House GOP Slams CFPB Headquarters Renovation Costing More, Per Square Foot, Than Trump Tower

The ballooning cost of the renovation for the headquarters of the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was the target of angry criticism from Republican lawmakers this week, who observed that the lavish project is on track to cost significantly more per square foot than new-construction private projects like New York’s Trump Tower and Las Vegas’ Bellagio.

“You are spending more per square foot than the Trump World Tower” Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) told CFPB director Richard Cordray at a hearing for the House Committee on Financial Services. “You are spending more than the Bellagio Hotel and Casino.”

Evidently, Hensarling’s not exaggerating. The Hill reported the CFPB renovation’s per-square-foot cost of more than $590 to be far in excess of “Trump World Tower in New York ($334) and Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas ($330).”

The still-young CFPB, created in 2010 as part of the sweeping Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, has so far committed somewhere between $114 million and $145 million to the renovation, a sum that’s “nearly as much as the building is worth,” according to the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard. The total project cost is expected to hit at least $215 million.

Plans for the project include a rooftop play area for kids, a four-story glass staircase, a sunken garden and a two-story waterfall — all features that gave House Republicans ample fodder with which to excoriate the agency.

“The cost of renovating the CFPB’s rented headquarters has spiraled to more than $215 million — $65 million more than the agency’s estimate just six months ago and $120 million more than last year’s estimate, according to the Federal Reserve’s Inspector General,” House Republicans said in a statement this week.

“The continuously growing price tag is a tremendous waste of funds and, amazingly, there is still no assurance the $215 million price tag won’t grow higher,” added Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.).

Hensarling decried the Federal agency’s apparent autonomy from fiscal checks and balances.

“When they passed the Dodd-Frank Act, Democrats in Congress and the White House made the CFPB unaccountable to taxpayers and to Congress. We’re seeing the results of this dangerous unaccountability today in a Washington bureaucracy that is running amok, spending as much as it wants on whatever it wants. It’s outrageous,” he wrote in the GOP statement.

McHenry, who chairs the House Financial Services subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, requested an inspector general’s report on the runaway project in January; the results of that endeavor can be viewed here.

The Obama Pattern: Workforce Shrinks, So Unemployment Drops

We write these stories just about every month: the Administration of President Barack Obama finds the silver lining in a dismal monthly jobs report by focusing on a happy-sounding number while ignoring the broader, disturbing trend.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its June employment figures this week, and the unemployment rate has dropped. Yet, like clockwork, that statistic has been accompanied by another — one that’s far more indicative of the health of the U.S. labor force. It’s not so much that more people are getting jobs; it’s that fewer people are looking for them.

The total number of people who are seeking employment has been decimated in the Obama recovery, with a record-breaking 92,120,000 Americans who, by the BLS’s definition, have dropped out of the labor force. That leaves the participation rate among working-age Americans stranded, for yet another month, at the lowest level it’s seen in four decades: 62.8 percent. The figure reflects a one-month increase in dropouts from the labor force of 111,000.

The BLS considers Americans age 16 and older who have not sought employment in the past four weeks, during any period, to have dropped out of the labor force for that period.

Obama touted what good news there was to be gleaned from the June report, the addition of 288,000 jobs (or 177,000 jobs, if you factor in the dropouts), saying the U.S. has “not seen more consistent job growth since the ’90s.”

But there’s also this: “At no time during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, did such a small percentage of the civilian non-institutional population either hold a job or at least actively seek one,” observed CNS News in its report on the data.

There are about 314 million people living in the U.S., and some 268 million of them are of working age. But of that 268 million, there are 92,120,000 who aren’t actively looking for work. That’s a ratio of 34.4 percent non-employment — a condition in which more than one-third of people who are able to work not only aren’t working, but they either aren’t trying to find a job or they’ve simply given up.

Federal Judge May Open IRS Case To Outside Experts To Determine Whether ‘Lost’ Emails Are Truly Lost

A U.S. District Court Judge has granted a request by plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service for a hearing to determine the merits of allowing independent computer experts to get to the bottom of the agency’s contention that missing emails from Lois Lerner and several other IRS employees are truly irretrievable.

On Tuesday, U.S District Court Judge Reggie Walton ordered a July 11 hearing to weigh whether the case would benefit from the contribution of an outside expert. If the court sides with the plaintiffs, an independent expert could be brought in to attempt to locate the emails, which the IRS claims were forever lost following a rash of hard drive crashes on employees’ personal computers.

According to the Washington Examiner — itself a plaintiff in a separate Federal lawsuit against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) over allegations that agency is withholding documents under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request — the hearing comes following pressure from attorneys for True the Vote, a Texas-based conservative nonprofit that suffered alleged political discrimination at the hands of the IRS during the runup to President Barack Obama’s November 2012 re-election:

True the Vote wants a digital forensics expert from outside the IRS to assess the evidence.

“Even if the ill-timed hard drive ‘crash’ was truly an accident, and even if the IRS genuinely believes that the emails are ‘unrecoverable,’ the circumstances of the spoliation at issue cry out for a second opinion,” True the Vote’s attorneys told Walton in the motion filed late Monday.

“It may well prove to be the case that a computer forensics expert could recover evidence that the IRS has been unable to retrieve.

“At the very least, such an expert could preserve whatever evidence has not already been wiped clean from the IRS’s computers along with whatever is stored on the Individual Defendants’ home computers, cell phones, and other PDAs.”

IRS attorneys will be in the federal District Court on July 10 to explain why the government failed to tell Judicial Watch about the lost emails for months despite their being evidence in the nonprofit’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Judicial Watch, a government watchdog nonprofit, filed its lawsuit last October after IRS officials failed to respond adequately to a May 2013 FOIA request for the Lerner emails.

True the Vote’s request for an independent look into the emails’ chain of digital custody met with resistance from its IRS adversaries in the case. IRS attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the request for outside expertise, but Walton instead set next week’s hearing in order to hear at length from both sides before making an informed decision.

“True the Vote argued that merely asking for the dismissal ‘does not give them carte blanche to destroy or permit the destruction of documents and discoverable information that are relevant to the IRS Targeting Scheme in general and the application of True the Vote for exempt status,’” the Examiner reported Tuesday.

Stay tuned for the court’s decision following the July 11 hearing.

Pro-2nd Amendment Plaintiffs Who Lost Colorado Gun Control Case To Appeal Judge’s Decision

Last Friday, we reported on Judge Marcia Krieger’s upholding of Colorado’s controversial gun control laws – laws passed last March that met with instant backlash from county sheriffs and outraged rural voters, who recalled two of the State Senators who helped get the measures through the Legislature.

In a heavily-qualified 50-page decision, Krieger whittled down the Constitutional context for her ruling to one primarily focused on the laws’ impact on the efficacy of firearms for self defense, and sided with Democratic Governor John HIckenlooper, the named defendant who signed the bills into law in March of 2013.

But Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, one of the many plaintiffs on the losing side of that decision, has indicated the court fight to overturn the laws is far from over, telling Breitbart on Tuesday that his party is preparing to appeal the ruling:

What I’ve told people around here – and wherever people come up to me and say, “I can’t believe that ruling,” or “At least you tried” – what I say is, “Wait a minute. This is a fight. This is ten rounds, and we just got knocked down in the first round, and we got back up, and we’re going to continue the fight. We’re not giving up, and we’re not going to stop.”

We are going to file an appeal. We have until July 25 to file our notice of appeal, and our attorneys are already working on it.

As I’ve said before, District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) weren’t settled in district court. They both lost their first rounds and had to take it to the Supreme Court to overturn the DC ban and the Chicago gun law.

Precedents established in both Heller and Chicago proved vital in Judge Krieger’s framing of her decision last week, although she relied on those precedents to arrive at a conclusion that disappointed the many sheriffs, companies, organizations and residents who signed on as plaintiffs.

As the case moves through the appeals process, we’ll keep you posted.

Americans’ Faith In Their Real Freedoms Declines, Even As Frustration Grows

Americans’ faith in the power of their own liberty is eroding, while their frustration continues to mount over a perceived reduction in their freedom to live life as they choose in the United States.

That’s the takeaway from a Gallup poll released Tuesday, which finds that 79 percent of Americans say they’re “satisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives” – a figure down 12 percent from a high of 91 percent in 2006, the first year the research group asked that question.

The survey reflects how people answered one simple question: “In this country, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?” Over the course of the past eight years, the size of the “satisfied” camp has steadily decreased, while the size of the “dissatisfied” segment has inched upward.

As confidence in freedom has steadily declined since 2006, it has been accompanied by an increase in Americans’ dissatisfaction with the freedoms they feel they do have. “In that same period,” notes Gallup, “the percentage of Americans dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives more than doubled” from 9 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2013.

Not only is the perception of free choice slipping in America; it’s evidently unique to our Nation. “Gallup asks people in more than 120 countries each year whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives,” the poll synopsis states. “In 2006, the U.S. ranked among the highest in the world for people reporting satisfaction with their level of freedom. After seven years and a 12-point decline, the U.S. no longer makes the top quartile worldwide.”

In a list that saw New Zealand as the top finisher (94 percent of residents reported being “satisfied” with their freedoms), the U.S. ended up at no. 36. Cambodia, Uzbekistan and the United Arab Emirates all finished higher. It joins Egypt, Venezuela, Cyprus, Pakistan (and ties with Spain) among countries that saw a double-digit fall, since 2006, in residents’ satisfaction with the freedoms they enjoy.

Obama Considers Executive End Run Around Hobby Lobby Decision

The Administration of President Barack Obama, fresh off its 13th Supreme Court defeat for executive overreach, may not be ready to move on from Monday’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, who successfully argued that Obamacare’s contraception mandate unConstitutionally violates their religious beliefs.

The 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby allows owners of closely held corporations (the Internal Revenue Service defines “closely held” corporations as having five or fewer major shareholders) to decline to include post-coital birth control drugs in their employer-sponsored health insurance plans, if doing so violates their religious convictions. Hobby Lobby has no moral objection to — and will continue to offer coverage for — 16 forms of birth control that prevent conception from occurring.

But the Obama Administration immediately rebuked the majority opinion, calling on Congress to get involved.

“Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies,” said Earnest, later adding: “We will work with Congress to make sure that any women affected by this decision will still have the same coverage of vital health services as everyone else.”

Approaching Congress with an open hand seems to be the necessary condition the Obama Administration must first establish in order to lay the groundwork for executive action. Later in the same press conference, Earnest insinuated that the President may attempt — in spite of his track record before the high court — to pursue “other options…that don’t require legislative action.” That’s because no one expects Congress to meddle with the Court’s decision anytime soon.

So as we gather some more information, we may be in a position to better consider the range of options that are available to the President. It is our view, as I said here at the top, though, that Congress needs to take action to solve this problem that’s been created, and the administration stands ready to work with them to do so.

The Republican-controlled House is loaded with a majority of representatives who loudly praised Monday’s ruling. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the decision “a victory for religious freedom and another defeat for an Administration that has repeatedly crossed constitutional lines in pursuit of its Big Government objectives.” Anything that might be approved in the Senate — and that’s an enormous hypothetical, given the climate surrounding the approaching elections — will fizzle once it hits the House.

So there’s only one other option, at least if you’re Obama.

The Administration created the expectations it intends to fulfill on Monday. If Obama were to take the executive action path again, he likely will have the backing of Congressional Democrats, who have already indicated a willingness to allow the President to “borrow the power that is needed,” as Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), speaking on the illegal immigration crisis, flatly stated last week.

Federal Government Sues Private Company For Requiring Employees To Speak English On The Job

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against a Wisconsin-based manufacturer for firing Hmong and Hispanic employees because they don’t speak English on the job.

The EEOC says it’s a matter of discrimination based on an employee’s “national origin, which includes the linguistic characteristics of a national origin group.” In this case, Wisconsin Plastics, Inc. allegedly violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by firing non-English speakers “based on 10-minute observations that marked them down for their English skills, even though those skills were not needed to perform their jobs.”

In other words, those groups’ linguistic characteristics must be honored by employers who typically are more interested in productivity and profit than hurting someone’s feelings during a scheduled work shift because they can’t communicate with them.

It’s not clear what criteria the EEOC used to determine whether speaking English is an essential workplace skill at Wisconsin Plastics.

“Our experience at the EEOC has been that so-called ‘English only’ rules and requirements of English fluency are often employed to make what is really discrimination appear acceptable,” EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson offered in the EEOC’s press release earlier this month.

“But superficial appearances are not fooling anyone. When speaking English fluently is not, in fact, required for the safe and effective performance of a job, nor for the successful operation of the employer’s business, requiring employees to be fluent in English usually constitutes employment discrimination on the basis of national origin – and thus violates federal law.”

Nonprofit government watchdog Judicial Watch blasted the EEOC’s construction of the law in this case, calling its explanation of the basis for the suit “twisted” and observing how the case fits within a wider pattern of counterintuitive progressive Obama Administration policies that hurt businesses and stifle incentives to hire anyone.

“Under President Obama the EEOC has taken a number of unprecedented actions to protect foreigners in the workplace, including illegal immigrants,” wrote Judicial Watch. “In 2009 the agency issued a controversial order making a workplace English rule illegal. The directive came after the EEOC bullied a national healthcare firm to pay nearly half a million dollars to settle a discrimination lawsuit in which the government alleged that Hispanic workers were punished for speaking Spanish.

“The agency has been on a roll ever since, taking legal action against businesses across the country accusing them of everything from discriminating against minorities for running criminal background and credit checks to discriminating against Muslims for not allowing hijabs on the job.”

Obamacare Advisor Predicts The Imminent Death Of Private Health Insurance

Would you be surprised to learn that Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ezekiel – one of the key architects of Obamacare – is again boasting that current government-influenced market forces will soon kill (literally) the health care industry as we know it?

Ezekiel Emanuel, author of the recently-released Reinventing American Health Care: How the Affordable Care Act will Improve our Terribly Complex, Blatantly Unjust, Outrageously Expensive, Grossly Inefficient, Error Prone System, drove home one of the central messages of his lavishly-titled book on Monday, telling Reuters that, “[b]y 2025, insurance companies as we know them: dead.”

Emanuel, formerly a special health advisor to the Obama Administration, upholds the U.S. Veterans Health Administration as a model of cost control and treatment efficiency in the book – which released mere weeks before news of the Obama Administration’s VA scandal broke. Shortly after the book’s publication, he argued in this fashion that his position does not equate to an advocacy of a single-payer system:

No! There are some Americans that want single-payer. All I can say is the majority don’t. Americans aren’t into the single-payer game. It ain’t happening. We barely got the Affordable Care Act through. We certainly would not have gotten a single-payer proposal through.

On Monday, Emanuel didn’t mention single payer in discussing the future of American health care with a Reuters interviewer, but he did elaborate on how Obamacare will, in his opinion, affect the health care market over the next 10 years.

“By 2020, we’re gonna have a very different system that’s much better for patients; that controls costs, and I think the quality’s gonna be better, and I think the Affordable Care Act was a major catalyst for that,” he said.

“…I similarly predict the, sort of, end of health care inflation. We’ve had 50 years of health care growing faster and faster, taking more of the economy, and I think with the Affordable Care Act; with the concentration on keeping people healthy, actually you’re gonna see it grow not faster than the underlying economy… So I think; I mean, the book predicts that, by 2025, insurance companies as we know them, taking in premiums and paying out: dead. And we will have these large integrated delivery systems, like Kaiser, that people will choose from…”

That isn’t exactly single payer, but it is consolidation – a potential next step along the path toward health insurance under one funding (and regulatory) umbrella.

Democrats Founder Over What Actually To Write In Koch-Targeted Constitutional Amendment

A while back, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) threw a big fit about how he intends to force repeated Senate floor votes to amend the Constitution (yes, that Constitution) to authorize Congress to give the conservative Koch brothers what’s coming to ’em.

The amendment would authorize Congress to regulate the fundraising process for Federal-level election campaigns, and it would grant that same authority to State Legislatures for State-level elections. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) are responsible for writing the amendment; an early draft is here.

There was only one reason to craft the bill, as Reid himself gleefully acknowledged in May: “That really puts the Koch brothers up against it. We believe and I believe that there should be spending limits. We’re going to push a constitutional amendment so we can limit spending because what is going on today is awful.”

Perhaps there’s a special urgency to this for Reid, since the Koch brothers will probably die before the Constitution does (and after they do, well, there’s no harm in a vestigial amendment that, in its day, served its transitory political purpose).

In the meantime, the amendment actually has to have semi-credible language in it. Because the amendment is a total floor show, and since no one in Congress — least of all Reid — would benefit from placing spending limits on their whale donors, the content of the document itself has kind of been an afterthought.

But amending the Constitution is kind of a big deal, as its sponsors are finding out. Udall and Bennet recently attempted a rewrite, but, as the Washington Examiner observed last week, that effort simply “revealed [the amendment’s] fatal flaw.”

This is the heart of the amendment as originally written by Udall and Bennet:

“To advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes, Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to federal elections, including through setting limits on –

 (1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, federal office; and

(2) the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.”

There are literally no limits to congressional power in those words. In the name of “political equality for all,” Democrats proposed to change the Constitution to allow lawmakers to impose any restriction they want on campaign fundraising and spending — in other words, on campaigning itself.

The amendment’s markup process hasn’t gotten much play in the mainstream press (try Googling it). A subcommittee debated the measure on June 18, and the revision came out of that debate — thanks in large part to the objections of Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who questioned how the measure would stand up to the 1st Amendment when the Supreme Court had so recently declared such spending limits unConstititonal in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Federal Judge Upholds Colorado Gun Control Laws

A U.S. District Court judge ruled on Thursday that a trio of gun control laws passed last year by the Colorado Legislature does not infringe on 2nd Amendment rights – although the way she phrased her ruling makes it sound as though she’s anticipating a bitter public reaction.

Marcia Krieger, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, predicated the basis for her ruling on precedent laid down by other courts – most notably the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which relied on an innovative interpretation of the “well-regulated militia” qualifier contained in the 2nd Amendment.

Having established the scope (or limits) of her interpretive context, Krieger went on to rule that the group of plaintiffs who had sued to have the laws overturned had not demonstrated that those laws threatened Coloradans’ ability to use firearms for self defense.

Krieger’s tone was apologetic. “Judicial review of laws for constitutional compliance focuses on only a small sliver of the issues that the legislature considers. A court does not act as a super-legislature to determine the wisdom or workability of legislation. Instead, it determines only whether legislation is constitutionally permissible. A law may be constitutional, but nevertheless foolish, ineffective, or cumbersome to enforce,” she wrote in her decision.

She later offered, “Constitutionality is a binary determination: either a law is constitutional, or it is not. This Court will not express a qualitative opinion as to whether a law is “good” or “bad,” “wise” or “unwise,” “sound policy” or a “hastily-considered overreaction.” Similarly, this Court will not assess what alternatives the legislature could have chosen, nor determine whether the enacted laws were the best alternative. Such decisions belong to the people acting through their legislature. Put another way, in determining whether a law is constitutional, this decision does not determine whether either law is “good,” only whether it is constitutionally permissible.”

On the question of whether the laws collectively represent a 2nd Amendment infringement, Krieger wrote:

Many Circuit Courts of Appeal, including the Tenth Circuit, have adopted a two-step approach. See United States v. Reese, 627 F.3d 792 (10th Cir. 2010); United States v. Marzzarella, 614 F.3d 85 (3d Cir. 2010); Ezell v. City of Chicago, 651 F.3d 684 (7th Cir. 2011); United States v. Chovan, 735 F.3d 1127 (9th Cir. 2013); Heller v. District of Columbia (“Heller II”), 670 F.3d 1244 (D.C. Cir. 2011); United States v. Chester, 628 F.3d 673 (4th Cir. 2010).

In the two-step approach, a court must make a threshold determination of whether the challenged law burdens conduct falling within the Second Amendment’s protection. As part of this determination, the Court may consider whether the challenged law impacts firearms or firearm use, whether the affected firearms are currently in “common use,” whether the affected firearms are used for self-defense inside or outside of the home, and whether the restriction is akin to restrictions that were historically imposed and customarily accepted.

If the challenged law does not burden a right or conduct protected by the Second Amendment, then the inquiry is over.

… Although Heller sometimes uses shorthand phrases such as “a natural right of self-defense,” 554 U.S. at 612, or the “inherent right of self- defense,” 554 U.S. at 612, it is clear that Heller does not extend the boundaries of the Second Amendment to guarantee “self-defense” as a right in and of itself. Nothing in Heller can be read to guarantee an individual right to possess whatever firearm he or she subjectively perceives to be necessary or useful for self-defense, nor any firearm for a purpose other than self-defense. To the contrary, the Supreme Court expressly stated that the rights embodied by the Second Amendment have not historically been understood to be “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever.”

Democratic Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed the three gun control bills, passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature, into law in March of 2013. The laws expanded universal background checks for gun transactions, including private ones; instituted a background check fee; and restricted legal magazine capacity to 15 rounds, mandating that all magazines manufactured in the State after July 2013 bear unique ID markings.

The laws generated instant controversy, ultimately leading to a voter recall of two State Senators who supported the measures, as well as the pre-emptive resignation of a third.

How Much Does It Cost To Make A Handful Of Awful Websites? If You’re The Government, About $5 Billion

As part of its big assist to States preparing for the October 2013 launch of Obamacare, the Federal government cumulatively spent close to $3.5 billion in order to help craft websites and their underpinning database structures for State-operated health insurance exchanges. By the end of 2015, that figure will have risen to at least $4.9 billion.

A report out this month by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) shows a series of massive payouts since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, with an indefinite amount yet to come.

“Indefinite?” Yes. It’s an open-checkbook provision for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to continue doling Federal site-building grants to States at its discretion through the end of the year. It’s one of those significant details embedded in the law that, infamously, no one read until it had been passed (and probably, in many cases, not even afterward). The CRS report explains:

The ACA provided an indefinite appropriation for HHS grants to states to support the planning and establishment of exchanges. For each fiscal year, the HHS Secretary is to determine the total amount that will be made available to each state for exchange grants. No grant may be awarded after January 1, 2015.

There are three different types of exchange grants. First, planning grants were awarded to 49 states and DC. These grants of about $1 million each were intended to provide resources to states to help them plan their health insurance exchanges. Second, there have been multiple rounds of exchange establishment grants. There are two levels of exchange establishment grants: level one establishment grants are awarded to states that have made some progress using their planning funds, and level two establishment grants are designed to provide funding to states that are farther along in the establishment of an exchange. Finally, HHS awarded seven early innovator grants to states (including one award to a consortium of New England states) to support the design and implementation of the information technology systems needed to operate the exchanges. To date, HHS has awarded a total of more than $4.8 billion to states and DC in planning, establishment, and early innovator grants.

As you likely have read here and elsewhere, many of the State websites have problems that dwarf even those bundled in with the Federal government’s catch-all Healthcare.gov site. As for Healthcare.gov itself, Obama pushed an on-time deployment despite urgent warnings from auditors in the tech field who noted it wasn’t even capable of remaining stable when 500 people visited at one time.

But what about those seven “early innovator grants” awarded to States that were to use the additional funds to create the Obamacare Web systems that would set the bar for other States to emulate — the States that, according to HHS, “are leading the way on building a better health insurance marketplace, one that allows individuals and small-business owners to pool their purchasing power to negotiate lower rates?”

The three most spectacular State-level Obamacare failures have taken place in States that received the early innovator grants.

There’s Oregon, the undisputed poster child for Obamacare embarrassment. There’s Maryland, a close second. And then there’s Massachusetts, which managed to transform Romneycare, under Obamacare, into a nightmare.

“Using these new funds, the Early Innovator states will develop Exchange IT models that can be adopted and tailored by other states,” HHS had boasted at the time the grants were announced. “Kansas, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Wisconsin, and a multi-state consortium led by the University of Massachusetts Medical School will receive a total of approximately $241 million.”

For all States — including those that elected not to set up their own exchanges — the Federal government initially radiated $456 million for “exchange operations” during the 2010-2012 preparation phase, then shelled out $1.5 billion more in 2013 as the exchanges readied for launch. For 2014, HHS projects it will send out $1.390 billion, and another $1.8 billion in 2015.

GOP-Backed Bill Pledges $1 Million To Anyone Who Can Produce Lerner’s Emails

Earn six-figure money long enough and you’ll probably end up paying the government $1 million over the course of your lifetime. Want to get it back? All you have to do is figure out how to produce the Internal Revenue Service’s infamous missing emails — and hope a stunt piece of legislation from two Texas Republicans magically becomes a law.

Congressmen Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Bill Flores (R-Texas) have come up with a wanted-poster piece of legislation, of sorts, that’s ostensibly aimed at bring Lois Lerner’s missing emails to light — although political gamesmanship probably has something to do with it, too.

The so-called Identify and Recover Sent E-Mails Act simply provides a government-guaranteed monetary award “to any individual who provides information pertaining to the electronic communications sent by Lois Lerner during her employment at the Internal Revenue Service,” pledging that “the Secretary of the Treasury shall pay a cash award of $1,000,000 to such individual or group of individuals.”

If you can come up with evidence that leads to a prosecution for anyone responsible for concealing or destroying those same documents, the reward is $500,000:

Upon receipt of certification from the Attorney General that an individual or group of individuals has provided pertinent information sufficient for prosecution of the individuals involved in illegal activities (if any) with respect to the destruction of the electronic communications sent by Lois Lerner during her employment with the Internal Revenue Service, the Secretary of the Treasury shall pay a cash award of $500,000 to any such individual or group of individuals.

The funds would come from “the unobligated amounts available for fiscal year 2014 in Public Law 113-76 under the heading “Department of the Treasury—Internal Revenue Service—Taxpayer Services.” In other words, there’s more money in the 2014 IRS budget than has been spent, and the reward money will come from the leftovers.

While there’s no doubt House Republicans are right to be relentless in the pursuit of what looks more and more each day like an implausible story (how can we not recover emails that were cc’d to Lerner’s Blackberry?), the bill also underscores the needlessly partisan theater that some GOP leaders have managed to generate over a scandal that, if handled honestly, would likely produce the requisite headline-grabbing drama on its own merits.

It’s perhaps good theater for the House Oversight Committee to continue flogging big names like IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over the missing emails. But a day’s testimony from the appropriate lower-level tech people and their immediate supervisors — people whose names you’ve never heard — might easily resolve the ongoing question of where the emails are or aren’t, how they got that way and whether they can be produced.

But we’re in the pre-election dog days, when every political action, no matter how banal, simple or quick, has added value as a vehicle for less-than subtle messaging. House Republicans have every political incentive to drag these hearings out all summer, beating up on the big names. It helps that the big names probably deserve everything they’re getting, but it doesn’t alter the possibility that there’s a much quicker — if less sexy — way to get to the bottom of the Lerner saga.

On the other hand, if the GOP is this doggedly committed to staging an (admittedly entertaining) floor show, it may be a sign that they’re supremely confident about what the payoff will be.

If that’s the case, expect them to announce they’ve finally found the smoking gun — sometime in the fall.

Another Idyllic Community Alarmed By MRAP-Loving Law Enforcement

Walton County, Fla. (pop. 55,000) just got its first MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle), and a lot of residents of the slow-paced, Deep-South coastal community aren’t happy about it.

MRAPs are mine-resistant armored vehicles designed to deflect the force of IED detonations in combat zones. They were engineered for warfare, and the ones streaming into municipal police departments today had their first life in American military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even in that role, their use has been criticized because the vehicles’ hyper-military appearance can intimidate locals and erode rapport between American forces and the people they’re deployed to liberate and protect.

Grassroots journalism website The Anti-Media illustrates just how far Walton County is, in culture, from a combat zone:

Walton County is a part of Florida that is so crime free you can leave your doors unlocked. When Hollywood location scouts were looking for a community so perfect that it appeared to be fake, they came to Walton County. The Truman Show, staring Jim Carey, was filmed on location in a small Walton County community.

As with other local law enforcement agencies nationwide who’ve tapped into the Federal government’s surplus military equipment program, the Walton County Sheriff’s Department obtained the warfighting beast for the cost of transporting it back to Defuniak Springs – Walton’s county seat and largest city at 5,000 people.

According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, it’s got some people freaked out. Quoting one Facebook user upset by the message the acquisition sends to the community, the News observed:

One Destin resident commented on the Walton County Sheriff’s Facebook page that the county didn’t need an MRAP.

“This doesn’t make the officers safer. All studies show that the more militarized a department becomes, the more often officers get hurt,” the commenter said. “This is Walton County, Florida, not Iraq, not Afghanistan.”

Others agreed, calling the vehicle overkill, and in one case, “an offensive intimidation method used to controll [sic] and strike fear.”

But sheriff Mike Adkinson argues there’s no logic in turning down free equipment that, he insists, does have the potential to ensure officers’ safety – however remote the possibility that an adequately dire situation will arise to justify its use.

“I know that if somebody was in harm’s way, I wouldn’t let public opinion decide the safety of my deputy,” he told the paper. “Safety is my number one priority.”

Notice he didn’t say “public safety.”

Pennsylvania Sheriff Sticks Up For Gun Owners’ Privacy, Fights Auditors Over Release Of Names

Carl Nace, the sheriff of Perry County, Pa., is being sued. He won’t turn over his constituents’ gun licensing information to county auditors, and the auditors are suing him for the information, with a promise that they’ll return all the files once they’ve reviewed them.

Nace has steadfastly refused to release that information, telling The Patriot-News in April, “They want the names of the people who have gun permits, and that’s confidential.”

On Monday, the Perry County Commission agreed with him, unanimously voting (under the watchful eye of dozens of concerned locals) to hire a new auditor — under the condition that the auditor cannot be granted access to the permit holders’ names.

So far, that vote hasn’t settled the lawsuit, filed June 11 by auditors Kimberly McMullen, Barbara Hench and Donna Jones. They maintain that they are exempted from the State law sheriff Nace cites. But, judging from the passionate support for Nace the issue has generated, they’re clearly in the minority.

Whether he wins or loses the legal battle, Nace has already prevailed in the court of public opinion. Voters in Perry County turned up to the county commission meeting to declare their appreciation and support of the sheriff’s decision.

“One by one people went before Perry County Commissioners Monday to show their support for Sheriff Carl Nace,” WPMT reported Monday.

“The issue brought about no shortage of passion, and filled a courtroom on a Monday morning,” reported The Patriot-News. “Numerous residents shared their feelings with the commissioners, saying the auditors’ request is illegal, and it violates their rights. Most statements were met with applause.”

One resident explained his support for the sheriff’s position isn’t rooted only in the 2nd Amendment, but in his concern for government infringement on civil liberties generally.

“I’m a little disappointed nothing was resolved today,” resident Jim Lucas — evidently referencing the ongoing lawsuit against Nace — told The Patriot-News following Monday’s commission vote. “But I am extremely happy and enthusiastic that so many of my fellow Perry Countians are concerned about their civil rights.”

Massachusetts Lawmakers Crafting Unprecedented State Powers Into New Gun Control Bill

A bill that could ban private gun sales, set a high threshold of qualification for owning a gun and grant law enforcement broad discretion in issuing permits even for long guns is making its way through the committee process of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

The bill, HB 4121, would place a host of new hurdles in the path of potential gun owners in a State that’s not known for its lawmakers’ restraint in leaving the 2nd Amendment as it is. Gun owners both inside the State, as well as those throughout the Nation concerned about the general erosion of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, are calling the measure extreme and dangerous.

“This egregious bill would empower police chiefs with discretion in licensing owners for shotguns and rifles, ban the private sale of firearms except through a licensed gun dealer, and create new firearm possession qualifications that could ban firearm ownership for thousands of hunters and gun enthusiasts across the Commonwealth,” warns the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA):

HB 4121 is dangerous legislation that seeks to further strip away your Second Amendment rights in Massachusetts. As anyone who has gone through the process to legally obtain a firearm in Massachusetts knows, there is no dearth of existing state laws that regulate the sale, purchase and transfer of firearms. State legislators on Beacon Hill should be repealing gun control laws, NOT enacting more to further restrict your Second Amendment rights.

The NRA-ILA is imploring Massachusetts residents to contact their State representatives and “urge them to vote against this dangerous anti-gun bill.” Even law enforcement within the State has come out against the bill; the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (MASS C.O.P.) — the State’s largest law enforcement union — has issued an official statement opposing the gun grab:

The Massachusetts Coalition of Police submitted written testimony to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security in opposition of House Bill 4121 An Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence. Our reasoning is that we do not agree with the change in what can disqualify you for a license to carry a firearm in this bill. In the current legislation, if you are convicted of a misdemeanor that carries a punishment of two years or more, you are disqualified. In this bill it reduces that time to one year. This could negatively impact some of our members who had previously qualified and had no issues in the past. In some cases it could potentially terminate employment. This is the one issue within the bill that has an effect on our membership’s employment. There may be other issues that you do not agree with, or agree with in the bill. In any case, you should call your local State Representative and let them know that you are not in favor of this bill.

The Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) is keeping a running tab on the bill as it moves through the Legislature (it’s currently before the House Ways and Means committee); you can view its progress and find legislative contact information here.

First Quarter GDP Revised Downward Even Further; Apologists Say Don’t Worry

You know that first-quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report that shows the economy exhibited recession-like contraction over the first three months of this year? The one the Commerce department keeps revising as more data comes in, each time making the news a little worse?

Today it got a lot worse. What started out weeks ago as an estimate that the GDP had contracted by 1 percent (then was revised two weeks ago to -1.7 percent) has now plunged to -2.9 percent.

Commerce revealed today that GDP fell by 2.9 percent from January through March, thanks to some combination of a decrease in personal consumption, weak foreign trade, and (mentioned in the first two reports) winter, or something. The drop is the biggest single-quarter drop in GDP in five years.

“Real GDP declined 2.9 percent in the first quarter, after increasing 2.6 percent in the fourth,” the revised Commerce report states. “This downturn in the percent change in real GDP primarily reflected a downturn in exports, a larger decrease in private inventory investment, a deceleration in PCE, and downturns in nonresidential fixed investment and in state and local government spending that were partly offset by an upturn in federal government spending.”

No worries, though – things are about to turn around in a major way. At least, that’s what Wall Street’s saying. “The case that the awful first quarter report was an outlier is bolstered by the relative strength of other recent economic data,” The Hill reported, using the 6.3 percent unemployment rate reported by the BLS as its first piece of evidence.

“We’ll see good growth in the rest of 2014. This is a blip,” PNC Financial’s Gus Faucher told The Hill. “I do think that going forward, things are looking much better.”

“It was ugly reading, but I think it was a combination of a lot of one-off negative impacts that all hit at the same time,” a Bank of the West economist echoed in the same article.

Colorado Governor Waffles On Merits Of Gun Control Laws He Signed Last Year

Democratic Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has managed to alienate just about everybody over the past week by reflecting on the State’s controversial gun control laws, which he signed in March of last year, with commentary that has ranged from remorseful to defiant. At the end of it all, he’s pleased almost no one and angered many — on both sides of the matter.

Knowing how unpopular the State’s new gun control laws were with most county sheriffs, Hickenlooper made a point of apologizing for the manner in which he and the Democratic-controlled State Legislature passed the laws last year. Several Colorado sheriffs have filed a lawsuit aiming to overturn the laws, which they believe limit the right to bear arms codified in the 2nd Amendment.

According to Denver-based KUSA News, Hickenlooper attempted an “awkward” apology on June 13, when he addressed a room full of county sheriffs gathered for their biennial meeting:

The governor apologized to the sheriffs for not meeting with them prior to the passage of gun control bills they opposed. Hickenlooper also said his administration didn’t do a good job anticipating pushback on gun control. Hickenlooper pledged better communication in the future.

According to the same report, HIckenlooper immediately demonstrated his idea of better communication by saying “What the f—? I apologized!” when Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith attempted to question him further.

That remark has put Hickenlooper on his heels, and he hasn’t responded in a way that clarifies his position — or that makes his apology resonate with sheriffs. He told another local TV station last week that he had no idea his remarks were being observed by news media, explaining to Fox 31 that “I tried to give them honest, unscripted, candid answers.”

Hickenlooper had reportedly told the sheriffs that he signed the laws only because one of his staffers had promised one bill’s sponsor that he would. But in his Fox 31 interview, he instead claimed that had nothing to do with it.

He also told the station that he never meant to imply (or plainly say) that the gun laws were bad or unenforceable, and that he’d enact them all over again if they crossed his desk.

“I didn’t say it’s unenforceable, I said it’s difficult to enforce,” he said. “A lot of laws are difficult to enforce; that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be there. If we went through the process again, I’d sign it again.”

Smith addressed Hickenlooper’s “I didn’t know there were reporters” claim to his Facebook followers:

This meeting between the sheriffs and the governor was an open meeting attended by at least three press outlets (two from Aspen and one from Grand Junction.) This was known by the governor as I believe he spoke with a couple of those reporters. There were also news photographers in the room throughout his presentation- not something that you could miss.

However, the news of the governor’s “fumble” did not come from any reporter in the room. Their reports were quite bland and vague.

Social media, via Sheriff Spruell, turned out to be the reporter in the room this time. It was only after Sheriff Spruell’s viral posting and follow up posts by other sheriffs along with audio and video pieces later published to the web that this “fumble” came to the voters [sic] attention.

Now, the governor is in hot water, not only with his opponents on gun control, but also with his previous allies on the issue for blatant waffling and pandering.

Like it or hate it, we are seeing an information revolution that is changing the world as we know it. Information is power and the people have more power than ever.

Indeed, otherwise-supportive observers have openly questioned Hickenlooper’s perplexing lack of focus as he attempts damage control on both sides. The Daily Beast, which harbors no love for a plain reading of the 2nd Amendment, insinuated that Hickenlooper’s apparent bipolarity is a symptom of the unpopularity of gun control as an effective political platform:

How dire is the political situation for supporters of gun control?

Consider the case of Colorado, which saw two horrific mass shootings in the past 20 years, and in response, passed meaningful gun-control legislation last year.

But last week, Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who made those measures a centerpiece of his first term, backed swiftly away from them in a meeting with a group of county sheriffs.

…[P]erhaps another errant remark by Hickenlooper recorded at the meeting sums up the whole imbroglio best.

“If we had known that this was going to divide the state so intensely,” Hickenlooper said. “I think we would have thought about it twice.”

The passage of Colorado’s new gun laws sparked a grass-roots movement among angry conservative voters that ultimately led to the recall of two of the laws’ sponsors — State Senate President John Morse and State Senator Angela Giron — as well as the pre-emptive resignation of State Senator Evie Hudak.

Not Even Democrats Believe The IRS Accidentally Lost Lerner Emails

More than three-fourths of American voters in a poll released today agree that the loss of email communications crucial to the House investigation into the IRS’ discrimination against conservative groups was anything but an accident.

In the Fox News tracking poll, only 12 percent of voters responded that they believe the emails were lost by accident. Another 12 percent said they weren’t sure. And the remaining 76 percent said they were “lost” on purpose.

Not even voters who identified themselves as Democrats buy the idea that benign, end-user computer problems can explain how the IRS is unable to retrieve emails subpoenaed in the House investigation. Sixty-three percent of Democrats said they believe those communications were “destroyed deliberately,” while only 20 percent said it must have been an accident.

The poll also indicates overwhelming support for the House investigation, with 74 percent of voters responding “yes” when asked “Do you think Congress should continue to investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of hundreds of conservative and tea party groups until someone is held accountable, or not?” That includes Democrats: 66 percent support the investigation.

So much for the effectiveness of the Obama Administration’s “witch hunt” talking point tactic to push the scandal to the margins.

IRS Admits Wrongdoing In Settlement With Traditional Marriage Group Over Leaked Donor List

The IRS has admitted wrongdoing in the illegal release of names on a confidential list of conservative donors to a rival political group and has agreed to pay $50,000 to the conservative group whose members’ names were wrongly leaked.

A U.S. District Court judge accepted a settlement today in the case, which pitted the IRS as a defendant against the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a conservative group whose membership was leaked by an internal IRS source, using information meant only for IRS documentation purposes, to a liaison for a gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

A reading of this case’s history quickly disabuses the observer of any impression of an impersonal, run-of-the-mill bureaucratic screw-up and replaces it with something far more human and mendacious. This wasn’t a case of someone inadvertently hitting the wrong button on a computer or mistakenly lumping in one stack of information with another; it was instead an attempt to wilfully present legally-protected donor information to an adversarial political group to influence the relative power one wielded against the other.

Here’s how The Daily Signal, which first reported today’s decision, summarizes it:

In February 2012, the Human Rights Campaign posted on its web site NOM’s 2008 tax return and the names and contact information of the marriage group’s major donors, including soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. That information then was published by the Huffington Post and other liberal-leaning news sites.

HRC’s president at the time, Joe Solmonese, was tapped that same month as a national co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

Eastman said an investigation in the civil lawsuit determined that someone gave NOM’s tax return and list of major donors to Boston-based gay rights activist Matthew Meisel. Email correspondence from Meisel revealed that he told a colleague of “a conduit” to obtain the marriage group’s confidential information.

Testifying under oath in a deposition as part of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Meisel invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself and declined to disclose the identity of his “conduit.”

To get at that fact, Eastman said, the National Organization for Marriage has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to grant immunity from prosecution to Meisel.

So a “conduit” at the IRS fished out the names of all the donors who expressed their support for the state’s present legal definition of marriage through a political movement, and handed that confidential information over to an activist who wants that definition to change. Then that activist revealed that illegally-obtained information to a competing political group, which got its cause some instant press from media outlets invested in advancing the issue. The Obama campaign then swooped in and recruited the president of the group that had shared the illegally-gotten info away from his position and made him the President’s campaign manager. Oh, and the President’s opponent in that election cycle just happened to be one of the guys on the victim group’s donor list.

Regardless of which side of the marriage issue you stand on, that’s just messed up.

It’s also not just a civil matter – it’s a crime. “Unauthorized disclosure of confidential tax information is a felony offense that can result in five years in prison, but the Department of Justice did not bring criminal charges,” the Daily Signal observed. So far, and until the “conduit” (presumably an IRS employee) is revealed, the IRS itself is the only named culprit – and that’s merely for this now-settled civil action.

The $50,000 the IRS must pay will necessarily come from public coffers, whether by means of a standing liability protection plan or direct payment. “The $50,000 to be paid by the IRS represents actual damages NOM incurred responding to the illegal disclosure, not punitive damages,” notes the Signal, because “the marriage group was unable to prove disclosure of the confidential records was deliberate after Meisel took the Fifth.”

South Dakota GOP Asks House Rep To Start Obama Impeachment Proceedings

The South Dakota Republican Party voted by a narrow margin over the weekend to ask its single delegate to the House of Representatives, Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem, to initiate articles of impeachment against President Barack Obama.

By a 191-176 vote, the State party approved a resolution which “calls on our U.S. Representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the United States,” according to the Sioux Falls-based Argus Leader, because the President has “violated his oath of office in numerous ways.”

The gesture marks the latest instance of impeachment saber-rattling, continuing a conservative trope that has endured throughout Obama’s first 5.5 years in office.

South Dakota’s GOP leaders evidently realize the measure’s impact is, likely, merely symbolic. But their remarks indicate the resolution represents an important demarcation of the party’s collective belief that Obama has flouted the Constitution, brought enduring shame to the institutions of public service at the Federal level, and subverted the intended balance of power between the three branches of government.

According to the Argus Leader, Allen Unruh, the measure’s sponsor, believes the South Dakota GOP will “send a symbolic message that liberty shall be the law of the land” by formally requesting impeachment proceedings.

“If anyone in this room cannot see the horrendous, traitorous scandals run by the Obama administration, I will pray for you,” Larry Klipp, another of the resolution’s supporters, told the party.

But Noem — who has been plenty critical of Obama — isn’t likely to forge ahead with the impeachment idea.

“The Congresswoman currently believes the best way for Congress to hold the President accountable is to continue aggressive committee oversight and investigations into the Administration’s actions like the ongoing VA scandal, the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, Benghazi, and the recent Taliban prisoner exchange,” a Noem staffer told the newspaper following the impeachment vote.

IRS Chief Koskinen Has History Of Donating To Democrats

Stuck in the swelter of House Republicans’ angry criticism for his agency’s misplacement of subpoenaed emails, as well as his own leisurely disposition toward Congressional investigators looking into discriminatory targeting of political conservatives, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen might understandably hold an adversarial view of the GOP these days.

But if campaign finance records offer any insight, that’s nothing new: the 74-year-old Koskinen has been an energetic donor to Democratic campaigns for more than 30 years.

Dating back to the late 1970s, Koskinen has shelled out close to $100,000 for Democratic candidates and causes — most recently just last year, when he contributed $2,500 to the campaign of Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.).

According to a report Monday at The Washington Free Beacon, Koskinen’s track record as a campaign donor reveals a clear pattern of partisan sympathy that’s spanned half a lifetime:

Koskinen has been a reliable donor over the years, contributing a total of $19,000 to the Democratic National Committee from 1988 to 2008. He has made a contribution to the Democratic candidate for president in each election since 1980, including $2,300 to Obama in 2008, and $5000 to Obama in 2012.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has received $3,000 from Koskinen since 2008, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee received $2,000 from 2004 to 2006.

…Koskinen’s most recent contribution was $2,500 to Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) in February of 2013.

Koskinen was appointed IRS commissioner later that year, and was tasked with revamping the tax agency in the wake of criticism that it was allowing partisanship dictate which groups applying for tax-exempt status would receive extra scrutiny.

Koskinen began his IRS appointment with a general pledge to un-dig the hole in which the agency has found its public image in the wake of the still-simmering conservative discrimination scandal. “It took a little while to dig the hole, and it’s going to take us a little while to get out of it,” he told reporters after being sworn in in early January.

“The public needs to be confident that they will be treated fairly no matter who they are, what organization they are or whom they voted for,” he reiterated at a Washington luncheon in May.

But as the agency’s good faith response to House investigators’ requests for evidence has faltered — particularly with respect to its alleged withholding of information about the disappearance of email communications between IRS employees named in the scandal — Koskinen has literally become less apologetic about the damage the IRS has done to his longtime ideological opponents.

“I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen told Ways and Means Committee member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) at a hearing on the matter last week.