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.

 

Gun Control Group Sues Kansas Over Federal Nullification Law

Last April, the State of Kansas passed a law negating Federal gun control regulations. It drew the ire of Attorney General Eric Holder, who promptly informed Republican Governor Sam Brownback that the State law was unConstitional under the Supremacy Clause.

So far, the Department of Justice hasn’t taken up a case against the State to back up Holder’s claim. But the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has just filed a lawsuit to have the nullification law overturned, arguing Holder’s case for him: that the Supremacy Clause trumps a State’s power to criminalize Federal law.

The lawsuit, filed today, names Brownback and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt as defendants. It argues that courts, not States, are tasked with interpreting the Constitutionality of laws that limit the 2nd Amendment, and that “federal courts…have made clear that the Second Amendment allows for reasonable firearms regulations, confirming the constitutionality of virtually all, if not all, existing and proposed federal firearms laws.”

Kansas’ law provides for the felony prosecution of any law enforcement agent – Federal, State or local – who attempts to enforce Federal gun regulations involving firearms made, sold and owned exclusively in the State. In April of this year, Brownback signed a companion piece of legislation that prohibits local governments in Kansas from regulating firearms at all.

The Brady Center targets only the Federal nullification law, and parrots Holder’s strategy in arguing for its abolition.

In assessing the merits of Holder’s letter to Brownback last year, the Tenth Amendment Center argued:

1. Kansas is NOT purporting to criminalize the exercise of constitutional federal responsibilities. On the contrary, the bill criminalizes what the state has determined is unconstitutional. It is the position that such federal acts are indeed a violation of the Constitution. No matter how much Eric might believe it to be otherwise, his view is obviously not universal – especially in Kansas.

2. The Supremacy Clause. Holder takes the position that all tyrants do – that everything they do is authorized, anything to the contrary – worthless. But Holder is wrong. The Supremacy Clause doesn’t say that “any law in conflict with federal law” is void. It says that only those laws “in pursuance” of the constitution are supreme. The new Kansas legislation, again, takes the position that such federal acts are not constitutional, and therefore not supreme.

…Even with almost full state and local cooperation, there are now 18 states defying DC on marijuana prohibition. As two states – Washington and Colorado – legalize what the feds say is illegal, we’re watching the beginning of the end of federal dominance over the states.

On the right to keep and bear arms, people should follow the same path. Just say NO to Washington DC, and YES to liberty.

Feds Report Historically High Proportion Of U.S. Population Is Now On Welfare

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released its annual report to Congress on Welfare Indicators and Risk Factors, and in its 165 pages is the revelation that more people, as a percentage of the population, are now on welfare than at any time since the department began tracking the figure.

The most recent completed year for which HHS has compiled statistics is 2011. HHS has been keeping track of the welfare-receiving proportion of the overall population since 1993.

A number of entitlements combine to form the government benefits HHS recognizes as “welfare,” including foods stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), short-term supplemental family income (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF) and low-income stipends (Supplemental Security Income, or SSI).

In 2011, nearly one-fourth of the U.S. population received one or more of these benefits.

Here’s how HHS explains the figure:

In 2011, 23.1 percent of the total population received or lived with a family member who received a benefit of any amount from TANF, SNAP, or SSI at some point during the year (see Table SUM 1). While falling steadily between 1993 – 2000, this annual recipiency rate began to increase after 2000, and increased more rapidly during and in the immediate aftermath of the “Great Recession.” The 2011 rate is slightly higher than the 2010 rate, reflecting increased participation in the SNAP and SSI programs.

HHS goes on to blame the economy, noting the post-2000 increase correlates “with worsening economic conditions.”

The food stamp program in particular has seen an enormous expansion. “Average monthly SNAP participation was 44.7 million persons in fiscal year 2011, excluding the participants in Puerto Rico’s block grant,” HHS reported. “This represents a significant increase over the fiscal year 2000 record-low average of 17.2 million participants and exceeds the previous peak of 27.5 million recipients in fiscal year 1994.”

In addition, there are far more children on food stamps than any other age demographic. In 2000, 19.8 percent of children age 5 or younger were on food stamps. By 2011, that figure had nearly doubled, rising to 38 percent.

Will More States Parrot Connecticut’s Gun Seizure Law?

In States led by elected officials who view violent crime as a problem that can be mitigated by limiting citizens’ access to guns, one preventive “solution” to head off sensational mass shootings may be to emulate a longstanding Connecticut law that provides for the confiscation of firearms under certain circumstances.

In 1999, Connecticut passed a law that allows a judge to order the “temporary” seizure of a citizen’s firearms if law enforcement can persuade the court that the subject represents a danger to himself and/or others. A seizure must be followed, within 14 days, by a hearing to determine whether the subject can have his firearms immediately returned. If the court finds against the subject, then the State is authorized to hold on to the guns for a year.

Now left-leaning State officials in California and New Jersey, horrified at the most recent spate of mass shootings to grip the 24-hour news cycle, aim to enact their own versions of the seizure law — in the professed belief that having a new legal mechanism to take someone’s guns away will pre-empt such crimes.

California’s AB-1014, which is in the markup phase of its move through the Senate, would create a procedure for the State to obtain a “gun violence restraining order” to seize the weapons of any person a judge deems to be a threat:

This bill would authorize a court to issue an emergency gun violence restraining order if a law enforcement officer asserts and a judicial officer finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the subject of the petition poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself, or another by having under his or her custody and control, owning, purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm and that the order is necessary to prevent personal injury to himself, herself, or another person, as specified. The bill would require a law enforcement officer to serve the order on the restrained person, if the restrained person can reasonably be located, file a copy of the order with the court, and have the order entered into the computer database system for protective and restraining orders maintained by the Department of Justice. The bill would require the presiding judge of the superior court in each county to designate at least one judge, commissioner, or referee to be reasonably available to issue orally, by telephone or otherwise, emergency gun violence restraining orders at all times whether or not the court is in session.

Aside from forever branding the subject of such an order by tracking him in a database, as well as the law’s abundant potential for abuse, the bill also makes further provisions for renewing the no-guns order on a year-to-year basis. It further places the burden of proof to break that cycle not on the State, but on the targeted citizen:

The bill would authorized [sic] the renewal of the order for additional one-year periods and would permit the restrained person to request one hearing to terminate the order during the effective period of the initial order or each renewal period.

Get caught with a gun while you’re under a “gun violence restraining order,” and you get your guns taken away for five years.

New Jersey State Senator Richard Codey, a Democrat, is behind a similar measure in the Garden State. You can read more on Codey’s confiscation push here.

Palin Versus Buchanan: To Impeach Obama… Or Not?

Sarah Palin torched President Barack Obama this week in an opinion piece in which she argued the time has come for the House of Representatives to draft articles of impeachment against him. Her ideology may be sound, but there are other conservative voices who believe that the GOP — and the Nation — have more to gain by watching Obama go down, slowly, in his own ship.

Writing for Breitbart Tuesday, Palin cited the ongoing border crisis as she made a passionate case for impeachment:

Because of Obama’s purposeful dereliction of duty an untold number of illegal immigrants will kick off their shoes and come on in, competing against Americans for our jobs and limited public services. There is no end in sight as our president prioritizes parties over doing the job he was hired by voters to do. Securing our borders is obviously fundamental here; it goes without saying that it is his job.

…His friendly wealthy bipartisan elite, who want cheap foreign labor and can afford for themselves the best “border security” money can buy in their own exclusive communities, do not care that Obama tapped us out.

Have faith that average American workers – native-born and wonderful legal immigrants of all races, backgrounds, and political parties – do care because we’re the ones getting screwed as we’re forced to follow all our government’s rules while others are not required to do so. Many now feel like strangers in their own land.

…President Obama’s rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, is the foundational problem here. It’s not going to get better, and in fact irreparable harm can be done in this lame-duck term as he continues to make up his own laws as he goes along, and, mark my words, will next meddle in the U.S. Court System with appointments that will forever change the basic interpretation of our Constitution’s role in protecting our rights.

It’s time to impeach; and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.

You can read Palin’s full piece at Breitbart.

While Palin’s ideological basis for impeachment may be sound, not all conservative voices believe impeachment is the right approach. Pat Buchanan, who fundamentally agrees with Palin that Obama has done, and continues to do, impeachable things, argues that proving his offenses would become a protracted and creepingly unpopular process that would drain Republicans’ steadily accruing political capital. Besides, he argued, the political climate strongly favors letting things just play out as this year’s election cycle — as well as the Presidential election of 2016 — approaches.

In an opinion piece for WND on Monday, Buchanan made the pragmatist’s case against impeachment — an extreme measure he described as “a bridge too far”:

Democrats are talking impeachment to rally a lethargic base to come out and vote this fall to prevent Republicans from taking control of the Senate, and with it the power to convict an impeached president.

Still, Republicans should drop the talk of impeachment.

For the GOP would gain nothing and risk everything if the people began to take seriously their threats to do to Barack Obama what Newt Gingrich’s House did to Bill Clinton.

The charges for which a president can be impeached and removed from office are “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

With Bill Clinton, the impeachers had a solid case of perjury.

With Richard Nixon, they had a preponderance of evidence that, at least for a time, he had sought to obstruct justice in the investigation of the Watergate break-in.

Concerning Obama’s “I was the last to know” pattern of excuse-making to explain his role in the many scandals under his watch, Robertson says there’s not much to be gained by impeachment-minded Republicans, who would be risking a dramatic swing in the momentum they’ve gained in public opinion, which already has come to regard Obama as an ineffective bungler:

Obama claims he did not learn of the IRS abuse until years after it began, and weeks after his White House staff learned of it.

In the absence of those emails, the claim cannot be refuted.

In the Benghazi scandal, the president’s defense is the same.

He had no idea what was going on. And cluelessness appears here to be a credible defense. Two weeks after the Benghazi atrocity, Obama was at the U.N. still parroting the Susan Rice line about an anti-Muslim video having been the cause of it all.

…Any Republican attempt at impeachment would go up against a stacked deck. And the GOP would be throwing away a winning hand for a losing one.

For while the American people have shown no interest in impeaching Obama, they are coming to believe they elected an incompetent executive and compulsive speechmaker who does not know what the presidency requires and who equates talk with action.

Buchanan’s full piece is online at WND.

Who’s right? Are Obama’s offenses against his Constitutional oath so egregious that Republicans should summon the zeal — at any political cost — to follow through with impeachment (especially if they retake the Senate in November)? Or should they sit back, confident and self-assured that the remainder of his Presidency will implode, to their benefit, without irrevocable harm to the Nation?

Or is all this talk of impeachment among conservatives nothing more than news fodder and gamesmanship, what Buchanan himself described as “just beer talk?”

Bloomberg Group Plans To Question Every Federal Candidate On Gun Views

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group – currently operating under the new name Everytown for Gun Safety – has announced it intends to survey every candidate running for a Federal seat in this year’s midterm elections to suss out their stance on – what else? – gun control.

The effort represents Everytown’s response strategy to its vastly more powerful and more popular ideological arch-nemisis: the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA grades legislators on the familiar A-F scale to convey to voters a sense of candidates’ commitment to the 2nd Amendment.

Everytown has decided to go the questionnaire route, although the questions the group is posing – “Do you agree: we can both do more to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and protect the rights of responsible, law-abiding people?” – are so fraught with leading assumptions they might as well answer themselves.

Some of these questions get lengthy, but here’s a sample – a question about expanding the State’s confiscatory powers:

Federal law prohibits anyone from having firearms if they have been convicted of abusing their spouses, or if they are the subjects of active restraining orders taken out by their spouses, but not if they have been convicted of stalking or have been convicted of abusing their dating partners. The share of intimate partner violence that occurs in dating relationships has been steadily growing – and as of 2008, more domestic violence homicides were committed by dating partners than by spouses. Do you support a law that would prohibit gun possession by convicted stalkers and people convicted of – or, who after due process, are actively restrained from – abusing a dating partner?

You can see a more concise version of the questionnaire, which you can also take for yourself (fun!), here.

The NRA told The Washington Post that Everytown, which expects to spend $40 million of Bloomberg’s money per year on gun control lobbying and PR, is wasting money – and time.

“Money cannot buy the hearts and minds of the American people when it comes to the Second Amendment,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. “Michael Bloomberg is just the latest incarnation of a long line of anti-freedom billionaires who’ve tried to take on the National Rifle Association.”

On the paper version of the questionnaire, Everytown is giving candidates a space to clarify their views on gun control, in their own words. We’re holding out to see whether 2nd Amendment stalwarts like Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) take the boring path simply by choosing not to respond to the questionnaire, or whether they’ll make things interesting (and grab some free publicity in the process) by getting creative with their answers.

Feds Sue Another State Over Its Voter ID Laws

A Federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s recently approved voter ID law has the State delaying its implementation until a judge decides whether it can begin enforcing the law while the lawsuit is in process.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the State after it passed the law, which requires voters to show a recognized form of photo identification and prohibits same-day voter registration, last year.

Attorney General Eric Holder called North Carolina’s law an “extremely aggressive” attempt to disenfranchise black voters — despite the fact that States that have conducted elections with the new laws in place report a dramatic surge in the number of blacks who participate in elections since the voter ID component was added.

“The state legislature took extremely aggressive steps to curtail the voting rights of African-Americans,” Holder said Monday. “This is an intentional step to break a system that was working and it defies common sense.”

Voter ID laws vary among the 31 States where they’ve survived court challenges and gone into effect, but there’s not a great deal of difference between North Carolina’s voter ID law and the others.

In addition to the photo ID requirement and the same-day registration ban, the law also ends straight-party voting, provides for more poll watchers at local precincts, abolishes the option to donate to political parties on State tax returns and ends the practice of allowing people as young as 16 to “pre-register” to vote.

A May Fox News poll found that 51 percent of black voters support voter ID laws, while 46 percent oppose them.

Employers Pessimistic About Obamacare’s Effect On The Bottom Line

An overwhelming majority of employers are reporting that Obamacare will force their healthcare-related costs to rise this year, and they fully expect 2015 to be even worse.

That’s the takeaway from the latest employer survey conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, which released its report Monday. The survey’s findings are based on the input of 691 human resources and benefits specialists nationwide, as well as their employers, from a questionnaire the foundation sent out in April.

“Among all organizations, nearly nine in ten [88.2 percent] expect the law will increase their organizations’ health care costs this year,” the report concludes. “One in four estimates a cost increase of 1% to 2%, and a similar proportion predicts an increase of 3% to 4%. One in seven organizations estimates a cost increase greater than 10%. The median cost increase is 4% among organizations that know their exact 2014 cost change due to ACA.”

In addition, the cost of accommodating Obamacare is “hitting small employers much harder than large ones,” the study finds.

While large companies have been able to absorb increased healthcare costs without resorting to widespread layoffs, smaller businesses have had to make harder choices. About 1 in 6 small businesses (those with 50 or fewer employees) has trimmed its workforce, while 10 percent have mitigated costs through a combination of trimming hours worked, freezing wages and/or forgoing the hiring of new staff.

The survey found that 68 percent of large-scale employers (those employing 50 or more people) expect to continue providing health insurance for full-time employees when Obamacare’s “play or pay” penalty provision employers kicks in at the start of next year. Among small businesses, that number drops to 59 percent. However, the uncertainty about continuing healthcare coverage increases when employers are asked to think five years into the future.

Employers of all sizes demonstrate “some uncertainty regarding employer-sponsored coverage five years from now,” as “most organizations say they…somewhat likely (20.7%), very likely (51%) or definitely (22.1%)” will continue to offer coverage.

KISS’ Gene Simmons: ‘I Don’t Remember The Last Poor Person Who Gave Me A Job’

Shout it out loud: Kiss frontman Gene Simmons isn’t burdened with the phony altruism of rich-guy guilt.

Simmons told an interviewer for a California newspaper late last week that it’s ridiculous to resent those who create wealth, because they provide the foundation on which America’s economy – both private and public – is based.

“I have been part of the 1 percent for the past 30 years,” Simmons told U-T San Diego. Asked how it feels to be a part of the Nation’s wealthiest demographic, Simmons replied:

It’s fantastic! …The 1 percent pays 80 percent of all taxes. Fifty percent of the population of the U.S. pays no taxes. The 1 percent provides all the jobs for everybody else. If the 1 percent didn’t exist, there would be chaos and the American economy would drop dead. Try being nice to rich people. I don’t remember the last poor person who gave me a job.

Simmons immigrated to the U.S. with his mother, whose family had died during the Holocaust, from Israel when he was eight years old. His mother was a Hungarian Jew and his father, who left the family when Simmons was still young, was Israeli. He learned English quickly, and now is a strong believer in cultural assimilation.

“America is astonishing because it welcomes immigrants and gives them all the rights that native sons and daughters have … all the opportunities someone who was here for generations has had. For that, I’ll be forever grateful,” he told U-T San Diego:

Every day, people complain about the Kardashians, or about having a bad hair day — which, in my case, is every day — or the Republicans, or the Democrats. Well, you have to shut the [expletive] up! You have nothing to complain about. In America, you have the right to say and do as you please. You can demonstrate and do anything you want, and you have [more] opportunities than anyone in the history of this planet has had.

If all that makes too much sense for you, Simmons also offered his take on political correctness, which successfully accomplishes, through culture, the stifling of truly free speech in the very land that first codified it as an inalienable right.

“Others simply hold their opinions to themselves and never say who they are. You will always know who I am. You don’t have to like it; that’s OK if you don’t.”

Lick that up.

Read the full interview here.

Former Ally In The School Nutrition Campaign Flips On Michelle Obama

Whatever goodwill first lady Michelle Obama had fostered back when her school nutrition plan was just a feel-good idea has eroded as the law it spawned – the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – has been enacted, often to a scornful reception, across the country.

Now one of the law’s main advocates has reversed its position on the law’s school lunch provisions by prevailing upon Congress to tweak the law so that students will have more food choices and school systems won’t lose money. The School Nutrition Association (SNA), which at first hailed the law, before observing how it affected school districts’ finances and students’ appetites, has come full circle.

According to EAG News – the advocacy publication for the nonpartisan Education Action Group Foundation, SNA, “which initially championed the new federal lunch standards on fruits, vegetables, salt, fat, sugar and virtually every other aspect of school lunches when they were implemented in 2012,” is lobbying for significant changes. Those who side with Obama accuse the organization of listening to attentively to the desires – and the contributions – of food vendors whose sales have taken a hit as kids pan school lunches, and as school systems order smaller portions to comply with the new standards.

“SNA critics contend the group sold out to big food companies that don’t like the ‘healthy’ lunch overhaul, but what they don’t discuss is the overwhelming evidence that many parents and school nutrition experts also dislike the new rules,” EAG wrote.

“Many student athletes, for example, have argued their limited-calorie lunches leave them famished. Parents have reported their children are now going without school lunch, then binge eating when they get home. Parents have also complained about ridiculously strict interpretations of the federal lunch rules, which have resulted in a ban on birthday cupcakes in classrooms, among other things.”

SNA wrote to Ms. Obama last month to request a meeting to address the organization’s concerns; that meeting will take place on July 10. In the meantime, an effort to grant school districts a one-year reprieve from the nutrition standards is making its way through the House.

Americans Finger Obama As Worst President In 70 Years

According to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, more Americans identify President Barack Obama as the worst occupant of the Oval Office since World War II than any other postwar President, including President Richard Nixon.

The poll, released Thursday, found 33 percent of U.S. voters identifying Obama as the worst President, followed by President George W. Bush (28 percent) and Nixon (13 percent). Every other President garnered “worst” votes in the single-digit percentages, led by President Jimmy Carter at 8 percent.

Of course, living memory and present-day partisanship play a role in producing these kinds of numbers: while Obama’s “worst President” numbers were truly brutal, he also managed to garner a surprising number of “best President” votes in a poll that ultimately found him first among the worst. Obama came in fourth in polling of best postwar Presidents — a list topped by President Ronald Reagan (35 percent), President Bill Clinton (18 percent) and President John F. Kennedy (15 percent).

Obama received “best” votes from 8 percent of poll participants. Among Democrats, he came in a distant second to Clinton as their choice of “best” President, collecting 18 percent compared with Clinton’s 34 percent.

Voters remain evenly divided on the matter of whether Obama is a worse President than his immediate predecessor. The question “Do you think Barack Obama has been a better President than George W. Bush, worse, or about the same as President Bush?” elicited a nearly even split, with 40 percent answering that Obama is worse, 39 percent maintaining that Bush was worse and another 20 percent indicating the two leaders’ legacies have been about the same.

Even though Obama won a second term in office, the poll finds that voters may be pining for the alternate version of history that might have unfolded had the Republican candidate he defeated, Mitt Romney, been elected President instead.

“America would be better off if Republican Mitt Romney had won the 2012 presidential election, 45 percent of voters say, while 38 percent say the country would be worse off,” the poll summary observes.

Most of the nostalgia for Romney falls along predictable party lines, with 84 percent of Republicans indicating the Nation would have been better off had he been elected President. Only 10 percent of Democrats, on the other hand, agreed. Interestingly, Independent voters favored a do-over with Romney as President by a 47 percent to 33 percent margin.

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.