Verizon spokesman Keith Irland said the company simply responded to router specifications detailed in the state’s bid posting.

“They specified the equipment they wanted,” Irland said. “That’s what they requested, that’s what we bid on. We had the lowest price, and we won the bid for the equipment and related maintenance.”

The Gazette-Mail contacted two Cisco sales agents last week, asking whether the 3945 series routers were appropriate for schools and libraries.

“The 3945 is our router solution for campus and large enterprises, so this is overkill for your network,” a Cisco representative responded.

The sales agents recommended a smaller router — with a list price of $487.

State Department of Education officials questioned the size of the routers before Gianato and the Office of Technology executed the $24 million purchase order.

It didn’t make sense to buy the same size routers for a 1,800-student high school and a 100-student elementary school, according to administrators in the Department of Education’s technology division. The state is distributing 471 of the high-priced routers to schools.

“The WVDE asked if the size of the routers could vary based on the needs of a school,” said Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the Department of Education. “At that time, it is our understanding that, for consistency and future expansion, the plan was to buy all the same size.”

Gianato said putting the same size router in every school was about “equal opportunity.”

“We wanted to make sure a student in McDowell County had the same opportunities as a student in Kanawha County or anywhere else,” he said. “A student in a school of 200 students should have the same opportunity as a student in a school with 2,000 students.”

John Dunlap, operations director at the state Office of Technology, had similar concerns over the size of the routers.

“The Office of Technology is concerned that this equipment may be grossly oversized for several of the facilities in which it is currently slated to be installed,” Dunlap wrote in a July 12, 2010, email to Gianato. “As a result, the Office of Technology would like to evaluate these and make recommendations to deploy the 3,900 series router where it may be better utilized for this project.”

Last week, the Gazette-Mail asked Dunlap to explain his email. He referred questions to Gianato.

Gianato acknowledged that he didn’t heed Dunlap’s advice or wait for an evaluation.

“The routers already had been bid out,” Gianato said. “I think John was looking at our needs now, not looking at our needs into the future.”

Appeared Here


Obama Administration Is Pissing Away $8 BILLION In Taxpayer Cash On Experimental Program That Investigators Say In Unlikely To Produce Useful Results

April 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC — Medicare is wasting more than $8 billion on an experimental program that rewards providers of mediocre health care and is unlikely to produce useful results, federal investigators say in a new report.

The report, to be issued Monday by the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, urges the Obama administration to cancel the program, which pays bonuses to health insurance companies caring for millions of Medicare beneficiaries.

Administration officials, however, defended the project and said they would not cancel it because it could improve the quality of care for older Americans.

In the 2010 health care law, Congress cut Medicare payments to managed care plans, known as Medicare Advantage, and authorized bonus payments to those that provide high-quality care. Investigators found that most of the money paid under the demonstration program went to “average-performing plans” rated lower than the benchmarks set by Congress.

The report said the project would cost $8.3 billion over 10 years, with 80 percent of the cost occurring in the first three years.

Federal investigators are trying to determine whether Medicare officials had the legal authority to make the changes.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, and Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the report suggested that Medicare officials had abused their authority.

In a statement, Mr. Hatch and Mr. Camp said they were concerned that the government might be “using taxpayer dollars for political purposes, to mask the impact on beneficiaries of cuts in the Medicare Advantage program.” Administration officials denied that.

A separate federal panel, the independent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, also criticized the project, saying it increases “spending at a time when Medicare already faces serious problems with cost control and long-term financing.”

The panel denounced Medicare’s “overly broad use of demonstration authority” and said “limited Medicare dollars should go to truly high-performing plans.” It said “the extension of quality bonuses to the vast majority of plans is likely to result in far greater program costs than the reward system enacted” by Congress, and that by spreading the rewards so broadly, “the demonstration lessens the incentive to achieve the highest level of performance.”

The G.A.O. said the project “dwarfs all other Medicare demonstrations” in its impact on the budget, but is so poorly designed that researchers could not tell whether the bonus payments led to improved care. As a result, it said, it is unlikely to “produce meaningful results.” Insurers can use the bonuses to offer extra benefits, like vision and dental care, or to lower premiums.

More than 12 million people are in Medicare Advantage plans. About one-third of them are in plans that would receive bonuses under the 2010 law. By contrast, under the demonstration program, 90 percent are in plans eligible for bonuses, the report said.

The administration said that by offering bigger bonuses to more health plans, it hoped to encourage larger, more rapid improvements in care. “All Medicare Advantage plans will be part of the demonstration,” a federal health official told James C. Cosgrove, the accountability office’s director of health care studies.

The Medicare commission said “demonstration authority is intended for smaller-scale projects” that test innovations in the way health care is financed and delivered.

The health care law cut payments to private Medicare Advantage plans after many studies found that they were being overpaid. President Obama said the private plans were getting “unwarranted subsidies” that “pad their profits but don’t improve the care of seniors.”

The commission said payments to private plans, including the bonuses, were still about 7 percent higher than what the government would pay for similar beneficiaries in the traditional Medicare program.
Appeared Here


Obama’s $8,000,000,000.00 HHS Slush Fund To Mask Debilitating Effects Of ObamaCare On Seniors In Key Markets Long Enough For His Re-Election Attempt

April 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Call it President Obama’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President — a political slush fund at the Health and Human Services Department.

Only this isn’t some little fund from shadowy private sources; this is taxpayer money, redirected to help Obama win another term. A massive amount of it, too — $8.3 billion. Yes, that’s billion, with a B.

Here is how it works.

The most oppressive aspects of the ObamaCare law don’t kick in until after the 2012 election, when the president will no longer be answerable to voters. More “flexibility,” he recently explained to the Russians.

But certain voters would surely notice one highly painful part of the law before then — namely, the way it guts the popular Medicare Advantage program.

For years, 12 million seniors have relied on these policies, a more market-oriented alternative to traditional Medicare, without the aggravating gaps in coverage.

But as part of its hundreds of billions in Medicare cuts, the Obama one-size-fits-all plan slashes reimbursement rates for Medicare Advantage starting next year — herding many seniors back into the government-run program.

Under federal “open-enrollment” guidelines, seniors must pick their Medicare coverage program for next year by the end of this year — which means they should be finding out before Election Day.

Nothing is more politically volatile than monkeying with the health insurance of seniors, who aren’t too keen on confusing upheavals in their health care and are the most diligent voters in the land. This could make the Tea Party look like a tea party.

Making matters even more politically dangerous for Obama is that open enrollment begins Oct. 15, less than three weeks before voters go to the polls.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger electoral disaster for a president than seniors in crucial states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio discovering that he’s taken away their beloved Medicare Advantage just weeks before an election.

This political ticking time bomb could become the biggest “October Surprise” in US political history.

But the administration’s devised a way to postpone the pain one more year, getting Obama past his last election; it plans to spend $8 billion to temporarily restore Medicare Advantage funds so that seniors in key markets don’t lose their trusted insurance program in the middle of Obama’s re-election bid.

The money is to come from funds that Health and Human Services is allowed to use for “demonstration projects.” But to make it legal, HHS has to pretend that it’s doing an “experiment” to study the effect of this money on the insurance market.

That is, to “study” what happens when the government doesn’t change anything but merely continues a program that’s been going on for years.

Obama can temporarily prop up Medicare Advantage long enough to get re-elected by exploiting an obscure bit of federal law. Under a 1967 statute, the HHS secretary can spend money without specific approval by Congress on “experiments” directly aimed at “increasing the efficiency and economy of health services.”

Past demonstration projects have studied new medical techniques or strategies aimed at improving care or reducing costs. The point is to find ways to lower the costs of Medicare by allowing medical technocrats to make efficient decisions without interference from vested interests.

Now Obama means to turn it on its head — diverting the money to a blatantly nonexperimental purpose to serve his political needs.

A Government Accounting Office report released this morning shows, quite starkly, that there simply is no experiment being conducted, just money being spent. Understandably, the GAO recommends that HHS cancel the project.

Congress should immediately launch an investigation into this unprecedented misuse of taxpayer money and violation of the public trust, which certainly presses the boundaries of legality and very well may breach them.

If he’s not stopped, Obama will spend $8 billion in taxpayer funds for a scheme to mask the debilitating effects on seniors of his signature piece of legislation just long enough to get himself re-elected.

Now that is some serious audacity.

Appeared Here


Fraud And Waste At US General Services Administration – Including $800,000 Las Vegas “Training Conference” For 300 Employees ($2,666.67 Per Person)

April 9, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – An investigation by the inspector general of the General Services Administration found rampant abuse of an employee awards program of the agency’s Pacific Rim region, the same region that has come under fire for spending more than $800,000 on a Las Vegas training conference for 300 employees.

The report on the “Hats Off” employee recognition program, obtained by The Washington Post, found numerous violations of agency directives, theft and misuse of government purchasing cards in the maintenance of the awards program.

The inspector general found “significant control weaknesses in the Hats Off Program.”

The report found that in fiscal year 2009, Pacific Rim employees received $256 in awards and Public Buildings Service employees in the region averaged $328.

The budget for the program rose dramatically in recent years. In 2008, employees at the Pacific Rim region, which oversees federal property in California, Arizona, Nevada and the Pacific Islands, received $47,012 in gifts. The next year it increased to $211,842, then dropped to $134,596 by 2010. In 2011, the program issued $844 worth of awards.

Jeffrey E. Neely became acting commissioner of the region in January 2009, having been public buildings commissioner. Neely was placed on administrative leave for planning the Vegas training conference. Expenditures for the awards program dropped dramatically after the inspector general began his investigation.

The findings in the report include:

■ Employees associated with administering the Hats Off Program were in the top 10 of recipients.

■ Instances of employees swapping awards with each other and supervisors accepting items from employees.

■ One employee, whose name was redacted from the report, gave “out 635 awards to 113 individuals, totaling $3,175.”

■ The Pacific Rim region maintained an inadequate inventory system and meager security on the storage room that held the gift items.

■ Total employee awards exceeded GSA’s 4 percent cap on employee annual salaries. Awards for Region 9 employees also exceeded GSA’s limit of $99-per-item limit on gifts.

Five government-issued purchasing cards were used to make purchases for the online “Hats Off” store, the inspector general found. In four instances, holders split the purchases to circumvent the cards’ single-purchase limit, a violation of agency regulations.

Unidentified public building service card holders allowed others, including two student interns, to make purchases with the cards to buy items for the store, a violation of GSA regulations.

The employee awards program was founded in 2001 as a merit-based point system that would offer coupons that could be redeemed at the “Hats Off” store. Initially, prizes included GSA-stamped mouse pads and backpacks but eventually included electronic goods.

At the start of each fiscal year all non-supervisory employees received 40 virtual “hats” which would be given as peer-to-peer recognition. One virtual hat was worth about $5. Employees could not give hats to themselves, but the investigation found numerous instances of employees swapping hats with each other.

Items in the virtual store included 8G iPod Nanos (redeemable with 30 virtual hats) and Coby 7 Portable DVD Player Tablets (redeemable with 20 virtual hats).

The Pacific Rim region maintained a storage facility on the fourth floor of the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco. A former GSA employee said items could either be redeemed physically at the storage space, or through an online mall.

The report cited significant security lapses with the storage room. Too many people had access to the space, and administrators often gave out the code to the lock. The office of the inspector general was first alerted to improprieties in the Pacific Rims region’s Hats Off program after more than 40 iPods were found missing and reported to the Federal Protective Service of the Department of Homeland Security. A further inquiry by the inspector general found that 115 iPods valued at $20,000 were unaccounted for and possibly stolen.

The Pacific Rim region organized the 2010 conference that cost $823,000 and included penthouse suites, a clown and a mentalist. GSA Administrator Martha N. Johnson resigned last Monday following revelations of the conference, and two of her senior assistants were fired.

GSA has since terminated the Hats Off program, an agency spokesman said.

The public buildings subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), will hold a hearing on GSA on April 19.

Appeared Here


US General Services Administration Chief Martha Johnson Quits After Excessive Spending Investigation – Included Taxpayer Dollars Spent On Clown, Comedian, And Mindreader – $800,000+ Wasted

April 2, 2012

WASHINGTON – The head of the General Services Administration resigned from her post Monday, and two other officials were fired amid an investigation into excessive spending at a 2010 training conference that featured a clown, a comedian and mindreader, Federal News Radio reports.

Martha Johnson, the GSA administrator, submitted her resignation on Monday, citing a “significant mis-step” at the agency to the tune of more than $800,000. Robert Peck, the commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, and Stephen Leeds, Johnson’s senior counselor, also resigned.

This story was first reported by The Washington Post.

Four other GSA employees who helped plan the conference are on administrative leave.

In her resignation letter to GSA obtained by Federal News Radio, Johnson says the agency has “made a significant mis-step.”

“Reports of an internal conference in which taxpayer dollars were squandered led me to launch internal reviews, take disciplinary personnel action, and institute tough new controls to ensure this incident is not repeated,” she writes.

Johnson adds that she must step aside so “the Agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team.”

The full text of her letter is available below.

The resignations were announced the same day the agency’s Office of the Inspector General released an extended study of the October 2011 conference at a luxury hotel near Las Vegas, which cost $835,000. Roughly 300 employees attended.

Expenses included $147,000 in airfare and lodging for six planning trips for the organizers.

“The OIG found that many of the expenditures on this conferences were excessive and wasteful,” the report states. “In many instances GSA followed neither federal procurement laws nor its own policy on conference spending.”

OIG recommends holding “senior GSA officials responsible” for the excessive spending, revamping accounting procedures and trying to recover the expenditures.

The report includes a memo from Johnson, outlining her response to OIG’s claims.

Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff and former director of the Office of Management and Budget, said President Barack Obama was “outraged” by the reported spending, according to Federal News Radio.

“When the White House was informed of the inspector general’s findings, we acted quickly to determine who was responsible for such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Lew says in a statement. “The President was informed before his trip to South Korea, and he was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars.”

“He called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as President,” says Lew.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, describes GSA’s reported expenditures as “a gross abuse of taxpayer dollars and a breach of public trust.”

“Although I am encouraged that swift action was taken to hold officials accountable, I have also requested an immediate briefing from GSA’s Inspector General on the report,” he says in a statement.

GSA is responsible for overseeing office space and supplies, transportation and management tasks.

Appeared Here


IRS Seeks 4,000 More Agents And Plans To Spend $303 Million On Doomed Obamacare Scheme

March 29, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The Internal Revenue Service wants to add about 4,000 agents to hunt down tax cheats and still plans to spend $303 million building a system to oversee Obamacare even though its future looks bleak in the U.S. Supreme Court.

A new Government Accountability Office review of the IRS 2012 tax return season and the taxman’s fiscal 2013 budget request also found that the agency’s customer service rating has slipped and 5.5 million returns were delayed a week because of a computer programming glitch.

The news isn’t all bad though. A March 20 GAO performance audit found that the agency has seen a steady increase in e-filing and had processed 68 million returns so far, a 3 percent bump. What’s more, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said that the American Customer Satisfaction Index for his team has jumped to 73 percent and he added that for every $1 spent on enforcement, the agency collects a return of $4.30.

The audit looked at everything from customer service to pending budget issues. It found that the agency’s “level of service” via phone calls dropped from 70 percent last year to 61 percent currently, and that the number of “abandoned (calls,) busies and disconnects” jumped 41 percent this year and almost 150 percent since 2009. The average wait time for IRS help also surged 48 percent to 16.6 minutes.

As for the new workers sought, the GAO said the total will be about 4,500 with nearly 4,000 slated for enforcement. The IRS, however, argues that past budget cuts have forced the agency to cut jobs and set a hiring freeze. On the $303 million for Obamacare, the GAO said it will “continue the development of new systems and modifications of existing systems required to support new tax credits.”

Appeared Here


FBI Pissing Away Tax Dollars Investigating Auburn Alabama Basketball Player

March 9, 2012

AUBURN, ALABAMA – Federal authorities are investigating suspended Auburn point guard Varez Ward for alleged point shaving involving at least two games this season, Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday.

The report, citing anonymous sources, said the FBI began an investigation in late February, centering on losses to Alabama on Feb. 7 and Arkansas on Jan. 25.

Ward has confided that he spoke with federal authorities and denied the allegations, according to a source familiar with Ward’s side of the story, al.com reported.

Ward also said federal investigators confiscated his phone under court order and had him take a lie-dectector test, the source said, according to the report.

NCAA officials said they are “very concerned” by the allegations and have been in contact with the school and federal investigators since the issue arose last month.

“The NCAA takes any allegation of point shaving very seriously because sports wagering threatens two of our core principles — the well-being of student-athletes and the very integrity of intercollegiate sport,” the NCAA said in a written statement Thursday. “As allegations of point shaving, if proven, are also potential federal crimes, the NCAA will defer action until any process with the FBI has concluded.”

Ward and guard Chris Denson were both suspended before a Feb. 25 game against Arkansas, but Denson returned for the next game. Denson was questioned and cleared of involvement in point shaving, the Yahoo! Sports report said.

“Auburn officials were made aware of a rumor regarding an allegation two weeks ago and immediately reported it to the FBI, the NCAA and the SEC,” Auburn said in a statement Thursday. “Because of the nature of the allegation, Auburn is not in a position to make any further comment on the situation.”

The report said a player reported concerns to an assistant coach in late February.

Auburn coach Tony Barbee has said only that Ward and Denson violated team rules. He declined to specifically address any allegations after Thursday night’s loss to Mississippi in the opening round of the SEC tournament.

“Obviously our university released a statement which I totally support and stand behind, and obviously because of the nature of the allegations and the story, and because of the statement, I won’t be able to elaborate or answer any questions or make any further comment,” Barbee said.

Ward didn’t play in the final three games of the regular season or travel with the team to New Orleans for the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Denson played 32 minutes and scored 11 points Thursday in Auburn’s 68-54 loss to Mississippi, but declined to speak with reporters after the game. His teammates also deferred comments to their coach.

Yahoo! Sports reported that other Auburn players were questioned about whether Ward tried to get them to participate in the alleged point shaving.

Ward, a Texas transfer, has averaged 9 points a game and leads the Tigers in assists.

Ward scored three points and had six turnovers in the 68-50 loss to Alabama, playing 17 minutes. Vegas Insider said Alabama was favored by five points.

In the 56-53 loss to Arkansas, Ward played only 19 seconds before crumpling to the floor with an injury. Barbee later said Ward took a knee to his right leg, which he injured while a sophomore at Texas.

Auburn still covered the 9½-point spread.

Between those two games, Ward had his hottest streak of the season. He scored 53 points in the three-game stretch, including 24 against Mississippi State.

The directors of three sports books in Las Vegas said they have not been contacted by the FBI in connection with the probe, according to al.com.

“We haven’t heard from them about any Vegas action,” one sports book director said on condition of anonymity, according to the report. “If there is something wrong, if something happens here, they’d absolutely be involved. There’s been nothing at this time.”

Ward has not commented publicly since his suspension. He has not responded to requests for comment through his email and Facebook accounts, al.com reported.

His last Twitter post was on Feb. 24 when he tweeted, “Can’t win for losing smh” (shaking my head). It was the last in a series of posts that day, the first saying that his knee was “hurting bad.”

Ward, who is from Montgomery, was injured at Texas when he ruptured his quadriceps tendon on a dunk during pregame warm-ups. He sat out last season under transfer rules and has two years of eligibility remaining.

Appeared Here


Blogger Exposes Major Flaw In TSA’s Body Scanners – How To Smuggle Anything Onto An Airplane – Same Scanners Europe Banned Over Cancer Concerns

March 7, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Controversial nude body scanners used at U.S. airports have come under fire again – after a blogger claimed he could easily smuggle explosives through them onto a plane.

Engineer Jonathan Corbett has published a video where he shows how he took a small metal case through two of the TSA’s $1billion fleet in a special side pocket stitched into his shirt.

This is because, he suggests, the scanners blend metallic areas into the dark background – so if an object is not directly placed on the body, it will not show up on the scan.

The metallic box, he claims, would have set off an alarm had he passed through the old detecting system.

His revelation comes just weeks after Europe banned the ‘airport strip-searches’ over fears the X-ray technology could cause cancer.

MailOnline has decided not to publish the video because it details exactly how to circumvent the safety procedure – but it is freely available to watch online.

Corbett, standing in his living room as he speaks to the camera in the video for his ‘TSA Out of Our Pants’ blog, acknowledges the technique could be used by terrorists.

But he believes they would already know about the loophole, and took the steps to show ‘how much danger the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is putting all us all in’.
TSA

Usual: In this TSA scan the metal items, located on the traveller’s body, can clearly be seen as the body appears against a black background

TSA

Contrast: In this image, the metallic object is not directly placed on the body and so does not show up on the scan as it blends into the background

STRIP-SEARCH SCANNERS BANNED IN EUROPE OVER CANCER RISKS

Europe banned the controversial airport ‘strip-search’ scanners last year over fears the X-ray technology could cause cancer.

They emit low radiation doses and the European Union told members in November not to install them until the potential risks are assessed.

The TSA, in contrast, has continually defended their safety, saying they expose passengers to the same radiation as two minutes on a flying plane.

Britain’s Manchester Airport, which has 16 of the $125,000 ‘backscatter’ machines, was told it can continue using them for another year.

But no new machines will be allowed there. They were once used at London Heathrow but scrapped amid complaints over privacy invasion.

They have also been tested in Germany, France, Italy, Finland and Holland but will be completely banned in April if experts rule they are dangerous.

The body scanners were introduced in a security crackdown after incidents such as the attempted ‘underwear bomb’ plot in 2009.

Around 250 X-ray scanners and 264-millimetre-wave scanners are currently used in America’s airports.

Corbett, who is suing the TSA for rolling out the scanners, explained how the loophole worked.

He said: ‘Here are several images produced by TSA nude body scanners. You’ll see that the search victim is drawn with light colours and placed on a black background in both images.

‘In these samples, the individuals are concealing metallic objects that you can see as a black shape on their light figure. Again that’s light figure, black background, and black threat items.

‘Yes that’s right, if you have a metallic object on your side, it will be the same colour as the background and therefore completely invisible to both visual and automated inspection.

‘It can’t possibly be that easy to beat the TSA’s billion dollar fleet of nude body scanners, right? The TSA can’t be that stupid, can they? Unfortunately, they can, and they are.’

He said he put his theory to the test by buying a sewing kit to sew a pocket directly onto the side of his shirt. He then took a metallic case and walked through a backscatter X-ray at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport – all of which he recorded on film.

He said: ‘While I’m not about to win any videography awards for my hidden camera footage, you can watch as I walk through the security line with the metal object in my new side pocket.

‘My camera gets placed on the conveyor belt and goes through its own x-ray, and when it comes out, I’m through, and the object never left my pocket.

‘Maybe a fluke? OK, let’s try again at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport through one of the TSA’s newest machines: a millimetre wave scanner with automated threat detection built-in.

‘With the metallic object in my side pocket, I enter the security line, my device goes through its own x-ray, I pass through, and exit with the object without any complaints from the TSA.’

More…

‘I was embarrassed and humiliated’: TSA forces nursing mother to show freshly pumped milk in order to take breast pump on plane
Man busted for trying to smuggle marijuana into an airport in a Skippy peanut butter jar (which is banned, anyway)
US Airways worker caught in luggage conveyor belts dies

He added: ‘While I carried the metal case empty, it could easily have been filled with razor blades, explosives, or one of Charlie Sheen’s infamous seven gram rocks of cocaine.

‘With a bigger pocket, perhaps sewn on the inside of the shirt, even a firearm could get through. ‘
Dangerous? A demonstration of a full body scan (left) and a screen showing the results of the scan (right)

Dangerous? A demonstration of a full body scan (left) and a screen showing the results of the scan (right)
American use: In February 2011, a trial of new ‘non-intrusive’ body scanners started at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. before they were rolled out permanently in July

American use: In February 2011, a trial of new ‘non-intrusive’ body scanners started at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. before they were rolled out permanently in July

While Corbett’s actions have not been independently verified, and the TSA have not commented on the video, he said it proved the organisation’s ‘disregard for safety’.

He added: ‘Now, I’m sure the TSA will accuse me of aiding the terrorists by releasing this video, but it’s beyond belief that the terrorists haven’t already figured this out and are already plotting to use this against us.

‘It’s also beyond belief that the TSA did not already know everything I just told you, and arrogantly decided to disregard our safety. The nude body scanner program is nothing but a giant fraud.’

Appeared Here


Port Of Los Angeles California Spend Half Million Dollars In Stimulus Money On Luxury Yacht Engines

February 8, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – House investigators wrote the Port of Los Angeles yesterday to review the decision to spend almost half a million dollars in stimulus money on retrofitting a luxury yacht with environmentally-friendly engines.

“The Port of Los Angeles owes the public greater transparency about this project and a full accounting of the cost-benefit analysis used to justify spending on this type of project,” House Oversight and Government Reform chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wrote in a letter to the executive director of the port, Dr. Geraldine Knatz.

The Port of Los Angeles spent $489,000 of a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Energy to retrofit a city-owned yacht with “hydro-electric propulsion system,” according to Issa’s letter, rather than the diesel engines it already had in operation. The yacht is used to conduct tours of the port.

“This is the American people’s money that was borrowed in stimulus,” said House Oversight and Government Reform Chair Darrell Issa in a local CBS broadcast. “It was supposed to create net new jobs. Could that half a million dollars have been used better? Was this really just show without substance?”

Appeared Here


Secret Service Pisses Away US Tax Dollars Investigating “Zombie Obama” That Appeared On Halloween Themed Republican Committee Banner

November 1, 2011

VIRGINIA – A Halloween-themed graphic featuring a zombie President Barack Obama with a bullet hole in his forehead provoked widespread outrage and the attention of the Secret Service Monday after a local Republican committee in Virginia used it to scare up interest in Halloween parade political activities.

The montage, a banner on a mass email to Loudoun Republicans, mingles seasonal images including a jack-o-lantern, a disfigured U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and a throng of flesh-hungry zombie Obama supporters.

The posterized image of a rotting, undead Obama with a bleeding, large-caliber hole an inch above his right eye prompted Democrats to cry foul and Virginia’s Republican governor to denounce it as “shameful and offensive.”

“This is a disgusting and violent portrayal of the president of the United States,” said Democratic Party of Virginia spokesman Brian Coy.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, through spokesman J. Tucker Martin, called on the Loudoun GOP to “apologize for their actions, and to immediately ensure that such imagery is never used again.”
Multimedia
Dramatic Photos: October Snowstorm
PHOTOS
Dramatic Photos:
October Snowstorm
Michelle Obama Style Guide
PHOTOS
Michelle
Obama Style Guide
More Multimedia

Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins said such an image “has no place in our politics. Ever.”

Loudoun County GOP chairman Mark Sell said in an email response to The Associated Press that the graphic was “a light-hearted attempt to inject satire humor into the Halloween holiday.”

“Apparently, some individuals have interpreted an image of Barack Obama that appeared within the email as intending to portray the President as a victim of a violent crime,” Sell wrote. “Nothing could be further from the truth, and we deeply and sincerely apologize to the President and anyone who viewed the image if that was the impression that was left.”

There was no reply from Sell to a follow-up email seeking an alternative explanation for the nickel-sized hole in Obama’s forehead.

The image was first reported in a post Monday on the conservative northern Virginia blog, Too Conservative. The post’s author, identified as a “Loudoun Insider,” said he’s no Obama fan, “but putting up a photo of him as a zombie with a bullet hole in his head?”

“Someone should send this to the US Secret Service,” the blog post concluded. The Secret Service is in charge of the president’s security.

“We are aware of the situation,” said George Ogilvie, a Secret Service spokesman in Washington.

The image the Loudoun GOP altered is the red, white and blue image of a determined-looking Obama gazing upward that, emblazoned with the caption “HOPE,” became a ubiquitous Obama poster during his 2008 campaign.

It was created from a copyrighted AP photo taken in 2006 when Obama was a U.S. senator appearing at the National Press Club in Washington. The AP sued over the unlicensed, uncredited and uncompensated use of its photo. The litigation was settled earlier this year.

Appeared Here


TSA Creator Says It Sucks, Dismantle It And Privatize Operations

September 12, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – They’ve been accused of rampant thievery, spending billions of dollars like drunken sailors, groping children and little old ladies, and making everyone take off their shoes.

But the real job of the tens of thousands of screeners at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is to protect Americans from a terrorist attack.

Yet a decade after the TSA was created following the September 11 attacks, the author of the legislation that established the massive agency grades its performance at “D-.”

“The whole program has been hijacked by bureaucrats,” said Rep. John Mica (R. -Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

“It mushroomed into an army,” Mica said. “It’s gone from a couple-billion-dollar enterprise to close to $9 billion.”

As for keeping the American public safe, Mica says, “They’ve failed to actually detect any threat in 10 years.”

“Everything they have done has been reactive. They take shoes off because of [shoe-bomber] Richard Reid, passengers are patted down because of the diaper bomber, and you can’t pack liquids because the British uncovered a plot using liquids,” Mica said.

“It’s an agency that is always one step out of step,” Mica said.

It cost $1 billion just to train workers, which now number more than 62,000, and “they actually trained more workers than they have on the job,” Mica said.

“The whole thing is a complete fiasco,” Mica said.

In a wide-ranging interview with HUMAN EVENTS just days before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Mica said screeners should be privatized and the agency dismantled.

Instead, the agency should number no more than 5,000, and carry out his original intent, which was to monitor terrorist threats and collect intelligence.

The fledgling agency was quickly engulfed in its first scandal in 2002 as it rushed to hire 30,000 screeners, and the $104 million awarded to the company to contract workers quickly escalated to more than $740 million.

Federal investigators tracked those cost overruns to recruiting sessions held at swank hotels and resorts in St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, Florida and the Wyndham Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa in Telluride, Colo.

Charges in the hundreds of thousands of dollars were made for cash withdrawals, valet parking and beverages, plus a $5.4 million salary for one executive for nine months of work.

Other over-the-top expenditures included nearly $2,000 for 20 gallons of Starbucks Coffee, $8,000 for elevator operators at a Manhattan hotel, and $1,500 to rent more than a dozen extension cords for the Colorado recruiting fair.

The agency inadvertently caused security gaps by failing for years to keep track of lost uniforms and passes that lead to restricted areas of airports.

Screeners have also been accused of committing crimes, from smuggling drugs to stealing valuables from passengers’ luggage. In 2004, several screeners were arrested and charged with stealing jewelry, computers and cameras, cash, credit cards and other valuables. One of their more notable victims was actress Shirley McClain, who was robbed of jewelry and crystals.

One of the screeners confessed that he was trying to steal enough to sell the items and buy a big-screen television.

In 2006, screeners at Los Angeles and Chicago O’Hare airports failed to find more than 60% of fake explosives during checkpoint security tests.

The sometimes rudder-less agency has gone through five administrators in the past decade, and it took longer than a year for President Obama to put his one man in place. Mica’s bill also blocked collective bargaining rights for screeners, but the Obama administration managed to reverse that provision.

Asked whether the agency should be privatized, Mica answered with a qualified yes.

“They need to get out of the screening business and back into security. Most of the screening they do should be abandoned,” Mica said. “I just don’t have a lot of faith at this point,” Mica said.

Allowing airports to privatize screening was a key element of Mica’s legislation and a report released by the committee in June determined that privatizing those efforts would result in a 40% savings for taxpayers.

“We have thousands of workers trying to do their job. My concern is the bureaucracy we built,” Mica said.

“We are one of the only countries still using this model of security,” Mica said, “other than Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and I think, Libya.”

Appeared Here


Number Of Government Owned Limousines Jumps 73% In First 2 Years Of Obama Administration

May 31, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Limousines, the very symbol of wealth and excess, are usually the domain of corporate executives and the rich. But the number of limos owned by Uncle Sam increased by 73 percent during the first two years of the Obama administration, according to an analysis of records by iWatch News.

Most of the increase was recorded in Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

Obama administration officials said most of the increase reflects an enhanced effort to protect diplomats and other government officials in a dangerous world. But a watchdog group says the abundance of limos sends the wrong message in the midst of a budget crisis. The increase in limos comes to light on the heels of an executive order from President Obama last week that charges agencies to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleets.

According to General Services Administration data , the number of limousines in the federal fleet increased from 238 in fiscal 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, to 412 in 2010. Much of the 73 percent increase—111 of the 174 additional limos—took place in fiscal 2009, more than eight months of which corresponded with Obama’s first year in office. However, some of those purchases could reflect requests made by the Bush administration during an appropriations process that would have begun in the spring of 2008.

The GSA said its limousine numbers are not reliable, even though the federal fleet numbers are officially recorded every year. In a statement, GSA spokeswoman Sara Merriam said, “The categories in the Fleet Report are overly broad, and the term ‘limousine’ is not defined,” adding that “vehicles represented as limousines can range from protective duty vehicles to sedans.” Asked whether the GSA actually knows how many limos it has in its fleet, Merriam responded that GSA “cannot say that its report accurately reflects the number of limousines.”

Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, was outraged that the GSA’s numbers may not be accurate. “They can’t figure out a way to define a limo? How hard can it be? If the government can’t track limos, I’m not sure we should trust the numbers they put out there on anything,” she said.

Although the overall limo numbers in the fleet report were up in 2010, federal agencies and departments did not benefit equally. The State Department, with 259, had more limos than any other agency in 2010 and has gained 194 limos just since fiscal 2008. Of those new limos, 98 were defined as “law enforcement,” which the GSA said means they are equipped with sirens or lights, high-performance drivetrains, or are used for surveillance or undercover operations.

The State Department in a statement said its limos are deployed by overseas diplomats and in the United States by Secretary of State Clinton and “distinguished foreign visitors.” Many of the limos in its fleet are armored to protect against attack. The department said its Obama-era increase in armored limos is “both in proportion to the increased threat to diplomats serving overseas and is in proportion to the increase number of diplomats we have serving in high threat environments.” Appropriations documents indicate the State Department was engaged in a longer-term effort to increase the number of armored vehicles that would have stretched back to at least 2007.

The department said it defines a limo as a vehicle that carries a VIP or “other protectee,” rather than by the type of car, but said most of its limos are Cadillac DTSs, which cost the taxpayer more than $60,000 for a 2011 base model and support the additional weight of armoring. The department said it also purchased a limited number of 7-Series BMWs for ambassadors in countries where vehicles are right-hand drive.

The Department of Homeland Security, which in 2010 had the second largest number of limos at 118, dropped four limos from 2008 to 2010. A spokesman for DHS said the majority of its limos are used by the Secret Service, which is part of the department, but declined to elaborate on exact numbers, citing security concerns.

Paige, of CAGW, called the new federal limos “one more reason why there is so much cynicism in the public about what goes on in Washington.” She said terrorism and security has become the catchall justification for increased federal spending.

The increase in limos comes at a time when the Obama administration is increasingly working to burnish its green energy credentials by targeting the federal fleet. On Tuesday, Obama released a presidential memorandum requiring agencies to purchase only alternative fuel vehicles by 2015. The memorandum limits executive fleets to mid-sized and smaller cars “except where larger sedans are essential to the agency mission.” It also exempts law enforcement and security vehicles, which could make up the majority of the federal limo fleet.

According to a March report by the GAO, the federal government spent $1.9 billion on new vehicles in fiscal 2009, and burned through 963,000 gallons of fuel a day with its fleet of 600,00 vehicles.

The number of limousines in the federal fleet has varied over the years. In 2007, the number dropped to 217 from 318 a year before. But due to the fuzzy GSA accounting, it’s unclear exactly how many federal limos have been on the road.

According to the GSA report, for example, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which had zero limos in 2008, added six limos to its fleet in 2009. But agency spokesman Lars Anderson said that’s because six standard overseas sedans, including a 1997 Ford Crown Victoria in Bangladesh, and a 2009 Mercury Grand Marquis in El Salvador, were incorrectly recorded as limos.

If the data is correct, some federal employees who once rode in style now face more proletarian transportation options. The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, ran a fleet of 21 limousines in 2008 under George W. Bush, according to the fleet report. It now makes do with only one. The Government Printing Office also lost

Appeared Here


Agency Funding Sought In Kansas To Duplicate Records Kept By Other State Agencies – Prosecutors Not Smart Enough To Check Driving History For Those Charged With Drunk Driving?

April 29, 2011

TOPEKA, KANSAS – Two Kansas agencies are working to fund and operate a central repository designed to better track people who drive drunk.

The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation are working to organize the central tracking system.

The central repository was recommended by the Kansas DUI Commission, but it was not funded because of the state’s budget problems.

The repository would more quickly provide information to prosecutors about a driver’s history. The aim is to be sure that people with multiple DUI offenses are charged with the appropriate offense.

Funding details have not been finalized. The transportation department says it is deferring other projects to make the repository a priority. The repository would be overseen by the KBI.

Appeared Here


U.S. Border Patrol Blows $1 Million On Video Game To Simulate Capture Of Illegal Immigrants

April 7, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Researchers at a government-funded laboratory have built a giant touchscreen video game that simulates the capture of illegal aliens. In a statement made to Kotaku by an official spokesman, the entire project and underlying systems cost “in the ballpark of $10 million [worth] of internal investments,” with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection contributing the final $1 million to create their border simulator.
Read the rest of this entry »


$440 Million New York Subway Network – Incomplete, Way Over Budget, And Already Obsolete

March 2, 2011

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The MTA’s subway information network, which currently carries information to more than 100 stations, is overbudget, not completely finished, and already technologically obsolete.

The MTA hasn’t finished a new subway communications network – and it’s already out of date.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority started the $370 million fiberoptic, information-carrying network in 2000 and expects to finish it this year.

But technological advances and hundreds of budget-busting, time-consuming changes have pushed the project $76 million overbudget.

“Due to technology evolution and other factors, many components in this network are at or nearing their end of life,” an MTA document from October says.

In the document, a request for information, the agency asked technology companies for advice on designing a “next-generation” communications network and fixing shortcomings with the existing one, which is up and running in much of the subway system.

The MTA on Tuesday stressed the existing network – called ATM/SONET and designed by Siemens Transit Technologies – is functioning and carrying beneficial data, like next-train arrival times, at more than 100 stations.

Still, City Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), chairman of the Council’s Transportation Committee, said that “the MTA needs to get its capital house in order …

“Delays don’t just add millions of dollars to projects. They also lead to products that are obsolete even before anyone hits the ‘on’ switch. That’s unacceptable.”

MTA documents say existing problems include:

* Some of the equipment no longer is being made, which could make it more difficult and costly to maintain or upgrade.

* The network may not have enough capacity for remote viewing of the growing amount of video from surveillance cameras.

“This will put a large strain on [NYC Transit’s] current network, which was not originally designed to support the video capacity needs,” the October document states.

The first phase of the communications system was to be finished in November 2006, at a cost of $112 million. It went intoeffect on the numbered lineslast August at a final cost of $148 million – four years late and $36 million overbudget, documents say.

The second phase of the project, for the lettered lines, began in 2004 and is slated for completion this year at a cost of $223 million, about $40 million higher than expected.

Appeared Here