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$10G to watch grass grow: Coburn report details worst examples of gov’t waste

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The government spent $10,000 to watch this type of grass grow. (USDA.GOV)

As American taxpayers worried about the terror threat from the Islamic State, the crisis at the border and the economy, the U.S. government spent their money to give rabbits massages, to teach sea monkeys to synchronize swim and to literally watch grass grow.

These and other examples of wasteful government spending were detailed by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn in his annual “Wastebook,” his final edition since he is retiring early next year.

“I have learned from these experiences that Washington will never change itself,” Coburn, R-Okla., said in a statement. “But even if the politicians won’t stop stupid spending, taxpayers always have the last word.”

The first example cited in the report is the millions spent on what one attorney called the government’s “dirty little secret”: paid administrative leave for troublesome employees. Workers who were placed on leave for disciplinary reasons, such as misconduct, security concerns or criminal issues, received $20 million while on leave this year.

These workers, according to Coburn, were essentially on a paid vacation that can last for months or years. The GAO also detailed this phenomenon in a report Monday. According to the GAO, during a three-year period more than 57,000 employees were placed on leave for 30 days or more, costing taxpayers $775 million in salary alone.

Another wasteful project with a big price tag is the Pentagon’s plan to destroy $16 billion in military-grade ammunition that it deems no longer useful. Sounds pricey, right? Well add in the fact that on top of that, the feds plan to spend $1 billion just to destroy the ammo.

“The amount of surplus ammunition is now so large that the cost of destroying it will equal the full years’ salary for over 54,000 Army privates,” the report notes.

Other examples vary from the serious, to the aggravating, to just plain bizarre. One that takes the cake is the $10,000 the government spent to watch grass grow — seriously.

That project is the brainchild of the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is paying for the growth of the smooth cordgrass to be observed on a Florida reserve. The money covers “the cost to monitor grasses, restore two acres as a demonstration and publish a guide on best practices for cultivating the cordgrass, known formally as Spartina alterniflora.”

Still more examples show that while some Americans are struggling to make ends meet in a rough economy, there is a group in the U.S. getting major perks: animals.

In one instance, the government shelled out $387,000 to provide rabbits with a relaxing daily massage. The critters were treated to a “mechanical device that simulates the long, flowing strokes used in Swedish massages” to study the effect of massages on exercise recovery, according to the report.

Another animal getting a fun extracurricular activity courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers are sea monkeys. The government dropped $50,000 on a project to study the swirl of sea monkeys’ collective movements. The researchers did so by choreographing a synchronized swimming routine for the tiny shrimp.

The government also spent $856,000 to throw mountain lions on a treadmill and $171,000 to watch monkeys gamble. They also spent $331,000 on a study that led to a mind-blowing discovery, that “hungry people get cranky and aggressive.”

“With no one watching over the vast bureaucracy, the problem is not just what Washington isn’t doing, but what it is doing.” Coburn said in the statement. “Only someone with too much of someone else’s money and not enough accountability for how it was being spent could come up some of these projects.”

Other notable examples include $90 million spent to promote U.S. culture around the world, $414,000 spent on a U.S. Army video game that some in the intelligence community have worried could inadvertently train terrorists and $4.6 million spent on “lavish” homes to house Border Patrol agents in areas temporarily.

Coburn, known as “Dr. No” for his strong stance against excess spending in Washington, announced in January he is retiring from the Senate early due to ongoing health issues. The Republican had already announced he would not seek reelection but decided to leave his term two years early, in January 2014.

A Coburn spokesperson told FoxNews.com that the senator has said that answers about if and how the “Wastebook” will continue will have to wait until next year. The spokesperson said Coburn hopes every lawmaker will make monitoring government waste a priority, but that one does not have to be a current lawmaker to do so.’

Click to read the “Wastebook.”

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10/01/14

Gov. Jerry Brown agreed with three out of four gun control bills on his desk Tuesday. (Photo: Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press)

California’s governor vetoed a measure regulating homemade firearms but signed a trio of other anti-gun bills into law Tuesday, including one to implement an expanded series of gun seizure orders for those believed by friends or family to pose a danger to the community.

The three bills that were approved make California the first state to codify the practice of so-called “Gun Violence Restraining Orders,” add more marking requirements to airsoft guns, and place increased regulations on bringing firearms in from other states. However, many are taking as a “win” for gun rights Brown’s veto of one bill, SB808, that would have banned the transfer, and inheritance of home-built firearms as well as required serial numbers to be retroactively applied to these guns, referred to famously as “ghost guns” by state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D), the measure’s sponsor.

“I am returning Senate Bill 808 without my signature,” wrote Brown Tuesday in his short veto letter to the California State Senate. “SB808 would require individuals who build guns at home to first obtain a serial number and register the weapon with the Department of Justice. I appreciate the author’s concerns about gun violence, but I can’t see how adding a serial number to a homemade gun would significantly advance public safety.”

Gun rights groups saw reason to celebrate Tuesday. Brandon Combs, president of California Association of Federal Firearm Licensees (CAL-FFL),  hailed the veto on the homemade gun bill as a “significant victory for common sense.”

“Governor Brown was absolutely right to veto SB808,” Combs said in an emailed statement to Guns.com. “Senator de León’s bill would have created a nightmare for law enforcement and law-abiding gun owners alike.”

The firearms industry, even though it largely did not have a dog in the fight on the controversial legislation, was pleased at its veto because many pre-1968 guns — which were not produced during a mandated period for serial numbers — would have been required to have one if the bill passed.

“We opposed SB 808 because even though it did not pertain to the firearms industry per se, it would have required gun owners to place serial numbers on antique firearms, destroying their value as collectible items,” Larry Keane National Shooting Sports Foundation senior vice president and general counsel told Guns.com Monday.

SB808 would have even placed regulations on 3D printed guns, which many in that industry felt were unneeded. Industry blog 3DPrint.com went so far as to say that, “Every year a staggering ‘0’ people are killed by 3D printed guns,” in their coverage of the bill.

Calling today’s actions by Brown “a bit of a mixed bag,” Combs noted that three other notable gun control measures were signed into law without comment from Brown and will change the state’s laws in a number of ways.

Assembly Bill 1014, the “Gun Restraining Order” bill introduced just days after the Isla Vista killings, will provide a framework for the temporary seizure of guns from an individual at the request of their family or friends. The legislation will allow the seizure for up to 21 days, from an otherwise legal gun owner who is believed to pose a “significant danger.” This initial order could be extended for as long as a year if the situation warrants. California is the first state to implement this sort of far-reaching measure.

Gun control groups championed the measure in the state legislature and were pleased with its passage into law.

“Today, Governor Brown helped to honor the life of my son, Christopher, and so many others killed by senseless gun violence by signing AB 1014 into law,” said Richard Martinez, father of Isla Vista shooting victim Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez and outreach associate for Everytown for Gun Safety, in a statement emailed to Guns.com. “Nothing we can do will bring back Christopher, but I’m confident this new law will help save lives and prevent other families from experiencing this same kind of tragedy. States around the country should be exploring this life-saving measure.”

However, gun rights groups feel the new law gives perhaps too much leeway and is open to abuse.

“AB 1014 trades our Constitutional right of due process for reactionary legislative sensationalism,” Combs explained. “While the restraining order bill that was signed today is a far cry from the insanity Assemblymember Skinner introduced in May, you can bet that we will be keeping a close eye on how the Gun Violence Restraining Order system is applied by the courts.”

Assembly Bill 1609, also signed by Brown Tuesday, will place restrictions on firearms coming into the state and, according to gun-rights groups, will criminalize common firearm transactions. Beginning in 2015, it would require all guns coming into the state to first be transferred to a Federal Firearms License holder who would perform required background checks and observe state-mandated waiting periods before the gun could then be transferred.

The third bill signed by Brown, Senate Bill 199, legislates increased marking requirements on airsoft guns in the state. Members of the milsim community as well as the National Rifle Association opposed the bill specifically in addition toits stand against the body of legislation as a whole as being a needless requirement in light of federal laws already in place.

De Leon’s office did not reply to emails from Guns.com for comment or statement on his legislation, SB808 and SB199.

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Published October 01, 2014

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May 25, 2014: Jose Cardoso pays his respects at a makeshift memorial in front of the IV Deli Mart, where part of Friday night’s mass shooting took place. (AP)

California will become the first state that allows family members to ask a judge to remove firearms from a relative who appears to pose a threat, under legislation Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday he had signed.

The bill was proposed by several Democrats and responds to a deadly rampage in May near the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Relatives of the victims and other supporters of the bill said the parents of 22-year-old Elliot Rodger were thwarted in their attempts to seek help for their troubled son before the rampage.

Supporters had said such a measure could have prevented the attacks, winning out over critics who said it would erode gun rights.

“If both of these laws had been in place on May 23, things could have been very different,” Rodger’s father, Peter Rodger, said in a statement Tuesday night. “California, today, is a safer state because of this legislation. Let’s hope other states follow.”

Law enforcement authorities in Connecticut, Indiana and Texas can seek a judge’s order allowing them to seize guns from people they deem to be a danger.

The new California law gives law enforcement the same option and extends it to family members.

It continues California’s efforts to lead the nation in preventing firearm injury and death, said Amanda Wilcox, an advocate for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose daughter was a victim of gun violence.

The greatest effect might be in preventing suicides or intervening where there is a history of domestic violence, she said.

“It’s hard to know how much it will be used or how much it will prevent,” Wilcox said. “It only takes avoiding one loss for this to be worth it.”

Lawmakers approved the bill by Democratic Assembly members Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Das Williams of Santa Barbara amid pleas that they act after the May 23 attack in which six people were fatally stabbed or shot and 13 others wounded in the community of Isla Vista.

Weeks before that shooting, Elliot Rodger’s parents had his therapist contact Santa Barbara County mental health officials. Sheriff’s deputies talked to Elliot Rodger but never entered his apartment or checked to see if he owned guns.

They decided he was not a threat to himself or others and took no further action.

Elliot Rodger later wrote that had deputies searched his room, they might have found guns that police said he used to shoot three people after stabbing to death three others. Elliot Rodger killed himself while being pursued by police.

Under the California bill, whoever seeks the restraining order would have to sign an affidavit under oath. If they lie, they could be charged with a misdemeanor.

A court hearing would be held within 14 days after the restraining order is granted to give the gun owner a chance to argue there is no danger.

Republican lawmakers and some Democrats voted against the measure, known as AB1014.

In Elliot Rodger’s case, there is no evidence his parents or anyone treating him knew he had weapons. That prompted Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, to introduce a related bill that would require law enforcement to develop policies that encourage officers to search the state’s database of gun purchases as part of routine welfare checks. That bill, SB505, also was signed by the governor.

Brown’s signing of the bills “helped to honor the life of my son, Christopher, and so many others killed by senseless gun violence,” said Richard Martinez, father of Isla Vista shooting victim Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez and an advocate for the group Everytown for Gun Safety.

“Nothing we can do will bring back Christopher, but I’m confident this new law will help save lives and prevent other families from experiencing this same kind of tragedy. States around the country should be exploring this life-saving measure,” he said in a statement about the restraining order legislation.

Currently in California, authorities can seize legally purchased guns only from people convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, people subject to a domestic violence restraining order or those who are determined to be mentally unstable.

The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups opposed the restraining order legislation.

“Our concern is not so much what they intended to do; our concern is with the method they put in place to address people with mental or emotional issues,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California. “We think this just misses the mark and may create a situation where law-abiding gun owners are put in jeopardy.”

 

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California: Governor Brown Needs to Hear Your Opposition to Four Pending Anti-Gun Bills

Governor Jerry Brown has until the end of this month to sign or veto the anti-gun bills below.  It is vital that you call, fax AND e-mail Governor Brown DAILY respectfully urging him to VETO these anti-gun bills.  Governor Brown can be reached at (916) 445-2841, by fax at (916) 558-3160 or by e-mailhere (https://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php).

  • Senate Bill 199 removes the BB device exception from the imitation firearm prohibition.
  • Senate Bill 808 bans firearm manufacturing and 3-D printing.
  • Assembly Bill 1609 makes it a state crime to transport or otherwise import firearms into California that were acquired from out of state, unless the firearms are sent to and transferred through a licensed California firearms dealer.
  • Assembly Bill 1014 allows any person to file a restraining order against YOU causing your firearms to be forfeited.

Please forward this alert to your family, friends, fellow gun owners and sportsmen in California urging them to call, fax AND e-mail Governor Brown and urge him to VETO SB 199, SB 808, AB 1014 and AB 1609.

The following anti-gun bills have already been signed into law this year:

Assembly Bill 1964 unnecessarily removes existing exemptions for all single-shot pistols, other than those with a break top or bolt-action, from California’s roster of “not unsafe” handguns.

Assembly Bill 2310 allows city attorneys in Los Angeles and Sacramento counties to initiate unlawful detainer actions against residents who have been arrested for any firearm-related crime.

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