Why They Can’t Trust Us

 Posted by  Corruption, Government Spending  Comments Off on Why They Can’t Trust Us
Jul 072013


As everyone is well aware by now, Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown last week in what some are calling a military coup and there are legitimate concerns about the possibility of a civil war erupting. Whether it does or not, it’s obvious at this point that Egypt will remain in some state of turmoil for the foreseeable future. It’s heartbreaking for all of the Egyptians that have simply been looking for a better government and way of life. It all seemed within reach just two years ago.

The years since have been a roller coaster ride, starting with the Egyptian people banding together and orchestrating a successful and relatively peaceful overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s government. Shortly thereafter they elected a president, drafted a constitution and then, rather quickly devolved back into chaos.  While the future for this ancient nation is uncertain, one thing is a pretty safe bet:

The Egyptian People do not trust the US Government and won’t likely be looking to it for guidance in reestablishing and stabilizing their shaky government.

In the now constant flux of the Middle Eastern political landscape, the United States’ long history of financial and political support for tyrannical (many now toppled) regimes has not allowed it much real influence in the way the region is now being restructured. Egypt, for example, has a number of legitimate grievances against the US Government and is a prime example of the United States’ new found diplomatic impotency in the region.

Why am I discussing the United States’ role in the region? Well, at the risk of sounding solipsistic (after all, this is an Egyptian story, not an American one), I think it’s impossible to ignore the peripheral role the United States played in the oppression of the Egyptian People by the Mubarak government that eventually sparked the revolution and led to the current turmoil. Let’s take a look:

The Mubarak Regime– which ruled for its entire duration under an emergency law which gave the executive (the Interior Ministry) extensive powers including the ability to detain citizens indefinitely without charge or trial (sound familiar?)– was notorious for torture and other flagrant violations of human rights. In one example listed in a report by Human Rights Watch released in the early days of the Egyptian Uprising, a young CairoUniversity law student protesting the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was detained and brutally tortured:

“He stayed a long time upstairs, up to four hours at a time. He was tortured by electricity as well as beatings—he told us. He didn’t even have to tell us though, you could tell by his condition. We saw the burn marks from the electrocution. He was nearly comatose when they carried him [into the cell]. His face was extremely swollen and bruised. He was shaking. There were burn marks on his hand and elbows, and the feet and toes.”

There is little argument now that it was this type of torture and police abuse which can generally be credited with sparking the revolt in January 2011. As the protest, international exposure and political pressure grew and Mubarak’s fate became increasingly apparent, the Obama Administration rolled out its official position via Secretary of State Clinton who came out publicly for “an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy”.

What was not included in this Sunday Morning News Show discussion—at least not by Hillary Clinton—was any mention of the long, dark history of cooperation with the Mubarak government. Indeed, up until that point, Egypt was not only touted as a major ally but was also a major recipient of US Foreign Aid—only second to Israel in total dollars received, though it’s discussed much less than Israeli aid.

There are a number of reasons that Egypt was privy to over $50 Billion dollars in aid since 1975. It’s strategically important to have access to Egypt’s Suez Canal.  It was one of the only Middle Eastern states relatively friendly with Israel, following its controversial entry into the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979. Later on, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Mubarak would prove his loyalty to the US during the “War on Terror” by participating in the infamous extraordinary rendition program which allowed the CIA to send detainees to other countries like Egypt for torture—they were, after all, well practiced with torturing detainees as I previously mentioned—and interrogation. Just a little trade-off: they torture our detainees to extract information and we don’t say anything about them torturing theirs. All in all, it could and most likely would be argued by any State Department official that Egypt got our political and financial support because, in a tumultuous and unfriendly region, it was the devil we knew.

But there’s another reason, rarely acknowledged in political circles, that Mubarak’s government got the amount of aid money and political support that it did. They asked for it the Washington way. They lobbied for it. Right up until the very end.

Even as the truths about torture and oppression became increasingly articulated, even as the Egyptian people began rallying to overthrow the government that had committed such atrocities for three decades, even as the civilized world began to turn its back on the dictator, an influential number of former congressmen turned powerful lobbyists worked the back channels of Capitol Hill to protect Mubarak’s government from potential embarrassment—for just a minor fee, of course.

Podesta Livingston Moffett.jpg

Over the course of the last six months of 2010, the PLM Group—a joint venture between the lobbying groups of former congressman Toby Moffett, former congressman Bob Livingston and K-Street superstar Tony Podesta—pulled in roughly $400,000 from the Egyptian government to stop a Senate Resolution that called on Mubarak to support “free, fair, transparent and credible” elections as well as bring an end to the Emergency Law that allowed authorities to “harass, intimidate, arbitrarily detain, and engage in violence against peaceful demonstrators, journalists, human rights activists and bloggers.” In the end, their efforts were undeniably successful and the resolution was killed thanks in large part to the bi-partisan efforts of Senators Diane Feinstein of California and (Bob Livingston’s close friend) Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

A little over a month after the resolution died, the people of Egypt made Mubarak’s lobbying effort irrelevant and exposed the US Government on the wrong side of its supposed anchor value of freedom for all. The Egyptian People won’t soon forget.

The Coal, the Cash and the Lobby

 Posted by  Corruption, Economic Performance  Comments Off on The Coal, the Cash and the Lobby
Jul 012013

Raw Coal on white backgroundIn spite of (or perhaps because of) all the recent chaos over embarrassing revelations of the surveillance habits of the US government, the Obama Administration pushed forward with its climate agenda last week and announced plans to further curb future carbon emissions. The plan, unveiled by the President during a speech at Georgetown University, called for the Environmental Protection Agency to establish more stringent carbon pollution standards for already active coal plants. As expected, the coal industry was quickly up in arms over the speech’s implications and moving forward with a massive, multi-million dollar public relations assault to counter the policy push by the Executive Branch. Of course, these types of PR expenditures by the coal industry have become increasingly commonplace as they enlist some friendly voices to push the narrative that the Obama Administration is actively trying to kill the coal industry.

Coal can be a highly charged subject depending on which area of the country you live in and which party you tend to vote for. The argument for and against are generally framed in familiar fashion. On one side, we have the progressive, environmentalist argument—generally accompanied with images of billowing smoke stacks and/or the sad, soot smeared faces of coal workers—that, regardless of the general accessibility and its claims of being inexpensive, coal is incredibly harmful to the environment and people and should be held to a high regulatory standard if not eliminated altogether. On the other side of the coin, we have the conservative, economic angled argument—replete with images of smiling, relatively clean coal miners standing proudly outside a mine lift and/or pictures of happy families gathered closely together, bathing in the warm glow of inexpensive electricity provided by coal power—that coal is not as hazardous as many deem it to be. In addition, they point out that as of right now, it’s cheap and locally sourced which means it provides Americans with jobs and  spurs growth for the American economy with dependable, inexpensive energy.  Both sides, at times, make valid arguments. What can’t be argued is that the coal industry is spending a veritable mountain of cash to convince Congress and the American public that it is still a viable energy option but in the process is ignoring some painful truths.

Last year, the Coal Industry spent $17,361,948 on lobbying the Federal Government. (They also spent plenty of money lobbying various state governments as well, but that number is much more difficult to quantify.) In addition to pushing for favorable regulatory legislation, these lobbyists also work to make sure the subsidy spigot stays wide open.

Along with official lobbying, the Coal Industry also spent a considerable amount ($13,391,247) on political donations in the 2012 election cycle. One such recipient of this campaign cash is Republican Congressman David McKinley of West Virginia. McKinley receives the lion’s share of his campaign financing from the Mining industry—an amount more than any other member of Congress. Does this mean that Congressman McKinley owes an oath of fealty to the Coal Industry? Not necessarily. After all, as Mr. McKinley likes to point out, coal mining is one of West Virginia’s largest industries and provides jobs to his constituents. But it becomes rather apparent when Mr. McKinley introduces legislation like H.R.2273—a bill which, among other things, sought to prevent the EPA from designating coal ash (“Coal Combustion Residuals”) as hazardous—that the Coal Industry isn’t exactly throwing their money away when they write him checks. Sure, it can be argued that the Coal Industry provides jobs for West Virginians but outside of the strange semantic wonderland of a well lobbied Congress and the halls of the Coal Industry, nobody in their right mind is arguing that coal ash is not hazardous.

There is just way too much scientific evidence that confirms that coal ash is indeed hazardous. Not to mention, the recent instances of real world destruction that should lay rest to any notion that coal ash is some benign externality of necessary economic progress. Plainly stated, coal particulates are extremely hazardous and harmful, there’s just no way around it. Mitt Romney knew it before it became politically expedient to say otherwise.  And that’s the bottom line.  The coal industry spends a lot of money to make it politically difficult to state an obvious truth.

Another plain truth that the coal industry can’t admit is this: it isn’t over-regulation or some deep grudge the Obama Administration has against it that is killing coal. It’s the market and the massive increase in Natural Gas production. Here is a chart showing the Coal Industry’s lobbying expenditures in recent years:


Coal Expenditure Chart

Information from www.opensecrets.org

Interestingly, in 2005, the executives in the coal industry made a decision to increase their lobbying expenditures by quite a large margin. Why the sudden increase then? After all, in 2005, they had a coal-friendly president in the White House and Barack Obama had just come onto the national political scene as a junior Senator from Illinois and didn’t pose much of a threat to them yet. Likely, the Shale Gas revolution that kicked off in late 2005 has a lot more to do with it. See here:

 Natural Gas Production Chart

(source data: US Energy Information Administration)

The correspondence between coal lobbying expenditures and natural gas production is a hard coincidence to shrug off. Why do they fail to mention this more often?

It’s more palatable to say that your industry is beleaguered by a spiteful administration with unreasonable regulatory standards than it is to say that your industry is taking a beating because it produces a more expensive product with more negative externalities than your competitors’.

Perhaps worst of all for the coal industry, the argument that it is a major jobs creator in the US is becoming increasingly more difficult to make. As of 2012, the coal industry employed a total of 87,520 people according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; a number that is only impressive without proper context. When compared to other industries, the number becomes rather paltry. The automotive industry, for instance, employs nearly ten times as many people. The Natural Gas Industry, coal’s closest competitor, employs 106,770. Even wind energy clocks in at a relatively formidable 85K employed.

This isn’t to trivialize the number of jobs created by the industry or the plight of the common coal worker. That’s 87,520 people who rely on coal to put food on their table, a roof over their head, and in many cases pay for the needs of their children. They are justifiably concerned about their future. But the writing is on the wall. The sun is setting on the coal industry, just as it did on the once gargantuan whaling industry a century and a half ago. And this isn’t a bad thing. Just like the coal industry, whaling also supported and fed families, but if we had allowed whaling to exist continuously on life support through legislative favors and lobbied subsidies solely for the sake of the employment of a relatively small segment of the population we might still be filling lanterns with whale oil or, most likely, long ago witnessed the self-imposed death of the industry after it had extinguished the whale species from the oceans entirely. Instead, thankfully, we found more efficient sources of the energy the country needed to expand and thrive. We’ll do it again. It looks like we already are.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act

 Posted by  Gay Marriage  Comments Off on Supreme Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act
Jun 262013

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court Struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act this morning in the much anticipated ruling United States v. Windsor.  The majority opinion was given by Justice Kennedy who was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.  Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissented.

Case background: Edith Windsor met Thea Spyer in 1963, and they were married in Canada in 2007.  When Spyer died in 2009, she left her whole estate to Windsor.  Windsor sought a marital exemption from the federal estate tax which excludes from taxation “any interest in property which passes or has passed from the decedent to his surviving spouse.” 26 U. S. C. §2056(a).

Her exemption request was denied because Section 3 of DOMA contains the passage:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” 1 U. S. C. §7.

Windsor could not be considered a “surviving spouse” since federal law only recognized heterosexual couples.  She paid $363,053 in estate taxes and then sought a refund, which was denied by the IRS.  Windsor then took the refund suit to a district court, contending that her equal protection under the law as provided by the 5th amendment was violated by DOMA.

While the case was still pending, President Obama instructed the Department of Justice not to defend the statute in Windsor although Section 3 of  DOMA would still be enforced by the executive branch (i.e. Windsor’s taxes would not be refunded). The Attorney General of the United States notified the Speaker of the House of Representatives that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA’s §3.  In response, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives (BLAG) voted to join in the litigation to defend the constitutionality of DOMA’s §3.

The District Court ruled that §3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and ordered the Treasury to refund the tax with interest.  Both the Justice Department and BLAG filed appeals; the Appeals Court concurred with the District court’s decision, applying heightened scrutiny to classifications based on sexual orientation as both the Justice Department and Windsor urged.

From there, the case went on to the Supreme Court.


In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy posits that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over this case because the fact “that the Executive may welcome this order to pay the refund if it is accompanied by the constitutional ruling it wants does not eliminate the injury to the national Treasury if payment is made, or to the taxpayer [Windsor] if it is not.”

Concerning the constitutionality of DOMA’s section 3, Kennedy states, “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.  By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The majority opinion states that “DOMA because of its reach and extent, departs from [the] history and tradition of reliance on state law to define marriage. ‘Discriminations of an unusual character especially suggest careful consideration to determine whether they are obnoxious to the constitutional provision.’ (Louisville Gas & Elec. Co. v. Coleman, 1928)”

It also asserts that the only motive for DOMA was a “bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group.”

Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas claim that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the case:  “We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation…” (Scalia)

Justice Alito’s dissent also argues along the same lines: “Edith Windsor, supported by the United States, asks this Court to intervene in [the marriage] debate, and although she couches her argument in different terms, what she seeks is a holding that enshrines in the Constitution a particular understanding of marriage under which the sex of the partners makes no difference. The Constitution, however, does not dictate that choice. It leaves the choice to the people, acting through their elected representatives at both the federal and state levels.”

Justice Scalia points out that the final sentence of the Solicitor General’s brief states, “For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the court of appeals should be affirmed. ” “One could,” he states,  “spend many fruitless afternoons ransacking our library for any other petitioner’s brief seeking an affirmance of the judgment against it” “The plaintiff and the Government agree entirely on what should happen in this lawsuit. They agree that the court below got it right; and they agreed in the court below that the court below that one got it right as well. What, then, are we doing here?”  

Scalia then gives a stinging criticism of judicial review, claiming that it is not the Court’s position to decide whether or not a law is constitutional, but to decide disputes between the government and the people involving the law.

He goes on to warn that “By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.”

Justice Scalia concludes by wishing the majority of the court had let the people decide on homosexual marriage legislatively.  “Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better. I dissent.”

It is unquestionable that today’s Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act is as equally monumental as it is are controversial.

Credit(s): United States v Windsor  http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-307_g2bh.pdf  .

Lockheed Martin No Stranger To Ethically Questionable Lobbying

 Posted by  Corruption  Comments Off on Lockheed Martin No Stranger To Ethically Questionable Lobbying
Jun 242013

In a previous post, I briefly went into the lobbying expenditures of Lockheed Martin—currently the largest US Federal Government contractor—and also highlighted a couple of blatant ethical transgressions. I wanted to follow it up by answering a question that many people might have: What is lobbying?

There are two answers. The short, simple answer of what lobbying is supposed to be and the much longer, much more complicated reality of what lobbying actually can be and predominately is.

Before we get in too far, let me first clarify that I’m not reflexively opposed to lobbying per se. The concept of having direct communication between constituents and their government is an important and essential piece of representative democratic infrastructure. It was, in fact, considered so important a function to the nation’s founders that it was protected in the very first amendment of the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people peaceably … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In its simplest incarnation lobbying works like this (please forgive me if this comes across as patronizing, my intent is to provide a comparison, so just bear with me): Under the protection of the First Amendment, citizens in Congressional District ABC might discover that they have a collective problem with issue XYZ. They decide that they should get together and petition their representative to have issue XYZ resolved legislatively.  They do so. After hearing the collective’s concerns, the representative makes the decision on whether issue XYZ truly affects the majority of his constituency and attempt to legislate accordingly.

Why does this work as a system? In theory, a representative must rely on the majority of his constituents to vote for him to remain in office and would therefore be directly accountable to them. If he doesn’t do what the majority of his constituents desire of him he runs the risk of being voted out in favor of someone who will. Simultaneously, the representative has to develop working relationships with his colleagues in order to be an effective legislator and achieve the goals of his constituency so necessary to stay in office. Thus, a congenial congress would necessarily emerge and ultimately a legislative equilibrium which would generally benefit the nation as a whole.

It should be apparent, particularly after examining the last three decades in Washington that this ideal scenario has not played out.

To be fair, the authors of the Constitution weren’t naïve to the potential corruption of the lobbying system—James Madison famously weighed the implications of “faction” throughout his Federalist #10 essay— and certainly anticipated there to be questionable practices in small proportion as well as the possible rise of powerful professional lobby agents, like the 19th century “King of the Lobby”, Samuel Ward. What they couldn’t have reasonably anticipated though, and what has frequently debased the good intentions of the lobbying system, was the powerful rise of the modern corporation over the course of the late 19th and 20th centuries and the increased importance of campaign finance in the modern political landscape. Both of these factors have converged to give us the lobbying system and its rampant, systemic corruption.

(I’m going to avoid getting derailed here on the history and details of these two factors. Suffice to say, they deserve and will soon get much more than a simple paragraph synopsis from me.)

Having quickly covered the short, simple answer to what lobbying is, let’s take a look at one real world example of what lobbying actually is via Lockheed Martin.

The first complication in defining lobbying is that, in reality, lobbying is actually an amalgamation of tools and tactics that various parties use to solicit influence. For instance, the amount of money that Lockheed Martin officially spent on lobbying last year (2012) was $15,347,350. What this number actually represents is the reported amount of money that Lockheed officially paid to lobbying firms like Podesta Group or Venable LLP or Carliner Strategies to lobby on their behalf—that is, to show up on Capitol Hill and arrange for time to speak with politicians on a variety of key issues with the hopes of influencing them to legislate in a particular direction. These conversations often occur in all sorts of ideal, vacation-like settings. Still, this doesn’t paint close to the entire picture.

In addition to spending $15 million plus on official lobbying, Lockheed Martin is also responsible for a total of $4,034,489 in campaign contributions for the 2012 election cycle. $1,143,092 of this went to Political Action Committees, Parties and various other outside spending groups, while $2,891,397 went directly to candidates like Kay Granger (R-TX) whose district just so happens to contain a number of Lockheed locations and has, for reasons that should be apparent to anyone after viewing her political donation disclosure, helped the company out in numerous ways including pressing Taiwan to purchase Lockheed F-16’s that they didn’t want.

For politicians like Granger, making sure Lockheed is happy is an easy win/win calculation. After all, legislating favorably for Lockheed means they stand to not only gain the hefty political donations that are so necessary for reelection but also, during their next campaign, they can point to all the jobs that they have created or saved via the Lockheed projects they supported on Capitol Hill. No politician wants to be perceived as a job killer.

The problem is that what amounts to a win/win for politicians and congressional districts intertwined with Lockheed Martin, in many cases, ultimately amounts to a net loss for the rest of the country and the American taxpayer. I discussed the C-130 scenario in my last post, in which Lockheed, via direct lobbying of Congress in the late 1970’s, had managed to pull down a contract for 256 of the airplanes when the Department of Defense had only wanted five—many of which sat idle on tarmacs and in hangars afterward. Now, I’ll turn quickly to a modern program with similar results: the infamous F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The F-35 is the most expensive military weapons program in US history. In accordance with standard practice, Lockheed has strategically stretched the influential jobs programs (and the corresponding congressional influence) for the project out across the country, covering over 47 states as well as Puerto Rico.  The fighter jet program, which was initially quoted at $226 billion for around 2,900 planes and an operational start date estimated at 2012 has now ballooned into a cost of $400 billion for 2,400 planes, an additional $1 Trillion in maintenance and repairs over the programs lifetime and an operational start date now estimated at 2017. The increased cost had also made the Pentagon under Robert Gates consider terminating portions of the project. Lockheed consultant’s immediately rejected the cuts as unreasonable. When cuts to the program were formally submitted by House Representative Todd Akin, Lockheed lobbyist marched on the House Armed Services Committee. Unsurprisingly, the suggested cuts never came. Sound familiar? It should.

It’s happened with numerous programs like the C-130, the F-35, and recently, in another example, when the Pentagon wanted to end General Dynamics’ M1-Abrams battle tank program, largely considered to be a cold war relic without much use in today’s defense (a program which already had more tanks sitting idle than actually deployed), they found their efforts thwarted “…after a well-organized campaign of lobbying and political donations involving the lawmakers on four key committees that…decide the tanks’ fate…”.

It’s fairly standard play in the US armaments industry. The Pentagon wants to cut or drastically reduce an outdated or ineffectual weapons program that nets your company a significant sum, so you do an end-around the Department of Defense, toss some money to key congressional members, scare them about job cuts, pay some lobbyist to talk to the other representatives and voila, the program isn’t ended or cut and in some cases—like the C-130— might even be expanded. Your company and its shareholders win, the American military and taxpayers lose. This is what lobbying can be.

In his farewell address of 1961, President Eisenhower offered up a prescient warning on the potential corruption in maintaining a war-ready private armaments industry:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” 

It’s a shame the American public didn’t listen then.


Michael Van Dorn lives in Atlanta, GA and writes about Lobbying Corruption on his blog Lobby Exposure.

Congressional Spending on Travel, Parties, & Meals

 Posted by  Corruption, Government Spending  Comments Off on Congressional Spending on Travel, Parties, & Meals
Jun 232013

Brody Mullins and T.W. Farnam in The Wall Street Journal in July 2009 wrote the following:

  • Spending on overseas increased almost tenfold since 1995
  • 2008 overseas travel cost $13 million
  • “The Air Force maintains a fleet of 16 passenger planes for use by lawmakers.”

To read the entire article, click on Congress’s Travel Tab Swells.

Paul Singer in Roll Call in June 2010 wrote the following:

  • The government has spent $110.5 million since 2001 on Congressional foreign travel
  • “That is $30 million to $40 million more than Congress detailed in routine reports published in the Congressional Record on foreign travel expenditures”
  • “The amount disclosed by Congress in its public reports is far below the actual costs reported by the Treasury Department, and the total spent on foreign travel has skyrocketed in the past decade.”

To read the entire article, click on Millions in Travel Costs Unreported.

Kathy Kristof in The Fiscal Times in August 2010 wrote the following:

  • When members of Congress fly on military jets, the cost is not recorded
  • Members of Congress receive free parking, free travel to Washington, D.C. from their home district, and subsidized daycare.

To read the entire article, click on Congress: Living High on the Backs of Taxpayers.

For a list of all travel and meals for every U.S. Congressmen by calendar quarter, click on Statement of Disbursements of the House.

For an annual list of members of Congress who violated the law or ignored Congressional rules, click on CREW’s Most Corrupt.

For a chart of each Senator’s transportation costs for the first half of 2009, click on Chart: Senate office transportation costs.

New Iowa Legislation Favors Homeschoolers

 Posted by  Education, Miscellaneous Issues  Comments Off on New Iowa Legislation Favors Homeschoolers
Jun 162013

Iowa homeschoolers are celebrating the passage by the state legislature of HF215 on May 22nd and Governor Branstad’s subsequent signature on June 3rd.  The education reform bill, which comes into effect on July 1st, adds Iowa to a list of 10 other states which virtually give homeschool parents a free hand in the education of their children.

In the past, Iowa homeschool parents have had three options: homeschooling with a supervising teacher, homeschooling with the assistance of a public school, or homeschooling with standardized testing every year.  HF215 adds a new option called “Independent Private Instruction.”  Parents are not expected to routinely register or file any paperwork unless in response to a written request by the school district.

Former requirements, including a minimum of 148 days of instruction per year and the disclosure of immunization information, have been precluded.

Parents have also been given the liberty to teach driver education classes to their own children.

It is estimated that public schools spend $10,000 per child each year (as compared with a homeschool parent’s average of $600 per child).  This means that each child who is homeschooled for 13 years saves the state nearly $130,000 by not attending public school.

Critics of the new legislation are concerned that with minimized state supervision, homeschool children may fall behind their public school counterparts, and some parents may become negligent in their educational responsibilities.  However, according to one study, Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics, by Dr. Brian Ray, homeschool students perform more than 30% better than public school students on standardized tests.

This bill comes as a great victory for the HSLDA (Homeschool Legal Defense Association) and  NICHE (Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators).


Sources for this article include:

The Iowa Legislature Bill Book , www.homeschooliowa.org, www.hslda.org, Investopedia

Opinion: NSA: National Spying Agency

 Posted by  Corruption, Miscellaneous Issues  Comments Off on Opinion: NSA: National Spying Agency
Jun 082013

Just when people would think the scandals from the Obama administration were enough, a new scandal has reared its ugly head.

The Guardian, a news site based in England, came out with a critical report about the National Security Agency receiving phone data and records of millions of Verizon customers in the U.S. The Guardian obtained a court order, showing that Verizon was required to give the NSA information on every phone call on a “ongoing, daily basis” from location of the call to the time and duration.

What makes this report troubling is that while the Bush administration has done this before, the newly-found report shows that Obama has continued this practice, increasing the amount of data collecting tenfold.

One would assume that Verizon was the only company under this program. However, that person would be terribly wrong.

As this news came out, more information arose about the NSA’s top secret Prism program in which companies including Google and Apple gave the NSA full access to their servers, collecting as much data as possible. When inquired about this data collecting, many of the companies denied knowledge of said program despite them being involved since 2007, Apple being the recent company to join in 2012.

Once again, this program was issued under Bush and renewed by Obama.

This finding is not only disturbing, it is a major invasion of privacy on American citizens, and perhaps the entire world. The fact that Obama has continued to use programs that were used by Bush and has increased the power of the NSA is hypocritical and mind-boggling. It just shows how Obama has not changed any of the Bush policies that he promised voters.

Coincidentally, today is the 64th anniversary of George Orwell’s famous novel 1984. And this NSA situation is eerily similar to the events in the novel.

Link to exclusive report: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order

Link to Prism program report: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data

First Atheist Monument to Be Erected in Florida

 Posted by  Religion  Comments Off on First Atheist Monument to Be Erected in Florida
Jun 042013

For the first time in American history an atheist monument will be erected in Starke, Florida. This is in response to the Ten Commandments display that was erected on the Bradford County Courthouse property last May which American Atheists, a nonprofit group that advocates for religious equality and separation of church and state, had deemed to be unconstitutional and sued in attempt to get the Ten Commandments removed. The Christian group that had their display up refused to take it down, so Bradford County and American Atheists went to court and agreed to an atheist monument under a public forum for other religious or, in this case, nonreligious displays.

The new monument, a bench weighing 1,500-lbs, will contain atheist/secular quotes from prominent figures like the Founding Fathers and the founder of American Atheists Madalyn Murray O’Hair. A rendering of this monument can be found on the Huffington Post below:




While most atheists and church and state separatists want the Ten Commandments gone under the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, this public forum for other displays is the best option for now. That way, different religious and nonreligious groups will be able to equally express their views on the public square alongside Christians and, now, atheists.


Local news segment on atheist monument:

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May 222013

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May 152013

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