NEWSSTAND

5 Things That Could Happen If California Secedes

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Image Credit: Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Electoral Shake-Up

If California secedes, its citizens will no longer have the right to vote in Presidential elections. The state’s 55 electoral votes will disappear – spelling trouble for the Democrats in future elections.

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James Comey Dishes on ABC News, Tries to Implicate Trump Admin

Former FBI Director James Comey called Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “dishonorable,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions “overmatched,” and even accused President Donald Trump of obstructing justice in a bombshell interview with ABC News.

Comey, disgraced when he was fired by President Trump, sat down with George Stephanopoulos Sunday night. He discussed not only his firing but also what went on behind the scenes in the administrations of both President Trump and former President Barack Obama.

The former director’s book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” will be released on April 17th. Comey has been highly active on Twitter in an effort to market the book.

Comey Holds Nothing Back

In his interview with Stephanopoulos, Comey said that Rod Rosenstein “acted dishonorably” by writing a memo to Attorney General Jeff Sessions about why Comey was fired. The disgraced director likened the Trump administration to a “mafia family,” and said Rosenstein was “part of the family now. I can’t trust him.”

Comey had much to say about Sessions as well. He stated his view “maybe…unfair to [Sessions].” Comey then asserted the job of Attorney General was “much, much bigger” than Sessions.

Calling Sessions “overmatched,” the former director admitted that he worked with Sessions only “very briefly” before being fired.

The biggest bombshell, however, came when Comey implied the president of obstruction of justice in the Michael Flynn case. He claimed that in the Oval Office, Trump spoke to him one-on-one.

Trump told Comey, “I hope you can let this go.” Comey believes this to refer to the Flynn case.

When asked if this constituted criminal obstruction, Comey waffled, saying, “possibly.”

“I mean it’s certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice. It would depend, and I’m just a witness in this case, not the investigator or prosecutor, it would depend upon other things that reflected on his intent.”

Trump has explicitly denied Comey’s accusations, calling him a liar.

No More Freebies: New Bill Requires Congress Pay Their Own Sexual Harassment Settlements

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that forces all members of Congress to pay out-of-pocket for sexual harassment settlements. Previously, a secret taxpayer-paid slush fund would pay for any misconduct settlements.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Rep Barbara Comstock (R-VA). It’s a bipartisan effort that also saw the passage of a resolution that makes any sexual contact between members of Congress and their staffers forbidden.

No More Freebies

Each senator and representative must now adopt an “anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy.” They must also set up an Office of Employee Advocacy to help any employees who wish to report harassment.

Rep. Speier says the measure is intended to make members of Congress responsible for their actions. The California lawmaker said some of her fellow lawmakers have engaged in sexual harassment and other misconduct.

Rep. Comstock says the bill is only a start and called for all members who have paid settlements to be exposed. According to her, some of the payments, as well as their recipients, are still being covered up.

As part of the bill’s research, the sponsors and the House Administration Committee held meetings and discussions with harassment victims. The bill also includes mandatory sexual harassment training.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) lauded,

“Republicans and Democrats came together to bring the congressional workplace into the 21st century and ensure that Congress plays by the same rules as the private sector.”

Speier agrees. She hopes the bill will not only empower survivors but also hold her fellow lawmakers accountable for their actions.

There’s much more to do both in Congress and in other workplaces, but this bill is a step in the right direction.

Cancer Survivor Fined $2,260 for Driving Patients To and From Hospital

A London, Ontario cancer survivor who drives patients to appointments was fined $2,260 by city officials. They say that she was “owning and operating a vehicle for hire without a license.”

Cancer survivor turned volunteer

The 58-year-old woman was a cancer patient herself and realized during her own experience that patients often have a hard time getting home from procedures. Those types of visits require someone to drive them home—and many patients don’t have anyone to do that. The woman decided to do it herself, and for the last three years, she’s been taking patients to and from their appointments. She also made sure they’ve safely settled at home afterward.

She didn’t ask for tips, and in the beginning, only charged a small fee to cover her gas for the trips back and forth. The hospital calls her a “critical volunteer,” and workers say her efforts are sorely needed. Without someone to drive them home after the procedure, patients will have to postpone important doctor visits.

The government, however, decided it needed to put an end to her work in a sting operation. An undercover officer pretended to be a patient and got a ride from her, stating he was getting a colonoscopy. The woman reassured him about the procedure and made sure he arrived safely at the hospital. She then gave him a bottle of water for the ride. As soon as he paid her, another officer ran over, issuing her two tickets for breaking the law and operating “for hire.”

The law was created to combat rideshare company Uber. Taxi drivers claimed Uber would ruin their profits and livelihood. Because of this, the woman needs a license to charge someone a nominal fee for her service.

She has made approximately 20 trips for patients each month for three years. Not only can she no longer provide that service, but she also owes a $450 bill for representation in the case.

The woman asked not to be identified by name.

Senate Leaders Announce Bipartisan Budget Deal

Leaders in the Senate have announced a vast bipartisan budget deal to avoid another government shutdown.

A much smaller proposal had already advanced through the House of Representatives that funds the government through March 23. It’s likely the Senate’s bill will be sent back to the House for a vote.

President Trump tweeted:

The Budget Agreement today is so important for our great Military. It ends the dangerous sequester and gives Secretary Mattis what he needs to keep America Great. Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill!

Two-Year Budget Details

The long-term budget agreement increases military and domestic spending levels for two years. Some of the bill’s highlights include:

• Nearly $300 billion in additional funding for defense and nondefense over the next two years
• $165 billion in defense spending, with $80 billion in fiscal 2018 and $85 billion in fiscal 2019
• $131 billion in nondefense spending, with $63 billion in fiscal 2018 and $65 billion in fiscal 2019
• A debt-ceiling deadline extension of one year, moving it past the midterm elections
• $6 billion to combat the opioid crisis
• An additional four years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for a total of 10 years (The previous funding deal extended the program by six years.)
• An extension of funding for community health centers and a variety of other Medicare programs
• An additional $80 billion to $90 billion in funding for areas affected by natural disasters in 2017.

The bill isn’t expected to be voted on before Thursday’s funding deadline. Because of this, lawmakers will need to pass another short-term spending bill to keep the government open.

Pentagon Purchasing Agent Loses Over $800 Million in Taxpayer Money

An internal audit obtained by POLITICO shows the Defense Logistics Agency, one of the largest agencies in the Pentagon, can’t account for over $800 million of spending.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young found the Pentagon’s purchasing agent has such poor management that hundreds of millions in purchases are not properly recorded. This leads to questions about where exactly the money actually went.

Missing Taxpayer Money

The Pentagon has long been under fire for its shoddy accounting practices, which are infamous for being wasteful. It’s never been subjected to a full audit, but with DLA controlling over $40 billion per year, that’s not coming anytime soon.

DLA has 25,000 employees that process over 100,000 orders a day for the military and other federal agencies. The auditors found, however, that the agency cannot point to a documentation trail for most of its purchase. This means hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are currently unaccounted for.

Ernst & Young found over $465 million of errors just dealing with finished construction projects. Another $365 million was missing documentation for projects still in progress. Over $100 million in computer assets had no paper trail at all.

The Trump administration is looking to clean up the DLA’s audit problems. It’s expected to cost $367 million to complete the necessary audits and get DLA’s spending and documentation problems under control. On top of that, it could cost another $551 million to fix the systems that officials say are necessary to manage the finances better in the future.

The Pentagon’s top budget official says that going forward, the agency will be audited yearly. Reports will be publicly available by November 15th of each year.

However, this doesn’t fix the current problem. Ernst & Young says the holes in accounting they’ve found so far mean there are much more to be found. It’s also very likely the problems may not be fixable.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says the chances of a successful audit of the Department of Defense is literally impossible, but he’s going to keep trying.

Al Franken’s Senate Replacement Sworn In

Former Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith was sworn into the U.S. Senate this week, one of 22 female senators currently serving – a new record.

Sen. Smith, a Democrat, took the place of disgraced former Senator and comedian Al Franken, who found himself at the center of several allegations of groping and forcibly kissing women without their consent.

Los Angeles radio host LeeAnn Tweeden accused Franken of sexual misconduct, as did seven other women. While Franken attempted to deny many of the incidents, Tweeden produced photographic evidence depicting Franken jokingly pretending to grope her breasts while she was asleep. Franken was eventually forced to resign after top Democrats who had formerly supported him finally told him it was time to step down.

Franken told supporters in Minneapolis that he was resigning his Senate seat but not giving up his voice. The crowd applauded the idea that the disgraced lawmaker would still be somehow involved in politics.

Smith served as Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s Chief of Staff for four years before taking on the Lt. Gov. position in 2015. A staunch supporter of abortion, Smith is a “lifelong Democrat political operative,” according to state Sen. Karin Housely (R-St. Mary’s Point).

The new Senator will have to run in the midterm elections in order to keep her seat; her appointment is only good until this fall. Her plan to fill the remaining two years of Franken’s term, however, is hardly locked down; former Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, as well as former Governor Tim Pawlenty, are considering a run for the seat.

Also sworn in was Democrat Doug Jones, who took the hotly contested Senate seat in Alabama vacated by former Senator Jeff Sessions – now serving as President Trump’s Attorney General.

Almost 1,000 people signed the StandUnited petition calling for Al Franken’s resignation. While we certainly hope to see the seat filled by a conservative in the midterm elections, we’re thrilled to see that Franken has stepped down and is no longer in a position to make laws for Americans.

New Legislation Would Require Transparency for Taxpayer-Funded Accounts

A slush fund has been revealed after a recent rash of sexual harassment allegations against US lawmakers. This slush fund is a Treasury Department account with funds designated to be used for court settlements against federal government employees and lawmakers.

According to the Congressional Office of Compliance’s annual report, $934,754 was paid from this taxpayer-funded account in 2017 to government employees to settle claims that included sexual harassment, overtime pay disputes, and other workplace violations. More than $4 million has been paid out since 2007. But, since it’s unclear how much of those funds went to settle each type of claim, there have been calls for transparency on these settlements, and to name the harasser in any payout due to office sexual harassment.

New legislation has been bipartisanly introduced in the House and Senate that would make Congress reveal how funds are being dispersed for workplace discrimination complaints in the Member and Employee Training and Oversight of Congress Act (“Me Too” Congressional Act). This bill would require identification, the amount of money paid, and the number of allegations against each office.

Some lawmakers that have been accused of sexual misconduct include current Minnesota Senator Al Franken, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, and former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. The new law would prohibit members of Congress from using any taxpayer funds to pay for settlements and would require the use of personal funds instead.

Although legislation has already been passed mandating sexual harassment training for all lawmakers, staff, and interns, it’s still uncertain if, or when the “Me Too” Congressional Act will gain momentum to proceed on to House leaders for passage.

Sign the petition below to take action and demand Congress Unseal these slush fund deals!

THIS City Might Let Illegal Immigrants Vote

After heated discussions and comments from residents, the city of College Park, Maryland moved towards allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections. The council considered a new measure that would allow green card holders, legal permanent residents, and illegal immigrants to vote alongside U.S. citizens. College Park could join 11 other municipalities in Maryland that enfranchise non-citizens.

Four of College Park’s eight city council members voted in favor of the policy. Three opposed it, and one – a naturalized U.S. citizen – abstained. Several other towns in Maryland allow non-citizens to vote, but College Park would have been by far the largest city to take this step. Roughly 20% of College Park’s population is foreign-born.

Though the measure initially seemed to have passed the city council, the governing body’s new rules require 6 “yes” votes for a measure to pass. Heated debate on this measure rages on. The original vote was originally planned for August, but was delayed due to threatening messages received by council members. On the day of the meeting, September 12, a larger police presence was at the council meeting as residents voiced their opinions over the issue. Nearly two dozen people signed up to discuss the matter.

Activists and council members who supported the initiative believe it will show that College Park is a community that welcomes residents, regardless of their legal status. Some residents arguing that letting non-citizens vote was a slap in the face for immigrants who spent years becoming naturalized citizens. Some council members argued that there had not been enough discussion about the charter amendment to take a vote.

The council voted first on whether to send the decision to a citywide referendum. Next, they voted on whether only legal non-citizens should vote. The council voted to make the decision themselves, but split on what that decision should be. In both instances, Mayor Patrick Wojahn cast the tie-breaking vote. Additional debate on the measure is expected at the next city council meeting.

IRS Re-Hires 213 Criminal Employees

A new report shows that the IRS re-hired 213 fired employees.  While initially employed by the agency, these employees committed offenses like tax evasion, falsifying documents, and misuse of taxpayer data.

Refilling the Swamp?

These “public servants” have access to Americans’ most sensitive financial information. Someone who abuses that power could collect data on innocent citizens and potentially use that information to commit a crime.

The 213 fired employees represent only a fraction of the problem at the IRS. Out of all the IRS employees caught breaking the law, Forbes reports that only 39% get fired. Though the agency demands honesty and accuracy from citizens, it seems to have much lower standards for its own internal dealings.

Commissioner Koskinen Under Fire

The re-hiring began in late 2015, under the leadership of Commissioner John Koskinen. Koskinen, an Obama appointee, faced impeachment hearings last Fall regarding the alleged targeting of conservative groups.

A year later, the IRS faces public scrutiny yet again.

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