Thursday, September 25, 2014

GAO: Feds Spent $3.7 Billion On Obamacare But Aren’t Sure Where It Went

The Obama administration hasn’t kept track of the $3.7 billion it spent last year on Obamacare and other federal health programs’ implementation, according to a federal audit.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency charged with implementing the health-care law, spent a boatload of money on building and advertising Obamacare exchanges, but it doesn’t have data to show what money it spent on what efforts — or what parts of it were effective.

“CMS’s processes are inconsistent with certain federal accounting and internal control standards,” the General Accountability Office concluded in an audit released Monday evening.

CMS spent a whopping $3.7 billion in fiscal year 2014; as of September 2013, it had 347 staff members whose total salary costs were $79.8 million between March 2010 through 2013, the audit found. Beyond that, not much was clear.

CMS’s Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO), which works with state governments to run Obamacare, didn’t keep track of money spent on polling, focus groups, advertising or public relations efforts of any kind. The CCIIO couldn’t verify its staff salaries or travel, either.

The core financial system that CMS uses simply couldn’t provide the tracking information that the GAO requested. CMS didn’t have procedures to respond to the GAO’s request at all — they relied on “ad hoc manual procedures that were labor intensive and time consuming,” the report found, and CMS consequently took months to get the data ready for the audit.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

License plate scanner networks capture movements

A rapidly expanding digital network that uses cameras mounted to traffic signals and police cruisers captures the movements of millions of vehicles across the U.S., regardless of whether the drivers are being investigated by law enforcement.

The license plate scanning systems have multiplied across the U.S. over the last decade, funded largely by Homeland Security grants, and judges recently have upheld authorities’ rights to keep details from hundreds of millions of scans a secret from the public.

Such decisions come as a patchwork of local laws and regulations govern the use of such technology and the distribution of the information they collect, inflaming civil liberties advocates who see this as the next battleground in the fight over high-tech surveillance.

“If I’m not being investigated for a crime, there shouldn’t be a secret police file on me” that details “where I go, where I shop, where I visit,” said Michael Robertson, a tech entrepreneur fighting in court for access to his own files. “That’s crazy, Nazi police-type stuff.”

A San Diego judge has tentatively ruled that a local government agency can deny Robertson’s request for scans on his own vehicle under California’s open records law because the information pertains to police investigations. Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal heard additional arguments in the case Friday and plans to issue a final decision soon. Robertson said he plans to appeal if the tentative decision stands.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

House approves Ron Paul’s ‘Audit the Fed’ bill

Former Rep. Ron Paul’s push to audit the Federal Reserve got another boost Wednesday when the House passed the bill for the second time in three years, and by a bigger margin than before.

The bill, now sponsored by Rep. Paul Broun, Georgia Republican, was approved on a 333-92 vote, with all but one Republican and 106 Democrats in favor of it. That’s a major jump from last time, when a majority of Democrats voted against it.

Still, despite the overwhelming support, the law is likely to die. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had previously indicated support for such an audit, reversed himself in 2012 and said he wouldn’t let the bill come to to the Senate floor.

Mr. Paul, a long-time congressman who twice ran for the GOP’s presidential nomination, made auditing the Fed one of his chief campaign issues, and it regularly drew loud applause from his followers.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Shorter Obama War Speech…The Top Five List

Here are the top five take-aways from President Obama’s September 10 speech announcing a new, multi-year in the Middle East:

1) Obama officially adopts Bush Administration’s pre-emptive war doctrine.

Obama:
If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. ..we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland…
but:
We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.
2) Obama hails regime change in Iraq as begining of new era. There is an “inclusive” government Obama can work with, he claims. But the “new” government is chock full of holdovers from the old one and is actually less inclusive because the Kurds are refusing to take their seats despite great US pressure and there are actually less, not more, Sunnis than under “bad, non-inclusive” Maliki.

3) New kind of warfare will defeat enemies with no risk to us. Obama will defeat ISIS but will do so in a new kind of warfare that will not require fighting and dying on our side, only on their side. Air strikes and drones will do the trick and not an American troop on the ground. Except that there are already some 1,000 American troops on the ground and the idea that an air war is a surgical strike that only takes out “bad guys” is a myth that should be abandoned on the graves of thousands of Afghani and Pakistani and Yemeni, etc. civilians. Death by drone is no less horrific than death by beheading.

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Aggressive police take hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists not charged with crimes

After the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the government called on police to become the eyes and ears of homeland security on America’s highways.

Local officers, county deputies and state troopers were encouraged to act more aggressively in searching for suspicious people, drugs and other contraband. The departments of Homeland Security and Justice spent millions on police training.

The effort succeeded, but it had an impact that has been largely hidden from public view: the spread of an aggressive brand of policing that has spurred the seizure of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from motorists and others not charged with crimes, a Washington Post investigation found. Thousands of people have been forced to fight legal battles that can last more than a year to get their money back.

Behind the rise in seizures is a little-known cottage industry of private police-training firms that teach the techniques of “highway interdiction” to departments across the country.

One of those firms created a private intelligence network known as Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System that enabled police nationwide to share detailed reports about American motorists — criminals and the innocent alike — including their Social Security numbers, addresses and identifying tattoos, as well as hunches about which drivers to stop.

Many of the reports have been funneled to federal agencies and fusion centers as part of the government’s burgeoning law enforcement intelligence systems — despite warnings from state and federal authorities that the information could violate privacy and constitutional protections.

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