Say It Ain’t So: Publisher Takes A Bath On Hillary Clinton’s Book

Publisher Simon & Schuster paid Hillary Clinton a $14 million advance for her new book, Hard Choices. Unless people start reading it, the company will never recoup that payout — let alone make a profit — on Clinton’s memoir of her stint as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State.

Not only has Hard Choices lagged in sales; its brief stint atop the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list ended last week, giving way to Blood Feud — a sensationalist criticism of the Clinton-Obama family squabble from conservative author Edward Klein.

The Times itself had lamentations. “It is a powerful statement about today’s publishing realities that Mr. Klein’s book, a 320-page unauthorized and barely sourced account full of implausible passages, including one about a physical altercation between Mrs. Clinton and President Obama, has landed atop the New York Times best-seller list, knocking ‘Hard Choices’ to No. 2.”

Maybe people simply prefer reading about entertaining implausibilities to slogging through boring, omissive window dressing.

At any rate, Hard Choices needs to sell at greater volume or at higher cost (or some combination of the two) in order for Simon & Schuster ever to see a dime of profit. According to the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard, the book had sold 177,236 hardcover copies as of Friday. As he goes on to point out, numbers like those don’t get the publisher very far.

“Even at 200,000 total sales, simple math finds that for Simon & Schuster to cover the $14 million advance, each book would have had to sell for about $70,” Bedard wrote. “Amazon offers it for $20.94, about $14 off the $35 list price. It has dropped to 103rd in Amazon sales, compared to 10th for Blood Feud.

“Even at full price, 200,000 in sales would cover just half — $7 million — of Clinton’s advance.”

E-book sales figures aren’t a part of that total, but there are other ways to speculate on how well an e-book is faring. The Washington Post employed a math professor’s non-scientific “formula” for finding out how far readers get into the e-books they’ve downloaded, and came away with the impression that Hard Choices, on average, retained readers’ attention for only 2.04 percent (33 pages) of its length.

But the book — including the gonzo advance — was apparently an altruistic endeavor for Simon & Schuster. In late June, already early enough to see that the book’s staying power would wane early, a company spokesperson told The Washington Post that, “most importantly, reader reaction has been terrific.”

That, wrote the Post‘s Phillip Bump, “is the book publishing equivalent of telling your kid that the important thing about his lopsided loss in soccer was that everyone had fun.”

Second Judge Puts IRS On The Clock To Explain Lois Lerner’s ‘Lost’ Emails Under Oath

Another Federal judge – the second in as many days – has ordered the IRS to explain how a trove of Lois Lerner’s emails was lost to an alleged hard drive crash. But instead of giving the agency 30 days to come up with the info, as a judge in a separate case did yesterday, today U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton gave the IRS one week.

Today’s order calls for the agency to spend the next week tracking down Lerner’s junked hard drive and to return for a report to the court on July 18. If the IRS comes back empty, Walton wants an IRS tech official with “firsthand knowledge” of the hard drive’s chain of custody to submit a sworn affidavit explaining why it can’t be retrieved. He also instructed the IRS to include information about the expertise and qualifications of staffers who had previously handled Lerner’s computer after its failure had originally been reported.

Walton presided today over a hearing in the case, which pits the IRS as a defendant against a lawsuit filed by Texas-based True the Vote, one of the conservative groups allegedly singled out by the IRS for political discrimination as the 2012 presidential election season unfolded.

True the Vote had asked Walton last week to authorize independent technical experts to conduct a thorough forensic examination; one that would attempt to determine the truth of the IRS’ claim that approximately two years’ worth of Lerner’s emails cannot be retrieved from any computer, anywhere.

But today’s order concerns only the guts of Lois Lerner’s work computer. It doesn’t explicitly order the IRS to give a full accounting of potential evidence lost from email servers, mobile devices, backup systems and the like. And Walton did not address today the possibility that a search for that evidence by outside experts might become a part of this case, although it is his prerogative to grant or deny that request as the case progresses.

Walton’s one-week order comes only a day after another Federal judge, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, gave the agency a 30-day deadline to produce an account of how the emails went missing, and to designate an IRS official to take an oath affirming the accuracy of that report. Sullivan’s order comes in a separate Freedom of Information lawsuit against the IRS filed by government watchdog Judicial Watch.

Here’s some background on the True the Vote lawsuit, as well as a story on yesterday’s order in the Judicial Watch case.

Bloomberg Gives Colorado Governor Hickenlooper’s GOP Opponent An Unintended Gift

Sometimes they make it easy.

Michael Bloomberg gave 2nd Amendment advocates, as well as Coloradans of every ideological persuasion, plenty to get cranky about when his uninformed and condescending remarks about the State were printed in a Rolling Stone interview the magazine erroneously posted a few days too early to its website (cached version here).

Bloomberg’s offending words? “The NRA went after two or three state senators in a part of Colorado where I don’t think there’s roads. It’s as far rural as you can get. And, yes, they lost recall elections.”

Though intended, perhaps, as an attempt to flippantly and humorously downplay the impact of voter reaction to the passage of new gun control laws in Colorado last year, Bloomberg’s comment struck locals as an insult borne of aloof, elitist ignorance concerning the real, ground-level America he wishes to improve.

Even the local TV news got in on the act, with an anchor for Colorado Springs-based KKTV retorting “we have plenty of paved roads.”

The biggest beneficiary from Bloomberg’s dorkism is probably Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, who pounced on the remarks by offering this statement:

Michael Bloomberg’s infuriatingly ignorant remarks show how far removed he is from Colorado, and how wrong John Hickenlooper was to let Bloomberg force his radical agenda on Colorado.

The biggest loser, as you might have guessed, is probably Hickenlooper – the Democratic incumbent Governor of Colorado (and Beauprez’ opponent this fall) who sided with the majority in the State legislature by signing the three gun control measures into law last year.

Voters responded to that measure by ousting two State Senators in recall votes, and effectively forced the pre-emptive resignation of a third lawmaker who didn’t want the hassle of dealing with a successful recall vote.

HHS Wasted $62 Billion On Fraudulent And Improper Payouts In 2013

Obamacare wasn’t the only thing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was screwing up last year. A Senate report released Wednesday accuses the maligned department with squandering more than $62 billion in fraudulent or improper benefit payments in 2013.

The report, done by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, shows that HHS blew through $62.2 billion in bogus Medicare and Medicaid payouts, comprising 10.1 percent of all benefit payments the department administered in 2013.

That’s an increase from fiscal year 2012, when HHS managed an improper payment rate of 8.5 percent, and represents a backslide from prior years, during which the department had managed to trim the rate of such occurrences.

According to the Government Accountability Office (which considers Medicare a high-risk program because of its propensity for improper spending), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is responsible for the bulk of the mismanagement, paying out about $50 billion in improper benefits last year.

“The improper payment rate rose this year despite multiple efforts by the CMS and its contractors to review claims both before and after payment, and to implement automatic payment rules, or edits, which deny claims that do not comply with Medicare requirements before payment occurs,” the Senate report states. “Industry stakeholders have complained that the CMS’s multiple audits and claims review processes are duplicative and poorly coordinated, placing an undue burden on providers, while doing little to reduce improper payments.”

Indeed, Committee members criticized CMS’s risk management approach, which focuses more on auditing to catch past mistakes instead of preventing them from happening in the first place.

“The increase in audits has not translated into a reduction in improper payments,” said ranking Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). “In fact, Medicare is currently experiencing its highest improper payment rate in five years.”

The report itself cites an example that has arisen from the implementation of Obamacare, which in the early going has been plagued by technical and administrative mix-ups that leave the door open for improper benefit payments.

“The Affordable Care Act also expanded the RAC [Recovery Audit Contractor] program to Medicaid and began audit processes in some states in 2012,” the report notes:

The American Dental Association (ADA) immediately began to hear concerns from its members and reached out to Members of Congress to call for transparent, fair, consistent and statistically sound audit processes in each state. The ADA’s concerns primarily center around the lack of transparency in the audit process and notification procedures. Additional concerns include the statistical sampling and extrapolation methods used, the qualification of RAC auditors, and the knowledge level of those auditors regarding specific State Medicaid billing regulations.

Audited providers were also concerned that no efforts were made by either CMS or the RACs to education providers or help them learn from overpayment errors in order to avoid future audits and collections. The ADA’s primary concern was that the burdensome and opaque nature of the audit process may cause providers to drop out of the Medicaid program, which already struggles to attract and maintain dental professionals willing to provide critical dental services to Medicaid patients.

In other words, not only is the CMS focus on auditing ineffective at stopping abuse, but it’s also driving dentists away from providing services to people who acquire insurance through Obamacare.

That effectively sabotages Obamacare’s fundamental promise: to offer affordable healthcare coverage to more people and to ensure patients ready access to an adequate array of healthcare provider options.

Young Voters Favor Socially Liberal, Fiscally Conservative Candidates

Young voters who align across the ideological spectrum seem to come together on one thing: most prefer political candidates who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal, despite the fact there aren’t very many Federal-level candidates who fit that description.

A Reason-Rupe survey released Thursday indicates that even though most young Americans who fall within the so-called “millennial” age demographic identify themselves as liberals or moderates, they’re far more likely to favor a conservative approach to fiscal matters. It’s the conservative approach to social issues, though, that seems to be the sticking point.

According to the survey, 53 percent of millennials said they would favor a fiscally conservative/socially liberal candidate, while another 16 percent said they were not sure. Only 31 percent said they would not vote for such a candidate.

Those findings suggest that young people are paying more attention to how politics affects culture — not economics.

“The fact that a socially liberal, fiscally conservative candidate mainly attracts liberals over conservatives indicates that social issues rather than economics largely drive millennials’ political judgments,” wrote pro-libertarian Reason in an accompanying story. “It also suggests millennials are more socially liberal than they are economically liberal.”

As if to drive that point home, the survey indicates that self-identified young conservatives make up the only ideological group in which more people (48 percent) said they would oppose a fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidate than those who said they’d favor such a candidate (43 percent).

Millennials, for the purposes of the survey, are “young Americans aged 18-29 years old.”

Reason also observed that the appeal of a candidate who keeps a tight watch on public funds while adopting a more laissez-faire platform for social issues appears to transcend racial demographics.

In other words, a libertarian-leaning candidate willing to take such a dichotomous approach could find support inside demographic territory traditionally staked out (and taken for granted) by America’s two predominant political parties.

“While partisanship and voting intention often vary by race and ethnicity, this is less so for a libertarian-leaning candidate,” wrote Reason. “Fifty-five percent of both white and Latino millennials would support such a candidate, while 30 percent would oppose. Slightly fewer African-American and Asian American millennials would support the candidate, by a margin of roughly 46 percent in support to 37 percent opposed.”

View the full survey here.

Judge Orders IRS To Swear To An Explanation Of How Lerner’s Emails Disappeared

Only a day before a U.S. District judge will weigh arguments to decide whether to use independent IT experts to track down Lois Lerner’s missing emails, another judge in a separate lawsuit has ordered the IRS to describe, under oath, exactly how those emails turned up missing.

The order, issued by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan following a hearing today, pertains to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against the IRS by nonprofit government watchdog Judicial Watch.

The Federal tax collecting agency is also a defendant in a similar lawsuit filed by True the Vote, a Texas-based conservative group that alleges it was among the conservative nonprofits targeted by the IRS for political discrimination ahead of the 2012 Presidential campaign season.

Sullivan’s order today gives the IRS 30 days to assign an agency official to file a declaration that outlines how the emails, long sought after by Congressional investigators as part of a House Oversight inquiry, disappeared from computer hard drives, as well as mail servers, backup systems and possibly even employees’ mobile devices. The IRS official responsible for delivering that declaration will be doing so under oath, as the information contained in the document will be comparable with other forms of sworn testimony.

According to Fox News, Sullivan intentionally worded his instructions to the IRS in broad fashion in order to compel the agency to give a thorough explanation. He also ordered the agency to provide the court with information on how the emails could, at this point, be retrieved.

Judicial Watch had already filed its FOIA suit before the IRS admitted to Congress last month that it had essentially been sitting on the knowledge that the emails had disappeared. Tom Fitton, president of the organization, said today the IRS intentionally failed to act properly as a defendant in the case by withholding that knowledge from both Judicial Watch and the court itself.

“In our view, there has been a cover-up that has been going on. The Department of Justice; the IRS, had an obligation, an absolute obligation … to alert the court and alert Judicial Watch as soon as they knew when these records were supposedly lost,” Fitton said.

On Friday, the IRS will argue in the True the Vote case against a potential court order that could authorize outside technical experts to verify the truth of the agency’s claim that the emails are, in fact, irrevocably lost. You can read more about that case here.

Obama Clip: ‘I’m Just Telling The Truth Now’ Because I Don’t Have To Worry About Lying To Get Elected

Noted funnyman and U.S. President Barack Obama reverted to “telling the truth” in Austin, Texas today, informing a crowd of easily-amused young people (judging from the backdrop in this video) that he could finally relax on all the lying because he doesn’t have to worry about campaigning – or all the lying that accompanies it – anymore.

“I – I – I … I’m just telling the truth now. I don’t have to run for office again, so I can, just, you know, let ‘er rip,” Obama kidded.

He had to have been joking, right? Because he’s still lying about stuff, just like any other time.

On Wednesday – the day before this video clip was recorded – he lied about his disdain for staged publicity photos, telling the press that he would not accept Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry’s invitation to tour the U.S.-Mexico border zone because, as he put it, “I’m not interested in photo ops.”

“There is nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on,” said Obama. “This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops. I’m interested in solving a problem.”

Some of those statements may have been true, maybe. But not the one about being interested in photo ops. Breitbart picked up the gauntlet today and came up with this entertaining photo montage featuring 35 times the President has demonstrated that he is, indeed, interested in photo ops.

Too bad the guys at Breitbart don’t have extra hours in their day, or their list would undoubtedly have been a lot longer.

H/T: The Washington Free Beacon

Maryland Hospital Bans Employees From Smoking And Vaping — Even When They’re At Home

Being a smoker, vaper, tobacco dipper or user of any other form of nicotine delivery will soon be enough to automatically disqualify applicants who seek any kind of employment at one Maryland hospital.

And it won’t matter whether the would-be employees confine their nicotine indulgence to their private hours away from work, either. If an applicant uses any tobacco or nicotine-delivery products, at any time, he might as well toss his application in the trash.

According to The Baltimore Sun, Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis has revised its hiring policy to forbid tobacco use among its future employees, “whether as a surgeon or security guard,” as the paper observes.

The new rule takes effect beginning July 2015. Current hospital employees who smoke are grandfathered in and won’t be affected by the new rule.

While the new policy is generating a lot of headlines, it doesn’t follow close on the heels of some recent innovation to existing law. In fact, as the Sun reports, telling your employees they can’t smoke — ever — is already legal in many States. In Anne Arundel’s case, the burden of proof lies not with the hospital, but with the prospective employee, who must pass a urine test that screens for the presence of (legal) nicotine, as well as the usual batch of illegal substances.

Like most nanny policies, promulgators of the ban attribute the heavy-handedness to well-intentioned altruism. They only want what’s best for you:

Hospital representatives, who say their primary mission is “living healthier together,” say the new rules grew out of two years of researching ways to prevent tobacco-related diseases — and hearing out those who questioned the policy’s fairness and legality. The hospital hopes that health care costs will decrease over the long term, but that was not the primary driver, said Julie McGovern, the center’s vice president of human resources.

“We’re doing this to improve the health status of our community,” McGovern said. “It’s a serious obligation we have … and one of the important steps we can take to be a role model.”

Incredibly, the policy extends even to users of tobacco-free, combustion-free vaporizers — products that offer users the option of inhaling nicotine or of going completely nicotine-free, while positing none of the health risks of secondhand smoke.

Anne Arundel is not the first hospital to enact a ban on new employees’ use of tobacco. And as the article observes, such policies aren’t exclusive to employers in the healthcare field: “Other employers with such hiring bans include Scotts Miracle-Gro and Alaska Airlines.”

So far, no employer that has enjoined its workers from using tobacco has faced a significant legal challenge — although critics argue that it’s a discriminatory practice, one that dictates which legal activities employees can pursue in their personal lives.

New Info Suggests Lois Lerner Knew Of; Feared Congress’ Subpoena Power Over IRS Communications

Judging by the contents of a newly-released email written in 2013 by Lois Lerner, the former IRS exempt organizations director understood – and feared – the possibility that Congress might one day exercise its power to peruse the agency’s electronic communications.

It’s an amazing coincidence, then, that both the paper and the digital versions of those communications are missing now.

The House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the IRS scandal involving the discriminatory targeting of conservative organizations, finally obtained the 2013 email last week and released it today via its website, following a hearing with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

Koskinen told the panel he’d never seen the email in question.

The contents are revealing. Lerner asked Maria Hooke, an IRS tech employee, along with another exempt organizations employee whether communications conducted via a Microsoft messaging system were searchable:

I had a question today about OCS [Microsoft Office Communications Server]. I was cautioning folks about email and how we have several occasions where Congress has asked for emails and there has been an electronic search for responsive emails – so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails. Someone asked if OCS conversations were also searchable – I don’t know, but told them I would get back to them. Do you know?

One can only speculate whom Lerner was talking about when she stated she “had a question today.”

The Oversight Committee flatly accuses Lerner of “leading an IRS effort to hide information from Congressional inquiries.”

“In e-mails withheld from the Committee until only last week, Lerner was apparently concerned that IRS conversations taking place within the agency’s instant messenger program could end up in the hands of Congress along with requested e-mails,” the Committee website asserts. “An IRS technology employees responded that ‘OCS messages are not set to automatically save’ but cautioned that ‘parties involved in an OCS conversation can copy and save the contents of the conversation to an email or file.’ Lerner responded, ‘Perfect.’”

That conversation took place less than two weeks after an IRS Inspector General’s preliminary report first accused the agency of discriminatory targeting of conservative groups. Lerner would later “break” news of that report, the Committee noted, by fielding a staged question during a meeting of tax lawyers before the American Bar Association.

Dozens Of Media Outlets Call On Obama To Stop Stifling Free Expression

A consortium of 38 media agencies and transparency advocates sent a searing letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, urging the Most Transparent Administration in history to “stop the spin and let the sunshine in.”

The group, led by the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ), highlighted a pattern of stonewalling, attempts at media manipulation and control, and restricted access – all of which, the letter accuses, amounts to “a form of censorship.”

The group cites numerous specific examples of the ways in which the Obama Administration either can’t be bothered to speak to journalists in the field, or forces reporters to obtain the equivalent of a White House permission slip to simply speak to Federal employees and administrators on the public payroll. And, the group asserts, it’s all politically calculated.

There’s the Reuters reporter who couldn’t get the EPA’s public affairs office (yes, the public affairs office) to talk to him about climate change. Or the New York Times story that had to run without comments from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), even though it was about a major CMS rules change that shuffles and expands the nomenclature of medical classifications both in the U.S. and throughout the world. Or the “dozens of instances” in which the Veterans Administration, before the public ever knew about its patient-delay abuses, had failed to respond to reporters seeking information on multiple topics.

It’s an extremely long list.

The group holds Obama squarely accountable for choking out the freedom of the press. “You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government,” it reads. “You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.”

Here’s more:

Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees. This trend has been especially pronounced in the federal government. We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.

The stifling of free expression is happening despite your pledge on your first day in office to bring “a new era of openness” to federal government – and the subsequent executive orders and directives which were supposed to bring such openness about.

…It has not always been this way. In prior years, reporters walked the halls of agencies and called staff people at will. Only in the past two administrations have media access controls been tightened at most agencies. Under this administration, even non-defense agencies have asserted in writing their power to prohibit contact with journalists without surveillance. Meanwhile, agency personnel are free speak to others — lobbyists, special-interest representatives, people with money — without these controls and without public oversight.

…We ask that you issue a clear directive telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so.

You can read the full letter, as well as a listing of the many frustrated media entities that signed it, at the SPJ’s website.