Feds paid thousands of workers to stay home

Over the course of three years, the federal government paid workers about $775 million to stay home, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO report reveals that 57,000 federal workers were paid not to work for a month or longer between October 2010 and September 2013. Aside from receiving pay, the sidelined workers continued to accrue pensions, time off and opportunities for pay scale increases.

Via The Washington Post, which originally obtained the forthcoming GAO report:

The GAO report almost certainly understates the extent and cost of administrative leave because the figures examined by the auditors were incomplete. Not all government agencies keep track of the practice, and those reviewed account for only about three-fifths of the federal workforce.

The Office of Personnel Management rule book lists dozens of reasons for allowing paid leave, such as donating an organ, house-hunting before a job transfer, and attending the funeral of a relative in the military. Snow days also are permitted.

But these require only a few hours or days — not the months and years that GAO discovered are common at more than 100 federal agencies including the Defense and Treasury departments.


Cartoon roundup

Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Ebola! Ebola. Ebola. Ebola. Ebola. Ebola. That’s all anybody seems to be talking about these days. The wall-to-wall Ebola coverage might cause people to think that’s the only newsworthy item in the United States. But if you pay very close attention, you’ll find out there’s more. Ebola, blah, blah, blah, Ebola, blah, blah, blah, midterm elections, blah, blah, blah, Ebola, blah, blah, blah, Obama administration resignations, blah, blah blah, Ebola. Don’t let yourself get so distracted by Ebola that you forget to pay attention to our government and its dubious actions. Oh, and did we mention the midterms are just two and half weeks away?

Manny Francisco, Manila, The Phillippines
Cam Cardow, Cagle Cartoons
Milt Priggee, www.miltpriggee.com
Bob Englehart, The Hartford Courant
John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri
October 15, 2014
Adam Zyglis, The Buffalo News
Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch
Patrick Chappatte, The International New York Times
Mike Keefe, Cagle Cartoons
John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune
RJ Matson, Roll Call

Update: Houston drops subpoena of pastors’ sermons after public backlash

Following strong blowback over Tuesday’s news that the City of Houston had subpoenaed the sermons of several pastors in connection with a lawsuit over a controversial local discrimination law, the city has dropped its demands to peruse the contents of the sermons for evidence of so-called hate speech.

According to KHOU-TV, Houston mayor Annise Parker issued a statement Wednesday describing the wording of the subpoenas as “overly broad,” but said that social conservatives had intentionally misinterpreted their intent.

City attorney David Feldman repeated Parker’s admission that the scope of the subpoenas was too broad, adding that the city never meant to infringe on the religious liberties of its residents.

“I would not have worded it that way myself,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it has been construed as some sort of effort to infringe upon religious liberty. All we are looking for are communications from any of these pastors who were organizing the petition drive and any communications regarding the petition process.”

A day earlier, Feldman had told KTRK-TV that he had no problem with the purpose and scope of the subpoenas. “If they [pastors] choose to do this inside the church, choose to do this from the pulpit, then they open the door to the questions being asked,” he said.

“The petition” was an effort by opponents of the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance to overturn the local law, which restates many civil rights already covered under federal law, while also famously allowing people to use the public restroom gender of their preference.

Here’s the full text of our Wednesday article on the city’s subpoena request:

The 1st Amendment is coming up against local discrimination laws in Houston, where the city council has subpoenaed sermons from several pastors who’ve allegedly referenced the city’s lesbian mayor or portrayed homosexuality as immoral before their congregations.

Houston passed an anti-discrimination ordinance in May, approving a piece of local legislation pushed by mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian who described the measure as “the most personally satisfying and most personally meaningful thing that I will do as mayor.” Several religious leaders in Houston have remained vocal in their opposition since that time. A petition to hold a referendum on the law drew far more than the required number of signatures, but was declared “invalid” by the city attorney. A voter lawsuit challenging that decision is now pending.

Equal rights is one thing; forcing pastors into court over the convictions they share with willing churchgoers is another. To mount its defense in the lawsuit, the city has subpoenaed the sermons and “other communications,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), in an effort to demonstrate the law’s opponents are violating the ordinance if they are telling congregants that homosexuality is a sin.

ADF, which is representing five Houston pastors in the case, posted a release to its website Monday criticizing city leaders for conducting what ADF’s Erik Stanley described as a “witch hunt.”

“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge. In this case, they have embarked upon a witch-hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it,” Stanley said.

An Oct. 9 legal brief filed by ADF on the pastors’ behalf questions the constitutionality of the city’s subpoena.

“[T]he discovery requests demand materials that are protected by the First Amendment privilege governing discovery of nonpublic documents and communications relating to a political campaign and political strategy,” ADF wrote.

ADF also condemned the city’s handling of the petition to hold a referendum on the ordinance.

“In June, the Houston City Council passed its ‘bathroom bill,’ which sparked a citizen initiative to have the council either repeal the bill or place it on the ballot for voters to decide,” the group’s online statement reads. “The public submitted more than three times the legally required number of valid signatures, which the city secretary, who is entrusted by law to examine and certify petitions, certified as sufficient. The mayor and city attorney defied the law and rejected the certification.”

GOP senator alleges collusion between EPA, progressive policy group in drafting carbon rules

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) are accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of inappropriately collaborating with an activist organization to craft the agency’s controversial carbon emissions policy, pushing those affected to the margins in the process.

It’s an accusation that rises above impropriety, though. The Daily Signal reports that both Issa and Vitter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, are directing their congressional staff to “look into whether the EPA broke federal law in developing carbon emissions regulations.”

At issue is the EPA’s advisory relationship with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a progressive environmental group that has long been at odds with the business community over the perceived need for stricter regulations.

Vitter claims that emails between EPA staff and the NRDC reveal a tight relationship between the activists and the EPA — a relationship that places the NRDC in a favored status not enjoyed by other parties potentially affected by the new rules.

“When EPA’s policies affect the whole spectrum of American businesses and families, which they do, it is absolutely inappropriate for one outside organization to have excessive influence on those policies, and this is not how our federal government should be run,” Vitter told the Signal.

“In order to have a fair regulatory process, EPA should consider all stakeholders’ opinions equally. These emails show how that’s not the case.”

For more, including portions of the disputed emails, check out The Daily Signal’s Oct. 14 report.

Treasury collected record taxes in fiscal 2014

Treasury Department numbers out Wednesday show that the federal government collected a record amount of taxes in 2014, reaching $3 trillion in revenues for the first time in history.

The largest share of the tax revenue collected comes from the nearly $1.4 trillion collected in individual income taxes followed by around $320 billion collected in corporate taxes.

Federal officials say that the increased tax revenues are the result of economic improvement in the United States raising business and personal incomes.

“The president’s policies and a strengthening U.S. economy have resulted in a reduction of the U.S. budget deficit of approximately two-thirds — the fastest sustained deficit reduction since World War II,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.

Of course, Lew’s victory lap ought to be cut short by the fact that despite record amounts of money coming in, fiscal 2014 ended last month with the government running a $483 billion deficit. While the deficit is at a six-year low, it’s still highly unsustainable from an economic standpoint.

Michelle Obama’s TMI moment

Michelle Obama hosted the first Fashion Education Workshop at the White House on Oct. 8, during which she took the “lady” out of “first lady.” She proudly announced to the assembled crowd that she is a Spanx devotee.

Just in case you haven’t heard of that beloved item of clothing, here’s an explanation for you. Back in the day, such undergarments were called “girdles.”

Here’s how the first lady intimated her affinity for the brand while lauding the Spanx success story:

Just take Sara Blakely, for example. After she graduated from college, Sara worked at Disney World, buckling in people into their seats for the rides — dag, Sara. (Laughter.) Sara did that for a while, and then she went on to sell fax machines for an office supply company. And then she got this idea, and she took a risk — she devoted her entire savings, $5,000, to start her own company.

She spent two years planning and researching her new business ideas in the nights while she was still selling fax machines. She pitched her idea to factories and mills, asking them to help her make the product a reality, and of course, she was turned down again and again and again. But finally, a manager at a factory liked her idea, and today, 14 years later, Sara’s idea, Spanx, is a multibillion-dollar company with products selling in more than 50 countries. (Applause.) And we all wear them with pride. (Laughter.)

If words aren’t enough, here’s a way-too-long video of Michelle Obama’s remarks in front of the friendly crowd.

Cartoon roundup

Gary McCoy, Cagle Cartoons

This week, an Ebola patient died on American soil and it was the death heard ’round the world. Suddenly, President Barack Obama and the bumbling fools who make up his administration decided they needed a plan to deal with the deadly disease. Heaven forbid they should have already developed a plan, what with Americans traveling to and from the countries where Ebola was already an issue! Foresight? What’s that?

Bob Englehart, The Hartford Courant
John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune
John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri
Marian Kemensky, Slovakia
John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri
Bill Schorr, Cagle Cartoons
John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune

White House says Obama held off on immigration orders to keep them out of GOP’s midterm campaign rhetoric

President Barack Obama has delayed action on a set of executive actions he plans to take on immigration in order to keep GOP lawmakers from using them as a campaign issue in the 2014 midterms, the White House admitted this week.

In September, Obama denied that politics had anything to do with his decision to hold off on the immigration edicts, which include a plan to grant nearly 6 million illegal immigrants amnesty.

“Why does the White House believe that these immigration reforms after November are going to be more sustainable than they are now while Democrats who are representing the American people and who have voted for immigration reform are in office,” asked a reporter, noting that executive actions have been pegged as bad news for Democrats in vulnerable districts.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he expects that Democrats’ values and priorities will resonate with voters during the midterms… but: “The fact is — or I guess, the concern is — that had the president moved forward with his [plan] prior to Election Day, you would have seen Republican candidates do more to make the immigration issue central to their campaign. And in the event that they were successful in their campaign, the concern would be that they would cite their opposition to immigration reform as a reason to their success. That is not a storyline that the president, or that anybody here, wanted to contribute to.”

H/T: National Review 

Panetta continues Obama criticism, talks Benghazi

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta continued his criticisms of the Obama administration Tuesday night during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. The former top administration official said that he told President Barack Obama that the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism from the beginning.


“We told the president that there’s an attack that’s going on, that terrorists are involved in the attack, and, as a result, we have to respond to it,” Panetta said.

Panetta also said that Ambassador Susan Rice’s infamous talking points “were not on point.”

“She was working from the talking points that the CIA provided…,” Panetta said.

“My view was, with the kind of weapons that showed up, there was no question in my mind that it was a terrorist attack,” Panetta also said.

During an earlier interview Tuesday with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Panetta offered this on the Benghazi topic: “I didn’t have any specific information, but the fact was that when you bring grenade launchers to a demonstration, something else is going on. From the very beginning I sensed that this was an attack, a terrorist attack on the compound. I remember saying look, based on the ones I see and the nature of the attack, I think this was a terrorist attack. He said look, the information we are getting from intelligence sources is that it really was a demonstration. I said you know, David, I don’t see it that way.”

Seattle school officials want Columbus Day replaced with ‘Indigenous People’s Day’

School board officials in Seattle, Washington, recently decided that celebrating the federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus is racist. So on Oct. 13, they want area students to honor “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

Via Q13Fox:

The resolution, in part, said the board “recognizes the fact that Seattle is built upon the homelands and villages of the Indigenous Peoples of this region, without whom the building of the City would not have been possible.”

The resolution also says the board “has a responsibility to oppose the systematic racism towards Indigenous people in the United States, which perpetuates high rates of poverty and income inequality, exacerbating disproportionate health, education and social crises.”

It urges district staff to “include the teaching of the history, culture and government of the indigenous peoples of our state.”

The Seattle City Council is slated to vote on the resolution today.