NEWSSTAND

Obama Library Halts Construction, May Pay $10 Rent

Chicago residents are suing the Obama Presidential Library on the grounds that the city of Chicago unfairly gave a chunk of Jackson Park to be used for the library’s construction.

Jackson Park, a large green space intended for public use, lies at the center of this debate. Months ago, the Chicago City Council granted use of the public land to the Obama complex for only $1 per year. Now, the City Council has proposed a new lease that would cost the Obama complex $10 for 99 years!

The concerned citizens’ lawsuit says that this sweetheart deal takes land from the public and rents it to the Obama organization at an unfairly discounted rate.

In exchange for this sweetheart deal, the Obama campus must pledge not to use city tax dollars for construction. However, the State of Illinois already pledged almost $220 million worth of construction grants. That makes up a significant portion of the $350 million expected total construction cost. In addition, the Obama Foundation plans to donate $3.5 million to the city of Chicago.

Library Stops Construction

Construction of the Obama Presidential Library has screeched to a halt over bureaucratic hangups. On Monday, the Chicago Park District started cutting down trees to make space for the future building. The Park District had planned to move utility lines that currently run through the site. However, the Chicago Department of Transportation refused to grant the permits for moving them. Instead, the CDOT says it will not grant permits until after the lawsuit gets resolved.

The bureaucratic tangle surrounding the complex also includes the National Parks Service, Federal Highway Administration, and the National Register of Historic Places. The Foundation already delayed the groundbreaking once this summer. It remains unclear how these new delays will set back the project.

Project Veritas Exposes Socialist Network Inside Government

A new investigation by Project Veritas revealed that some government employees are actively working against the administration. Undercover journalists captured employees on video talking about how they and their colleagues will stall Trump initiatives whenever possible.

Subversion Across Departments

Allison Hrabar works as a paralegal at the Department of Justice. She is also a member of Democratic Socialists of America. Hrabar told an undercover journalist, “We have a member who works for the people who distribute food stamps, and they can like take that away, and they’re slowing what they do.” She continued, “What they’re doing means that people are going to be able to stay on food stamps for another month or two, which is like really important.”

When Hrabar wanted to protest lobbyist Jeremy Wiley, she used DOJ computers to run his license plate and find out where he lived. Despite her highly questionable actions, Hrabar thinks her job is secure. She said, “Like, what’s kind of lucky is at the DOJ, we can’t like get fired.”

Meanwhile, at the State Department, employee Stuart Raffa uses State Department resources to organize for the DSA. Raffa told Project Veritas that he prepares DSA communications on the government-owned computer while he’s at work. He said, “I have nothing to lose. It’s impossible to fire federal employees.” What does Raffa see as the ultimate goal? The slacking employee didn’t mince words. He said, “Resist everything…every level. F*** s*** up.”

When a disgruntled administration official wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, he or she understood that a network of internal resistance operatives wanted to thwart the president. Project Veritas has provided more evidence in their stunning undercover operations.

 

Election Integrity: Voting Machines Vulnerable to Hacking

Several election technology experts say that the votes in the upcoming midterm elections will be tallied on obsolete, unreliable voting machines. This casts the integrity of our elections into question, unless electoral boards can upgrade the machines.

Reuters found that “In 14 of the 40 most competitive races, Americans will cast ballots on voting machines that do not provide a paper trail to audit voters’ intentions if a close election is questioned.” Indeed, the nation Greg Miller, cofounder of Open Source Election Technology (OSET), told NBC News that the machines nationwide are largely full of “obsolete hardware [and] software that relies on a lot of spare parts.” He continued, “You have equipment that was introduced in 2005. In that time frame, how many times have you changed your mobile phone? And how many times have we replaced our laptops?”

Vulnerable Technology

Fortunately, hackers did not change any votes in the 2016 election. However, hacking constitutes a real threat to the integrity of our elections. Outdated technology makes hacking relatively easy. According to John Sebes, who founded OSET with Miller, switching the totals between two candidates is “not a difficult job for fairly ordinary adversaries.”

Most electoral districts count the votes at the polling place, and then send the vote totals on a USB drive or CD to a main office. Next, that office tallies up the grand totals. If even one of those USB drives or CDs contains malware, it can change the outcome of an election without ever raising a red flag.

How can Americans maintain confidence in a flawed system? One security method uses electronic ballots, but backs them up with paper hard copies of each vote. Unfortunately, 14 states have districts that use all-electronic voting machines, without a hard copy backup of each ballot. Should someone hack the electronic machines, those districts cannot conduct a paper recount.

More secure voting machines could fix the problem, and the need is acute. In Illinois alone, nearly all of the voting machines need replacing. “It depends on which counties you ask,” says Steve Sandvoss, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, “but I would say 80, maybe 90 percent.”

Securing the Vote

Election watchers like Sebes and Miller say that more funding would allow districts to purchase better voting machines. Indeed, secure machines cost money – and even then, they provide no guarantees. Paper ballots and voter ID systems can help create a paper trail. No election system is perfect, but better information security can create public trust in our democratic republic.

 

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.

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