Federal Employees Paid to Work for Unions; Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee Score Highest in Heritage Ranking

Sunday, 23 Jun 2013 03:23 PM

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Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. Heritage 'Scorecard' Rates Lawmakers on Conservatism
2. McCain, Sheriff Babeu Split Over Immigration Bill
3. NSA Spying Aided by Open-Source Software
4. Federal Employees Paid to Work for Unions
5. LA Bans Plastic Bags, Charges for Paper
6. Study: Proximity to Nuclear Power Not Linked to Cancer
 

1. Heritage 'Scorecard' Rates Lawmakers on Conservatism

The Heritage Foundation has unveiled its latest legislative "Scorecard" gauging lawmakers' actions on issues important to conservatives — and three GOP senators received a perfect score.

"The Heritage Action Scorecard measures votes, co-sponsorships, and other legislative activity to show how conservative Members of Congress are," Heritage states.

Members are graded on a scale of zero to 100. The average score for Republican senators in the 113th Congress — which began on Jan. 3 — is 69, and for Democratic senators, 5.

In the House, the GOP average is 75 and the Democratic average is 6.

The three Republican senators receiving a perfect 100 score are Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Close behind at 95 are Republicans Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Tim Scott of South Carolina.

The lowest-ranking GOP senator is Roger Wicker of Mississippi, with a score of 42.

Among Democratic senators, 23 receive a zero score, including Barbara Boxer (California), Al Franken (Minnesota), Debbie Stabenow (Michigan), and New York's Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer.

The highest-ranking Democrats are Mark Begich of Alaska and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who each scored a 22.

In the House, 23 Republicans received a perfect 100 score. The highest-ranking Democratic representatives, Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, scored only a 33.

The lowest-ranking Republican in the House, aside from Speaker John Boehner, is Chris Gibson of New York, who received a 23 score. Heritage gave Boehner a zero.

Out of the 201 Democrats in the House, 89 received a zero score.

The Heritage Foundation's stated mission is to "formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense."

Editor's Note:



2. McCain, Sheriff Babeu Split Over Immigration Bill

Sen. John McCain is at odds with another prominent Arizonan, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, over McCain's support for the immigration reform bill negotiated by McCain and the other members of the Gang of Eight.

The bill would include a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.

But Babeu, whose county is about 70 miles north of the Mexican border, backs a tougher proposal now in the House, according to The Arizona Republic.

"I strongly oppose what is referred to as the Gang of Eight plan because they offer all of these other items of a path to citizenship prior to ascertaining and guaranteeing that the border is secure, that the laws are enforced," he told the House Judiciary Committee.

In an interview with The Republic, McCain said: "Paul had told me before that he felt that there needed to be more stringent border-control measures.

"He and I discussed that, so I certainly was aware of that."

Following the interview, negotiators in the Senate agreed on a compromise that would increase border security.

McCain and Babeu were allies in 2010, when they appeared together in an ad backing McCain's re-election bid and Babeu asserted that more than half of illegals come through Arizona.

The two were seen walking along the border fence, and McCain called for the completion of "the danged fence." Babeu told him, "Senator, you're one of us."

Editor's Note:



3. NSA Spying Aided by Open-Source Software

The National Security Agency has been using the top-secret program called PRISM to monitor online activity by accessing the servers of Internet companies.

The software the NSA uses is anything but top secret, however. The agency relies to an extent on open-source software — which makes the collection of computer instructions known as source code available to the general public with relaxed or nonexistent copyright restrictions.

"In this era of open-source software, the NSA gets direct access to the inventions of thousands of the smartest computer-science minds on the planet for free," Bloomberg Businessweek reports in an article headlined "Spies Like Us: How We All Helped Build PRISM."

Google created its own open-source software programs to collect and analyze data, and Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo! were among those that followed suit.

The NSA disclosed in 2009 that it was building a system based on Hadoop, a data processing software program that Google and Yahoo! had popularized, and set up its own open-source data mining project called Accumulo.

"Among the citizen coders who've contributed to the NSA effort are employees of Silicon Valley startups, cybersecurity firms, and federal contractors (you guessed it: Booz Allen Hamilton)," Businessweek disclosed.

Edward Snowden, who leaked information about the NSA's electronic surveillance program, worked for the technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

The article concludes: "When you hear about the NSA sucking up petabytes of information every hour, you can be sure that programs developed by your favorite Web companies are helping to power the effort."

Editor's Note:



4. Federal Employees Paid to Work for Unions

More than 250 employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs are being paid to work for government employee unions rather than veterans — even though the VA has a backlog of nearly 1 million unprocessed benefit claims.

These employees are on "official time," defined as "paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees," according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Their salaries range from $26,420 to the $131,849 being paid to a nurse in San Francisco who represents the Nation Federation of Federal Employees.

Government workers on "official time" have office space at the agency that employs them, are paid for full-time work, and receive medical insurance and other fringe benefits, even though many are not required to show up at the agency, reports Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

The VA spent $42.5 million on official time in 2011, including salaries and benefits.

Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Rob Portman of Ohio sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki saying: "Documents show that your department recently employed at least 85 nurses, some with six-figure salaries, who were in 100 percent official time status. At the same time, the department is recruiting more people to fill open nursing positions."

But official time is not limited to the VA. The OPM reported that the federal government paid more than $156 million to workers on official time in 2011, up from $139 million in 2010.

Sen. Coburn told Furchtgott-Roth: "It is unacceptable for employees to spend 100 percent of their time away from the job taxpayers pay them to do."

The vast majority of campaign contributions from government worker unions go to Democrats, Furchtgott-Roth observed in an article for Real Clear Markets.

Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia has introduced a bill to limit official time, and in the Senate, Kentucky's Rand Paul has a bill that would completely eliminate it.

Editor's Note:



5. LA Bans Plastic Bags, Charges for Paper

The Los Angeles City Council has approved a bill that not only bans single-use plastic bags in food stores but also imposes a 10-cent charge for each paper bag.

And it's a move that could have unexpected, even dangerous side effects.

The ban on plastic in stores that sell perishable foods would take effect in January for large stores and in July 2014 for smaller stores.

"We've seen plastic bags clogging our gutters, polluting our rivers and piling up on our beaches," Council Member Jose Huizar said in a statement.

"The time for the City of Los Angeles to take action to protect our environment is now."

Nearly 2 billion single-use plastic bags are distributed in Los Angeles annually, CBS News Los Angeles reported.

Los Angeles is the largest U.S. city to ban plastic bags.

But many shoppers will choose to rely on reusable grocery bags to avoid the 10-cent charge for a paper bag. And that could lead to an increase in foodborne illnesses, emergency room visits, and even deaths, researchers say.

As the Insider Report disclosed in January, the danger comes because reusable bags are breeding grounds for E. coli and other harmful bacteria.

"If individuals fail to clean their reusable bags, these bacteria may lead to contamination of the food transported in the bags," according to a report from Jonathan Klick, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, and Joshua D. Wright, a professor at the George Mason University School of Law and Department of Economics.

"Such contamination has the potential to lead to health problems and even death."

Tests of randomly selected reusable grocery bags found coliform bacteria in more than half of them, the Insider Report noted.

Yet the ban may not have a major impact on litter in Los Angeles. An audit in San Francisco, which banned the bags in 2007, showed that they account for less than 3 percent of the city's litter.

Many plastic bags are recycled, or used as trash liners or doggie litter bags.

Editor's Note:



6. Study: Proximity to Nuclear Power Not Linked to Cancer

An 18-year study allays fears that proximity to a nuclear power plant increases the risk of childhood leukemia or any other form of cancer.

The study by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission examined the incidence of cancer among residents living within 25 kilometers (about 15.5 miles) of three Ontario nuclear power plants, compared to the incidence among the general population of Ontario.

The result: The study found no evidence of childhood leukemia clusters, no evidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma increases — in fact, no increases in any other cancers in any age group among people living near one of the plants.

"The variation in cancer occurrence throughout these populations appeared completely random as would be expected with cancers arising from factors other than radiation," writes Forbes.com contributor James Conca, co-author of "The GeoPolitics of Energy: Achieving a Just and Sustainable Energy Distribution by 2040."

He points out that public radiation doses resulting from the operation of nuclear plants are from 100 to 1,000 times below natural background radiation.

Also, radiation dose does not result from proximity to a plant, but rather to factors including prevailing wind directions.

"Doses closest to the nuclear plants were not consistently higher than doses further away, and vice versa," Conca adds.

According to the study, poor diet, physical inactivity, and tobacco use account for about 60 percent of all cancer deaths.

The study results were similar to those from Britain's Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment, which reported that "there is no evidence to support the view that there is an increased risk of childhood leukemia and other cancers in the vicinity of NPPs (nuclear power plants) in Great Britain."

Editor's Note:



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