Big government

Analysis: How Mueller spent nearly $7 million in four months on Trump-Russia probe

Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation spent nearly $7 million during the first four months of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including $1.7 million on salaries and benefits for employees, according to the first report issued on the costs. A Justice Department report issued Tuesday on expenses associated with the special counsel’s probe includes a breakdown of direct and reimbursed expenses, such as salaries to detailed DOJ employees who would have been paid regardless of being detailed to Mr. Mueller’s team. While the expenses associated with the special counsel’s personal team total $3.2 million, the report notes that an additional $3.5 million was spent during the course of the investigation on DOJ components that support the investigation. That figure “approximates expenditures the components would have incurred for the investigations irrespective of the existence of the SCO,” the report states. The expenses detailed in the first report include a breakdown of costs between May 17 and Sept. 30. According to the DOJ report, more than $362,000 was spent during that period on rent, communications and utilities. Another $223,000 was spent on travel expenses, though much of that amount — approximately $220,000 — was spent on the cost of temporary relocation of DOJ employees who were detailed to the special counsel’s office. Only around $3,000 was spent on direct travel expenses. Another $734,000 was spent on the acquisition of equipment that will remain the property of the federal government at the close of the Mueller investigation. In addition to Mr. Mueller, the special counsel team includes 17 attorneys — five of whom were hired from outside the government. The special counsel’s office has declined to provide details on how many other people have been detailed from various agencies or divisions of the Justice Department to work on the team. Tuesday’s disclosures provide the first opportunity to measure the cost-effectiveness of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, which has netted two guilty pleas and two indictments thus far.

Was that worth the $7 MILLION dollars already spent of our hard-earned tax dollars (and its FAR from over)?  You be the judge…

Puerto Rico gives out $100 million in bonuses after pleading for $94 billion in hurricane relief

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello Nevares last month asked federal taxpayers to shell out $94 billion to pay for the territory’s recovery from Hurricane Maria — then turned around and paid out about $100 million in Christmas bonuses to island government employees. The governor’s aides say the bonuses are a longstanding tradition and part of the law, and were planned for in the budget approved last summer. But that budget came well before Hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, leaving much of the territory in ruin and leaving the government begging for federal assistance. The island’s financial oversight board, created by Congress as part of a deal to bail the government out of a potential debt default last year, called the payments “imprudent” and said the hurricanes should have forced the governor to rethink his decisions. And the payments could dent Mr. Rossello Nevares’ efforts to get Capitol Hill to pony up for the recovery, where the $94 billion price tag the island has set is already meeting with shock. “Puerto Rico has demonstrated time and time again that its government is incapable of responsibly handling its finances. This is yet another such instance,” Rep. Tom McClintock, who sits on the House committee with oversight over Puerto Rico, told The Washington Times in a statement after the bonuses were revealed. The bonuses, which analysts said are not uncommon in Latin America, date back to the 1970s in Puerto Rico. But they’ve been controversial in recent years as the island has struggled with debt. The payments in 2015, of about $120 million, sparked a fierce debate. This year the payments will total $113 million, the government told Bloomberg News. Some 250,000 people get bonuses, with current workers averaging $600 bonus and retirees getting about $200, Bloomberg reported. For the majority of government employees who make between $20,000 and $40,000 it’s an important boost, said Carlos Mercader, who leads Puerto Rico’s office in Washington, D.C. He said the governor, in making the payments, is following the law. And he said members of Congress who are pondering the territory’s massive relief request should be aware of how much the governor has already done to control the budget, such as a 20 percent reduction in political appointees in the government and a 15 percent cut in the operating budget.

Puerto Rico has a “rico” (rich) history of government corruption and waste.  They were on the verge of bankruptcy LONG before hurricanes hit it.  So, while we ALL care about the welfare of our fellow Americans who live there, the local politicians from the governor on down cannot continue to conduct corrupt business as usual, while at the same time holding their hands out asking for more and more money from the rest of us.  This whole “bonus” nonsense is an affront, and we should just reduce our financial support in accordance (i.e. dollar for dollar) with whatever gratuitous waste of money the governor and his cronies dole out with the excuse of “that’s just how it’s been done here for years.”  They were devastated by hurricanes.  Extreme situations call for extreme responses; NOT typical cronyism as usual.

 

Trump moves to ‘reverse federal overreach,’ cuts down Bears Ears, Grand Staircase monuments

Saying it was his duty to “reverse federal overreach” by both the Obama and Clinton administrations, President Trump on Monday signed two proclamations to pare down and carve up both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah. At a speech in Salt Lake City, Mr. Trump said previous presidents have greatly abused their power under the century-old Antiquities Act, and stretched the law past its limits in cordoning off millions of acres of land and placing them under government control. “Some people think the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They’re wrong,” the president said to a supportive crowd that chanted “Four more years” immediately after his address. The president’s long-awaited actions — the final result of a review of nearly two dozen national monuments undertaken by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke earlier this year — were immediately decried by environmentalists and Democrats who threatened to sue the White House. The legal fight over a president’s authority to chop up national monuments is expected to last for years, and courts have never ruled on the full extent of an executive’s authority in that regard. Mr. Trump didn’t address to the legality of his action, instead saying the decision simply came down to giving land control back to the people. “The families of communities of Utah know and love this land the best and you know best how to take care of your land. You know how to protect it,” he said. “They don’t know your land and truly they don’t care for your land like you do.” Mr. Trump’s proclamations will dramatically shrink both monuments. The Bears Ears National Monument, created by former President Obama in 2016, will be cut from a single 1.35 million-acre monument to three separate sites encompassing roughly 220,000 acres. The sprawling 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante site, a highly controversial monument birthed by President Clinton in 1996, will see its acreage cut in half. The remaining 1 million acres will be divided up into three separate monuments, the White House said. In both cases, the monument designations shut off huge areas of land to energy exploration, some types of recreation, and other activities. At Grand Staircase, the change will allow access to a major coal mine. At Bears Ears, uranium mines likely will now be able to be tapped. The reductions have long been a policy goal of Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, and other lawmakers who saw the Trump administration as a golden opportunity to finally reverse egregious federal land grabs. Supporters of Mr. Trump’s actions say they’re the beginning of true reform of how national monuments are created and managed. “These new proclamations are a first step towards protecting identified antiquities without disenfranchising the local people who work and manage these areas,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “The next steps will be to move beyond symbolic gestures of protection and create substantive protections and enforcement and codify in law a meaningful management role for local governments, tribes and other stakeholders.”

Trump’s USDA Relaxes Obama-Era School Lunch Restrictions

The Trump administration announced it will ease Obama-era school lunch rules. Under a program championed by Michelle Obama, public schools instituted strict nutritional standards. Trump’s Department of Agriculture said that, effective next summer, kid-favorite chocolate milk will return to the cafeteria. Additionally, whole grain requirements and sodium limits will be relaxed. “Fox & Friends” reported that, under the now-sunsetting Obama plan, many students have elected to toss their less-appetizing meals. The eased rules take effect July 2018.

Excellent news!!

French: Stop Misrepresenting Masterpiece Cakeshop

Forgive me for starting a piece with the oldest cliché in the practice of law. As the saying goes, “If the law is on your side, pound on the law. If the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. If neither are on your side, pound on the table.” In the run-up to the oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on December 5, we’re seeing a lot of table-pounding from the Left. In fact, I’ve never seen a case more mischaracterized in my entire legal career. The actual facts of the case are crystal clear. Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to custom-design a cake to help celebrate a gay wedding. As a Christian, he finds same-sex unions to be unbiblical and immoral, and he wasn’t willing to use his artistic talents to advance a message he holds to be wrong. In fact, he’d frequently declined to design cakes that advanced messages he found to be offensive. But he never, ever — not once — discriminated against any customers on the basis of their identity. He baked cakes for people of all races, creeds, colors, and sexual orientatons. So why do so many on the left compare him to segregationists? Why do they use hypotheticals that have nothing to do with the facts of this case? Today the New York Times published a perfect example of pound-on-the-table misrepresentations. It’s by Barnard College professor and Times contributor Jennifer Finney Boylan. How does she distort the case? Let us count the ways. She begins of course by comparing Phillips to the owner of a restaurant who claimed a religious justification for denying service to African Americans. Then she compares him to a doctor who wouldn’t care for a lesbian couple’s baby. She talks about landlords, clinics, and other businesses — all of which could deny services to people “because of who they are.” She quotes a law professor (because of course law professors aren’t above misrepresenting cases) as saying, “We’ve never allowed a commercial business to justify discrimination against a protected class based on the First Amendment. We shouldn’t start now.” Here’s the thing — if the court rules for Phillips, it wouldn’t be starting now. Phillips isn’t discriminating against a protected class. I’ll repeat this until I’m blue in the face. He serves gay customers. If a black baker refuses a white customer’s request to design a Confederate-flag cake, he’s not discriminating on the basis of race. He’s refusing to advance a message. If a police officer’s wife refuses a black customer’s request to design a cake celebrating Assata Shakur, a convicted cop-killer and one of the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists, she’s not discriminating on the basis of race. She’s refusing to advance a message.

Exactly!  Well said, David.  David French is an attorney and Army Reserve officer (Major) who was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.  To read the rest of his legal op/ed here, click on the text above.

‘Doggie Hamlet,’ billion in missing military equipment top report on government waste

An $85 million loan for a hotel complex in Kabul, a billion dollars in missing equipment for Iraqi forces and a $30,000 grant to stage “Doggie Hamlet” are just a few examples of the “Federal Fumbles” a Republican senator has flagged in a new report on wasteful government spending. The 86-page report from Sen. James Lankford identified $437.6 billion in “wasteful and inefficient” federal spending. “We’ve got every variety — from very small to very, very large areas of waste and areas where the federal government just dropped the ball,” the Oklahoma lawmaker and fiscal hawk told “Fox & Friends” on Monday. Lankford said the billion in missing equipment in Iraq — which was flagged in a Defense Department inspector general’s report and included small arms and Humvees — was last seen in Kuwait. “But we don’t know what happened from there,” Lankford said Monday. “A billion dollars’ worth of equipment. We hope it got into the right hands. But DoD didn’t actually track it. We don’t know.” As for “Doggie Hamlet,” the report criticized a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the production in New Hampshire. The play reportedly featured actors yelling and running at sheep in a field. Lankford says he has “no problem” with the production — but taxpayers across the country shouldn’t have to pay for it. “I certainly don’t want the people of Oklahoma to pay for that,” he said. The waste report is subtitled “100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball” and also highlights successes in the elimination of waste, fraud and abuse — under similar football-themed categories of “Touchdowns” and “Forward Progress.” The report also called out the IRS for firing, then re-hiring IRS employees, including some who hadn’t paid their federal taxes. In releasing the report on Capitol Hill, Lankford said the wasteful spending examples are “illustrations of a larger set of issues” and provide “context” for concerns about the federal debt and budget process. He said waste and inefficiencies mean less money for essentials like transportation, national defense and disaster relief. “For us to be able to afford to do these things, we’ve got to be able to pay better attention to other things,” Lankford told reporters. This is the third volume of Lankford’s annual report. It cites as the costliest “fumble” an under-utilized IRS program to improve the auditing process for tax returns, considering a recent analysis estimates $458 billion is lost annually as a result of incorrect or fraudulently filed returns. Among the report’s “Touchdowns” is the EPA announcement in June to repeal the Waters of the United States rule, “which allows the agency to work with states and Tribal governments, as it had done for decades, to decide who has regulatory authority over waterways.”

Opinion: How the FCC Can Save the Open Internet

As millions flocked to the web for the first time in the 1990s, President Clinton and a Republican Congress decided “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet.” In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the government called for an internet “unfettered by Federal or State regulation.” The result of that fateful decision was the greatest free-market success story in history. Encouraged by light-touch regulation, private companies invested over $1.5 trillion in nearly two decades to build out American communications networks. Without having to ask anyone’s permission, innovators everywhere used the internet’s open platform to start companies that have transformed how billions of people live and work. But that changed in 2014. Just days after a poor midterm election result, President Obama publicly pressured the Federal Communications Commission to reject the longstanding consensus on a market-based approach to the internet. He instead urged the agency to impose upon internet service providers a creaky regulatory framework called “Title II,” which was designed in the 1930s to tame the Ma Bell telephone monopoly. A few months later, the FCC followed President Obama’s instructions on a party-line vote. I voted “no,” but the agency’s majority chose micromanagement over markets. This burdensome regulation has failed consumers and businesses alike. In the two years after the FCC’s decision, broadband network investment dropped more than 5.6%—the first time a decline has happened outside of a recession. If the current rules are left in place, millions of Americans who are on the wrong side of the digital divide would have to wait years to get more broadband. The effect has been particularly serious for smaller internet service providers. They don’t have the time, money or lawyers to cut through a thicket of complex rules. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, which represents small fixed wireless companies that generally operate in rural America, found that more than 80% of its members “incurred additional expense in complying with the Title II rules, had delayed or reduced network expansion, had delayed or reduced services and had allocated budget to comply with the rules.” They aren’t alone. Other small companies have told the FCC that these regulations have forced them to cancel, delay or curtail upgrades to their fiber networks. The uncertainty surrounding the FCC’s onerous rules has also slowed the introduction of new services. One major company reported that it put on hold a project to build out its out-of-home Wi-Fi network partly because it wasn’t sure if the FCC would approve of its business model. Nineteen municipal internet service providers—that is, city-owned nonprofits—told the this past May that they “often delay or hold off from rolling out a new feature or service because we cannot afford to deal with a potential complaint and enforcement action.” This is why I’m proposing today that my colleagues at the Federal Communications Commission repeal President Obama’s heavy-handed internet regulations. Instead the FCC simply would require internet service providers to be transparent so that consumers can buy the plan that’s best for them. And entrepreneurs and other small businesses would have the technical information they need to innovate. The Federal Trade Commission would police ISPs, protect consumers and promote competition, just as it did before 2015. Instead of being flyspecked by lawyers and bureaucrats, the internet would once again thrive under engineers and entrepreneurs. The FCC will vote on this proposal on Dec. 14. If it passes, Washington will return to the bipartisan approach that made the internet what it is today. Consumers will benefit from greater investment in digital infrastructure, which will create jobs, increase competition, and lead to better, faster, and cheaper internet access—especially in rural America. In the next few weeks, anti-market ideologues are going to try to scare the American people. They’ll argue that government control is the only way to assure a free and open internet. They’ll assert that repealing utility-style regulation will destroy the internet as we know it and harm innovation. They’ll allege that free speech online is at risk. Don’t fall for the fearmongering. We have proof that markets work: For almost two decades, the U.S. had a free and open internet without these heavy-handed rules. There was no market failure before 2015. Americans weren’t living in a digital dystopia before the FCC seized power. To the contrary, millions enjoyed an online economy that was the envy of the world. They experienced the most powerful platform ever seen for permission-less innovation and expression. Next month, I hope the FCC will choose to return to the common-sense policies that helped the online world transform the physical one. -Mr. Pai is the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Mr. Pai is 100% right here.  Let’s hope the FCC reverses Obama’s disastrous, and fascist,  big government restrictions that have stifled freedom on the internet.