Congressional Gym Workouts Paid for by Taxpayers
April 5, 2021
Being “less popular than dog poop, traffic jams, and lines at the DMV,” Congress still has its perks. Take its two on-site gyms, for example, one for the House and one for the Senate.
The House gym, called the Wellness Center, is open to current and some former members of Congress. It includes a swimming pool, a sauna and stream room, flat-screen TVs, and paddleball and basketball courts.
The gym was featured in a 2011 selfietaken by the now-infamous, former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who took and sent a shot of himself wrapped in a towel, TMZ reported. When he was vice president, Joe Biden would occasionally lift weights and ride a stationary bike in one of the gyms while his Secret Service detail waited outside.
During two government shutdowns, when Congress failed to pass its annual spending bills, the House gym stayed open. Apparently towel service was discontinued during the 2018 shutdown, however.
Perhaps slightly justifiable in a time of long hours and dawn-to-dusk voting, the perk is harder to justify with Congress working remotely or in session around 200 days a year.
After the free gym came under political fire, Congress turned its free perk into a dues-paying perk back in 1992, and in 2007 banned former members of Congress turned lobbyists and agents of a “foreign principal,” as well, a ban that remains in place today (H.Res.8, Sec. 3(d)).
The Senate has a similar lobbyist ban, though former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told the press in 2006 he’d never been lobbied in 24 years of using the gym, adding “Of course, I’m pretty ugly naked. So maybe that’s why.”
Mood Lighting for the Outdoors at U.S. National Parks?
April 6, 2021
Through April 9th, the National Park Service (NPS) is collecting grant applications for up to $390,000 to study if NPS park visitors like the lighting.
The funding opportunity entitled “Effects of Outdoor Lighting on Natural Resources and Visitor Enjoyment in National Parks” comes with pages of questions and answers about what a good grant application should look like. Taxpayers will pay out somewhere between $150,000 to $390,000 for grants of up to three-years.
Women and men might approach their enjoyment of NPS lighting differently, but NPS anticipated this. Grant applications should examine “night adapted vision and gender” and also “any variables that might influence human behavior, functional abilities, or perceptions toward artificial light at night.”
According to NPS, the grant is necessary because “there is very little understanding about human reactions and expectations with respect to outdoor lighting in national park settings. These perceptions likely influence visitors’ feelings of safety, behavior, enjoyment, and ability to enjoy the night sky and participate in the numerous astronomy based interpretive programs system wide.”
Only state governments and public or private institutions of higher education are eligible to apply.
$100 Billion to Upgrade Internet Infrastructure Empowers Government to Own Internet Service Providers
April 7, 2021
That’s how Michael Powell, the past chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and current CEO of NCTA - The Internet & Television Association, described to Axios President Biden’s plan to give up to $100 billion to local governments, non-profits, and co-ops to expand broadband internet.
A White House fact sheet about Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan gives few details about how the $100 billion for expanding broadband to 100% of the country will be broken down, but a key component will be tasking local government entities with bringing the internet to underserved areas.
“I thought that it was really out of character the degree to which they embraced this sort of unfounded faith in government-owned networks to own, build and run this program,” said Powell.
Included in the proposal is the risk, and possible waste, that is assigned to taxpayers who would fund it. Investment in government-owned broadband could leave taxpayers with the bill if the networks fail, critics of the proposal say.
Even now, the FCC is preparing a new subsidy program, the Emergency Broadband Benefit, that would give low-income consumers $50 off their monthly internet bill during the pandemic.
However, Biden says subsidies are not a long-term solution, and cheaper service is the answer.
His hope is that by putting local government entities in charge of broadband, they’ll charge less than private companies.
But is risking up to $100 billion in taxpayer money better than incentivizing for-profit companies to lower rates on their existing networks?
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Did Congress Make Jessie Jackson Jr. Mentally Ill?
April 08, 2021
In 2012, Jesse Jackson, Jr., (D-IL) was approved for $138,400 in worker’s compensation and Social Security disability payments. Did Jackson make the case that Congress made him mentality ill?
Jackson filed his claims while still a Member of Congress and just before the federal indictments for alleged campaign fund misuse.
According to news reports, the worker’s compensation and Social Security disability stems from his bipolar disorder and depression. The Chicago Tribune was able to investigate because the payments were disclosed as a part of the Jackson divorce file.
Eventually, Rep. Jackson was convicted of using about $750,000 in campaign funds for unlawful expenditures including vacations, celebrity memorabilia, and other items. The former congressman spent time in the federal penitentiary.
If Jackson still qualifies today, then he has received approximately $1 million in payments since 2012.
$200 Billion in Unemployment Fraud
April 09, 2021
When Congress needs to put aside $2 billion to stop fraud in one program, criminals should take heed and taxpayers should as well.
It turns out the generous unemployment insurance program Congress put into place last year to cover COVID-19-caused job losses has become a cash cow for the world’s thieves.
One company estimates over $200 billion has gone or will go to crooks and cybercriminals.
The cybersecurity firm Agari detailed how a Nigerian cybercrime ring specializing in online scams was targeting last year’s COVID-relief CARES Act unemployment insurance. Criminals “are seeing essentially trillions of dollars that is up for grabs,” Crane Hasshold, Agari’s senior director of threat research told NBC News. “This is their World Series. This is their Super Bowl.”
Unlike the one million dead people who received a combined $1.4 billion in COVID-19 stimulus checks from the IRS, thieves applying fraudulently for unemployment checks are stealing the identities of living and, often, still-working Americans. Some even file on behalf of well-known public figures.
The governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine, had an unemployment claim filed in his name, as did Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, the head of his state’s law enforcement agencies.
One federal official told Congress to expect more than 10% of the funds to be lost to fraud. That was on the low end, he testified: “This Department has estimated that about 10% of the UI payments are improper under the best of times. We are in the worst of times.”
With $732 billion in federal unemployment dollars, 10 percent in improper payments would equal $73 billion lost to fraud.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.