Two Months Ahead Of Sign-Up Start, Obamacare Website Still Doesn’t Work

An official from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Thursday told a Congressional panel that Americans shouldn’t expect this year’s Obamacare enrollment period to go smoothly, despite months of bad publicity about’s infamous rollout problems and hundreds of millions of dollars spent to correct them.

“It’s a bumpy process at time. We have committed people, but there will clearly be bumps,” Andy Slavitt, CMS Principal Deputy Administrator told the House Energy and Commerce Oversight subcommittee on Thursday.

Under questioning from Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Slavitt admitted the underpinnings of the Federal Obamacare website still aren’t completed – and that insurance companies are being subsidized at estimated rates because the “back end” of the website is still not live and able to spit out rates that reflect real-time values.

The Washington Free Beacon provided a transcript of the relevant portion of Burgess’ exchange with Slavitt:

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS: When this thing went live the back end part of the system was not built. Is it now built, available and ready to use? The part that pays providers?

ANDY SLAVITT: The part that pays the issuers, the issuers are getting paid today.

BURGESS: How about the doctors and hospitals?

SLAVITT: The doctors and hospitals get paid by the health plans not by the marketplace.

BURGESS: So the back end part of the system is up and fully functional?

SLAVITT: No. No No. The back end part of the system is going through continuous releases. Today we are paying the issuers at an estimated basis that would be a coming release this year where by the end of this year they’ll begin to get paid at a policy level basis and next year continued automation will occur to tie everything to do with the back end of CMS’ systems.

Slavitt’s attempt at lowering expectations for Obamacare in its second year coincides with the released of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that places the cost of last year’s botched launch at $840 million. That report places much of the blame on CMS bungling, as well as changes to the law that moved the goalposts even as the rollout loomed.

“In summary, we found that CMS undertook the development of and its related systems without effective planning or oversight practices, despite facing a number of challenges that increased both the level of risk and the need for effective oversight,” the GAO stated in prepared testimony.

“…New and changing requirements drove cost increases during the first year of development, while the complexity of the system and rework resulting from changing CMS decisions added to FFM [Federally Facilitated Marketplace] costs in the second year.”


Note from the Editor: As you’ve just read, the Obamacare abomination doesn’t bode well for anyone. But if you know how to navigate the system you can still control your own healthcare—as every American should! My trusted friend and medical insider, Dr. Michael Cutler, and I have written a concise guide to help you do just that. I urge you… Click here for your free copy.

Watch D.C.-Area Residents Support Bringing In Illegal Immigrant Children, Then Decline To House Them

Media Research Center’s Dan Joseph is at it again, trolling well-meaning progressives who can’t reconcile their big hearts with the practical demands of their everyday lives.

Joseph spent about an hour getting people in Old Town Alexandria, Va. to sign a petition supporting the idea of bringing illegal immigrant children to the area – and, for those who signed up, asking them to follow through by signing a second petition indicating their willingness to house a child in their own homes.

Several people (but not all) signed the first petition. But nobody wanted to sign the second one. “I quickly learned that their sympathies only went so far,” Joseph said in an accompanying article Wednesday for CNS News.

“Obviously, the idea of bringing these kids to beautiful Northern Virginia all seemed great – in theory – to many of the people I talked to. But, support for my initiative stopped at agreeing to sign a piece of paper. When I asked these citizens to do anything more to help solve the problem, their sympathy seemed to quickly evaporate.”

Accused Of Invading Users’ Privacy, Google Implores Court To Protect Its… Privacy

Google, Inc. just settled the last of several lawsuits in which the plaintiffs alleged the company violated their privacy. The plaintiffs alleged Google violated Federal law and peeked too far into their personal lives by scanning the habits and tendencies of the users of all its services, and then “commingling” all that data in order to form a more educated guess at what kind of ads its users would respond to.

Now, in the wake of the settlements, the media want to get at the court documents the cases generated. Guess who can’t abide the thought of that? Google.

According to Courthouse News Service, lawyers for the company have asked U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh not to allow the court documents to be made public — even though a consortium of media outlets (including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, Reuters, POLITICO, Courthouse News Service and many more) maintains that “[u]nder the First Amendment and the federal common law, the press and the public have a presumptive right of access to court proceedings and documents.”

No way, say Google attorneys, who call the curious press corps — and we are not making this up — “media intervenors.”

Their argument, essentially, is that the cases have been settled, there’s no longer a plaintiff “class” of millions of Google users and, therefore, there’s no far-reaching public interest in the details of the case. 

Here’s Courthouse News Service quoting from one of the Google attorneys’ filings:

“The self-styled media intervenors’ perceived need for public access to the information sought to be sealed is significantly diminished by the court’s denial of class certification with prejudice,” Google attorney Whitty Somvichian, of the firm Cooley LLP, wrote in an answer filed Thursday [July 24]. “The media intervenors opposed the motions to seal on the basis that ‘the public interest cannot be overstated,’ in part, because ‘this case has the potential to affect the rights of the millions of class members.’ Now that the court has denied class certification with prejudice and each of the representative plaintiffs’ cases has been dismissed, the need for the ‘millions of class members’ to have access to Google’s confidential information is necessarily diminished.

But what if they only want to sell Google something?

For more on Google’s “commingling” method of aggregating information about user behavior in order to target advertising, see this 2012 article from Courthouse News Service.

Note from the Editor: Under the Obama Administration, the NSA, the IRS, and the State and Justice departments are blatantly stepping on Americans’ privacy—and these are just the breaches we’re aware of. I’ve arranged for readers to get a free copy of The Ultimate Privacy Guide so you can be protected from any form of surveillance by anyone—government, corporate or criminal. Click here for your free copy.

Sexist Bloomberg Gun Control Ad Unintentionally Makes A Case For Gun Ownership

The latest frightful television ad from Everytown for Gun Safety — the new iteration of Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group — features an angry man bursting through his ex’s door to shoot the mother and haul away their toddler son. 

Giving fresh credence to the evergreen saying that, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away, the unarmed woman in the video reaches for the phone to call 911. That’s not exactly stopping power, so the guy shoots her anyway — fade to black.

That’s obviously not the message Everytown was trying to send when it published the video on Monday. “Tell Senator [fill in the blank]: Stop gun violence against women.” 

That’s the message Everytown was going for; it’s the one that takes over the screen as the bad guy fires the gun. It’s an ambiguous message, and the Internet wasted no time in pointing out that the woman in the ad was, herself, the best hope in this scenario for stopping the “gun” violence against her.

“The video by Everytown for Gun Safety is intended to show the dangers of guns in the hands of domestic abusers,” wrote MyFox New York Wednesday, “but the victim, a woman, is seen helpless because she has no gun to protect herself.”

The four female co-hosts of ABC’s daytime talk show “The View” spent some time talking about the ad Tuesday, and, remarkably, three of them walked away from the piece with a different perspective than Everytown intended: “Get a gun in your home!” as co-host Sherri Shepherd put it.

Here’s Shepherd after viewing the ad:

The flipside is when I was at my home and the alarm went off, and I ran to my son’s bedroom and Jeffrey was crying, and I realized all I had to protect me and somebody coming around that corner was a daggone wicker trash basket. And I said to myself and everybody said to me, “well get a bat.” You got one chance to use a bat and if they take it away — “Get pepper stray.” You know how close they got to get to you, if you use pepper spray? You got one of these? [makes a gesture like she’s holding a gun and makes a sound of cocking a gun] They’re not gonna come near you and your child! So when you’re standing there, and you don’t know how to protect your child? Get a gun in your home!

Hosts Jenny McCarthy and Juliet Huddy shared similar experiences from their own lives that led them to the same conclusion. ABC’s Lara Spencer played the odd woman out, insisting that guns are too dangerous to keep in a home with children. Both McCarthy and Shepherd told Spencer, “I used to think like you.”

The other noteworthy thing about the Bloomberg ad — and it’s a feature common to much progressive propaganda that seeks to level the playing field by taking away freedoms and opportunities — is its implicit sexism, as well as its implicit assumption that people are passive victims until the state comes to their rescue. 

“Stop gun violence against women.” If — when confronted by a snorting, irrational man who lacks the character to check his own proclivity to use muscle against her — an unarmed woman is indeed the weaker creature, then a gun is exactly what places her on equal physical ground. And it allows her to be an active agent in determining the safety of herself and her family. Isn’t that a message worth sending?

YouTube user Dan Troop, commenting on The Washington Free Beacon’s posting of the segment, summed it up nicely:

Looks like Bloomberg ignored an important consideration — women aren’t as dumb as he thinks they are. This PSA will, if anything, convince women that the only protection and defense they can count on is self-protection and self-defense and that the best tool for that job is a firearm.

Median Wealth Of U.S. Households Plummeted By One-Third In The Past 10 Years

In the past decade, the wealth of the median household in the United States has dropped by an average of one-third, according to a recent study published by the Russell Sage Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit research organization.

The group concluded that the median worth of American households has declined from a high of $98,972 in 2007 to $56,335 in 2013. For the 10-year period between 2003 and 2013, that figure dropped from $87,992 to $56,335 — about a one-third decrease.

The brunt of the loss has occurred since 2007, and it’s hit the bottom economic demographic the hardest.

From the study summary:

Through at least 2013, there are very few signs of significant recovery from the losses in wealth experienced by American families during the Great Recession. Declines in net worth from 2007 to 2009 were large, and the declines continued through 2013. These wealth losses, however, were not distributed equally. While large absolute amounts of wealth were destroyed at the top of the wealth distribution, households at the bottom of the wealth distribution lost the largest share of their total wealth.

Net worth is a measure of the value of a household’s assets against its debts: stocks, land and homes compared with what a household owes to own these assets free and clear. Home values, which are closely tied to the net worth of middle-class families, have been particularly affected over the past decade.

“While stock prices rebounded relatively quickly after the collapse in 2007, housing prices did not,” the report states. “As a result, the median of wealth not held in real estate declined by about only $6,900 between 2007 and 2013, compared to a decline in median total net worth of about $42,500. Affluent households are more likely than other households to hold stocks and have large portfolios, which allowed them to benefit from the gains in the stock market.”

Police Commissioner: ‘I Want To Have Discretion Over’ Who Can Have Guns In Boston

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans took advantage of his time before the city’s public radio audience last week to explain his support for a State legislative measure that would allow local police to decide who can or cannot be licensed to own long guns. As his quoted remarks make clear, it all boils down to a simple feature: control.

The Democratic-tilted State Senate voted 28-10 last week to strip language in a gun bill already approved by the House that would have granted local police forces the discretionary power to determine who can obtain long guns. It’s a power local police already have over those who choose to inform the State of their desire to obtain a handgun.

Police issue firearms identification cards (FIDs) to people who’ve passed a background check. In the case of handguns, Massachusetts law currently allows local police to deny a carry permit to someone who’s been issued an FID — if the police indicate a concern for how that person might use the gun. The Senate rejected a provision that would have included long guns in the police dragnet.

Evans sat for a phone interview last Wednesday with two sympathetic broadcasters from public radio juggernaut WGBH, expressing his disappointment with the Senate’s decision and urging legislators to reconsider:

A lot of times we know background information on people that, you know, whether they’ve been involved in domestic incidents or, you know, some mental issues, you know based on the totality of circumstances sometimes we can say ‘deny’ — and if we don’t get this legislation in, you know, people can go down and we have no say in them getting an FID card.

… A lot of people do not have criminal records, obviously, but there’s other issues going on in their lives that we’re aware of, and based on the knowledge we have, I think we should be able to determine the suitability of who should possess a gun, especially here in the city.

… There has to be restrictions because people should have a legitimate reason for possessing them.

… For the most part, nobody in the city needs a shotgun; nobody needs a rifle, and I don’t know a lot of people who are into hunting who — being lifelong residents — would actually want that who lives in the city, but, especially here in the city I want to have discretion over who’s getting any type of gun, because public safety is my main concern and, as you know, it’s an uphill battle taking as many guns off the street right now without pumping more into the system.

After the Massachusetts Senate stripped the language, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick aligned with Evans and the other police chiefs pushing for the expansion of police powers over FID licensing to include long guns. “I side with the police chiefs who were here yesterday and the law-enforcement officials, that the House version is the stronger of the two,’’ he said the day after a gun control rally at Beacon Hill.

Watch A Reporter Ask Whether Obama Administration Shaped Its Impeachment Talking Points Around A Democratic Fundraiser

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest started talking to reporters about the possibility that the Republican-majority House of Representatives would get serious about bringing articles of impeachment against President Barack Obama.

That same weekend, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched an email-based fundraising blitz, sending out eleven iterations of messages to donors all based on one central theme: rallying against the GOP’s impeachment threat.

The timing was serendipitous, and the alarmist effort reportedly has been more successful than the DCCC’s other moneymaking tactics so far in this midterm election cycle.

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl followed up on that coincidence Tuesday, asking Earnest whether he had coordinated with the White House to make sure the words he spoke in his official capacity on Friday would serve the party’s fundraising efforts.

Earnest had a hard time with the question, telling Karl he hadn’t collaborated with the DCCC to craft a partisan message – at least “not that I’m aware of.”

“You mean you don’t know if you’ve coordinated, or if you didn’t?” Karl pressed. “…Within hours [of your comments] the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is putting out fundraising emails quoting what you said – with a red alert: the White House says impeachment’s a real possibility…”

Earnest went on to deny such a collaboration…kind of. He equivocates better than Jay Carney, but, like his predecessor, he isn’t telling anyone anything they don’t already know.

Senate Climate Change Resolution Blocked By GOP Lawmaker

A Democrat-led attempt to weave anthropogenic climate change into the political backdrop for future Congressional legislation failed to achieve a vote Monday, after Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) blocked the measure.

Inhofe objected to the resolution, which – according to the Democratic Senate web page – expresses “the sense of the Senate regarding global climate change.”

That sense, of course, is that climate change poses a risk to the Nation. “All we wanted to say in this resolution is climate change is happening,” said Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) “We can’t afford to sit around here debating whether climate change is real.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who submitted the resolution, said the goal was to establish a common assumption about the reality and the effects of global warming, from which the Senate could proceed as it takes up future climate change-related measures. “We know we have a problem,” said Klobuchar.

But Inhofe, who has a history of questioning the policy significance of climate change, maintained that “we” do not know that we have a problem, and that there’s not as much global political consensus on the matter as the measure’s supporters wanted to reach in the Senate.

“What we should be doing is learning from the international community. Just last week, Australia repealed its much-hated carbon tax, the same thing that’s been promoted right now – either cap or trade or tax on carbon,” he said.

Klobuchar said she plans to bring the resolution up for a vote again because, according to The Hill, she feels the Senate “looks ‘silly’ for ignoring scientific agreement.”

Hillary Clinton Invokes George W. Bush To Distance Herself From Obama Administration

In another indication that Hillary Clinton is laying the groundwork for a 2016 Presidential run, the former first lady made an affirmative connection with the Administration of President George W. Bush Sunday — further distancing herself, in the process, from the festering public perception of fellow Democrat, former employer and current President Barack Obama.

Appearing on CNN, Clinton insinuated she doesn’t think much of the way Obama advocates his idea of American exceptionalism to the rest of the world, telling Fareed Zakaria that American ideals, under Obama, are being “taken for granted.”

Democracy has triumphed. This is the end of history. That was so short-sighted. And now we are in this period where we have to go back out and sell ourselves. It’s not to be taken for granted. What do we stand for and how do we intend to lead and manage? How do we try to enlist the rest of the world in this struggle between cooperation and order and conflict and disorder, which is really at the root of so much that’s going on today. And I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of that.

Sounds like she pines for the days when Presidents understood their role as evangelists for America. Citing an example of a President “selling” America to the rest of the world, Clinton pointed to our outreach in sub-Saharan Africa. But, in spite of Obama’s focus on helping to develop Africa’s national economies with U.S. dollars, it wasn’t Obama’s leadership she had in mind — it was Bush’s:

You know, George W. Bush is very popular in sub-Saharan Africa. Why? Because of PEPFAR, the President’s emergency program for AIDS relief. Whether you agree or disagree with a lot of what else he did, and I disagree with a lot of it, I am proud to be an American when I go to sub-Saharan Africa and people say I want to thank President Bush and the United States for, you know, helping us fight HIV/AIDS. You know, we spend a lot of money and a lot of time and effort trying to be influential around the world when I think we would be able to succeed more effectively if we were clearer about who we are and what we stand for and the values that we hold, obviously tempered by experience and the competing interests that we face.

She didn’t elaborate on her understanding of what America’s values are, or which of them the President should be promoting abroad. But she did make it clear that should she campaign to become President, she’d rather be mentioned in the same sentence with a Republican nemesis than the unpopular Democratic incumbent whose nominal support will only damage her chances.

Professors Compare Silicon Valley’s Labor Shortage Myth, Labor Surplus Reality

A group of U.S. policy professors wrote an opinion piece that appeared Sunday in USA Today, taking on Silicon Valley’s corporate leadership for propagating the false argument that America needs more liberal immigration laws to supplement a severely understaffed tech-sector economy.

The group, which includes economics, public policy, computer science and planning professors from major U.S. universities, challenged the claims of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and even President Barack Obama — all of whom have justified the need to relax immigration standards by outlining the dearth of homegrown workers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector.

“This claim is echoed by everyone from President Obama and Rupert Murdoch to Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates,” the professors wrote. “Yet within the past month, two odd things occurred: Census reported that only one in four STEM degree holders is in a STEM job, and Microsoft announced plans to downsize its workforce by 18,000 jobs.”

That observation makes for a logical, if anecdotal, counterargument to the likes of Zuckerberg and Obama. But the authors press further, offering a step-by-step deconstruction of the Silicon Valley position — one that is now pressuring Congress and the White House to expand the guest worker and green card programs for STEM-qualified foreign nationals.

The group prefaces its observations with a significant disclaimer: “As longtime researchers of the STEM workforce and immigration who have separately done in-depth analyses on these issues, and having no self-interest in the outcomes of the legislative debate, we feel compelled to report that none of us has been able to find any credible evidence to support the IT industry’s assertions of labor shortages.”

Then the writers offer facts:

If a [STEM labor] shortage did exist, wages would be rising as companies tried to attract scarce workers. Instead, legislation that expanded visas for IT personnel during the 1990s has kept average wages flat over the past 16 years. Indeed, guest workers have become the predominant source of new hires in these fields.

Those supporting even greater expansion seem to have forgotten about the hundreds of thousands of American high-tech workers who are being shortchanged — by wages stuck at 1998 levels, by diminished career prospects and by repeated rounds of layoffs.

The facts are that, excluding advocacy studies by those with industry funding, there is a remarkable concurrence among a wide range of researchers that there is an ample supply of American workers (native and immigrant, citizen and permanent resident) who are willing and qualified to fill the high-skill jobs in this country. The only real disagreement is whether supply is two or three times larger than the demand.

But why would the tech industry misrepresent the facts about the domestic labor market from which it draws its talent?

The tech industry’s promotion of expanded temporary visas (such as the H-1B) and green cards is driven by its desire for cheap, young and immobile labor. It is well documented that loopholes enable firms to legally pay H-1Bs below their market value and to continue the widespread age discrimination acknowledged by many in the tech industry.

… IT industry leaders have spent lavishly on lobbying to promote their STEM shortage claims among legislators. The only problem is that the evidence contradicts their self-interested claims.

The tech sector’s motivation to devalue the asking price for entry into its skilled labor force is, at the end of the day, understandable. The profit motive will propel a business to make money by saving money, when possible, until market forces stabilize the practice or until the industry runs up against a legal barrier.

The more problematic question, though, is why the Obama Administration, along with some House members now considering the tech sector’s recommendations, are so receptive to Silicon Valley’s call for a cut-rate workforce — a workforce whose market value tightens in inverse proportion to the loosening of U.S. immigration policy.

Update: Police Footage From The Night New Mexico Cops Failed To Find Drugs In A Man’s Rectum – Even After A Forced Digital Probing

Late last year, we told you about the ordeal of David Eckert, the New Mexico man who endured a hellish night of anal probing and forced anesthesia because the Deming, N.M. police officers who stopped him really, really wanted to believe he was concealing drugs (he wasn’t). His story was similar to that of another New Mexico man, Timothy Young, who had needlessly endured the same treatment – at the same hospital.

Reason TV has released a brief video edit of Young’s ordeal, cobbled together from police camera footage and a sit-down interview with Young after the fact.

“The dog’s not gonna hit on your vehicle?” one officer asks Young early in the search.

“I don’t know what the dog is gonna do – If you want it to, I guess it could,” Young – evidently aware that police dog searches sometime have a way of going wrong – replied.

Even though Young was not in possession of any drugs, Gila Medical Center – which conducted the forced anal probe (and had also conducted a forced colonoscopy in the Eckert case) – sent him a bill for the service. Young sued everyone involved, and is now (so far) $925,000 richer after receiving a judgment from Hidalgo County, N.M.

Thousands Of Pentagon Workers With High Security Clearances Owe $730 Million In Back Taxes

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit has discovered a city’s worth of Pentagon employees who have two things in common: they’re all eligible for high-level security clearances, and, during the period for which the report was conducted, they all owed the government a combined $730 million in back taxes.

The GAO audit found that, from among the 5 million government employees and non-government contractors cleared to access sensitive information, approximately 83,000 Pentagon workers eligible for such a clearance also owed the government delinquent tax money. The report covered a five-year period between 2006 and 2011.

According to a breakdown of the report published Monday at The Hill, 26,000 of the Pentagon employees recognized by the audit actually held security clearances. Their delinquency amounted to $229 million.

“About 4,800 of the 83,000 employees had IRS liens against their property, and 23,000 were subject to wage garnishment and other IRS collection tactics,” The Hill observed.

It’s not currently against the law for the government to retain employees – even employees entrusted with sensitive and confidential information – who can’t be trusted to render unto Caesar. The GAO advised, though, that awarding security clearances to people who’ve skipped out on their Federal tax bill “poses a potential vulnerability.”

The Pentagon isn’t the only government entity with an employee tax-dodging problem. You may remember an April report that revealed the IRS itself had awarded $1 million in bonus pay to more than 1,000 employees who had “substantiated Federal tax compliance problems.”

Congressman Returns U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Award Over Chamber’s Pro-Amnesty Stance

Frustrated over the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement of a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens living and working in the United States, Congressman Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) handed back an award the organization had bestowed on him earlier this year.

Bentivolio, along with many other sitting Congressmen, received the Chamber’s “Spirit of Enterprise” award in March — an honorific that goes to elected leaders on the same policy page, more or less, as the Chamber. But Bentivolio, after considering the implications of the Chamber’s amnesty position as tens of thousands of illegal immigrants flock to the Nation’s southern border, decided last week to give the award back.

He apparently had a lot on his mind, because he lit into the Chamber with a fury.

“The U.S. Chamber is in the pocket of Communist China and big companies seeking cheap labor in the United States,” Bentivolio’s office said in a statement explaining the move. “We think it is morally repugnant for the chamber to pursue, as a matter of public policy, initiatives which exploit the poor and oppressed, just so they can keep labor costs down for their fortune 500 member companies.”

Bentivolio’s chief of staff further torched the Chamber last Thursday, telling The Daily Caller “they call it the Spirit of Enterprise award, not the Spirit of Free Enterprise award. Crony Capitalism is alive and well at the Chamber of Commerce.”

Bentivolio, who’s serving his first term in Congress, may be looking for a political lift as he heads into a late summer primary against a party challenger who’s polling 22 points ahead, has the support of the GOP establishment, and has outspent Bentivolio 20-1.

That doesn’t change the message his award give-back sends, though. At least Michigan voters know where he stands.

Audit Reveals Huge Security Gaps In USDA Data Network

An audit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Universal Telecommunications Network released Thursday by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reveals that almost half of the independent contractors sourced through an agreement with AT&T to manage the USDA’s data network do not have security clearances.

That shortcoming, the audit advised, leaves both beneficiaries of USDA programs (such as food stamps), as well as the agency itself, open to theft, abuse, sabotage and error.

The audit placed part of the blame on AT&T for failing to install “required network security features” and noted that “inadequate and outdated” billing practices, in combination with insufficient security checks, had led to $1.9 million in improper billing. It also fingers the USDA’s Chief Information Officer’s office for neglecting to enforce the terms of the $350 million contract to ensure the government was getting its money’s worth.

From the summary:

In 2010, USDA signed a multi-year task order with AT&T to provide the Universal Telecommunications Network (UTN), the data network backbone for its customers and agencies. We found that USDA is notadequately overseeing UTN security and performance. The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) staff concentrated on the operational aspects of the UTN, without placing adequate emphasis on security and task order management, and the contracting officer (CO) from the Office of Procurement and Property Management (OPPM) was not familiar with the task order. We also found that AT&T had not yet installed required network security features. This occurred because OCIO lacked sufficient controls to ensure that all task order provisions were met—for instance, the responsible CO did not have a copy of the task order 6 months after it was assigned to him. Past OIG audit recommendations were also not adequately addressed. As a result, USDA faces an increased risk of sensitive information being lost, disclosed, altered, or destroyed, and is paying for task order services that are not being provided.

The report finds fault with both the USDA and AT&T on a number of fronts:

Equipment tracking – “[O]ld, unused equipment that has been replaced by the new TIC equipment still contains sensitive USDA data because it has not been scrubbed.”

Security Clearances – “The Telecomm task order required that AT&T personnel having access to USDA data have, at a minimum, a secret level clearance with a background investigation. However, we identified 167 out of 370 contractors working on the UTN who did not have a secret level security clearance, as required.”

Contractor Access – “We found that neither AT&T nor OCIO could provide OIG an accurate listing of all AT&T personnel working on the UTN… As a result, sensitive data and systems could be at risk if accessed by unscrupulous persons.”

The audit also noted that many of the recommendations from a 2006 audit covering the USDA data network still had not been implemented as of 2014.

Full report here.

Report Questions Motives Behind Post-Midterm Timing Of Obama Administration’s Next Wave Of Regulations

A new report from the American Action Forum (AAF) suggests President Barack Obama may have had this year’s midterm elections in mind when coordinating the implementation of a bevy of new environmental, health, finance and labor regulations.

“After reviewing the administration’s most recent agenda of federal rulemakings, it appears there are at least 15 major regulations scheduled for release after the upcoming midterms,” AAF wrote in a report released Thursday. “Combined, just six of these rules could impose more than $34 billion in costs.”

AAF, which describes itself as a “center-right policy institute,” noted the $34 billion estimate may be a very conservative one. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ground-level ozone standards plan, scheduled to be published in December of this year, “actually does not have an attached cost,” AAF noted, observing that the same standards, which Obama vetoed in 2011, were projected at the time to cost $90 billion.

The report acknowledges that many of these regulations have been in the works for a long time. However, the White House has already demonstrated — as it is now doing with the EPA’s controversial carbon proposals, which are still in the public comment phase — that it may have had politics in mind, all along, by coordinating with Federal agencies to ensure unpopular policies won’t be enacted until after Election Day.

Whether that’s a coincidence is, of course, a matter of speculation. But that speculation is reasonable to anyone who observed the Obama Administration’s post-election timing of new rules back in 2012.

“Recently, numerous reports have highlighted how the White House delayed controversial regulations until after Election Day in 2012,” AAF wrote. “… Many of these [new] regulations are controversial, including the GHG [greenhouse gas] rule, and have spent years in the courts and the rulemaking process. Regardless of possible motive, if this schedule remains in place, there will be no shortage of major regulations issued immediately after Election Day.”

For a tabular breakdown of the rules changes that won’t come until after the November elections, see AAF’s full report.

Maine Governor Curbs Public Assistance To ‘Able-Bodied’ Recipients Unless They Work

Acting on the order of Republican Governor Paul LePage, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday the State would stop administering Federal food stamp benefits to capable residents who do not hold jobs, receive job training or do volunteer work.

In a statement, the Governor explained his rationale, saying people in need “deserve a hand up, but we should not be giving able-bodied individuals a handout… We must protect our limited resources for those who are truly in need and who are doing all they can to be self-sufficient.”

According to Portland NBC affiliate WCSH-TV, the new rule, set to take effect on Oct. 1, applies to adult food stamp recipients who do not claim any dependents. It will require them to work or volunteer for 20 hours per week in order to continue receiving food stamps, now formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Recipients can also meet the requirement by participating in the Maine Department of Labor’s Competitive Skills Scholarship Program, which trains residents in developing practical job skills.

The SNAP program is funded by the Federal government but is administered by the States. LePage’s plan would affect approximately 12,000 Maine residents.

More from the report:

In an interview with NEWS CENTER, DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew emphasized that the change only affects SNAP recipients with are not disabled, not elderly and have no dependents. She says that means it will not affect single mothers, for example. DHHS says federal law already requires work for those recipients, but Mayhew says Maine has been operating under a federal waiver since 2009. The waiver expires at the end of September and Mayhew says the state will not renew it. She says the lower unemployment rate and improving economy should make it more feasible for those people to find jobs. But DHHS is also stressing that specific education or training programs can also qualify, as can approved community service work.

Democratic elected leaders in Maine reportedly aren’t happy about the end of no-work food stamps, criticizing LePage for playing politics and neglecting the plight of poor people in the State’s rural areas, where the logistics of getting and keeping part-time work aren’t feasible for people who lack funds.

In June, LePage made a similar move to curb wasteful applications of public assistance, announcing a plan to end State benefits for illegal immigrants who reside in Maine. “[I]llegal aliens who choose to live in Maine are not our most vulnerable citizens,” LePage explained in a radio address discussing the proposal.

Interesting nugget: LePage himself reportedly was homeless as a child.

Robbers Use Gun On Gun-Free Campus To – What Else? – Rob Four Ohio Students

Guns are forbidden on the campus of the private Case Western University in Ohio, so it has some built-in value as a safe place for anybody with criminal intent against person and property.

Over the weekend, three guys concealed their faces with hoodies and bandannas, came into a common area for on-campus housing, pulled out a handgun, and robbed four unlucky (and obviously unarmed) students.

The affair took place in the middle of the day Saturday. No one was injured and, according to a reporter for the Northeast Ohio Media Group, “most of” the victims’ possessions were recovered at a nearby house.

Case Western responded predictably, issuing a statement the following Monday saying “we feel compelled to take significant immediate, short- and long-term action to increase security on campus.” The short-term answer was to place a security guard in Wade Commons, the group area where the robbery occurred and to order keycard-activated locks.

Long-term steps involve installing a door buzzer and security camera, as well as to “assess the university’s entire 500-acre campus’s perimeter, which borders several economically stressed neighborhoods in Cleveland and East Cleveland,” according to a follow-up report.

There was no mention of reevaluating the university’s gun policy.

It isn’t the first, or even the second, instance of on-campus violence this year. A woman was robbed at gunpoint in front of a campus building on June 10; another man was robbed of his cell phone in April, by a perpetrator who, according to witnesses, was carrying a pistol.

Obama Dinner Fire Sale: Price Of Seats Slashed At President’s California Fundraisers

President Barack Obama’s fundraising junket on the west coast has reportedly hit a wall, with per-plate prices for the Democratic fundraising dinners which he headlines tanking from a previous high of $32,400 to as little as $5,000.

That’s getting into hoi polloi territory.

Why the price cut? Donor fatigue, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“President Obama hit the Bay Area for a fast cash-and-grab fundraising drive Wednesday, but there were signs that even in one of the nation’s most reliable Democratic ATMs, donor fatigue is setting in,” the Chronicle reported this morning.

“Democratic donors who were invited to the San Francisco event, at the Four Seasons Hotel on Market Street, said they had initially been asked to donate as much as $25,000 to sit down with Obama. One who balked at the price said organizers had offered a cut-rate deal of as little as $5,000,” the report also revealed.

A San Francisco event also reportedly began offering tickets at a deep discount, even though similar events in the past have routinely enjoyed ticket prices of $32,400 per guest.

Only three months have passed since Obama made a similar trip through Silicon Valley to pass the hat, and one unnamed invitee (the report doesn’t say whether the invitee actually attended an event this time around) told the Chronicle it feels as though donors are being asked to pay more for the privilege of the President’s brief company — while receiving less than they’re used to.

“Five-thousand dollars to sit down with the president for an hour? That’s usually what it costs for a photo of you and your whole family.”

Someone Finally Acknowledges Obama’s Transcendent Power Over The Moral Universe

In a spasm of progressive wordsmithing that may have inadvertently forged a new slogan for MSNBC, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, rhapsodically greeted President Barack Obama for a party fundraiser Wednesday by declaring that Obama is “bending the arc of the moral universe forward.”

Some of us understand metaphors and such; but, try as we might, we have no idea what this means. It vaguely sounds like something Jesus might have done.

For Inslee, evidently, worship is the idea. In a midterm election cycle that has seen incumbent Democrats divided over whether to acknowledge their President and risk offending voters who don’t approve of Obama or whether to run from him — even if it means skipping out on your own fundraiser to avoid having your picture taken with him — Inslee is all in.

With two years remaining before voters have the chance to elect another Governor (Inslee scraped by Republican Rob McKenna in the 2012 election), maybe Inslee feels like there’s time enough to disassociate from Obama when it counts.

The Governor’s paean to Obama came at the home of a Seattle real estate developer, where Obama himself took the mic to repeat his threat of executive action to circumvent obstructionist Republicans in Congress, comparing them with luddites who wouldn’t have sent a man to the moon.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

… Obama had sharp words for Republicans in Congress. He praised past Republican presidents: Eisenhower for interstate highways, Nixon for the Environmental Protection Agency. “The problem is that the bunch we have now have gone off the rails,” he said.

He wants to cooperate, said Obama, but: “When I can’t get Congress to help I’m going to do everything I can on my own.”

…Obama evoked Sunday’s 45th anniversary of the moon landing. On Monday, he had Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong’s widow, to the White House.

“Nobody went to the moon because they were skeptics. Naysayers put nobody on the moon.”

It’s worth mentioning that Obama wouldn’t let the press in to Tuesday’s White House celebration of the moon landing, a move that elicited a formal complaint from a very thoroughly infuriated White House Correspondents’ Association.

Back in Seattle, Obama also delivered a minor revelation that sheds new light on his repeated claim that he routinely learns about his Administration’s scandals only when he, along with the rest of America, sees breaking reports about the scandals on TV news.

“Obama did raise eyebrows with an offhand remark about the news media,” the Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelley reported. “He doesn’t usually watch the news, Obama quipped, because ‘whatever they’re reporting, I already know.’”

Can both claims be true?

Probably — but only if you know how to bend the arc of the moral universe.

Another Day, Another IRS Revelation: Backups From The Lois Lerner Era Do Exist, Commissioner Admits

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, in front of Congressional investigators for the third time in the last month, admitted today that the agency does possess backup drives that may contain the elusive data that allegedly went missing when former Exempt Organizations administrator Lois Lerner’s computer hard drive crashed.

Koskinen would not attest to the probability of finding anything of interest on the backup drives, though, saying only that an inspector general’s investigation is in the process of reviewing their data. The tape-based devices, intended as six-month backup storage for everyday IRS electronic communications and client-side storage, reportedly date from the time Lerner’s computer hard drive crashed in 2011. Koskinen had told the House Oversight Committee at a previous hearing that the data could not be recovered.

During today’s session, Koskinen also informed a subcommittee of the House Oversight panel that the IRS was dropping its internal investigation into the political discrimination scandal that revolves around the missing data, saying the agency will henceforth defer to the inspector general’s investigation.

Republicans on the Oversight panel were as incredulous as ever at Koskinen’s testimony, insisting that the entire saga of missing emails and serendipitous hard drive crashes, along with the agency’s slow-footed and sometimes contradictory information, suggested a coverup.

“All I’m saying is that timing is pretty suspect,” Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said, with Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) adding, “You guys sat on the information for several months.”

Republicans continue to call for a special prosecutor to investigate the scandal.

IRS Says Lerner’s Emails May Be Recoverable After All

Along with news this week that several additional Internal Revenue Service employees with ties to Lois Lerner suffered computer crashes came another minor revelation from agency lawyer Thomas Kane, who told a Congressional panel that, just maybe, Lerner’s long-lost emails can still be retrieved.

On Monday, the House Oversight Committee released a portion of a transcript from testimony Kane had given last week, revealing that Kane suggested the possibility that tape drives used to archive IRS employees’ electronic data may still be intact, with her communications on them.

“I don’t know if there is a backup tape with information on it or there isn’t. I know that there’s an issue out there about it,” Kane told the Oversight Committee. “… It’s an issue that’s being looked at.”

As noncommittal as that sounds, what’s especially interesting is the fact that, if those drives are still out there — and if they still do contain Lerner’s emails — it’s because the IRS, once again, hasn’t been following its own protocols.

IRS policy calls for tape drives used for backup storage to be “recycled” every six months. That is, after a drive has successfully stored six months’ worth of information, that information can be erased and replaced with new backup data from the present. The emails relating to Lerner’s alleged computer crash date from some still-unknown time beginning in 2011 — when her computer supposedly went on the fritz.

Kane’s testimony that the drives (and with them, Lerner’s emails) may still be out there also contradicted IRS Commissioner John Koskinen’s testimony before the Oversight Committee last month, when he averred that all the backup drives used to save data generated in the IRS Exempt Organizations Division had been recycled.

Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) pounced on that revelation, accusing the agency of sloppy management and suggesting Koskinen is still attempting to conceal the truth from House investigators.

“Finding out that IRS Commissioner Koskinen jumped the gun in reporting to Congress that the IRS ‘confirmed’ all backup tapes had been destroyed makes me even more suspicious of why he waited months to inform Congress about lost Lois Lerner emails,” Issa said following Kane’s testimony. “Commissioner Koskinen has repeatedly blamed the reporting delay on an effort to be sure what he said was correct. We now know that wasn’t the case.”

Democrats Pledge To Live A Week On Minimum Wage

It’s been a while since Congressional Democrats have rallied around President Barack Obama’s push for a Federal minimum wage increase, so it’s about time for some fresh publicity. The midterms are less than four months away.

So this week, a gaggle of Democratic Representatives is putting itself through the minimum wage austerity experience, attempting to get by on $77 for a week — a budget that’s supposed to reflect the discretionary spending power that comes from earning a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Here’s how progressive blog ThinkProgress weeps over the tribulations of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, who joined with Congressmen Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Keith Ellinson (D-Minn.), Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and others in attempting to subsist on fast-food earnings:

Since he began his minimum wage challenge on Sunday, former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, now president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has had eggs and toast, a bowl of cereal with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a banana. On Monday, he came to work with a bologna and cheese sandwich and a banana. “I’m not sure what I’m going to have for supper,” he told ThinkProgress.

He’s also had to give up some pleasures. “I was walking by a nice restaurant last night near my apartment and people were sitting outside and eating nice food and drinking,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘You know what would be nice? To have a cold beer.’ But you know, I didn’t. Ordinarily I would, but if you don’t have much money there’s a lot of things you can’t do.”

Sounds like he’s in a cold, dark place.

This “Live The Wage Challenge” theater is the product of a push, on the five-year anniversary of the last Federal minimum wage increase, to persuade Congress to raise the Federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. The challenge, which has a website that invites you to participate, is sponsored by dozens of labor unions and progressive organizations, according to a report from The Washington Free Beacon.

Instead of living for one week on minimum wage, perhaps well-intentioned Democrats could challenge themselves to live for one year on a middle-class wage (while they’re at it, they might even consider enriching the endeavor by doing middle-class work). It would be an experience far more representative of Americans who, while working to pursue their careers and long-term goals, must make tough financial decisions that have lifelong consequences.

Obama’s Fundraising Trip Will Spend Public Funds; Features Only One Job-Related Stop

The last President did it; this President does it, and the next President will likely do it, too: flying around on Air Force One for political cheerleading and fundraising, with a nominal job-related stop along the way to justify using public funds to pay the expense of the entire trip.

President Barack Obama’s schedule for the next three days involves jetting around on Air Force One for a trip that will include five fundraisers in three cities: Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, with the only planned presidential stop a speech on the economy at a vocational school in Los Angeles.

Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard did simple math to arrive at a $2.85 million price tag for that trip – and that’s only the cost of flying the plane:

At $228,288 an hour, the base flight time of 12.5 hours from Washington to Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and back to Andrews Air Force Base will cost taxpayers $2.85 million.

Expensive? That bill doesn’t include the cost of flying and housing staff and the Secret Service, or the prepositioning of equipment like limos to get the president from his hotel to events.

More reason to pile on Obama, right? Sure, but he isn’t the only President who’s spent public money to generate money for his party. Democrats were staking out moral high ground during the George W. Bush presidency, criticizing Bush for using Air Force One as a fundraising slingshot during midterm election cycles.

Obama has spent more than Bush – in part because fuel costs more now – but arguing over which President spends more is an academic matter, when set against the realization that our election laws allow for the practice in the first place.

Figuring out how the White House follows the law is itself a mystery. “I’ve never been able to find anything concrete, so we never know the bottom-line cost of any presidential trip,” Brian Doherty, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, told The Washington Times for a 2012 story on presidential campaign spending. And Doherty’s an expert on the topic – he’s even written a book about it.